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Transformation of Workplaces Through Information Technology: The Case of South Korea

By Prof. Dr. Su-Dol Kang
Korea University in Chochiwon, Industrial Relations


As early as 1936 there appeared an electronic monitoring system in the famous film of Charlie Chaplin, the Modern Times. It is very hard for Charlie to relieve a shift for a short break with his colleague, because the conveyor belt runs too fast. He goes to restroom to smoke, but there he becomes very embarrassed to see a television screen suddenly turn on on a wall. Surprisingly, the boss of the company in the screen orders him to go back immediately to the conveyor line. Interestingly, instead of resisting his boss, he irritates his colleague on the line by not returning to his job on time.

The boss sits on a high stage, and having read the newspapers and taken nourishment pills, turns on the monitor and watches over the labor process on shopfloors. He commands a supervisor or an engineer to speed up the line or to tell the worker to fasten the nuts more tightly, indicating exactly the location of the error on line and row.

The essential problem here lies not only in the fact that Charlie must work like a machine without pause, but also in the reality that he can never react to what his boss orders, while he stands continuously under the electronic surveillance system of his boss. As a result, he develops a mental disorder, whereby paradoxically, he really acts as a human being.

Now I want to come to my feeling. In the situation of Charlie, I would have handed in my resignation or organized resistance against the uncomfortable system. For I have the need to live happily, as everyone does. To live in happiness for me means: living in physical and mental health with calmness of mind, respected as human being and free of the prejudice of other. It means living together with neighbors autonomously in cooperation (not in competition); and living in an ecologically sound environment.

But the concrete reality of my life and, indeed, of all our lives seems to go far beyond our inner need. Regardless of the surprisingly high performance of the computer system I have to work more and more, day after day. And when I have no urgent task to do, I still do not feel comfortable. The circumstances under which I work are getting more and more competitive. Although there are strong eco-movements and even slogans for sustainable development, the destruction of the ecology in general does not stop.

It seems that the following questions have been important in research, surveys and theoretical discussions on the theme of information technology and the labor process during the last few last decades(Jankanish 1993): What kind of influences does information technology have on the labor process and power relations? How can information technology function as an instrument of labor monitoring? Which branches or groups of workers are especially controlled and watched over through information technologies? Is there any possibility with which the workers can protect themselves against high-tech labor control?

Recognizing that all these questions are still significant for our discussions about taking action, I feel it would be also relevant to ask how it becomes possible for working people to accept information technology as an inevitable weapon of the new era.

In the background of this question there are two important considerations which I think are critical for understanding the nature of "the age of informatization".

Firstly, I am of the position that the technology of the modern capitalistic society reflects the social relationship of production. In this sense what matters for me is not the specific manner of use of a given technology, but the nature of the technology itself . Concerning this point some questions are likely to be significant: Who does take the initiative in technological development? In which social context are the technologies developed and applied in the production process? Why are certain technologies especially intensively developed and not others?

Secondly, the dynamic of the technological progress in our society has the characteristic of endlessness. This imperative technological progress is always looking for the newer, the better, the faster. It seems to be ëself-coercive.í It knows no limit, nothing is ever enough, as with our superficial needs; whereas our deep, inner needs are not limitless. Therefore, unlimited technological progress premises that our inner needs are separated from our superficial ones. I think this endless process of technological development corresponds exactly to the nature of capital accumulation which presupposes a kind of ìself-splitting.î


In order to take action oriented toward social relations that are alternatives to destructive capitalistic ones, we are to go beyond an understanding of the problem as one of information technology being an instrument of labor control for capital. That is, we should understand the mechanism of how people come to accept information technology and its accompanying culture as well.

My hypothesis here comprises essentially two arguments:

1) Information technology in the so-called globalization age leads to not only a spatial and temporal intensification of labor, but to a mental and emotional one as well: The slogan of ìempowermentî in the new mode of management is nothing other than charging those at the shop floor level with direct responsibility for production. Accordingly, under the given, seemingly ìautonomous,î climate of the labor process we (should) feel, think, and act more and more intensively as if we were all sub-managers. Thus, we ëcapitalizeí even our emotion voluntarily by managing and controlling our feeling for the purpose of achieving high performance under/through high-technology.

2) As our emotions become more and more objectified, we experience more inner fear so that we finally identify ourselves with our company: Our lives become more and more transparent and exposed increasingly to the eyes of capital, under whose command information technology is developed and applied to labor/life control. At first we could have strong negative feelings or even fury against electronic monitoring by management via information technology. Over time we can eventually articulate our feelings and opinions against this surveillance. But at the same time our inner fear gradually increases as we find that our activities are unceasingly watched over by someone else on the one hand and as we get afraid we can lose the competitiveness without technological innovation on the other hand. We get to ëmanageí our feeling in following ways: a) We can suppress our feelings directly. This manifests as apathy or indifference to what happens within us. Itís a shutting of our eyes and plugging our ears, resulting in a ëfeeling jamí if you will; on the analogy of the traffic jam. Itís a kind of emotional frigidity. This leads finally to a tacit loyalty to the ruling class. b) We can transfer our negative feelings to other people in other situations. Initially we can tolerate the intrusion and we are reluctant to say no. But in another situation where we feel mighty we can purge the feeling of oppression abruptly and explosively. It can bring about not only active loyalty to the ruler, but can transfer the same relationship to others. Finally, our feelings in the company can be transferred to the family or other social relationships. c) We can institutionalize our feelings in the form of an agreement. This alliance or compromise with the source of negative feeling leads to complicity. In such a relationship of complicity, we can feel that the new technology is not always bad, but sometimes convenient, as it makes things often easier or simpler. With some measure of material compensation for our cooperation with the company the new technology is inevitable for efficiency. Moreover, the more times we experience that our resistance against monitoring is less than successful, the more we tend to exercise self-control, as a result of our ìidentification with the aggressorî .

3. Workplace realities in Korea

In South Korea, as of October 2000, there were more than 600 firms in which there were investigation programs for monitoring the e-mail of office workers during their daily labor process. The concerned organizations are very widespread and diverse: They include government organizations, provincial administrative offices, information and communications firms, electronics firms, the credit industry, universities, research institutions, etc.

It is surprising that many of these firms donít even inform workers of the existence and application of corporate internal surveillance programs, let alone a try for consensus-building. An officer from a security team at Hyundai Motors says, ìTo be frank, we are performing key-word searches of certain e-mail and regarding important union activists, all e-mail are monitored. We keep it a secret so that the concerned workers donít know what is going on.î Such a picture was nearly unimaginable about 10 years ago.

For a deeper understanding of the concrete changes at workplaces nowadays in Korea, it would be better to see some backgrounds of these changes. I would point out here three interrelated factors: the democratic labor movement, the challenge of globalization and the needs of Korean capitalism.

Firstly, since the middle of 1980s the democratic labor movement has pursued the traditional way of labor control in Korea, i.e. in confucianistic and militaristic style, no more effectively than before. Especially during the wave of the ëgreat struggles of 1987í workers have requested decisively the abolition of inhuman practices of labor control in factories. For example, Hyundai workers have requested at that times an immediate removal of working uniforms and nametags. They rejected the military and authoritarian climate of the labor process, in favor of humanization.

Secondly, the challenge of globalization, the first goal of which is reshaping of the world as one free global market, influenced firms trying to develop new ways of labor control. The imperative of globalization, which is nothing less than a new strategy of world capital forced Korean firms to adapt themselves to the ëglobalí standard of management. Exactly this also equip the capital with a good cause for a new attack against the working class. In this sense information technology seemed to be irreversible wave of world change.

Thirdly, Korean capitalism had to choose a new means of accumulation, as the old way that had been effective in the process of rapid economic growth since 1960s turned out to be too limiting. While the old way of accumulation had been based on such factors as extremely long working hours(12-14 hours), minimal wages, an absence of labor rights and little social welfare, the new one is much better oriented to getting higher productivity through labor intensification and new technologies.

In this context the management in Korean firms had two strategies: Overseas foreign direct investment and the rationalization of the labor control. It is not accidental that we can easily find the old ways of labor control in overseas factories of Korean firms and simultaneously we find variety of computer-aided modern forms of labor control in domestic workplaces.

Electronic ID-Card at Hyundai Motors

The Hyundai Motors Co. in Ulsan introduced in July, 1994 an integrated ID-card system (bar cord system) as a part of office automation, under which such personal data as oneís name, resident registry number and status in company hierarchy are recorded in the bar code on the back, and photo and working department are shown on the front . Prior, they had a hierarchical name tag system, under which the small group leader had one red line on the tag, the team leaders two red lines, whereas the rank and file had none. This old system had been much criticized by workers and unions as discriminatory practice. Management also wanted to renovate the old-fashioned personnel control system.

The workers were now told under the new system to pass the bar code over electronic readers, every time when they left and arrived at the factory gate. So the behavior of workers, such as coming late, leaving earlier, outgoings, having lunch outside etc., could be exactly documented electronically. Many union members had a fear of electronic surveillance and labor control, which stimulated conflicts at company gates. Thus, the new system had little success.

As a new factory opened in Jeonju in March, 1996, a more sophisticated ID-Card system(the IC card) which contained IC-chips, was to be introduced for 3,200 workers. With regard to the production workers the new system didnít function well, because workers refused from the beginning to use the card to record the comings and goings of employees. But office workers, mostly non-union members, accepted the new card system with little resistance. They also used the card to gain admittance in taverns. The moderate trade union in Jeonju, after having debated this problem in labor-management consultations several times, concluded that when the new system would be introduced in Ulsan, it also would be acceptable in Jeonju. But more militant-based organizations such as struggle committees for factory movements and those against unwarranted dismissals, have directly resisted both the company and the moderate union leaders as well which had an ambiguous position. Consequently, the new system could not function fully at the Jeonju factory. The management has tried multilaterally for about three years to persuade the union and the rank and file to agree to the new system.

By the way, it is very interesting that the process of office automation at the Hyundai Motors Jeonju factory, which involves the new electronic control system to detect the diligence or indolence of workers, was stepped up during the workersí struggle against massive layoffs at the main factory in Ulsan in 1998. Among the list of 277 layoffs in Ulsan, more than half (144) were women workers in taverns, while the rest were mostly activists of grassroots level organizations. This shows that the massive layoffs and the intensification of labor through information technology were two sides of the same coin.

Finally, the management of the Hyundai Motors Jeonju factory tried again to introduce the RF-ID (Radio Frequency Identification) card system on January 11, 1999. This RF-card was so highly sensitive that even without a reader the location or performance of a worker can be exactly recorded. But once again it had to be postponed until 15 days later, because of the resistance of production workers. The rank and file thought that the system was not merely an instrument for an office automation, which substitutes for so-called eye-hand work, but for monitoring and controlling labor in general. So they organized a special committee for hindering management from introducing the RF-ID card. They also surveyed the opinions of the rank and file through a questionnaire; over 85% of the respondents were against the new card system.

However, in the meantime, the local union in Jeonju had already agreed in principle to the new system(21. Jan. 1998), after withdrawing its opposition. A compromise had been reached regarding office automation and the labor union was convinced by managementís arguments. They also found that there were no grounds for resisting the new system, as they thought that the improvement of personnel management through office automation belongs to the original task or prerogative of employer. In addition, the new card system seemed, for the union and for many workers, to be more convenient than the previous one, as it did not require the card to be read every time an employee passed through the company gates, the gates of taverns/living quarters, painting shops and research institutes. Being aware of the decisive resistance of the rank and file, the union announced that they would try to insert a special statement into the collective agreement on the RF-ID card, so that the system would not be ëmisusedí for labor monitoring. It is interesting to note that the union is now also monitoring the employer through eye and hand to determine whether the RF-ID card system is being misused.

Even though management argues that through the RF-ID card system they have only the intention to evaluate the data of workers regarding diligence or indolence as a part of an office automation, the problem is not so simple for the workers concerned. For them it would be an ëelectronic panopticoní(M. Foucault). All activities of workers from punch-in to quitting time, including coffee or cigarette breaks, are recorded precisely, and the stored data are transported via the foreman computer to the central computer and so become a good basis for ëscientificí personnel management or HRM.

One who has fought against the new system wrote in a newspaper the following: ìThe RF-ID card, when its reader is installed in a corridor between the production line and the break room, can document who, when, how long, and how often someone takes a break. Further, workers will have the feeling that they are being watched all of the time. This will cause them to feel intimidated. In such a workplace, workers will lose their smiles.î (Mun Man-Sik, The Hankyore, January 20. 1999)

DAS at Hankook Tire

A worker called Jang Gap-Cheol has worked in a production department at Hankook Tire Co. He took an active part in a sit-in strike in June, 1995 for the democratization of the traditional yellow union and for duty-free Sundays. He has also been sympathetic to a grassroots organization called ëNominchuí . After this he was transferred by management to the control department without his consent. Later, he was again threatened with being reprimanded by the companyís personnel committee. Finally he got so angry that he explicitly requested management identify concrete evidence of his wrong doing. The department of personnel affairs showed him a series of photos that had been taken by a monitoring camera at the central gate of the company. Everyday when he had left his job 5 or 10 minutes too early after, of course, finishing his work, was completely documented by the photos. Deep embarrassed and disappointed at the company, he resigned his job without any reluctance.

In this company there are many hidden and open cameras used to monitor the behavior of workers in the whole workplace, from one-man machines, mechanic formation machines, workplace corridors, locker rooms, break rooms, to sleeping rooms. In the morning, foremen sit at the companyís entrance noting who gets on the commuting buses, and when they get on. Buses pass three times through CCTVís from the main gate to the work places.

Kim(1999) attributes an amazing performance of the company since 1997 regardless of the general crisis of the Korean economy to an efficient combination of information technologies such as DAS(Data Acquisition System) or VPN(Virtual Private Network) with various employee motivation and integration techniques such as the ëone mind, one goal, one family-campaigní or overseas tour programs for union representatives. As a result, the value added per worker in this company has increased from 45,000 US dollars in 1994 to 55,000 dollars in 1999(Kim 1999).

It is here notable that it was after the strike of 1995 that the company introduced DAS with which all data such as work quantum, production quantum, the number of defective products, suspension time, beginning and quitting time of work etc., could be systematically and completely documented. DAS is installed as a monitor in the machinery itself. Pressing the button of the machine by a worker operates the monitor at the same time. Every time a worker passes the gate of the factory, the time is exactly checked through the IC-card. Thus, all activities of individual workers and base level activists can be perfectly monitored electronically. With the help of DAS, the central bureau of the company in Seoul can check all relevant data from every branch or factory in outlying provincial cities, for example, Daejeon or Incheon. Individual information related to productivity, diligence or loyalty is available regardless of space or time. The result is that not only increased technical efficiency of labor, but also the efficiency of labor control is considerably increased from the viewpoint of the company.

Under these circumstances workers cannot dare to take breaks for coffee or a cigarette. They fear that they will become conspicuous in their undisciplined behavior, and as a result they will receive bad treatment from management. Consequently, they donít use even the regular break times. Nor do they quit and go home before they finish their quotas set by management. The results are one the one hand labor productivity increases greatly; on the other labor dissatisfaction such as job stress, distrust among colleagues, headaches and gastroenteric disorders increases proportionately.

In a mechanic molding department, there very often occurs such evil events as output or defect product manipulation by the supervisor, because here there are especially many whistle blowers. A man who is able to work very efficiently but is not ready to declare loyal to the company can likely be oppressed on the basis of data distorted by management. But as the workers have no access to the data of their own production, they have no opportunity to correct or refute the information, even if it has been consciously manipulated or distorted to discipline them. This one-sided advantage in the informatization process, with its digitized exactness and superficial perfectness, makes workers feel powerless and frustrated. It seems that they cannot but obey silently to keep their job secure.

In such a situation, if a worker takes a break without fulfilling a given task, he/she must stay longer without any compensation. In addition he/she must submit an official explanation for it. Being afraid of getting a warning from management or writing an explanation, which is a great humiliation to him/her, he/she often goes to restroom to have a short break, instead of a break room. Even here, alarmingly the company has made broader the chinks in the toilet doors so that the workers cannot sleep in the stalls.

An activist from this company said in a discussion(November, 1998) that it is especially hard for workers to elude DAS because it is a total system which integrates every element including mechanical devices, electronic devices, operators and managers. Moreover, the fact that management has a unitarist frame of reference regarding industrial relations is also problematic. Once a manager asked the workers who were resisting DAS, ìIs it yours?î At this the workers became dumb struck. For them a rejection of DAS meant a refusal to work, and a dismissal, he explained. To sum up, the absence of a democratic union and of comprehensive information about DAS resulted in a failure of the workers to take effective action. But he also added that only the solidarity of the workers can break through the totalitarian system and that, once the system begins to collapse, it shall break down very rapidly and radically, because management is too optimistic about perfect labor control system through the DAS.

Pinhole cameras in Hospital

At Chungbuk Universityís Hospital in Cheongju there was a labor dispute in June, 2000 after long negotiations between union and management for a new collective agreement ended in May. Workers went on strike. But management declared that the strike was illegal. It accused union leaders and activists of interference in the execution of its managerial functions, and had the intention to dismiss them after a meeting of personnel committee.

Union members became very angry and finally assembled in a conference hall to discuss how they could combat the unfair labor practices of hospital management. And exactly there, they accidentally discovered small hidden cameras on the ceiling of the room, and then also in corridors and lounges. In a fit of fury, they thrust themselves into the room of the director for planning and coordination which was next to the hospital directorís room. And there again, they became embarrassed to find a monitor connected to the cameras they discovered, and video cassette tape which documented all the dialogues and discussions of the union members during the union-management consultations or negotiations.

Management explained that the devices were used in the event of misbehavior or trouble by the patients and for securing trustworthy evidences for reasonable conflict resolution. But the union countered that the places concerned are not where the patients or theirs families normally enter or pass through. Instead, the union was convinced that the device had been installed by management with the intention to monitor all activities of union members. The grounds for the unionís belief was presence of the pinhole cameras installed exactly in the places where union members went on the sit-in strike(before the chiefís room), and where the union representatives were sitting for collective bargaining(in the meeting room). Probably out of fear that union activists might attack the chief of the hospital or the director of planning and coordination, the management also installed pinhole cameras in their rooms.

The leader of the union said in a short interview with me(October 24, 2000) that the medical doctors, being perceived by society as intellectuals with extensive education and a developed conscience nonetheless remain in a authoritarian culture, and are far from able to shape new labor relations based on trust between the two partners.

CCTV in buses and offices

In February, 1998 Donghae bus company installed CCTVís in buses above the head of the driver under the pretext of preventing drivers from stealing the money. Another reason for it was, allegedly, to secure evidence of possible conflicts between drivers and passengers(JakeunChaek, Nr.37, May 1998). But the device itself gave drivers the feeling of ësomeone always watching over meí, and caused great psychological pressure and fear in them.

A driver at this company, An Gun-mo, said, ì I feel that I am treated by the company as a potential thief.î He doesnít like to see the CCTV playing continuously, so he is no longer ready to kindly open the bus door, when a passenger comes too late to get on. He feels sorry for the passenger, but cannot be kind any more. He explains that he feels under the CCTV as if his employer would fumble around in his pockets and on his body for hidden money. He feels in himself a great antipathy against the CCTV which assumes that the driver is a thief. He says he is not a machine, but a human being that has feelings.

Another city bus service company in Gyungju, Geum-ah, also installed CCTVís in buses in April, 1997 without any consultation with the labor union. The union had consistently requested that CCTV installation could be accepted, only after the wage increase they sought. So the union went on strike, resulting in a mini-tripartite consensus among union, management and local government at the end of May. But the company, breaking the consensus unilaterally, developed a strategy of dividing the organization to isolate about 50 active strikers from the others. It built another company in August under the pretext of management rationalization, forcing the 50 most troublesome drivers to remain in the old company engaged in a backcountry transport with radically shortened workdays and much diminished wages(approx. 300 US dollars a month), and lastly bringing about a warrantless dismissal of 13 of these drivers(The Daily Labor News, February 3, 1998).

The union members decided to go on an unlimited sit-in strike in the building of the Grand National Party in Seoul to make their case public in January, 1998. They demanded a retreat of unfair labor practices by management, the intervention of government to observe the consensus reached, an increase in wages above subsistence level, etc. A prompt report of the strikers read: ìWe have seen clearly from the case of Geum-ah that any negotiations and consensus without organizing at the most basic level could thrust us into a narrowly tightened position, if management were not ready to carry out the consensus, but rather chose to skillfully oppress us.î

We can also realize clearly from another example how CCTV can function to suppress workers(The Daily Labor News, June 13, 1998). The Hanbat city bus company in Daejeon monitored union activists intensively through CCTVís installed in buses. The company said that about 10 drivers didnít keep their starting or arriving times, as they started 5 or 10 minutes earlier or later than planned. Consequently, the 10 drivers were subjected to a wage cut and 3-day-suspension.

But according to the explanation of the punished drivers, the company had commanded them, through dispatchers, to start earlier, because of traffic jams caused by subway construction in the downtown area. Moreover, the driving time from start to bus terminal has not changed for 13 years. In the meantime the volume of traffic in the city has increased by about ten times. So the drivers must violate traffic regulations to keep the arrival time. Further, the company punished only active union members, not the loyal drivers, on the grounds that they violated the work rules. The CCTVís check not only the starting and arriving times, but the driving speed, providing the company with visible and formal evidence especially for punishing those who are usually not friendly to the company.

Also in Seoul metropolitan area the local government tried in 1998 to install CCTVís in all buses to avoid conflicts between drivers and employers regarding possible embezzlement; but it was in vain, because citizens were afraid of privacy or human rights encroachment. However, some companies were successful in installing CCTVís in buses through consensus building between employees and employers. According to a branch union member, many companies won acceptance by drivers only with the concession that every day they pay some special allowance(for example, 5 US dollars a day at Sinseong Bus) to the drivers.

Another example shows very clearly a context in which CCTVís are introduced into the workplace. After a great labor dispute at Korea Telekom in the spring of 1994, the company installed CCTVís in February 1995 in main telephone offices nationwide. The central management ordered the various offices, through a ëmanagerial guide to illegal and anti-regulation activitiesí labelled as a level three secrecy, to install CCTVís and secure clear evidence for illegal activities of labor unions. According to the guide, video and photo cameras should be used supplementally(The Joongang-ilbo, October 11, 1995).

Monitoring of telecommunications

The Daewoo stockbrokerage firm installed a phone recording system in all 104 branches nationwide(The Seoul Economic Daily, October 24, 1998). It cost about 1.5 million US dollars. Under the system calls made on mobile phones were listened to and recorded. An LG security firm has the same system. One representative said that the system can protect customers from losses due to voluntary transactions of the dealersí own accord and also protect the dealers(employees) from damages through one-sided arguments of customers in case of claims for damages. The employees in these firms are split: They recognize the necessity of phone call recording for the prevention of credit conflicts in transactions on the one hand, but they are afraid of a possible violation of privacy protection on the other.

E-mail is also easily read and even the PC files, including the ones attached to e-mail letters, can be viewed by employers. A surveillance system company in Seoul called S has already installed PC surveillance systems in no less than 400 firms, especially in information and communication firms and in large enterprises. For example, H-credit has been using such a system since March 2000. Management at H-credit can control employeesí websites regarding stock investment or chatting. After a rumor was going around that all the contents of e-mail were reported regularly to management, there appears the phenomenon of internet-avoidance among employees. In a similar situation at a large company called Daewoo, a Mr. Park, 28 years old, confessed that he felt before his PC monitor as if he were being shadowed by someone, as if he were a criminal. In another case, 32 year old Mr. Kim of a credit firm tells that e-mail control programs such as ëWebkeeperí or ëMessage Inspectorí are being passed among salaried people as a ëterrible cyber KGB.í People often say that, to cite George Owellís ëBig Brotherí idea, there are ëmany little brothersí today .

In this process our privacy will be considerably violated, while we are neither conscious of it nor able to take appropriate measures against it. For example, a survey by the Korean Information Protection Center in June, 2000, says that among 300 commercial internet web-sites not fewer than 96% do not abide by the guide to individual information protection of the Information and Communication Network Promotion Act(The Nodong Ilbo, October 2, 2000). According to the guide, commercial web-site organizations must inform users of such important matters as personal data(name, organization, phone number, etc.) of information managers; the ways of discontinuing web-site membership; accessibility to stored individual data; and the correction of inaccurate information.

According to a survey(July 1999) of CYBIK, a studentís research team on legal problems and cyber space, only 38%(27) of all 71 surveyed internet sites belonging to 42 public or private organizations have made publicly known their guidelines to individual information management. More surprisingly, merely 2 out of 71 sites have put up a notice on the web about regulations on privacy protection. This indicates that most individual information is exposed to free commercialization or open monitoring.

Moreover, eavesdropping on phone calls is rapidly increasing: According to data of the parliamentary inspection of government offices in 2000, wiretapping devices acquired by state information agencies such as civil police, military police or prosecutory authorities, increased by 26% compared to the previous year. In addition, central telephone offices have provided state information agencies with the contents of no less than 616 thousand phone calls by the first half of 2000, a 65% increase compared to that of last year. Also four main telecommunications firms, Chollian, Hitel, Nownuri and Unitel, divulged information regarding 562 of their users to the state investigation authorities during the same period.

Koreans have had the formal right to the protection of privacy constitutionally since 1987. But this protection is only from the state. The protection of privacy from another person or business is not yet legislated. Besides, there are other laws such as the e-business laws or e-signature laws which state plainly regarding managementís obligation to notify the public or the prohibition against the misuse of individual information, but there is no punishment provision for violation of the regulations. The government also announced in November, 2000 that a court warrant is required for eavesdropping on computer communications such as e-mail, according to the Communication Secret Protection Act(The Donga-ilbo, 2. Nov., 2000). But the other side of this measure is that information agencies can eavesdrop legally without the consent of the persons concerned, once a court warrant has been issued. Moreover, people are not yet highly aware of the danger of uncontrolled exposure of their individual information , just as they take the resident registration system for granted, as a result of internalization of monitoring by the state.


According to a survey by the Nation Bureau of Medium and Small Business in Dec. 1999, only 21 among 501 companies in the Seoul and Incheon areas have introduced the telework system, in the forms of SOHO(76.2%), Mobile Office(14.3%), and Telework Centers(9.5%). It is clear that this form of work organization is limited in its applicability. As the greatest negative effect of this work form, 48% of the respondents identified the difficulty in personnel management, whereas 38% of them cited a too high set-up cost. I think, this implicates for the organization a great necessity for sophisticated labor control through high-tech.

In the case of IBM Korea, 900 employees among a total of 1,400 (as of December, 1999) do not have their own seat at the firm. They do not show up at the office in the morning, but meet directly with their customers. When they come to the office, they search for a free seat on a monitor near the entrance. Soon they get a number of seat where they continue working. With their IC-card they can enter the office and go to their designated desk. There are no fixed desk in this ëmobile officeí. These employees need to carry a notebook computer and a handy or a beeper. Since July 1995 thanks to this kind of telework system the firm could give up nearly a half of its office space, resulting in a considerable savings for the firm. The networked computer system can check who, where, and how long someone has worked. Such a new system requires employees to be highly motivated and self-controlled. Therefore, not only a management of time, but also that of their own emotions becomes their new task.

In 1997 Korea Telekom in Seoul also transformed 65 jobs of night time information telephone operators into telework. The teleworkers provide information service from 22:00 to 08:00 the next day, earning about 500 US dollars a month on the basis of short-term contracting. This saved the firm about 2 million US dollars. Lately the firm has hired 200 new teleworkers who cannot easily gain membership into the union. It is interesting that Korea Telekom makes great efforts to rationalize the work organization without the consent of workers or the union, especially after the strike of 1994 which was led by democratic, militant union leaders. Here the capital strategy of divide and rule functions well through the introduction of a new working system based upon new technology.

Some middle and small businesses hire ìspecial inventionî experts, such as teleworkers, who have a variety of ideas for developing new and lucrative products. For example, Venture Try a company in Seoul, hired 2 young men in December, 1998. These men stay home all week, except for Wednesday, searching for relevant data on internet web sites and absorbing new ideas. On Wednesday they come to the office to discuss ideas with their supervisor. Owing to new ideas of the teleworking experts, this company has already successfully obtained several patent rights. While in the previous form of work organization employers had to control ex ante both the attitude and the ability of workers, now in the age of informatization they need only to ensure ex post whether the expected performance is reached or not.

How do working people accept the high-tech labor control system?

As shown in the several cases above, we see that information technology is being introduced not only for the sake of productivity but also for labor control. Indeed, some argue that efficient labor control is a necessary condition for an increase of productivity that in turn is a basis for solid competitiveness of a company. Today, in the age of informatization, information technology is an important resource both for high productivity and for efficient control of labor.

However, as the term ëlabor controlí itself implies, living labor is not born inert docile. It must be domesticated and disciplined by capital to be used reasonably. As shown above, information technology is introduced by companies to restore control over labor at the basic level by dividing and ruling working people. In this process there occurred, of course, compliance but also a resistance of laborers, as is shown in several cases above.

Exactly here it appears to be significant for us to ask: How can employers win the compliance of workers regardless of their resistance?

Firstly, the maneuver of capital to compensate workers materially for their cooperation and to persuade them to believe in the new technology can be to some extent successful. In the case of Hyundai Motors in Jeonju, the union has, in fact, accepted the new RF-ID card system in exchange for its official recognition by management. The case of the Sinseong Bus service in Seoul shows that the drivers have agreed to a bargain sale of their autonomy for 5 dollars a day.

Secondly, the greater the tendency the union has to see information technology as an indispensable condition for efficiency or productivity, and simultaneously the more power the union has over its members, the easier it becomes for capital to get the workers to participate and cooperate in the process of technological innovation. The case of Hyundai Motors in Jeonju, just like the case of Hankook Tire in Daejeon, suggests that the union had a common view on information technology with the company, but that the power game between the unions and the grassroots activists organizations were critical for its practical implementation. It is here notable that the administrative function of technology is not separated from its ruling function(Hong 2000). The case of Geum-ah in Gyungju shows also that, without the support and struggle of the rank and file, no consensus at the top level could be sustainable.

Thirdly, information technology developed and applied by capital presents a standard of perfection that engenders feeling of frustration for workers. The data manipulations at Hankook Tire Corp. and at Hanbat Bus in Daejeon through the digitization of all behavior and activities of working people typifies this perfection. Digital data on the behavior and activities of workers constitute a great unilateral power for labor control. Also, tactically, considering the inevitable resistance of workers, management can introduce a monitoring system at first only for non-union members. Or they can apply at first merely a simple technique to personnel management, a technique whereby a measure may seem comfortable or convenient for workers, but later there is an incremental hightening of its activity grade or applied area. Being gradually overwhelmed by its perfection, the antipathy of workers can be successfully softened.

Fourthly, as the systematic monitoring of e-mail and phone calls and the telework/mobile office system imply, these new forms of work organization are, I think, products of workersí defeat in a power struggle. The more workers feel powerless, the more likely they are to identify themselves with the powerful high technology to which they become subject. To get accustomed to the age of information, they should manage even their feelings, thoughts and actions. I would characterize this process as the capitalization of emotion: Rather than sustaining or respecting their own feelings, workers align their emotions or feelings according to the wishes of capital. Through this capitalization of emotion, a systematic reproduction of fear is assured, which is nothing less than a ìself-splittingî. In the long run, we can easily see room for hope in the seemingly powerful high technology. This optimism seems to be a workersí survival strategy, but in reality it makes capital more powerful over them. Good counter-evidence is, at least partially, given in the case of Chungbuk University Hospital in Cheongju whereby only a living solidarity , instead of self-splitting, among working people can help them overcome fear and victimization in themselves, endowing themselves with the power of autonomy.


The electronic surveillance system, however it may seem to be necessary to heighten the productivity or efficiency of labor, is today itself a technology for an effective labor control that is in turn a precondition for high labor productivity. It also functions effectively as a labor control system, regardless of whether it is practical under operation or not. This is because people under any surveillance system, suffering from the thought ësomeone always watching over themí, become obsessed and feel persecuted and consequently live in constant fear.

Therefore, any action-taking after the introduction of a surveillance system into the workplace can have only a limited effect. One must intervene collectively into the processes of design, planning, and implementation of every technology(cf. Jang 2000).

On the other hand, the great strike wave of 1996/97 in South Korea has already shown to us clearly how globalized computer networks can play an active role in building a living solidarity out of labor movements worldwide. The conferences of international labor media that have been held in Seoul since November 1997 provide us with good reasons to develop more intensive contacts and interaction between labor camps beyond the border. Now, in South Korea there is a good LaborNet, and also a jinbo net, which plays an important role in informing and coordinationg labor and other social movements.

With regard to this organizational networking for a living solidarity, it would be important to recognize that labor control through information technology by capital can never be unilateral, how strongly may it seem so, instead, it is a problem of inter-action, of power game. As the ëone mind, one goal, one family-campaigní at Hankook Tire Corp. obviously shows, the identification of the working people with the individual company is fatal in this power game.

Further, although I never consider the enactment of legislation or new collective agreements for the protection of labor rights as unnecessary, as is often suggested at many discussions regarding workersí privacy under information technology, I would finally put emphasis on the empowerment capability within us as a fundamental starting point for alternative life oriented to our inner needs. Because exactly this self-empowerment can enable us to overcome the fear and insensitivity (and so the ëinternalization of surveillanceí) which is an important precondition for the proper functioning of a ruling system.


ACLU(1996), ìLifestyle Discrimination in the Workplace: Your Right to Privacy Under Attackî, mimeo, USA, jinbo-net. Ferenczi, S.(1933), ìSprachverwirrung zwischen dem Erwachsenen und dem Kind. Die Sprache der Z"rtlichkeit und der Leidenschaftî, Schriften zur Psychoanalyse, Vol. 2. Heide, H.(1999), ìZur Bedeutung der Subjektivit"t f¸r die s¸dkoreanische Akkumulationsweise, H. Heide(ed.), S¸dkorea - Bewegung in der Krise, Bremen: Atlantik. Heide, H.(1998), ìOn Solidarityî, Keynote speech at the Peopleís International Conference Against Neo-Liberalism in Seoul, 9. Sep. 1998. Heide, H.(1997), ìThe Creation of Individual and Collective Strategies of Suvival as a Precondition for Capitalist Development - The Example of South Koreaî, Proceedings of the 5th Intíl Conference on Korean Studies, Osaka, HYPERLINK . Hirsch, M. (1986), ìZwei Arten der Identifikation mit dem Aggressor ñ nach Ferenczi und Anna Freudî, Praxis Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie. Hong, S.T.(2000), ìInformation society is a total monitoring societyî(in Korean), Hankyore21, Nr.331. Jang, Y.K.(2000), ìpower and electronic surveillance ñ monitoring camera and labor controlî, mimeo(in Korean), jinbo-net. Jankanish, M.(1993), ìMonitoring and surveillance in the workplace: Privacy issues in an international perspectiveî, ILO, Conditions of Work Digest on Workerís Privacy Part II: Monitoring and surveillance in the workplace, V.12, No.3. Kang, S.D.(1997), ìInformation technology, labor process and labor movement: an attempt for a political economy of beepersî, paper presented at the first Seoul International Labor Media, Seoul. Kim, H.W.(1999), ìThe HT Corp. and surveillance technologyî, a report on HT, mimeo(in Korean), jinbo-net. Kwon, S.W.(1998), ìLabor control and labor discipline through electronic surveillanceî, workshop material(in Korean), 1998. Lee, H.A.(2000), ìThe nature of ERP and workersí alternativeî, Democratic Labor and Alternatives(in Korean), Nr.34, Sep. 2000. NSWPC(1995), ìInvisible eyes: report on video surveillance in the workplaceî, executive summary, mimeo, Australia, New South Wales Privacy Committee. ) See also Jang(2000) and Kang(1997) relating to the characteristic of the information technology. Any determinism or neutralism regarding technology should be avoided. ) This psycho-analytical concept was developed by Ferenczi(1933) and Hirsch(1986), and further applied by Heide(1997, 1999) as an explanation of the Korean economy and the problem of work addiction. To Heide(1999) I owe much regarding the method of analysis as well. ) Of course the rationalization of labor is not only workplace phenomena, but it becomes overwhelming our daily lives in general: from home over bus or subways to workplace and vice versa. ) Regarding various office automations, see also Kwon(1998) who actively participated in a research team examining workplace monitoring. Workshop material on information technology and workplace monitoring was presented by the research team in November, 1998. ) This RF-ID card system, originally developed and produced by Motorola in the U.S., is used now in more than 1,000 firms in Korea and the number of cards in use is about 3 million(The Donga-ilbo, 6. Nov. 2000). ) The expression of Human Resource Management itself implicates already that the human being is always to be objectified and controlled with efficiency by management. ) The ìNominchuî stands for a committee for democratization of trade unions. ) The company won the first place in sales on the domestic market in 1998. Its export also increased by 63% during the first half of 1998, resulting in a 213% increase of net profit. ) DAS has already been upgraded to Ipanel by its developer firm and it is waterproof now. Ipanel has been installed in the meantime in many factories such as Daewoo Electronics in Jeongeup, LG Electronics in Changwon and Samsung SDI in Yangsan. Besides, the Enterprise Resource Planning(ERP) is today popular in business restructuring. It is an integrated management information system which, based upon information technology, ties all management areas together such as materials, production, sales, quality, equipment, finance and personnel. But ERP is cynically passed among the workers concerned (Mando Machine, Daewoo Carrier, Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Multicap, etc.) as ìEarly Retired Personî, meaning a production of massive layoffs. A worker at Mando Machine confesses that working under ERP is just like working with a naked body(Lee 2000). ) See also Kwon(1998) and Kim(1999). ) These phenomena have promoted a formation of a new market in cyber space. For example, enter HYPERLINK or HYPERLINK for a Korean shopping mall for wiretapping devices or pinhole cameras. ) A most general definition of privacy is ëthe right to be let aloneí according to the ACLU(American Civil Liberties Union)(1996) or Jankanish(1993). My feeling about it is that this definition is too passive and narrow. Also, the argument to see privacy from the human rights point of view I find too abstract. I would define privacy socio-politically as the right to maintain individual autonomy against any dominance. ) According to the same parliamentary inspection, the average cost(some 40 US dollars) of each wiretapping in Korea is only one 1500th compared to that(about 60 thousand US dollars) in the U.S. This is because Korea Telekom serves fully and inexpensively the state information agencies, whereas in the U.S. information agencies pay the full cost. This reality leads necessarily to an abuse of wiretapping in Korea. Thus in 1999 there were 3,234 phone lines eavesdropped on in Korea each for 3 months each. In sum, there were about 2.5 million instances of wiretapping(The Donga-ilbo, 4. Nov. 2000). ) In Nov. 1999 a center for information and culture in Seoul has surveyed over privacy violation in internet. About 56% of 417 respondents had the experiences of direct infringement or unpleasant feeling, but only 3% stated they were anxious at the possibility of monitoring or controlling by the ruling power. ) I owe also this concept ìliving solidarityî to Heide(1998). ) For example, see ACLU(1996), NSWPC(1995).

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