From Global Factory to Continent of Labour

Labour and Development in Asia


  • Daeoup Chang Global Korean Studies, Sogang University, Seoul, South Korea


continent of labour, global factory, labour and development, contemporary Asia


Whereas the rise of Asia as the global factory attracts much attention from policy makers and academics, what is often neglected is the ‘labour side’ of the story. What this contemporary transformation means to the ordinary Asian population is that Asia has become a continent of labour where hundreds of millions of workers are making their living at different moments of the globalising circuit of capital. This article examines the historical trajectory of capitalist development and labour in contemporary Asia and, in doing so, tries to identify the ways in which struggles of Asia’s labouring population develop. It demonstrates that the contemporary development of this global factory creates no conditions on the basis of which a ‘traditional industrial working class’ can emerge while making it impossible for people to survive without relating to capitalist labour one way or another. Asian workers’ struggles therefore often do not follow the ‘usual’ model of working class mobilisation. Rather they surface as social movements of the working poor in diverse forms across rural communities, urban centres, workplaces, and homes, defying the trinity formula of the labour movement between the industrial working class, trade unions, and workers political parties.

Author Biography

Daeoup Chang, Global Korean Studies, Sogang University, Seoul, South Korea

Dae-oup Chang has been widely publishing articles and papers on East Asian development, labour relations, and migration. His major works include Capitalist Development in Korea: Labour, Capital and the Myth of Development State (2009, London: Routledge). His current research focuses on the ways in which Korean capitalism affects the social development of the least developed countries in Asia through migration, investment, and aid. Email:


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How to Cite

Chang, D. (2015) “From Global Factory to Continent of Labour: Labour and Development in Asia”, Asian Labour Review, 1(1), pp. 5–48. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2024).