Reforming Asian Labor Systems

Reforming Asian Labor Systems: Economic Tensions and Worker Dissent

Frederic C. Deyo
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Reforming Asian Labor Systems
    Book Description:

    In Reforming Asian Labor Systems, Frederic C. Deyo examines the implications of post-1980s market-oriented economic reform for labor systems in China, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. Adopting a critical institutionalist perspective, he explores the impact of elite economic interests and strategies, labor politics, institutional path dependencies, and changing economic circumstances on regimes of labor and social regulation in these four countries. Of particular importance are reform-driven socioeconomic and political tensions that, especially following the regional financial crisis of the late 1990s, have encouraged increased efforts to integrate social and developmental agendas with those of market reform.

    Through his analysis of the social economy of East and Southeast Asia, Deyo suggests that several Asian countries may now be positioned to repeat what they achieved in earlier decades: a prominent role in defining new international models of development and market reform that adapt to the pressures and constraints of the evolving world economy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6394-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    How has market-oriented economic reform affected the economic livelihood of East Asian workers? How have workers responded politically to the pressures of reform? How have governments sought to pursue economic agendas of reform and development while at the same time addressing the political challenges of worker dissent? What can we say of the policy impact of labor politics in a region where workers are typically marginalized in causal accounts of social change? And how may we explain the diverse trajectories of institutional change in East Asian labor regimes over the past three decades of market reform?

    In this book, I...

  5. Part I. Labor Systems, Economic Development, and Market Reform

    • Chapter 1 Labor Systems: Social Processes and Regulatory Orders
      (pp. 11-26)

      Labor systems comprise those variably institutionalized social processes and activities through which potential labor is mobilized and transformed into actualized labor, useful services and products, and—in capitalist economies—profits. Labor systems may be differentially understood from the vantage point of their contrasting meaning to employers, state agents, and workers. From the standpoint of employers, these systems define a core institutional foundation of competitiveness, profitability, and growth. For states, they define as well an institutional milieu for ensuring social stability and political legitimacy. And, for workers, they comprise a primary means through which to procure a variably stable economic livelihood...

    • Chapter 2 Explaining Regulatory Change
      (pp. 27-39)

      One of my primary goals is to identify and explain national trajectories of labor and social regulation over the past three decades of Asian development and reform. This goal is driven by a broader interest in the ways in which dominant elites have sought to respond to a variety of labor-related economic and sociopolitical pressures by reshaping labor systems through regulatory reform. It is thus important to begin by identifying some of the key influences on institutional change that must be addressed in this study. Four such influences are of particular importance here: path dependence, functional adaptation, strategic innovation, and...

    • Chapter 3 Reforming Labor Systems: Neoliberalism, Reregulation, and Social Compensation
      (pp. 40-60)

      The 1980’s hegemonic consolidation of a new, market-oriented, regulatory paradigm set in motion major global transformations in the nature of interstate economic relations and in the role of states in national economies. Of particular interest here were associated changes in regimes of social and labor regulation and in the labor systems through which economic accumulation, economic livelihood, and social integration are secured and mutually articulated. This new orthodoxy, usefully termed the Washington Consensus by John Williamson (1990), came to define a dominant policy orientation among the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international financial institutions, and the executive...

  6. Part II. Deregulating Asian Labor Systems

    • Chapter 4 Export–Oriented Industrialization and State–Enterprise Reform: Restructuring Employment
      (pp. 63-84)

      The shift in several Asian countries away from import substitution toward a greater emphasis on export-oriented industrialization (EOI) defines a convenient starting point for the study of Asian market reform. This shift occurred initially in Asia’s four newly industrializing countries during the 1960s and 1970s, in part in response to new external opportunities created by growing Japanese international subcontracting and direct investment, by expanding world markets, and by increased demand for logistics and supplies on the part of the U.S. military in its prosecution of the Vietnam War. The EOI shift was subsequently replicated in the early and mid-1980s in...

    • Chapter 5 External Liberalization of Trade and Investment
      (pp. 85-93)

      Asia’s post-1980’s policy shift to market-oriented reform may generally be characterized as gradualist and selective. In this regard, Asia marks something of a departure from other regions, inasmuch as relatively more robust economic growth, a lower external debt burden, more adequate foreign reserve holdings, and relatively strong states—particularly in the more dynamic regional economies—have meant that external reform pressures were less intense than in other developing-world regions.¹ In 2008, just prior to the world economic slowdown, public and publicly guaranteed debt as a percentage of GDP stood at 4 percent in China, 13.8 percent in Korea, 16 percent...

    • Chapter 6 The Deregulatory Face of Labor Reform
      (pp. 94-116)

      In chapters 4 and 5 I argued that economic reform and restructuring have powerfully, if indirectly, influenced Asian labor through their consequences for the redistribution of workers across different economic sectors, types of work, and associated labor systems. This chapter addresses the second, more direct, reform influence on labor systems: that of social-regulatory reform and changing labor regimes. During the 1990s, China, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines to varying degrees and in different ways pursued market-conforming policies of labor market deregulation, institutional devolution to local and private sectors, and market-oriented social-policy reform. I focus here on the deregulatory face of...

  7. Part III. The Tensions of Reform

    • Chapter 7 Compromising Economic and Social Agendas
      (pp. 119-137)

      Economic restructuring and reform have brought mixed outcomes from the standpoints of both economic and social agendas. In seeking to understand ongoing reform-policy trajectories, it is necessary to identify the tensions and instabilities associated with reform policies, tensions that have importantly influenced the policies and institutional strategies of ruling groups across the region. These tensions may or may not be directly evidenced in the actual flow of events and trajectories of reform. Rather, they are seen as only latent or tendential, instead of necessary, outcomes of deregulatory policies, contingent in their outward manifestation on the extent which, and the success...

    • Chapter 8 Political Tensions of Reform: Labor Opposition and Public Disorder
      (pp. 138-162)

      Associated with the various institutional and economic tensions of reform are political pressures that must be addressed and that are sometimes primary drivers of the social protections and compensations that have been increasingly prominent in national reform policies and in the augmented Washington consensus more generally. Much of the literature on the politics of Asian economic reform has attended to interelite factional conflicts, as various business groups, government agencies, and elite coalitions have pursued one or another pathway of reform that they see as consistent with their material interests and collective goals. Insofar as this book is focused more specifically...

  8. Part IV. Addressing the Tensions of Reform

    • Chapter 9 The Reregulatory Face of Labor Reform: Institutionalization, Social Compensation, and Developmental Augmentation
      (pp. 165-197)

      Insofar as deregulatory market reform has been associated with disruptive market failures, it has encouraged new institutional efforts to make markets work. And insofar as reform has engendered social and political disruptions, it has spawned Asia’s societal “countermovement,” especially following the regional financial crisis of the late 1990s (Mok and Forrest 2009). In some cases, these compensatory responses have been largely reactive as reform tensions have become ever more apparent and disruptive.¹ In other cases, the responses have been more anticipatory in nature, as elites have attempted to pre-empt or manage the disruptions of reform. And in most instances, the...

    • Chapter 10 Disciplining Labor and Rebuilding the Labor Process
      (pp. 198-213)

      I have argued that policies relating to workforce social reproduction tend to provoke less intense conflict than policies of social protection, where labor costs are more often seen as competing with rather than augmenting competitiveness and labor market flexibility. Even more conflictual is the labor process, in which regulatory regimes and policies must more directly address the structural disparities between the livelihood agendas of workers and the accumulation strategies of firms and states. Here questions of pay, work discipline, job control, work organization, and accepted avenues of worker representation pose especially contentious issues in which common ground is often difficult...

    • Chapter 11 Small Enterprises, Supplier Networks, and Industrial Parks: Creating High-Skill Developmental Labor Systems
      (pp. 214-231)

      Successful regimes of social and labor regulation must address a host of reform-driven institutional deficits relating to the social reproduction of an educated, work-ready, and well-trained workforce; creation of an institutional and motivational infrastructure within which flexible labor markets can function successfully; meeting essential requirements of workforce social protection; and managing or redirecting conflicts within the labor process and in the broader workforce. They must do this in ways that also engage the economic agendas and developmental goals of dominant elites. That these multiple and sometimes conflicting requirements would seem to present impossible institutional demands is clear. Indeed, the very...

    • Chapter 12 Contesting Reform: The Influence of Labor Politics
      (pp. 232-242)

      Influenced in part by a now-dated literature on Asian developmental states, studies of regional reform trajectories over the past thirty years have attended largely to the interests and strategies of elites and elite coalitions. By consequence, much of this literature has emphasized government developmental strategies, the nature and influence of existing state institutions and political regimes, the power and interests of competing elite factions, the economic requirements of growth, and the constraints and opportunities associated with the differential location of Asia’s national economies in global markets and interstate relations. But with the important exception of Korea, Asian workers are only...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 243-246)

    In this book I have sought to understand the implications of three decades of market-oriented economic reform for Asian workers. I have suggested a conceptual framework, centering on labor systems and their regulatory regimes, through which to draw together disparate literatures on institutional change, labor relations, social policy, and development that directly or indirectly help elucidate the labor implications of market reform. I have focused on the industrial sectors of four Asian countries that I have selected to exemplify contrasting contexts and trajectories of reform in this economically dynamic region.

    Drawing on Polanyi’s discussion of the social dislocations and “countermovement”...

  10. References
    (pp. 247-264)
  11. Index
    (pp. 265-266)