Contesting Flexibility: The Restructuring of Taiwan’s Labor Relations and Spatial Organization


This article analyzes the transformation of labor relations in Taiwan. Employing a regulation approach to decipher the patterns of labor relations prevalent before the 1980s and the existing patterns characteristic of the 1990s, I argue that the former stage was a flexible Taylorist labor regime. This labor regime was coupled with an export‐oriented economy where the flexible use of labor was necessary to keep wages at low levels and to respond quickly to the world economy. In the 1990s, however, due to the upgrading and differentiation of the economy, plus a democratic movement that nurtured the emergence of unionism, this has been transformed into a new type of flexible labor regime in which different types of labor relations coexist. Different industrial sectors in this stage tend to adopt different forms of labor regulation within which none of them occupy a dominant position. Finally, the article discusses the spatial implications of labor relations in Taiwan with regard to geographical distribution. It is argued that, while geographical location did not matter in the former stage, in the 1990s geography does matter because of the differentiation of labor relations in different industrial sectors that exhibit distinctive patterns of geographical distribution.