Seminario dipartimentale a.a. 2019/2020
Employer association formation and early development: Going beyond materialist explanations?
INTERVIENE: Peter Sheldon, University of New South Wales, Sydney
Researching employer association formation in East Asia challenges traditional (‘Western’) explanatory perspectives of that phenomenon. This presentation focuses on the apparent paradoxes of how and why chaebols, South Korea’s large family-controlled business groups, formed the Korea Employers’ Federation (KEF) in 1970. They did this in the absence of the immediate external labour market challenges – from unions and/or pro-worker legislation – that the Western-derived literature posits as necessary (‘materialist’) catalysts for employers embarking on formally organising collectively. Theirs was a strategic choice for industrial relations capacity building against a distant future when those triggers might appear. How else to explain this phenomenon? The reasons (‘the why’) for those choices might reflect Western understandings of hallmark strengths of chaebol entrepreneurialism: strategic very long-term planning and capacities for audacious shifts of terrain. The manner (‘the how’) in which those chaebols formed the KEF also seems explicable through Korean Confucian harmony-seeking and paternalist relationship responsibilities. Thus, to explain the KEF’s formation and early development, ‘culturalist’ explanations might be more useful, where culture operates through both entrepreneurial and national cultural influences. The presentation will suggest that even culturalist explanations are insufficient and that ‘historicist’ explanations may be more persuasive. More broadly, we need to look beyond traditional industrial relations phenomena to explain employer choices to form and maintain representative organisations with a labour market focus.