Discussion: The South Korean class struggle

As a conservative prepares to take over in Seoul, in London a Marxist provides some commentary on the class struggle in South Korea.

At the slightly anti-social time of 6pm on Saturday evening at Housman’s bookshop near Kings Cross, Loren Goldner will speak as follows:

From Mass Strike to Casualization and Retreat: The Korean Working Class, 1987-2007
Saturday January 19th 2008, 6pm — Housmans Bookshop

This talk will focus on the recent history of class struggle in Korea, from mass strikes, wage increases and radically democratic unions in the late 1980s – mid ’90s to casualisation and bureaucratisation today when as many struggles take place between regular and casualized workers as against capital itself.

Similar to patterns that have been played out in Spain and Portugal (1974-76) as well as in Brazil (1978-83) 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 a 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 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.


  • Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DX. Entry: Free [Map]
  • For those unable to attend, this might be the text of his talk
  • More of Goldner’s articles here

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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