Labor's place in South Korean development: shipbuilding workers, capital, and the state, 1960-79
Nam, Hwasook Bergquist, 1959-
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This dissertation examines the nature of postwar South Korean labor activism, based on a case study of shipbuilding workers at the Korea Shipbuilding and Engineering Corporation (KSEC) in Pusan, South Korea. Within the broad context of South Korean nation-building in the postwar decades, it seeks, in particular, to reconstruct the ways values and attitudes formed during the colonial and the immediate postwar period influenced workers during the period of rapid economic development under the Park Chung Hee regime (1961--79).The study of KSEC workers, based on hitherto seldom used primary materials preserved by the union, shows that at least a segment of heavy-industry skilled workers developed a militant and democratic union movement by the 1960s. Their aspirations and visions were quite radical, contrary to the conventional understanding that workers remained a passive and submissive "input" in South Korean economic development during the 1960s. Through militant collective actions, KSEC workers demanded a voice, equality, and a decent living, based on the argument that labor was as important an input to economic development as capital and management and that the new "modern" Korea they were helping to build should be organized on the principles of democracy, which included labor rights.This kind of labor activism was not ultimately compatible with the goals of the emerging "developmental state." After long and violent strikes in 1968--69, the KSEC union was crushed by the combined force of the company and the state and a period of "cooperative unionism" set in during the 1970s.South Korean workers erupted in a massive wave of strikes in 1987, shattering the entrenched image of a "weak" South Korean labor movement. Was this new surge of labor militancy a complete departure from the previous labor movement, as most of the literature assumes? This study suggests that there is continuity between male heavy-industry workers' mentality, visions, and activism between the 1960s and the 1980s.
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