Professor Nobuko Yokota

PhD Economics(Seoul University)
visiting fellow
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

Research interests

The history of the formation of the working class in South Korea.

The labor movement of female informal workers in South Korea, Japan, and Australia.  



Professor of Sociology, School of Sociology, Kwansei Gakuin University

Graduate School of Economics, Seoul National University.
PhD Economics (2001/2)




Researcher's projects

Theme: New labor movements and the organization of marginalized female workers in Australia, South Korea, and Japan.

For more than 30 years I have examined the informal and precarious employment of female workers on the margins of the labor market in Korea. In so doing, I have studied the new labor movement that has emerged since the late 1990s and have compared it with developments in Japan. However, I believe it is necessary to broaden my field of enquiry in order to understand East Asian movements in comparison with the organization of women in precarious employment elsewhere in the world. I would like to make a comparative analysis of Australia’s new labor movement, which has developed in collaboration with social movements that have protested non-class issues such as gender and ethnic discrimination and environmental matters since the 1960s and 1970s. In the following I would like to describe in detail the research plan scheduled for next year in Australia.

With the rapid advance of globalization since the 1990s neo-liberal policies have been pursued worldwide in order for international companies to survive global mega-competition. These policies include the deregulation of labor in the interest of liberalizing corporate activities. Consequently, a huge pool of informal workers has been created, typically in precarious employment with poor working conditions, and excluded from the protection of the law, social security systems, and trades unions. It is very difficult to organize these workers because the majority of them are isolated and dispersed at the margins of the labor market.

However, in the 21st century locally based community unions emerged as a new labor movement model in South Korea and Japan and became socially influential. In short, trades unions and local community residents formed alliances to defend their common interests, and a more comprehensive and powerful form of social activism was the result.

In fact, since the 1960s such social movement unions have been in existence in Australia on behalf of vulnerable groups such as Aboriginal people, women, and migrant workers, and have achieved notable successes. However, in South Korea the economic crisis of 1998, a product of globalization, led to the formation of women’s labor and youth unions, which linked to local communities to make the socially vulnerable strata social and political forces. Even in Japan unions with close ties to local communities have come into being since the 1990s, but these have been relatively weak and will never be a major force for social change, unlike those in South Korea.  

 The purpose of this study is to identify the characteristics of social movement unionism, which differ from country to country, through an examination of the formation of social movement unions in South Korea, Japan, and Australia, and their relationships with local communities. By visiting Australia, a country unknown to one born and raised in an East Asian society, I hope to study how social movement unionism based upon local communities has developed there, and the social conditions that have given rise to it. Through this research I will seek to find ways in which the labor movement can become the central force of social change in South Korea and Japan, where neoliberalism is a powerful force in their corporate-centric societies.



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