Thursday, March 31, 2005

Arts of protest? Literature, Academia, and Music

Interesting newsday today. Here's a story about two recent cases that have been dropped. Both Cho Jung-Rae and Choi, Jang Jip were accussed of violating the National Security Law. I'm trying to think of a North American or European comparision for these two. Cho is perhaps like a Margaret Atwood or Graham Greene (well, of that stature anyways), while Choi is like a Habermas or Richard Rorty. It's hard to make an exact comparison but you can get the point. The fact that the prosecution dropped the charges is good news and a sign of progress. It's too bad the NSL is still on the books. You can read the full story here.

The other story is a protest by union members of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. They performed Beethoven's "Funeral March" in front of Seoul City Hall yesterday to protest the city's plan to reorganize the orchestra. Here's the link.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Islands, history books, and the Korean Wave

Japan-South Korea ties on the rocks

by Kosuke Takahashi
March 28, 2005

TOKYO -- When are a few sea-swept, uninhabited rocky islets more than a bunch of rocks? When they involve lucrative fisheries and emotional issues that hark back to the days of the Japanese Empire.

The two tiny, rocky islets surrounded by 33 smaller rocks also represent sovereignty and national pride for both Japan and South Korea -- though Seoul controls them now and the lucrative fishing in the area. The disputes over the islands -- called Tokdo by Koreans and Takeshima by Japanese -- threaten the recent rapprochement between the two neighbors and represent a significant political and economic setback. The South Korean public is so incensed that hundreds have poured into the streets to protest and the united front against North Korea's nuclear ambitions is cracking.

The most recent dispute erupted on February 23 when the assembly in Shimane Prefecture, the Japanese territory closest to the island, submitted a bill to set up a symbolic prefectural ordinance establishing February 22 as Takeshima Day, named for the Japanese-claimed island -- and infuriating South Korea. A comment on February 23 by Takano Toshiyuki, the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, saying the islands are part of Japanese territory exacerbated the situation.

This tinderbox was ignored for years, and it has now blown up, metaphorically and politically speaking, with powerful financial, trade and diplomatic repercussions for both nations -- and for Northeast Asia as a whole.

On March 22, Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka said Tokyo would find it difficult to resume stalled talks quickly on signing a free-trade agreement with South Korea this year because of the Takeshima/Tokdo territorial dispute, Kyodo News reported. Link to the rest of the article...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Split in the KCTU

I've been reluctant to write anything recently about the split that's going on in the KCTU surrounding the decision to rejoin the Tripartite commission (Labour, Capital, Government) until now as I've had scant information, and to a point still do. It appears Christian (whose CINA blog is linked to mine) was at the last meeting that turned violent (there have been three meetings so far that have gotten ugly). From what I've read in the press, in each meeting a 'breakaway' group of activists has tried to prevent what appears to be (even from the pictures, unfortunately) the majority of KCTU delegates from voting. And from what I gather about the constituency of the protestors is that they are younger members, perhaps students, irregular workers and some veteren labour militants. Christians photo essay on the event is linked here by the way.

The irregular workers concern is obviously that the KCTU will abandon their struggle if they rejoin the talks. And that is an important issue, the new bill expanding the use of irregular workers from 1-3 years will make their struggle more difficult (see posting on non-regular workers below). Abandoning the irregular worker struggle would also mark the beginning of a more bread-and-butter style unionism by the KCTU rather than the social unionism it is well known for. I'm not sure if the act of joining the Tripartite commision will mean exactly these things, and I can sympathize with some who feel that the KCTU deserves more legitimacy in the public eye, but it does seem that for the moment there are some conflicting ideas about where the organization should be going. I'm quite curious what the position of people like former KCTU head Dan Byung-Ho and others are. Maybe I'll try to get some commentary and write an article. Ideas, comments? Post them below.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Transnational Discipline?

Here's something off LabourStart's daily coverage (below). I think it's significant that the government is looking to punish particular countries for the actions of its foreign workers. Recently we've seen the Korean government get national governments involved in crackdowns and now that the government has taken over the recruitment of foreign workers it is trying to threaten sending countries into keeping the discipline up of their own expatriates, transnationally. Of course, workplace runaways will continue to happan as long as migrant workers' rights, time, and income are controlled almost solely by their employers. Then there is also the question of maintaining a permanent population of migrant workers (over 500,000) whom are permanently alienated from settlement. Obviously, if migrants are doing the crucial work in specific sectors and for long periods of time there are going to be circumstances where they are going to choose to stay, yet Korean immigration policies have yet to accord to this issue. Instead, every three years, it plans to force those workers home. I think that as the first round of Employment Permit System (which started official last summer) migrants near the end of their term, once again their will be massive overstaying. Anyways, more on that later...

Foreign Migrant Workers Must Pass Korean Language Proficiency Test

Starting next year, foreigners who wish to work in Korea under the work permit system must pass a Korean language proficiency test. Those planning to work in Korea in 2006, as well as industrial trainees, must pass the test this year, which will be given several times a year around the world.

The Ministry of Justice is also working on measures to reduce the number of foreign migrant workers leaving their designated jobs. Countries that saw more than 20 percent of their workers abandon designated workplaces here will be barred from sending more industrial trainees to Korea in the future.
Arirang TV

Monday, March 14, 2005

Women Workers in Korea: International Women's Day Special

Here's some winning photos from a recent photo exhibition organized by the Korean Women Workers Association United for International Women's Day. Also in the news related to International Women's Day is this story on a petition to the ILO from the KCTU and FKTU from the Korea Times. Here's the info:

"Civic Group to Submit Petition to ILO
A civic group announced Saturday it will petition the International Labor Organization (ILO) next week to demand Japan apologize to the victims of the Japanese military's sexual slavery during World War II and compensate them.
According to the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, the petition expresses its opposition to Tokyo's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
The petition, signed by 200,000 people, will be submitted by labor activists from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, who will visit the organization's headquarters in Geneva.
The civic group is also planning to call on the Japanese government to compensate Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War II, at the upcoming 93rd general meeting of the ILO in June, an official of the council said. 03-13-2005"

Finally, an interview in English with Kim Mi Jung, a member of the Architects Union of the Seoul and Kyonggi Region. She is currently Division Manager at ANOMA, an architect firm with a staff of 30 architects. ANOMA designs mostly apartment complexes and divisions for major South Korean construction companies.
In South Korea, architects are considered to be a profession within the construction industry.... more here.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Pyongyang waiting for springtime

Winter in PyongyangPosted by Hello
"What for Washington is a matter of how to stop a nuclear-weapons program and/or overthrow a strange and distant dictator, for other countries in the region is a much more essential problem which lies so much closer to home: how to bring North Korea first into the community of Northeast Asia and then into the larger global community. In Washington’s view, North Korea is simply troublesome, lunatic, or evil, and there can be no truck with it; as its Asian neighbors see it, North Korea's demand for security, however shrill, contains within it something that, from their own histories, they recognize as essentially just. The six-sided forum, despite the present impasse, is probably still the best, perhaps even the only way forward, providing as it does a forum for regional powers to exert pressure not just on North Korea but on the United States as well. It offers just about the only hope for overseeing the inevitably protracted process of detente leading to resolution."

I just recieved Gavin McCormack's latest article from Japan Focus, it looks good, I don't know if I have time to read it today, but for those you who aren't familiar with McCormack's work I suggest checking him out. He seems to be one of the few people writing in english who seems to know what going on in terms of that regime. He's also got some good ideas to resolve some of the international issues involving NK, and these involve allowing the Northeast Asian community the diplomatic leaway to find a solution. Anyways, that's all I can say about this at the moment until I read it. Matt should really be posting on this issue, he is the closet NK expert anyway. Oh, there's also a film today at UBC by a Japanese director on the NK nuclear issue. Apparently it was the first video documentary made a Japanese director to show on South Korean television, an impressive and hopeful feat in itself in that represents more cooperation and less ideology in dealing with some pressing regional issues. Here's some info on the film and on Gavin McCormack:.

Daisaku Higashi라고 하는 일본 NHK기자가 있습니다. 이 기자가 만든 '북핵 위기--한미북한의 상호입장'라는 다큐멘터리가 있는데, NHK에 방영되고 한국KBS, 중국방송에도 방영되었다고 합니다. 이 비디오를 보고, 현재의 북핵문제 및 6자회담 등에 대해서 토론하는 모임이 있다고 합니다.
대단히 유명한 기자라고 합니다. 이 기자의 다큐가 한국에도 2-3차례 방영되엇다고 합니다. 책도 한국에 번역 중에 있고요. 현재는 UBC정치학과 박사과정에 와 있습니다.

"A Struggle to Avert a Nuclear Conflict" (Director: Daisaku Higashi) was broadcasted on August 2, 2003 in Japan through NHK (Japan Public TV Station) Channel 1. After the showing in Japan, the South Korea Public TV Station, KBS, purchased the film and broadcasted it in its main channel on September 3, 2003. This was a breaktrough moment as it was the first time a South Korea TV network had broadcasted a documentry film produced by a Japanese filmmaker. The film itself was introduced in news articles in both Japan and South Korea as an inventory incident forthe history of two countries with a sensitive past.

Gavan McCormack is a professor of the Australian National University and visiting professor at International Christian University in Tokyo. He is the author of many works on modern and contemporary East Asia, including Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe, Nation Books, 2004. Email:

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Non-Regular Workers

I've been following this recent bill on extending the period that firms can keep workers as temporary workers to three years -- for those of you unfamiliar with the term, these workers are also called irregular, contingent, or casual workers, depending on what country you are in. Justifiably the KCTU and other civil society groups have concerns that such a bill will only polarize the workforce by occupational status, and there is a good chance of this as so far irregular workers in South Korea have been working more hours for less pay than regular workers, and their struggle to unionize or convert their status has been quite desperate. You may remember the rash of protest-suicides that occured in 2003 over the penalties irregular union leader faced for trying unionize their workplaces. Anyways, it seems the bill will be muted or toned down in the national assembly. Here is a link to the KOILAF article on the issue.