Thursday, December 22, 2005
Here's the update:
Yesterday, December 21st, after an intense round of negotations with theChief of the Korean National Human Rights Commission, the Migrants' TradeUnion of Korea officially ended their 17 day occupation of the Korean National Human Rights Office.
They started their occupation demanding therelease of their union president, Anwar Hossain, and agreed to leave only after securing the following from the KNRHC: First, the KNHRC has promised officially to back the MTU as a legtimate and legal trade union in Korea. To this end, they will lobby the Korean government to register the MTU as an official trade union, thus guaranteeing to the MTU the three most basic labor rights: the right to form a union, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. Since its inception, the Korean government has deemed the MTU an illegal organization because its member are living in Korea without a working visa.
Second, the KNHRC as agreed to make a commission on Migrants' Rights- an official branch of the human rights office devoted soley to migrants' issues. In this commission, migrant workers will have representation and direct input into the KNHRC's statements and policies on migrant workers through the MTU.Though they did not secure the release of Anwar, they achieved a great victory for their union.
The MTU thanks everyone for the support they have given over the last 17 days. Your letters and solidarity statements helped make this victory possible. Please continue to send letters to the Minister of Justice and demand the release of our union president, Anwar Hossain. Let's fight together!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Roh said he was stunned by scenes of violence during the demonstration aired on TV and worried people were bound to get hurt. But he urged the public to recognize that the police officers in charge of maintaining order “are our sons,” no matter how regretful the farmers’ death, according to Kim.
Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan expressed the condolences and regret of the government to Hong’s family, according to Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Lee Kang-jin. He said the government will investigate and punish anyone involved in any illegal activities or excessive suppression of protestors. Lee said the government will try to prevent a repeat of such incidents and to plant a culture of peaceful demonstrations in Korea.
I'm curious as to whether this event will focus more attention on some of the more notorious anti-riot squads such as the 1001-1003 detachments who seem to have been captured time and again in the media yet have rarely been officially sanctioned. In 2001, they were captured on film beating of nonviolent unionists in Pupyeong during the Daewoo protests. The video created public backlash and, you can correct me on this, I think the police chief was fired. Video of the incident was also used in the 2002 British zombie film 28 Days Later, in a scene where apes are being infected by 'rage' by being shown violent video footage in a scene reminscent of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Anyways, films aside, building a culture of "peacefull demonstration" will surely entail more supervision over some of these riot squads, and more importantly, reconsideration of some of the policy issues that create such deep social divisions to begin with.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
To bring you up to date on what has happened since yesterday, I'm reprinting targetWTO's newswire below. I also advise reading Guy Taylor's account of Saturday's protest for a fuller understanding of what happened, seems that most protestors were allowed to leave the sit-in at the convention center except for the Korea, this should have some interesting diplomatic consequences, kotaji also has more on this too.
Dec 19th, HK:
Some protesters have been released, but Korean activists are still being held.
1:10am: The first bus of 150 Korean women who are reportedly "released" has finally left the courthouse. Police say they’re taking them back to the camp they’ve been staying at. However, they would not let activists or anyone else talk to the women. There has been no contact at all between them and activists on the outside who are trying to keep up with them. One person tried to run up to the bus, as it was pulling away, with a cellphone. He was kept away by police. People are worried that the women might actually being taken to the airport to be deported. People are worried about what condition they are in.
Chan Yat Kwan, the head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, knocked on the door of the police station, demanding the release of the WTO protesters.
Solidarity activists hold candles outside the court and make noise. Some yell insults at police.
Dec 18th, HK:
LATEST UPDATE/ UP TO THE MINUTE BREAKING NEWS -
11:30pm: WTO negotiators reached a limited trade agreement that calls for the European Union to end farm export subsidies by 2013.
10:44pm: Despite corporate news reports that 150 Korean women have been released, they might have only been transfered to another location. Activists and lawyers are working to find concrete news.
REPORT FROM INSIDE THE CONFERENCE
9:30pm: From a journalist working for Pacifica Radio who is stationed inside: "Don't believe anything that you hear about the conference being over. Especially don't believe anything that you hear about this on Reuters and the AP. They are just wrong about this. Venezuela still hasn't said anything; so let's hope Hugo Chavez holds true. And Cuba is also not agreeing with the proposed text on services."
7:30pm: Less developed countries (LDCs) have agreed to the current draft of GATS that includes a condition agreed to by the US and EU that by 2008 LDCs will receive a 97 percent duty free, quota free import status into the US and EU markets. However, trade commissioners do not have the authority to make such promises—let alone try to implement them. As far as the US is concerned, decisions governing trade must be approved at least by the US Congress—whom policy makers and skeptics alike perceive as being very unlikely to agree to such a condition.
LDCs and developing nations want the US and EU to end agricultural subsidies by 2010. The US and the EU say they will end half of them by 2010, and all of them by 2013.
In terms of tariff cuts, neither the president nor trade commissioner has the authority to make these tariff cuts. Requires approval of congress.
The ending plenary of the WTO conference is scheduled to begin at 8pm.
10:45pm: 40-50 people are gathering outside the Kwungtung courthouse. Many are Via Campesina folks. One woman announced that contrary to maintream news reports, no one really knows what is going on with the legal statuses of the prisoners. The demonstrators outside the courthouse holding the solidarity vigil are demanding from the police to meet with a lawyer regarding the following: the number of people who are still being held; the locations where people are being held; and the condition of the places.
Some activists fear that police hold special antipathy for the male Korean protesters and will retaliate on them.
10:13pm: Outside the Kwuntung jail nearly 20 people are banging on the police barricades and otherwise being rowdy and cheerful as they continue to demonstrate their support for the WTO protesters who are in detention. Some cops are setting up in the are with riot shields, and the police presence continues to grow.
10:00pm: Fifteen people--mostly Hong Kong activists--are gathered outside the Kwuntong jail in solidarity with those locked up, drumming with the hope that the activists who are inside will be able to hear them.
Via Campesina is outside the courthouse to hold a solidarity vigil as well.
7:30pm: Early this evening a crowd of 7,000 people marched down Hennessey Rd to Victoria Park. There was a strong contingent of migrant workers, and lots of locals.
At the following rally in the protest pen in Wan chai demonstrators sang Solidarity Forever in many different languages, simultaneously, and threw rose petals into the air. Speakers- including ones from HKPA- announced that they supported the Koreans for fighting and condemned the police violence.
However, at the conclusion of the march 200 Koreans and some of their local supporters sat down right outside a fence on the periphery of the legitimized protest zone. HKPA marshals have been telling people to go around them and are trying to block them off from others. Meanwhile, a crowd of 400 people have gathered, watching and hanging around.
6:30pm: All of our sources say that almost all of the people who were arrested early this morning are still waiting to be arraigned. According to a lawyer working with the Hong Kong People’s Alliance (HKPA), as of now the charges they are facing are still unclear and may involve jail time and/or deportation for foreigners. Many of the detainees are Korean and some are Southeast Asian, and police are not providing them with information in the languagues they speak. In addition, police are not allowing interpreters to see the prisoners.
Currently both the HKPA and lawyers have NO ACCESS to the people who are detained. Although there are lawyers at every police station, no one knows where the arrested are because police keep moving the detainees around. According to the HPKA lawyer the activists will be held at Kwungtong Court and the following police stations: Kwuntong, Kowloon, Sau Mau Ping, Cheung Kwun and Tau Kok. (The Thai and Japanese prisoners are rumored to be held at the Cheung Kwun O station.) Eleven buses loaded with prisoners from the protest are currently in transit.
One person who was arrested—a Hong Kong activist who works with the Social Movement Resource Center—talked to us at 5:30pm on his cellphone from a bus on which he and other arrestees are being held captive. The bus—in addition to 19 other buses—are parked in Kowloon. On this particular bus our contact is on there are 4 Hong Kong people and 22 Koreans. The initial occupation of the Wanchai intersection began last night at 8pm. Mass arrests at that same site began at 3:30am. The detainees who were on the bus with our contact had only finally, at 5:30, been given food.
The kinds of support for the detained that are needed at this time include: donations for legal services, publicity, and pressure on the police to allow translators to talk with the non-Cantonese and English speakers.
The HPKA has a tent center at Victoria Park that is supposedly coordinating legal support.
A demonstration of solidarity with those in jail will be held tonight outside the Kwuntong main police station. Although protesters are being held in many different places, ultimately all of them will be charged at Kwuntong Court. Since it is Sunday, it is possible that the detainees will have to wait until Monday morning before the arraignment process can begin for all of the protesters.
5:00pm: A rally is being held at the protest zone. All the Hong Kong activists have now been released with $1,000 HKD bails. At 7:00pm a march will leave from there heading for Kwuntong- where the incarcerated activists are being held. Activists will be running a relay hunder strike and camping outside of the detention facility, to demonstrate their solidarity with the Korean farmers and others who were arrested last night.
"Hong Kong people are sympathetic to the sufferings of the farmers,'' Tsang said during a press briefing in Wan Chai this afternoon. "But the protesters ignored the assigned route yesterday, causing traffic in Wan Chai to collapse and damage to public facilities. They even used barricades as weapons. We can't tolerate this."
EARLIER ON DECEMBER 18
12am: Police have surrounded and have given an ultimatum to arrest all 1000 protesters who are engaging in a peaceful street occupation/sit-in 1 block from the convention centre on Gloucester Rd and Fleming Rd following the release of tear gas canisters by the police.
3:30am:The police have started arresting the peaceful protestors since and the arrests will continue throughout the morning. The peaceful occupiers are asking for support from the activist community to proceed with an international appeal to have the protesters released immideately, have their human rights respected, as the actions of the police are undignified.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
According to the a Guardian UK report, protestors claim that things turned violent when police blocked a permitted march near the convention center. Tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray and electric baton use have been reported, and used in excess and a number of bystanders were affected. As of 3:30am Sunday (Hong Kong time), mass arrests are being reported with over 900 protests surrounded at the convention center site and being bused out slowly, there is also an unconfirmed report that one protestor has died in hospital but no other media sites seem to substantiate this claim as of yet [Update: It seems this report may have been about a protestor in South Korea from previous protest, read more here]. NotoWTO Blog has breaking updates from the crowd being arrested at the convention center site which I'll reprint below. Labourstart's Global newswire has several related stories as does Guy Taylor's dispatches from Globalize Resistance. Here's a general overview from monters and critics. Target WTO's news stream is also up to date, here's their latest:
There are also links to video and timelines of other events and protests at the target WTO site. Also, here's a link to a CNN video on today's protest.
Dec 17th, HK:
(i) Pakistan's Commerce Minister and
facilitator Humayun Akhtar Khan  has stated "no breakdowns or breakthroughs" had occurred during the WTO talks, although with news circulating that no new agreement may be signed,  the International League of Peoples' Struggle (ILPS) are now preparing for a "celebratory mass action" tomorrow.
(ii) Big protests took place in the evening, reports say people were confronted with a large police
presence. The police used a lot of pepperspray to try and disperse people.
(iii) Hong Kong Police stopped the protest from approachingthe conference center. Teargas and rubber-bullets were used. Some of the protesters were injured. 900 people are besieged in Wanchai near the conference center. 3:30am: Arrests have now begun. Protesters are being loaded
(iv) Police have cornered and threatened to arrest 1000 protesters during a peaceful street occupation 1 block from the convention centre. They've been held there for the last 3 hours. Protesters are asking for support from the activist community to proceed with an international appeal to have the protesters released immideately, have their human rights respected, as the actions of the police are undignified.
From NOTOWTO blog:
1:30 AM HK time (12:30 PM NY time)
WTO protesters (too-jeng-dan) seem to be at the foot of the WTO convention center and they are completely surrounded by riot police. There are around 900-1000 with no one allowed in or out. The police are planning to arrest everyone inside the perimeter. The too-jeng-dan have not had food since lunch previous day. They cannot even use the bathroom. But their spirits are as high as can be with non-stop chanting and singing and banging on drums.
Earlier in the day rubber bullets were reported to have been fired and some were hospitalized.
The police are readying buses to transport the 1000 or so too-jeng-dan. They are also preparing tear gas squads for the charge in.
3:00 AM HK time (2:00PM NY time)
Got a call from e. She states calmly that they will all be arrested, but tells me not to worry because there are many of them. They have the power in numbers. The HK police cannot do anything to them!
3:30 AM HK time (2:30PM NY time)
Spoke with E again.
Police are all very young kids, inexperienced. Mostly they seem very frightened.
E was able to translate between the chief of police and the too-jeng-dan. It's strange but the chief of police seems very sympathetic to the farmers’ cause and understands why they are protesting but still explains that he must restore order.
The HK police have no precedent for such violent and mass arrests so they are very procedural and everything is taking a lot of time.
The protesters have agreed to be arrested, but one by one. There are tons of reporters and cameras covering this whole event. The WTO too-jeng-dan have already made their voices heard and will not struggle when taken.
They are being taken one by one and the HK police have promised to be very gentle with them. Largely the HK police are very young, frightened and civil at the same time and it’s chief has so far been cooperative. (who knows how this will really play out though).
The WTO too-jeng-dan has so far been pepper sprayed, tear gassed, beat on with batons, electric batonned, water cannoned (they also mixed in pepper gas formula in the water to burn eyes & skin when sprayed), exposed to chilly HK winter winds, hunger and fatigue…so show a little bit of wear but they are still in strong fighting spirits.
D who went out earlier to the hospital to translate for an injured protester was arrested by the police. Same thing also happened to J when she went to the hospital. Otherwise the rest of the KEEPers are all together inside the perimeter. KEEPers are hungry and tired but are very inspired to be part of this historical struggle. They will never forget this experience.
That’s it for now. If there's more I will let you know.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
In terms of the convention itself, it seems talks are at a deadlock, take a look at google's WTO newswire.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Demand the Immediate Release of Anwar Hossain, President of Migrant Workers' Union, KCTU!
Stop Crackdown on Migrant Workers! Help MTU have its demands met! Prevent more MTU leaders from being arrested:
Currently, 10 MTU leaders are occupying the KNHRC offices, and many supporters are there with them. On Tuesday night, they held a small rally in the main office of the KNHRC, with about 50 supporters inside the office with them. The MTU leaders are in an extremely precarious situation. It is possible that without your support, the KNHRC could hand them over to Immigration officials at any time. Please take a moment to send a letter to the chief of Korea's National Human Rights Commission, Cho Young-hwang: email@example.com
Mr. Hossain is not a criminal and it is not just treat him like one. I implore you to release Mr. Hossain immediately, pending the outcome of his lawsuit. To do otherwise is clearly politically motivated and an obvious
Next, click on the green button on the far right hand side. It looks like this:
This will open a new page. At the very bottom of that page, there is a small grey icon
The first line asks you for a name:
The second line asks you for your email address.
The third line asks for your subject.
Finally, you can enter the text below.
The last thing you have to do is enter a password at the bottom of the form. You can write anything here and it will work.
Immediately after Anwar was arrested, MTU filed suit in Korea's courts and appealed to the Korean National Human Rights Commission requesting a temporary release of Anwar. In their investigation, the KNHRC found that Anwar's arrest was actually illegal. According to Korean immigration law, a warrant must be issued within 48 hours of an arrest. In Anwar's case, more than 52 hours passed before a valid warrant for his arrest was issued. It was later found out that there was actually a warrant issued within the initial 48 hour period, but it was signed by an employee who doesn't have the authority to issue warrants. However, due to this evidence, the KNHRC has sided with immigration officials and denied recommending the full release of Anwar, as well as the temporary release of Anwar. This means that Anwar will have to remain in the detention center until the outcome of his court case, which could take several years to resolve as it is still in the lowest level of the court system and will likely be appealed until it reaches the highest level of the Korean court system, the Special Court.
Anwar is not a criminal. The KNHRC investigation has shown that his arrest was illegal, and continuing to detain him is not only illegal according to Korea's own immigration laws, but also inhumane. Demand justice for Anwar! Please send a letter to the Korean Ministry of Justice and the Korean Human Rights Commission demanding the full release of Anwar Hossain.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Elizabeth Tang, a spokesperson for HPKA, has said that she understands that police have a job to do in making the WTO meeting a “safe event.” In her words: “If people are not genuine in this and want to use violence, then the police have a right to stop it.'Tang told reporters that she attended the Seattle WTO demonstrations in 1999 and that the “violent,” “radical actions” of some groups have marred the image of all protesters.“I'm really afraid that, in December, I'll go out in the street and be beaten up by the police, because some people will spoil the optimism and good mood that is so often associated with Hong Kong marches,' she continued.HPKA has appointed “marshals” to keep order during the protests. The marshals are told to isolate any group or person whose actions can be construed as potentially breaking any law or just seeming unruly. Many activists—both local organizers and those from abroad—absolutely disagree with Tang’s stance. Some express that the position that Tang is taking creates a false dichotomy where “tactics are then either legitimized by the government and completely ineffective in getting across anything beyond a most abstract message,’ or else if they are creative in any way then they are criminalized as being ‘violent’—even if it’s just a situation of people sitting in a road, linking arms. Then those people are left vulnerable to police attack since the others will be told: ‘They’re not legitimate, don’t support them.’”
I think Lo makes a good point here. The violence at the Seattle WTO started hours earlier than any anarchist actions and largely consisted of police violence against people locking arms. The non-violent shutdown of the city began at 5:30 am, and the anarchist reclaim the streets action, which later turned into the window breaking so feared by the media began at 11:11. Yet tear gas began around 7:30 am, hours earlier than anything resembling riot, with police shooting the stuff into nonviolent crowds for hours until windows began to break which could be used post facto as an excuse for the police violence. Yet, the next day, some progressive groups like global exchange and others blamed it on anarchist provacateurs, directly legitimizing the police line and demonizing other protestors indirectly, the vast majority of whom where simply blocking a road or holding hands.
Lo's article also has some links to other protest groups on the ground in Hong Kong which are quite useful. Also, here's a blog by a korean american group in Hong Kong to support the protests. Kotaji also has some recent Korean social movement news up on his site, including a good piece on recent protests there against base expansion.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Here's the story from labourstart.org's labour news network.
Another MTU Leader Arrested
At about 8:30pm, Radhika, a key leader in the Migrants’ Trade Union in Korea was arrested in a crackdown at Uijeongbu Station. Rhadika was traveling to Uijeongbu to help a friend obtain a job. Rhadika is the main organizer of female migrant workers in Korea and has been involved in the struggle for migrants rights for several years. Last year, she participated in the sit-in struggle at Myeong Dong Cathedral and went on a 30 day hunger strike to oppose the implementation of Korea’s regressive and racist immigration law, EPS (Employment Permit System). It is too early to know which detention center she will be taken to, so please stay tuned for updates and be ready to take action for Rhadika!
To add a further comment, in the short time that I've known the MTU and their predessor the ETU-MB, virtually all their key activists have been detained or deported. Hence, this news is not surprising. Thankfully, whenever a key organizer is detained another politicized migrant tends to fill his or her shoes.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
From APEC to WTO: trajectories of protest in Korea and East Asia
By Jamie Doucette and Owen Miller
Angry protests in Busan, South Korea during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference there in November have alarmed Hong Kong police preparing for a mid-December World Trade Organization ministerial conference. Hong Kong police fear that the some of the groups who showed up to protest APEC may also bring strident street protests to Hong Kong. This article examines some of the trajectories of protest apparent at the APEC events by looking more closely at the national and international dynamics of Korean activism, revealing growing coordination between workers, farmers and anti-war activists, and the implications for the Hong Kong meeting.
The specter of farmer protest
Since Korean activist Lee Kyeong-Hae screamed "WTO kills farmers" before taking his life at the WTO protests in Cancun, Mexico in 2003, Korean farmers have directly targeted global trade talks as well as the Korean government's own plans to liberalize its rice market. Under a deal negotiated last year with rice-exporting countries and the World Trade Organization, South Korea pledged to raise its rice import quota to 7.96 percent of total domestic consumption from the current four percent in exchange for a 10-year grace period before it must fully open up to rice imports. The Korean government has also tried to ease the pressure on Korean farmers by providing incentives to grow different grains and other agricultural products.
According to South Korea's Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), however, the Korean government has confused the public by claiming that it only plans to increase the imported rice quota to 7.9 percent. The CCEJ maintains that the 1988-90 statistics on which this figure is based are inflated compared to current levels of consumption; furthermore, the government has established separate quotas for rice importation for use in food and beverage processing which would also considerably inflate the amount of rice imported.
Nearly 150,000 Korean farmers rallied across the country in October to protest the bill and they also showed up en masse to protest APEC in Busan where WTO agricultural policy was one of the key topics tabled at the APEC leaders' summit. Protests began on September 12 with a march of 20,000 in Seoul organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and People's Action against APEC and Bush. They were quiet enough until 15 November, when the Korean Peasants League held a protest in Seoul. The League's protest turned into a four-hour confrontation with police, leaving seven police buses burned out and many police and protesters injured, including Korean farmer Jeon Yong-cheol, who later died of head injuries. This was a precursor to the larger protest that took place in Busan on 18 November. Protest organizers had expected over 100,000 to show up; however, police stopped at least 70 busloads of protestors from the neighboring province of South Cholla from reaching the rally, in some cases stealing the keys from bus drivers. Still, 30,000 managed to rally in Busan and march on the summit. Korean farmers carried ceremonial effigies for two farmers who had committed suicide by drinking herbicide in the week previous to the conference as a protest against South Korea's plan to liberalize its rice market.
In anticipation of a confrontation, riot police used armored buses and a double layer of shipping containers to seal off the bridges leading to the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO). In response, the protestors -- mainly farmers -- tied ropes to the containers and pulled them down, succeeding, under a barrage of water cannon, in dragging some of them into the sea. What happened next was captured and circulated by the international media: well armed police -- equipped with batons, shields and in some cases, three-meter steel pipes -- clashed with protestors brandishing bamboo poles well into the evening.
Fearing that Korean farmers might contribute to similar mayhem at the WTO meeting in Hong Kong this month, officials sent police to South Korea for the APEC summit in order to "assess the characteristics of Korean protestors and devise ways of dealing with them," and have warned the 1,500 Korean farmers who plan to join the protests that gatherings of 50 people or rallies of more than 30 require written notice in advance or will be considered illegal and broken up. In addition, anyone who organizes or participates in illegal gatherings or rallies faces up to five years in prison or more if property is damaged or traffic disrupted.
There is something of a gloomy atmosphere hanging over the Korean left these days, primarily due to the recent corruption scandals in the left union federation, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), and the loss of the Democratic Labour Party's seat in the worker concentrated city of Ulsan during recent by-elections. The unity between the KCTU and Korea's other large labour federation, the FKTU, has recently crumbled over the issue of labour market restructuring. Besides the evident crisis in the labour movement there has also been talk of divisions in South Korea's famously leftwing student politics. Nevertheless, changes are afoot that could bring the Korean left closer to global movements, such as the 'anti-globalization' or global justice movements.
Korean workers did not come out in full force in Busan, but they joined protests leading up to it and participated in larger coordinating bodies such as NO to APEC and Korean People's Action against the WTO. The KCTU has instead been focusing on a domestic battle against labour market restructuring. Contingent or non-regular forms of work have been expanding since the 1997 economic crisis in South Korea, after the union reluctantly agreed to concessions on labour reform. Recently, as the Roh government tries to position South Korea as an economic hub in the Northeast Asian region, there has been increased pressure to make the labour market more flexible, both to attract foreign investors to South Korea's financial sector and to compete with other export oriented manufacturing economies.
The "Non-Regular Workers' Protection Law," which was expected to be passed in the April extraordinary session of the National Assembly was postponed till the present session due to labour protests and the breakdown of tripartite negotiations. The new law is comprised of three different bills that would expand use of temporary workers, 'dispatched' workers (casual or contract workers through staffing agencies), and revise labour arbitration processes. In a January 2005 report to an OECD mission, the KCTU criticized the government's failure to commit to the principle of "equal pay for equal work" for non-regular workers. "Without a written policy statement on the principle of equal pay for equal work," the reports states, "there is no standard on which to judge discrimination. The major problem that irregular workers face is the infringement of their three basic labour rights---the right to organize, the right to strike, and the right to a collective bargaining agreement---due to a clear lack of accountability from employers."
The KCTU's criticism was strengthened in the spring by a report from South Korea's National Human Rights Commission criticizing 'unreasonable discrimination' against irregular workers. The Commission's report was the product of a two-year taskforce study on irregular workers which reviewed their situation in light of the UN's International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as major ILO conventions and the Korean Constitution, which guarantees the right to equal treatment for employees. Cho Young-hoang, president of National Human Rights Commission, urged adherence to the principle that non-regular forms of employment be adopted only 'exceptionally and limitedly.' Emphasizing equal pay for equal work, the commission stated that any new draft of the bill should clearly stipulate that a company can hire temporary workers only when there is an understandable need and, in addition, there should be a limit on the period that temporary workers can be used.
On 1 December, the KCTU launched a nine-day general strike against the new labour package, despite the lack of support from the FKTU and disarray in some of its own unions. The KCTU allied with many of the farmer and student groups present at the APEC protests, holding a large joint protest on 4 December in Seoul in opposition to both the labor and rice liberalization bills, whose joint effect, they claim, will be a proliferation of low-paid, irregular forms of work.
While Korea's social movements are simultaneously fighting rearguard actions on a number of fronts, and despite a lower-than expected turnout for the anti-APEC protests, many activists have positively assessed the results. Writing in the socialist newspaper Ta Hamkke, Kim Kwang-il noted that the protests exceeded earlier anti-globalisation demonstrations in Korea, and, perhaps more importantly, they revealed the sort of 'unity in diversity' that has become the trademark of the global justice movement. The throngs who converged at the bridges to the convention center on 18 November included farmers, workers, students, street vendors, environmentalists, health workers, women anti-war activists, gay rights activists and foreign migrant workers. Kim also notes that the protests represented the growing internationalism of the social movements in Korea as activists were inspired by recent events both in Argentina (the Mar del Plata demonstrations against the Summit of the Americas) and Washington (the massive anti-war demo of 24 September).
This global outlook was well illustrated by the largely student rally that took place during the afternoon at the T'ogok junction before the group of around a thousand headed off to join the other protest marches converging at the bridges over to the BEXCO Center. The rally passed a resolution containing the following passage: "We oppose the neo-liberal globalization and war that are pushing the people of the whole world into greater poverty and inequality and threatening our peace."
A separate rally of protesting farmers of the Peasants League issued a statement that reveals a more nationalist attitude to the issues surrounding liberalization and the WTO, while at the same time recognizing the global dimension of the problem:
"We stand resolutely against the APEC summit, which prioritizes free trade and tramples on our national agriculture .... We proclaim to the whole world the determination of 3.5 million Korean farmers to defend our nation's 'food sovereignty' by halting the APEC talks taking place in Busan today and preventing the opening of our rice market."
After the protests, there was some criticism that the organizers had placed too much emphasis on the anti-Bush theme and not enough on the substantive issues of neo-liberal globalization, thus risking the potential of falling into a kind of blunt anti-Americanism that had been apparent on some placards and internet sites. Others expressed concern that the nationalist left had dominated the protests while the internationalist left had been too weak. Both of these point to an older fault line on the Korean left between the long dominant nationalist tendency, with its focus on the issues of unification and the continued presence of US troops in South Korea, and the more outward-looking 'new left' and internationalist left. This tension existed in the older divisions between 'National Liberation' and 'Peoples Democracy' activists of the eighties and to some degree has continued to inform the trajectories of the radical left and civil society groups that emerged out of the democracy movement. Of course, similar tensions are found in social movements across the global south and even, to an extent, in the developed world where tension exists between initiatives aimed at stronger state control and economic sovereignty as part of the solution to the problems of neo-liberal globalization on the one hand, and grassroots initiatives that are more ambivalent concerning both state and market power.
In this context it is worth considering how the nature of the current South Korean government inflects social movements. The government of former human rights lawyer Roh Moo-hyun has continued his predecessor's 'sunshine policy' of engagement toward the North and instituted a more independent and nationalist stance toward the US that is widely supported among the younger generation of workers and urban professionals who grew up during the era of rapid development and anti-communist military dictatorship. This seems to reflect something of a fundamental divergence between the interests of South Korea's newly ascendant political class and its traditional ruling groups, as well as the current US administration. While Bush administration policy toward North Korea has been rather indecisive over the past few years, the overall tendency has been to maintain the status quo in Northeast Asia, possibly as part of a more general China-containment strategy. This does not sit well with the views of those who seek a peaceful resolution to the Korean peninsula's six-decade division, and is also at odds with sections of the South Korean elite who seek a 'soft landing' for North Korea and even have long-term ambitions for a future united peninsula that will become a major economic and political player in the region. With its recent joint industrial development in the North Korean city of Kaesong, South Korea can be seen as slowly integrating the North, while also potentially tapping cheap, North Korean labour as a source for greater competitiveness. A diluted version of this ambition to become a regional power can perhaps be detected in Roh's recent pronouncements about Korea's role as a 'power balancer' between China and Japan.
The Roh government is often described by the opposition Grand National Party (GNP), and by other forces on the right and far right of Korean politics as a 'leftwing' government, mainly for its allegedly pro-North and anti-American stance and for its perceived 'pro-labour' policies. The Korean political reality is, however, more complex. It is true that labour and students supported Roh during the impeachment moves against him, however, labour groups have maintained strong opposition to his labour reform proposals all along. Though the Roh government may have had some success in strengthening the social safety net, it has continued to suppress segments of the labour movement, failed to reform the outdated National Security Law and, perhaps most significantly, continues to pursue labour market reform, market liberalization and privatization policies with some vigour. Ironically, the GNP itself has slowly begun to support the policy of engagement with the North, while Roh Moo-hyun has demonstrated his loyalty to the United States by dispatching ROK troops to serve in Iraq, a move he felt necessary to give South Korea more room to maneuver on initiatives involving North Korea but which alienated many of his supporters.
These developments coincide with the rise of a new and more confident nationalism among the South Korean public that no longer sees North Korea as the main enemy. It is a double-edged sword that can be expressed in a cultural and at times chauvinistic nationalism, as has been seen in recent sporting events such as the 2002 Football World Cup and, perhaps more famously, the 2002 Winter Olympics controversy around the disqualification of South Korean speed skater Kim Dong-sung; the controversies with China over the history of the ancient Koguryo kingdom and Japan over the disputed Tokdo islets; or most recently, the public uproar over allegations made in a TV documentary against cloning pioneer and new national hero, Hwang Woo-suk. But this nationalism can also take on a left hue, with anti-imperialist undercurrents, as seen in the huge demonstrations that followed the killing of two middle-school students by a US armoured personnel carrier in 2002, or the current protests over the expansion of a US Army base at P'yongt'aek. These often contradictory nationalist currents inform the responses of the Korean left to neo-liberal globalisation and the spaces of resistance it chooses to occupy -- spaces, sometimes, where there is the potential for a more internationalist outlook.
From APEC to WTO
Like the APEC protests, those planned for the WTO meeting in Hong Kong have the potential to increase future cooperation between social movements opposed to neo-liberal politics. Years of coordination at the World Social Forum and various regional and national social forums has led to stronger networks among activists than has been seen in past decades with numerous East Asian students, farmers and workers' groups expected this year to protest the WTO ministerial. Thus, the protests are likely to take on a strong regional as well as global dimension.
The weeklong Hong Kong protest will provide these activists with a chance to explore their common interests and create new dimensions of protest. A remarkable amount of effort has been put into organizing the protests by local foreign migrant workers and their supporters, many of who are particularly apt at bridging between issues important to farmers, workers, and anti-war activists and providing a more internationalist focus. Foreign activists will also be joined in Hong Kong this month by domestic trade unions and human rights groups, as well as Anti-war activists who will be using the WTO meeting to protest the war in Iraq. Indeed, evidence of some synthesis of these interests is already apparent. South Korean farmers' groups have printed protest headbands that read: Against WTO and BUSH, and events have been planned that draw on connections between multiple campaigns.
Nonetheless, certain groups are likely to be more prominent than others at the protests. The extensive farmers' network of Via Campesina will be present in full force to continue to protest WTO talks on agriculture, as it has at previous WTO meetings; meanwhile, the presence of trade union movements is likely to be much more uneven. Though representatives from the larger international labour federations will be attending events, there seems to be less grassroots mobilization of workers than farmers, with the strongest foreign contingent of labour activists likely to be coming from India and Malaysia to protest the WTO's general agreement on trade and services. Observers note that the fact that Hong Kong trade unions have come out against the WTO is also a positive step.
Alan Chen, a Hong Kong-based activist recently interviewed at chinaworker.org, is excited about the potential for WTO protests to draw in new constituents. Specifically, he discusses the prospects for involving more mainland Chinese activists in the global justice movement.
"In December, if there are 10,000 demonstrating against the WTO, it will come across in China and it will be reported all over the world, on the internet and so on. It will be a good opportunity to tell Chinese working people that... it is common farmers and workers who have come to protest against the WTO, which the Chinese government has always hailed as a great success."
Chen notes that workers at mainland Chinese firms have cause for concern about the WTO, as their wages are influenced by the Chinese government's ability to intervene successfully and build up its larger state-owned enterprises -- a task which will be made more difficult when China's full accession to the WTO is completed. It seems though, that any potential integration of Chinese workers and farmers into global protest networks is likely to be a very gradual process, as has been witnessed in the ongoing attempts at dialogue between the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the All China Confederation of Trade Unions. Nevertheless, if the spark of interest in the global justice movement that Chen feels Chinese people may attain from witnessing large anti-WTO protests on Chinese soil is realized, it is possible that a variety of new alliances may be made.
There are fears that opposition to the WTO may cause Hong Kong police to crack down on protest in ways similar to the repression in Busan and at other international meetings. From the inside alone, the WTO faces challenges: there has been sharp divergence between members of the WTO over its agricultural policies, with delegates from poorer countries increasingly organized collectively against any policy that could potentially displace farmers. Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South has speculated that disagreement over agriculture alone may cause trade talks at the WTO to collapse in coming weeks. Thus, activists fear that the Hong Kong administration may try to minimize public images of dissent using similar methods to the South Korean government. Prior to the APEC protest, the Korean government prevented 998 members of foreign NGOs with records of protesting global trade meetings from entering the country. It also circulated a list of 400 other activists who were to be closely monitored. Busan was no exception to the pattern of excessive policing at other international summits, with some 47,000 police and additional private security forces on hand to prevent protesters from getting anywhere near the BEXCO convention center.
Like South Korea, Hong Kong has circulated lists of protestors that will be prevented from entering the country, among them many South Korean farmers. Hong Kong has also created a designated protest pen for demonstrators, and surrounded it with fencing, while 10,000 police will be patrolling conference venues and protests. Locally, the Hong Kong People's Alliance, a network comprised of some 30 local farmer, worker, and other activist groups, from trade unions to organizations of foreign domestic workers, has been negotiating with authorities over venues for rallies and public protest. Organizers expect around 10,000 participants for their Action Week against the WTO beginning on 13 December.
The upcoming WTO demonstrations provide an important venue with the potential for expanded regional and international coordination among farmers, workers, and anti-war activists, and the potential to expand the movement to China. If the APEC protests were any indication, East Asian activists are increasingly involved in the difficult task of overcoming national and international tensions among themselves and organizing against neo-liberalism and war, at home and abroad.
 Citizen's Coalition for Economic Justice. "Withdraw the rice negotiation and reconsider the process." CCEJ website, 11 January 2005:
 Kim To-gyun, et al., "Kungmin taehoe mamuri... kyongch'al, swaep'aip'u tulgo chinap." [As the citizen's rally comes to an end... police attack with steel pipes.] Minjung ui sori, 18 November 2005.
 Hong Kong police official Alfred Ma, quoted in "Hong Kong urges Korean protestors to behave at WTO meeting." Chosun Ilbo, 23 November 2005.
 KCTU Report on Recent Situation of Labour Laws and Industrial Relations, For the Meeting with OECD Mission 18th January, 2005.
 Korea Herald (2005.04.15)
 Kim Kwang-il. "Sam man myong i pusi wa ap'ek e pandaehae haengjinhada." [30,000 march to oppose Bush and APEC.] Ta Hamkke 68, 26 November 2005.
 "1 ch'a kungmin taehoe mamuri." [The first citizen's rally comes to an end.] Ch'am sesang, 18 November 2005.
 Kim To-gyun, et al., as above.
 Ra Un-yong, "Pan ap'ek t'ujaeng ui namgin kot."[The legacy of the anti-APEC struggle.] Ch'am sesang, 22 November 2005.
 Interview with Alan Chen, Chinaworker.org. 30 November 2005.
 Walden Bello, "Nothing to gain, everything to lose: Developing Country Prospects." 25 November 2005.
Jamie Doucette in Vancouver edits a blog on Korean social movements at http://twokoreas.blogspot.com. Owen Miller lives in London and writes a blog on Korean and Northeast Asian history and politics http://kotaji.blogsome.com.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Here's the story from the MTU website:
Migrant workers in S. Korea’s capital Seoul are occupying the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC, actually a part of the S. Korean government). Here a report from the situation yesterday and today, local Korean time.
Several activists of the Migrant Workers‘ Trade Union ( MTU ) occupied yesterday (Dec. 5) the Commission 13 th floor office at 10 a.m. after they held a press conference where the workers criticized a recent proposal made by the Commission.
The Commission decided that the Immigration Office should NOT be held accountable for the arguably 'illegal' arrest and detainment of Anwar Hossain, the elected chairman of MTU, the migrant workers' union leader.
The proposal means that it was perfectly legal to arrest and detain him. So Anowar Hossain cannot be temporarily released from the detention center. Angry at the proposal, migrant workers occupied the Commissioner's office at 13th floor. And the occupation is still going on. (Dec. 6, a.m. 1:30)
Dec. 5, the beginning of the occupation of NHRC
It's the second day of the occupation today (Dec. 6, a.m. 12:00).
As of this moment, there is no urgent danger of arrest. Occupying migrant workers will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. today. One of the migrant workers' demands is to have a meeting with the Commissioner of the NHRC so that they can openly criticize the National Human Rights Commission's hypocricy and it's biase to the Immigration Office.
Today, Dec. 6, the morning press conference in the occupied NHRC
A lawyer for the Migrant Workers' Trade Union (MTU) consulted to the occupiers that if this occupation lasts for a long time, then the police may use force to break the occupation or/and arrest them.
In the mean time, MTU is trying hard to get the word out that Anwar Hossain was illegally arrested and he must be released immediately. Also the Commission should admit their responsibility. According to the law, the Commission cannot make another proposal on the same issue. Once it is made, it is final. And so migrant workers' union considers filing another petition regarding to Anwar Hossain.
The MTU members have said that they will not leave until the issue is resolved to their satisfaction. That is that the NHRC reverse their decision and recommend the full release of Anwar from the Cheonju detention center.
Following the text of MTU’s last urgent appeal
and the background of the story:
Demand the Immediate Release of Anwar Hossain,
President of MigrantWorkers' Union, KCTU!
Stop Crackdown on Migrant Workers!
A. Hossain behind bars, in the "Immigration Processing Center", aka prison in Cheonju
On May 14, 2005, Anwar Hossain, president of the Migrants' Trade Union in
Korea, was forcibly arrested by more than 30 Korean immigration officials
in the early hours of the morning. Anwar was beaten by immigration police
and had to receive treatment for the injuries that were sustained at the
time of his arrest. Anwar has been languishing in Cheonju Detention
Center, about two hours south of Seoul, since his arrest in May. In the
detention center, Anwar was been isolated from detainees who speak Korean
or Bangla, and is only allowed association with those he cannot
communicate with. He physical health has also been steadily deteriorating
since his capture.
Immediately after Anwar was arrested, MTU filed suit in Korea's courts and
appealed to the Korean National Human Rights Commission requesting a
temporary release of Anwar. In their investigation, the KNHRC found that
Anwar's arrest was actually illegal. According to Korean immigration law,
a warrant must be issued within 48 hours of an arrest. In Anwar's case,
more than 52 hours passed before a valid warrant for his arrest was
issued. It was later found out that there was actually a warrant issued
within the initial 48 hour period, but it was signed by an employee who
doesn't have the authority to issue warrants. However, due to this
evidence, the KNHRC has sided with immigration officials and denied
recommending the full release of Anwar, as well as the temporary release
of Anwar. This means that Anwar will have to remain in the detention
center until the outcome of his court case, which could take several years
to resolve as it is still in the lowest level of the court system and will
likely be appealed until it reaches the highest level of the Korean court
system, the Special Court.
Anwar is not a criminal. The KNHRC investigation has shown that his arrest
was illegal, and continuing to detain him is not only illegal according to
Korea's own immigration laws, but also inhumane. Demand justice for Anwar!
Please send a letter to the Korean Ministry of Justice and the Korean
National Human Rights Commission demanding the full release of Anwar
Hossain. A sample letter follows.
The English history and reports about MTU's and formers ETU-MB's activities you can read here.
Please send a copy of your letter to
Send a letter to Cho Young-hwang, the Chief of the KNHRC: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Cho,
It has come to my attention that Anwar Hossian, President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Union is still in detention at the Cheonju Detention Center just south of Seoul. While in detention, his health has been steadily deteriorating and he has been denied association with people he can communicate with. This isolation is making his mental health suffer in addition to his physical health, and is a form of torture. Furthermore, you found through your own investigation that his arrest was actually illegal because an arrest warrant was not issued within the legal time frame set forth by Korean immigration law.
Mr. Hossain is not a criminal and it is not just treat him like one. I implore you to release Mr. Hossain immediately, pending the outcome of his lawsuit. To do otherwise is clearly politically motivated and an obvious ploy meant to thwart the Migrant' Trade Union organizing efforts.
Send a message to the Minister of Justice: (This is a little difficult because the website is in Korean, but please try. Here are instructions. )
Use this link to access the freeboard on his homepage: http://www.jb21.or.kr/netizen/list.asp?bid=1
Next, click on the green button on the far right hand side. It looks like this:
This will open a new page. At the very bottom of that page, there is a small grey icon that looks like this:
It means 'write'. Click on it.
The first line asks you for a subject: "Release Anwar Hossain"
The second line asks you for your email address.
The third line asks for your name.
Finally, you can enter the text below.
The last thing you have to do is enter a password at the bottom of the form. You can write anything here and it will work.
Dear Mr. Cheon,
It has come to my attention that Anwar Hossian, President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Union is still in detention at the Cheonju Detention Center just south of Seoul. While in detention, his health has been steadily deteriorating and he has been denied association with people he can communicate with. This isolation is making his mental health suffer in addition to his physical health, and is a form of torture. Furthermore, it was found through an investigation conducted by the Korean National Human Rights Comission that his arrest was actually illegal because an arrest warrant was not issued within the legal time frame set forth by Korean immigration law.
Mr. Hossain is not a criminal and it is not just treat him like one. I implore you to release Mr. Hossain immediately, pending the outcome of his lawsuit. To do otherwise is clearly politically motivated and an obvious ploy meant to thwart the Migrant' Trade Union organizing efforts.
A Brief History of the Migrants' Trade Unions
MTU was officially formed on April 28th, 2005, after a 14 year history of struggle against Korea's oppressive and racist immigration laws, as well as unfair, unsafe and discriminatory workplace practices. The history of the migrant workers struggle started in 1991 in the small town of Maseok, when migrant workers banded together to fight an employer who refused to compensate an employee for a workplace injury. Through direct actions such as strikes and protests, migrant workers were able to achieve victories at their work sites. These victories led the formation of a larger group of migrant activists who began challenging not only employers, but also the Korean government. Eventually, in 2002 they would come together to form ETU-MB- the Equality Trade Union, Migrants' Branch.
Starting in November of 2003, ETU-MB staged a 377 day sit-in struggle at Myeong Dong Cathedral in protest of the crackdown on migrant workers in Korea, as well as the implementation of Korea's immigration law called Employment Permit System (EPS). After the sit-in struggle in Myeong Dong, MTU was formed so that migrant workers could have power within their own organization and make decisions for themselves. MTU is the only organization in Korea that is organized and led solely by migrant workers in Korea. They are still struggling against EPS and the constant crackdown on Korea's migrant workers.
CRACKDOWN AGAINST MIGRANT WORKERS
From the beginning, the South Korean government refused to recognize the Migrant Workers Trade Union (MTU) and publicly announced that the MTU could not have the three basic labor rights---the right to organize, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining. In addition, the South Korean government launched an all-out campaign to repress the MTU. During a press conference held by the MTU to announce its formation, immigration officials secretly videotaped the proceedings in an effort to specifically target migrant workers participating in the MTU. Clearly, the arrest of President Anwar is a direct attempt by the South Korean government to repress the MTU and crackdown against migrant workers in South Korea.
The recent repression by the South Korean government is not new. The government has consistently targeted migrant workers activists who have been arrested and deported. In 2003, many migrant workers were labeled as “terrorists” and forcibly deported. Samar Thapa, a key leader of the ETU-MB and the Myeong Dong sit-down demonstration was “kidnapped” in broad day light by immigration officials and deported in an effort to stop the mobilization efforts by migrant workers.
Like all workers in South Korea, migrant workers should be treated with dignity and respect. Migrant workers should be guaranteed the same fundamental labor rights that are enjoyed by native workers. Despite the government crackdown and threats of deportation, the MTU will continue to organize and fight for the rights of migrant workers. On behalf of more than 400,000 workers in South Korea, MTU calls on the South Korean government to stop the crackdown against migrant workers and recognize the labor rights of migrant workers.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
An article in the Korea Times yesterday made the first mention in the English language media of a death at the hands of riot police which occurred last week:
About 4,000 farmers gathered in Taehangno, central Seoul, to protest National Assembly’s ratification of a rice market opening deal.
The protesters urged the government to punish the police officers responsible for the death of a farmer, Chun Yong-chul who was severely beaten by riot police during a mass protest in front of the National Assembly building on Nov. 15.
The farmers' protest at the National Assembly on November 15 was the large one against the opening of the rice market which took place just before the APEC summit, which Kotaji covered here. As he mentioned, some of the farmers were seriously injured, and on November 24, the aforementioned farmer, Chun Yong-chul, died from a cerebral hemorrhage. An article by the Asian Human Rights Commission gives a more detailed account of the protest and Chun's death:
Mr Jeon was reportedly beaten on the back of his head, right eye and chest by riot police attached to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency during their crackdown at about 7pm. Although his external wounds did not seem serious and he left the rally with other protesters without obtaining any medical assistance, on his way home he was overheard speaking to two witnesses, saying that his head was very painful after being hit by a police shield.An autopsy pointed to a skull fracture as the cause of the hemorrhage, but did not say how the fracture occurred. The police maintain the fracture occurred when he fell down at home.
On November 17, Mr Jeon was taken to the Boryeong Asan hospital as he was unable to control his body movements. He was then transferred to the Chungnam National University Hospital, where he was hospitalized and treated for a cerebral hemorrhage. He underwent brain surgery twice but died at around 6:30am on November 24.
Ohmynews has several articles which are accompanied by photos and links to many videos (of the Nov. 15 protest, and of the response to his death). Many more photos can be found here and here. Obvious in the video of the Nov. 15 protest is the number of the riot squad, 1001, which is well known as a particularly brutal squad; one photo of this squad at Thursday's protest shows that they have no numbers on their shields. Whether this has anything to do with the anger that has been directed at the police since Chun's death, I don't know. On Nov 28, after several days of mourning, at which several members of the Democratic Labour Party were to be found, a protest took place at the Seoul Metropolitan Police station.
The aforementioned protest at Daehangno on Dec. 1 was in fact the starting point for a march down Jongno to Gwanghwamun, where the marchers were greeted by this:
One has to wonder how long it takes the police to park all of those buses; I don't think I've ever seen the front line buttressed like this before. If I remember correctly, the plan was to march to the Blue House, but with such creative parking and the use of firehoses and masses of riot police, that wasn't very likely. Video of the protest can be found here and here, and a lengthy article on the protest with many photos can be found here (though it's in reverse chronological order).
The photo at the top of this post has photos of three other farmers above the large photo of Chun Yong-chul. They are of Chung Yong-pum, a 38-year-old farmer from Damyang County in South Jeolla Province, who committed suicide by drinking herbicide on Nov. 11; O Chu Ok, 41, director for cultural affairs of the Women Farmers' Association in Songju County, North Kyongsang Province, who committed suicide on Nov. 17; and Ha Shin-ho, 73, who attended the protest at Yoido on Nov 15 and collapsed and died suddenly on his way home.
Of interest may be an article (in Korean) comparing the deaths of Kang Kyung-dae (beaten to death by riot police at a protest at Yonsei University in 1991) and Chun Yong-chul.
Dec. 16: The police finally admit the possibility that Jeon Yong Cheol died as the result of being hit by riot police at a farmers' protest.
Dec. 18: Hong Deok-pyo, a farmer injured during the November 15 Yeouido protest, dies of his injuries.
Dec. 26: The National Human Rights Commission concludes that Jeon Yong-cheol and Hong Deok-pyo died from injuries inflicted by riot police during the Nov. 15 rally.
Dec. 27: President Roh apologizes on television for the actions of the police, but also criticizes the violent actions of the protesters. Police Chief Huh Joon-young also apologizes, but refuses to voluntarily step down.
Dec. 28: Police Chief Huh is pressed to resign by members of Uri party and the DLP.
Dec. 29: Despite saying he would not, Police Chief Huh resigns, saying he did not want to "burden the administration".
Jan. 8: Families of riot police hold a protest against violent protests.
January 15: A plan to have riot police wear name tags while on duty is announced by the National Police Agency. It draws a great deal of criticism before being withdrawn.
Jan. 19: A government panel is formed to promote peaceful rallies, saying a policy package is due in April.
Feb 12: A protest in Pyeongtaek against the relocation of US bases there is celebrated for being non-violent.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Update: numbers are diminishing in the general strike: read more here.
Update 2: In another article, the KCTU said 60,000 people, or 10% of its membership, have taken part in the strike; the government estimate is quite smaller.
Footage of this demonstration can be found here, and over at his blog, Christian has a very long video of the protest, which can be found here.
More than 10,000 striking unionists staged a rally in front of the National Assembly in Yoido, Seoul, [Thursday] afternoon to protest the bill and call for more rights for non-regular workers.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Update -- here is a good story that sets the tone a night before the strike. Seems the FKTU and KCTU have split over the issue, but the KCTU is enjoying support from farmers and teachers' groups. You can also see my older article on the issue here.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Well, there is lots of coverage and analysis to provide on Friday's APEC protests which will take a little more time than I have today, so this post will be more of a nod to other posts so readers, and I, can try to grasp exactly what happened.
CNN has a short story and video on the farmers protest against plans to open the rice market. Monsters and critics also had an early report on protests but their numbers, along with CNN's are inaccurate. As mentioned earlier, protests groups expected around 100,000 participants in Friday protest, but, as Kotaji remarks, the police (combined, thhere were over 50,000 police and other security personel) interferred with the buses that protest groups had hired and were also able to block many from congregating near the bridge leading to the Haeundae Beach resort area where the conference was being held, nevertheless, between 15-30,000 still made it to the bridges near the BEXCO convention center. From Kotaji's blog:
As the day wore on it seems that protestors converged towards the bridge connecting the city to the area where the summit was being held. Here they were met by thousands of riot police (a total of 30,000 were deployed in all apparently) with a barricade of buses and shipping containers. As might be expected, some some pitched battles broke out between the bamboo-spear wieldingfarmers and the riot police, who began to respond with water cannon. In the tradition of Korean demonstrations things got quite extreme with riot police apparently wielding 3-metre-long metal pipes at demonstrators and angry protestors responding by using ropes to pull the shipping containers from the barricades and into the sea. The fighting went on after dark, but it seems that the police were eventually able to disperse the protestors without too much trouble.
The Korea Times also reports that protests continued on Saturday, this time at the subway station in Haeundae, about 4km from the conference site, but protestors were surrounded at the station and no skirmishes broke out.
Apec has sparked a tradition of oppositional protest to its yearly meetings, a brief, and not very critical, summary of which you can find in the globe and mail's article on Busan here. For a more interesting look on how the protest was percieved on the ground in Busan, here is an article in the Asia times.
In terms of the summit itself, I'm not exactly sure what was accomplished as APEC tends to act more as a coordinating body rather than a specific framework for economic and political issues. However, for Korea directly, there has been pressure to expand the rice import quota to 7.96 percent by 2014, under WTO rules. In a joint statement, APEC leaders didn't say much except promise to help fight bird flu and express their support for the Doha development round of the WTO which still may collapse anyways over the issue of agricultural subsidies.
This is all I have time to post at the moment, but in the next few days it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the issues around the nature of APEC itself, perhaps hazarding a few comments on why farmers and students seem to have had a bigger role than workers (please hazard your own comments as well if you have time); I think it's also worthwhile to think about the geography of the protest and the role of the police and local government played in obstructing routes to the meeting and limiting other sites of protest. Some of their other spatial strategies seem common to APEC and WTO protests in general (such as designated off-site protest pens and other such zonal strategies). There is also the issue of hype created around 'anti globalization' activists coming to protest which you can read on our earlier posts.
All for now.....
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
(Burning Police Bus in Seoul)
Unionized workers at Ssangyong Motors Co., Korea's fourth-largest carmaker, said they will go on strike if the company's largest shareholder reneges on a pledge to invest in the company's domestic factory. Ssangyong Motors' workers want Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. to invest $1 billion in Korea, fulfilling a 2004 pledge made when the Chinese company bought 48.9 percent of Ssangyong for $500 million. The workers oppose Shanghai Auto's plan to build Ssangyong Kyron sport utility vehicles in China."The union took a vote and 79 percent of the workers were in favor of the strike," said Cho Young-jin, spokesman for Ssangyong's union. "We won't stage a strike immediately but wait to see what Shanghai Auto does."
The Korea Times also reports that union leaders claimed that SAIC Motor, which holds a 50.91 percent stake in Ssangyong Motor, has no plan to invest even a penny in the Korean subsidiary since its acquisition last year.
In my opinion this strike vote is interesting in that the chaebol have become increasingly internationalized (both in their activity and ownership) and, thus, so must labour tactics. Of course, the Argentinia case is somewhat different in that the domestically dominant class has long been internationalized at least in terms of its colonial origins and dispositions thus its forms of allegiance seem somewhat different then Korea's dominant groups which have, in general, been more economically nationalist when it has suited them, and now perhaps internationalist, when it doesn't. But the Ssamgyoung case is even different because we are no longer discussing a dominant class that is not simply internationalized in activity but in its constitution. Thus, how labour goes about attempting to woo an internationally owned corporation (ssamgyoung) to invest in a national space (Korea) might be an interesting problematic for the future. In some ways, the legitimacy of South Korean governments may rest on how well they can deal with this problematic, and how much more it will expand.
This is also something to continue to think about as we see what sort of agreements and protest the APEC Busan event (see below) generates.