The spectacular industrialisation of Taiwan has created a large working class. Yet, while there have been a number of inspiring struggles and attempts to organise, a powerful labour movement has not emerged there. Many observers of East Asian industrialisation have attributed this failure to the influence of Confucian culture. This article disagrees and suggests that the reasons for the weakness of the Taiwanese labour movement are not to be found in cultural stereotypes of Confucian docility or group loyalty. Rather, an analysis of the Cold War origins of the Taiwanese regime, the preponderance of small-scale, rural industry and the great ethnic divides which have been manipulated by political and business leaders on the island since 1949 provide far more convincing explanations for the weakness of Taiwanese labour.