The changes in US geopolitical strategy toward the East Asian region in the 1970s spurred the Korean and Taiwanese developmental state elites to reorient their national economies toward the heavy and chemical sectors. The rise of labour as a collective social actor occurred in tandem with the emergence of broader movements for political democracy. The process of democratisation cannot be explained with sole reference to social processes within Korea and Taiwan, however. By the 1980s, however, the United States had shifted its strategy toward the overt promotion of formal democracy. The struggle for union democracy at Tongil underlines the fact that the labour force that underpinned Korea's export-oriented industrialisation (EOI) did not fit the stereotypical depiction of the docile female East Asian worker. Labour repression underpinned the post-war developmental paradigm, but the very process of rapid industrialisation served to undermine that system.