Korean Working Class, The : From Mass Strike to Casualization and Retreat 1987-2008

Pamphlet put together on the occasion of a screening of the film '파산의 기술記述 | Description of a Bankrutpcy'

Excerpts from Loren Goldner, 'The Korean Working Class: From Mass Strike to Casualization and Retreat 1987-2008' and text about the film.

Since the mid-1970’s, the Korean working class in the late 1980’s destroyed the foundations of a decades-old military dictatorship with remarkable mass strikes in the years 1987-1990. The strikes resulted in the creation, briefly (1990-1994) of radical democratic unions and in high wage increases across the board. But, as in other cases, the working class was relegated to the role of battering ram for a “democratic” political agenda that quickly embraced globalization and the neo-liberal mantra of free markets. In fact, even before the strike wave but particularly thereafter, Korean capital was already investing abroad and pushing neo-liberal austerity at home. In 1997-98, the Asian financial crisis forced Korea under the tutelage of the IMF and greatly accelerated the casualization of the Korean working class which had been the main capitalist riposte to the breakthroughs of the late 1980’s. Today, at least 60% of the work force is casualized in the most brutal way, subject to instantaneous layoffs and half or less the wages and benefi ts of the 10% of the work force classified as “regular workers”. The bureaucratic remnants of the radical democratic unions of the early 1990’s are today reviled corporative organizations of that working-class elite, and as many struggles take place between regular and casualized workers as against capital itself.

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