Saturday, December 30, 2006


Well, I'm still out of the country and away from speedy internet connections, but I'll have better access in a few days so I'll try to post more on some current issues.

Something that I've been meaning to do is to check to see what happened to some of the unionists arrested for protesting the labour bills that were passed on dec. 1st. Last time I checked, Hur Young Gu, (vice?) chairman of the KCTU, and founder of Speculative Capital Monitoring Center Korea (something like ATTAC) had been arrested. If anyone has an update please post it as a comment.

For now, however, I'll leave you with the following link to a story on punitive fines handed out to protesting teachers. Basically they were ordered to pay around 1000 dollars to each student and their parents. This sort of practice for dealing with strikes and protests (often called son hae bae sang) has been on the increase in recent years. Indeed, the monetary total of these fines is quite large compared to almost all other countries. Most of the time this just leads to more acrimonious strikes until the fine is rescinded or the union dissolves. At any rate, it is a practice that smacks of collective punishement to me, and is something that needs to be addressed.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Migrant Worker News Roundup

I'm going reprint the latest MWTV news as it really sums up some of the current issues going on in the migrant movement these days. MWTV always impresses me as they put out concise, up to date news in 7 or more languages every few weeks. Really keeps one up on what's going on here, for migrants at least. It is too bad there aren't similar sites for other organizations, but I guess this speaks partly to the dynamism of migrant organizations.

Welcome to Multilingual Migrant Worker News for this, the second week of December.

I'm Linda Kwon.

And now, our top story...

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamante, just finished his visit to Korea, December 4-11. During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with interested parties from the government and civil organizations, as well as with representatives from the Migrant Worker Trade Union to discuss the current human rights situation for migrant workers in Korea, as well as government measures taken, including legislation, regarding migrant workers and their families.

On December 8th, the Special Rapporteur held an informal meeting with relevant organizations such as the MTU and the Joint Committee for Migrant Workers in Korea. During this meeting, he strongly criticized problems with the Employment Permit System and the infringement of migrant workers' human and labor rights. Jorge Bustamante also showed his concern about the situation of migrant women and their children, and human rights violation cases against these groups. The Special Rapporteur also investigated government policies regarding migrant workers, and a final recommendation will be submitted to the UN Security Council. On December 11th, Bustamante held a press conference before leaving for his next destination, Indonesia.

On December 10th, the United Nations special rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamane visited the MTU, and discussed various issues regarding migrant workers in Korean society. About 20 people including representatives from the UN, MTU president Anwar Hussein, and migrant workers participated in the meeting. During the meeting, the special rapporteur expressed his concern about the working conditions of undocumented migrant workers and the background of their decisions to come to Korea. He also listened to cases of human rights violations from the victims. MTU president, Anwar Hussein, emphasized that the international community such as the UN must endeavor to improve migrant workers' human and labor rights in Korean society. However, Mr. Bustamante responded that as the role of the special rapporteur is limited to collecting and reporting information about the situation of migrants to the UN, it is difficult for the UN to intervene in the domestic issues of the Korean government. An MTU member said that since any direct help from the UN special rapporteur is unlikely, migrant workers need to tackle their own problems from a longterm perspective.

On December 7th, migrant-worker-related civil organizations including the Migrant Worker Trade Union held a press conference to announce they would file a suit against the Korean government regarding human rights violations which have occurred during immigration raids on migrant workers. In March of this year, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, 아니서, suffered a broken arm, dislocated shoulder and nerve damage after an assault by an officer at the Incheon Immigration Bureau. Despite four operations, his injured shoulder will likely never fully recover.

As this case shows, there has been no sign of improvement on violations of human rights by the Korean government, and immigration officers continue to abuse their authority in illegal crackdowns.

아니서 said, "I am not an animal but a human. The Immigration Bureau has not given me any answers yet even though they broke my arm. Moreover, the Korean government has not taken any action nor investigated the Immigration Bureau or the officer who abused me." He seeks damages and asked for the immigration officer to be appropriately punished.

On November 30th, Korea's National Assembly passed a bill banning wage discrimination between regular and temporary Korean employees. Furthermore, any contract worker who has worked for more than two years will be guaranteed status as a regular employee. Although the Korean government believes that treatment toward temporary employees will improve through this new bill, labor organizations have a different view. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions strongly criticized the bill as bad legislation that would create a slave system for laborers due to the absence of the principle of 'equal labor, equal wage.'


The 'International Migrants Day' event will be held at Seoul's Marronnier Park on Sunday, December 17th. The anniversary ceremony will begin at 3:00pm, and an arts and culture showcase titled 'A Beautiful Night with Migrant Workers' will take place at the student cafeteria of Seoul National University's Medical School starting at 5:00pm. The secretary general of the Migrant Worker Trade Union, Masum, has requested the active participation of migrant workers, their families, as well as Korean citizens in these events as one way to help protect migrant workers' human and labor rights.

On December 18th, several events for migrant workers will be held across the nation to celebrate 'International Migrant Day', in conjunction with celebrations around the globe. On December 16th, a cultural event named 'Friends of Asia' will be hosted at Chungshin (충신) church in Ilsan. On December 17th, a public awareness campaign and photography exhibition by migrant workers will be held at Yeonsandong subway station in Busan. As part of the celebrations, also on the 17th, a Korean speaking contest will be held at the Korea Migrant Workers Human Rights Center in Incheon.
While there are estimated to be 400,000 migrant workers residing in Korea, a staggering 200 million migrants celebrate 'International Migrant Day' throughout the world.

In government news...

Last week, the government introduced a new bill for legislation regarding migrant workers. The bill is tentatively being called the "Foreigner Treatment bill".

If this bill passes in the Parliament, it will aim to improve the living and working conditions of foreigners living in Korea, along with their families as well as political exiles already bearing official refugee status. This bill is also expected to improve the international reputation of Korea in terms labor and human rights.

But the government is anticipating wide criticism of the bill, considering the fact that the primary target group of this bill only extends to migrant workers with legal status, and leaves out the much larger group of undocumented migrant workers and political refugees without government recognized refugee status.

On December 5th, 'The World Distribution of Household Wealth' was published by the United Nations University-World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER). The authors note that income inequality is becoming a serious global issue. Among the richest 1% of individuals in the world, 37% reside in the United States and 27% in Japan. In other words, this means that more than half of the richest 1% of adults in the world reside in these two countries. This 1% also owns more than half of all global household wealth according to the institute's research. In contrast, the bottom 50% of the world's adult population own barely 1% of global wealth. In addition, the research shows that 2 out of the 100 richest individuals are Korean, and the Republic of Korea shares 1.11% of global wealth.

In international trade news....

The US Korea Free Trade Agreement talks have hit a snag after the Korean government found bone fragments in a portion of a beef shipment from the United States. Although bone in beef shipments is a violation of import conditions between the two countries, the U.S government criticized the Korean government's decision to send back the shipments. Under the agreement, the U.S. is supposed to export only "boneless'' beef. U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under-Secretary Chuck Lambert raised concerns of a conspiracy theory that the bone fragments might have been planted.

In financial news...

Despite strong intervention by the Korean government, the foreign exchange rate remains at about 920 Korean won to one U.S. dollar, a more than 10 percent decrease from the beginning of 2006. Migrant workers who transfer money to their home countries in US dollars are now paying a relatively lower commission for the service. However, the revaluation of the won stunned investors and traders from small-to-midsize businesses due to the rise in export costs. According to economists, the Korean won is forecast to remain strong against the US dollar.

In regional news...

On the 7th of December, female migrants along with members from the migrant center and the YMCA gathered in Hongsung in Southern Chungchung Province to demand the discontinuation of street advertisements for Vietnamese brides. One of these banner advertisements was ripped up during the demonstration. Currently, there are around 150 migrant women who have come to live in the Hongsung area via international marriage arrangements.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea sponsored an exhibtion entitled "Different but the Same" at the Gwanghwamun gallery of Sejong Cultural Center. The work on display all centers around the theme`s of human rights, and the works represent a variety of media including comics, photography, posters and film. The exhibition was held for two weeks and the final day of the exhibition is today, Tuesday the 12th. The exhibition will travel on to Pusan next, and next year it will make stops in Gwangju and Ilsan.

On December 7th, the Ansan Support Center for Migrant Workers opened near Jungang Station. The center will be operated by the Ministry of Labor and will provide migrant workers with a comfortable space and various services. For more information, please call the number on your screen.


That's all for this, the second week edition of Multilingual Migrant Worker News for December.
You can watch rebroadcasts of the news on our web site at or

Thanks for being with us. Good night.

busy holidays

I'll be sporadically posting over the next few weeks as I'm going back to Canada for the break.

Of course the last few weeks have busy here with a crackdown against the KCTU for protests against labour law reform and the FTA. International migrants day is today also, and there was a rally of migrant workers here in Marrioner park which was well attended considering the cold weather. You can read about these events of course at the MWTV site and the labourstart newswire on the left hand sidebar. I'll also be posting periodically, hopefully, as an attempt to keep up with the news, but my parents only have dial-up, so no promises.

Monday, December 11, 2006

labour flexibilized

Here is a more in-depth look at the recent irregular workers bills that were passed by the national assembly on dec. 1st, from the ICEM website. As it mentions:

The new irregular workers’ law will, beginning in July 2007, allow employers with 300 workers or more to utilise contract or agency workers for up to two years before they must be made permanent. The same policy becomes effective in July 2008 for companies with 100 to 299 workers. For companies with fewer than 100 workers, the two-year period takes effect in September 2008.

“South Korea has effectively opened a revolving door for the use of contract and agency workers,” said ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs. “Employers can now use, abuse, and then discard contract workers within a two-year time period, which certainly will prove to be detrimental to sustainable and family-supporting full-time direct employment inside the country.”
This, in some way, concludes the process that I described last year, but, as always, the struggle goes on.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

block traffic, go to jail

Here's an english breakdown of yesterday's protests from the big press. It's good numbers and places, but once again, is more concerned about the effect of protests on traffic than it is on about the issues. The part where the police promise to hunt down those responsible for blocking traffic is especially good reading. By the indication of the article they also plan to charge the Democratic Labour Party for allowing people to hold up signs against the FTA. Lovely logic there.

Translation of Seattle Han-Mi FTA protest video

Here's a link to a recently translated video on the Seattle protests against the Korea-US free trade agreement protests. Courtesy of Chamsesang.

Another wednesday, more buses, cops, and banned protests

Well, once again, police banned rallies against the FTA in Seoul. Here is a link to a story from the Korea times. Once again, all this is because of the rallies on the 22nd, which got pretty heated in the provinces (I just found this ohmynews photo album here). The National Human Rights Commission and other groups have asked the police to allow demonstrations.

As of 630 pm, it seems that around 10 have been arrested with about 700 taking part in civil disobediance (laying down on the road) outside of myoungdong. 2,500 - 5000 attended the protest at different times according to chamsesang news. As of 8pm, the rally had turned into to a candlight vigil in front of Myoungdong Cathedral. As of 1030, there had been some police charges on the protestors in Myoungdong. Here is the link to their article, with breaking news and pictures, in Korean. I hope my translation is correct.

Earlier this morning, around 11am, 8-12 activist gathered in front of the Seodaemun police headquarters to protest the banning of the protests. Here is a short, comedic video from Chamsesang news. Notice how the police temporarily attact the protest to steal one of their props, it then starts up again. Still the police to demonstrator ratio remains 20 to 1 or more. Don't they understand the concept of overkill?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cinema Seoulidarity -- This Saturday

An interesting event this week in both English and Korean. See you there!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Friday's rally against labour bills

As reported below, the national assembly passed three bills on irregular work last week which were oppossed by both the KCTU and minor opposition party KDLP. There was a pretty heavy protest of the bill the following day, video from which you can see here. A union rally in front of the national assembly was met with a lot of police force, including water cannon in temperatures just below freezing.

(UPDATE: Dec 5th). Here's the link to a longer video on the protests, taken by a local video activist. The fighting looked pretty fierce. I noticed the police have been using this short distance gaseous substance, it seems to me that the use of this stuff has not been documented in the English press. There is suppossed to be a moratorium on the use of tear gas, but I wonder if this violates that. Similar gas was used at other big protests this year, notably the anti-fta protests in July and at other smaller events.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

NHRC comes out on Pyeongtaek

The national human rights commission issued their statement on human rights violation in the areas surrounding pyeongtaek involved in the US base expansion. All the complaints though, are around issues of police questioning and harrassment, none deal with compensation schemes or excessive violence and demolition of housing. Here's the link.
You can also read Cindy Sheehan's reflections on her visit at Znet.

Irregular worker's bill passed

Seems the irregular worker's bill was passed today. I would love to see a translation of it, seems that it may expand irregular work significantly if it has not been changed much over the past year. More on this later...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Buses, Buses, Buses

Today's anti-FTA events were not as big as last week's. The government sealed the entire city hall park with riot buses, leaving groups with no place to rally. A few thousand gathered in front of Lotte department store down the street from city hall, and there were small confrontations between the police and demonstrations, mostly the throwing of some cabbages and a few police charges. The demonstrators eventually were moved into Myoung Dong near the Cathedral where a vigil was/is being held at time of writing.

Another reason why the protests were smaller than anticipated is because police were mobilized at toll stations on the highways around the country, making it nearly impossible for protest buses to get through on the highway. The picture above is from a redian story (in Korean). Yonhap news also reported that over 200 buses full of farmers were sent back at a number of toll booths. That's a pretty aggressive crackdown.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's Wednesday, here we go again...

Today is the third wednesday of protest in as many weeks, with two more set to come. Here is a Korea Herald article on the continuing protests. Like most articles on the FTA it ignores the substantive issues surrounding the actual agreement on focuses on the threat of violence.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday's 'People's Uprising'

(Image from the Hankyoreh. Image Caption: President Roh Moo-hyun flies back to Korea, poring over plans for the "Roh Moo-hyun Memorial."On the ground below there are fires burning, namely "real estate," "unemployment," and "education." Near the destruction, you also see massive street protests. One is in opposition to a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. The other is a protest by part-time and contract workers calling for better legal protection.)

Wednesday's 'people's uprising' against the FTA, and its aftermath.

(Updated and re-edited: Sunday, November 26th)

Angry demonstrations spread across the Korean penninsula Wednesday as part of a large, broad-based campaign to oppose the current negotiations over the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement and the general state of labour relations and foreign policy on the penninsula. Although it is difficult to estimate the exact number of participants, it seems clear that around or over 100,000 participated. The groups organizing the day's events had promised that it would be a mini 'people's uprising'; while that term may be a bit exagerrated, one thing seems clear, the reaction from the government to the protests has been both reactive and punitive, with the result that public sentiment will most likely continue to boil on this issue until more conciliatory or progressive policies are implemented. What follows is an assessment of wednesday's event, its reaction, and some of the tensions that informed the turnout and which will continue to shape some of these social issues for the near future.

First off, it is hard to get an official number of participants as the police, unions, and media tend to give different estimates. But, based on these and other media accounts, lets say that there was roughly 100,000 workers on strike (gov. says 56,000, KCTU says over 150,000); in addition, police reported that 80,000 participated in rallies nationwide throughout the day, with some of the largest taking place in Seoul, Kwangju, and Taejon (where scuffles turned particularly bad), but also in smaller regions such as North Kyeongsang and Gangwon provinces where things protests were just as fierce. This number could probably be increased a bit if we take into account workers who participated in the walkout but did not join demonstrations. Also, police estimations tend to be a little conservative. Anyways, it seems that somewhere in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 people participated in the events. Though this may not be the 'people's uprising' that was promised, the turnout is very very significant compared to other anti-corporate/anti-capitalist globalization protests, especially in light of recent caimpaigns by other social movements here which have mobilized tens of thousands each month. In addition, on Saturday the conservative union federation, the FKTU, which did not participate in Wednesday's protests, had its own protest of 80,000 in downtown Seoul. By comparison, the 1999 Seattle protests against the WTO were more global in scope, had very little accompanying strikes, and still only brought out a similar number -- and with a long year of organizing ahead of time.

In the aftermath of Wednesday's protests, the government has banned all future protests by the coalition of 300 groups that organized them. In addition, it has declared that it will take action against the striking teachers who participated in the event by using their vacation to attend the protest, the government has summoned over 80 protest leaders and declared that arrest warrents will be issued for them if they do not voluntarily show up. These punitive measures in combination with the numerous amount of union organizers currently in jail speak to the breakdown of the government's involvement in labour relations, and, in fact, any contentious social issue that resonates strongly with civil society and social movements. This point is hammered home in a newly translated video released this week by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and Labournet. The film documents the repression faced by female train attendants, civil servants, and construction workers trying to organize their own unions, in each case they met with overwhelming violence. Female workers are forcibly dragged from the station, construction workers are literally thrown off of cranes and beaten in the streets, civil servants are welded into their union offices. This is a shocking video to watch, and it makes one surprised that demonstrations are not all the more massive.

In spite of all this, organizers did vow to bring out a million people nationwide, and even by the most optimistic of accounts, these numbers failed to materialize. The following is an attempt to illustrate some of the tensions that may inform these struggles, and maybe provide some reasons why it has been difficult to get even more out on the streets. It should remembered, however, that in comparision to anti-corporate globalization movements elsewhere, Korean social movements are still quite far ahead of the game in their tendancy to mobilize thousands, repeatedly, and in the face of stiff repression. However, they face difficulty in consolidating the gains from this mobilization, and the following may provide some answers as to why, even though these issues only begin to scratch the tip of the iceberg.

1. Union density declining: Korea's unionization level is at 10 year low, making it harder to get people out on the street. Labour flexibilzation has proceeded apace since the 1997 crisis, and this is creating serious difficulties for the unions as these workers are sometimes harder to mobilize as they work longer, harder hours, and are quickly becoming disillusioned with labour politics. This is compounded with a rift between the two labour federations caused mainly by the conservative union federation's negotiation of tripartite agreement with the government and business without the consent or participation of the KCTU. This tripartite (or 2.5-ite) agreement included the suspension of union pluralism for three years, thus delaying union democracy in the workplace and protecting the FKTU from having to more effectivily work for its membership in order not to lose workers to the KCTU. Within the KCTU as well there is tension as to how to mobilize these workers and what the role of irregular workers and other precarious workers should be in the labour movement is creating some difficulties. One dissapointing fact about Wednesday' s protest, and the previous week's warning strike was the migrant labour labour issued did not seem to be addressed, given that migrant labour is partially mobilized within the KCTU, it was a shame that their issues were not given a more prominent position in the rallies.

2. Real Estate Meltdown: A huge distraction right now is the real estate bubble, a problem which the Uri government has admitted it can't solve, and which has many concerned. Even the central bank has stepped in on this issue late this week. However, in my opinion, the real-estate bubble is intimately connected to overall problem of neo-liberal restructuring in the Korean economy, especially the privatization of the banks and the selling-off of a number of them, either wholly or partially, to speculative capital -- something which is 'more neo-liberal than neo-liberalism' in that the regulations for owning banks have been more lax on regulation than in some of the anglo-american countries that neo-liberal policies are often modeled on. This policy explicitly favors foreign and speculative capital by limiting bank ownership by domestic corporations. This is compounded by a lack of investment in jobs and fixed assets, a problem which has created excess liquidity in the real estate sector because, in general, financial capital seeks out what the profitable, short term investment is, and in this case it is mortgage and consumer credit. There is a lot of speculation as to why things have turned out like this, with some pointing to a capital strike by domestic chaebol, while other have pointed predation by speculation foreign capital. Not only does the real estate bubble threatens to liquidate the savings of many, the developments that many have bought into have often favored the interests of developers over environmental and local residents concerns. In fact, this form of boosterism is often closely related to the way in which industrial development has often been pursued on the penninsula, outside of the regards of the people affected by it and who labour to make a living. In a sense, Wednesday's protests were not simply about who benefits from globalization and how, but about the way in which control has been forcibly wrestled from workers, residents, and the environment. As from some of the smaller, emergent activist groups who attented the protests, I'm sure how successfully the unions have dealt with presenting these issues of both production and consumption, of working and inhabiting, as such, but it seems there is room here for a broad social consensus.

3. The FTA versus 'neo-liberalism". Expanding on the last point, it seems that the FTA is only a moment in a larger process of neo-liberal restructuring. The nationalist inflection that some of the protests have had may, in the end, be an important catalyst in getting people to look at the wider issues, but it seems to me there are many examples of neoliberalism at home that also need to be addressed, the first is the restructuring of the financial system that I mentioned above, but there are many other sets of neoliberal policies that need to be considered. Continuing corporate governance restructuring in line with neo-liberal ideas about shareholder value certainly has consequences. That is not to say that the system should only benefit the chaebol instead but why not democratize the institutional structures that exist (a mixture of family-led conglomerates and an increased amount of foreign owned corporations) in a way that is conducive to many, and then figure out a way to increase investment in key sectors that will provide jobs, growth (and hopefully not environmentally destructive development), rather than re-modeling the market on an anglo-american model: indeed, corporate transparency may certainly minimize the back door influence of the domestic chaebol on politics, but stock-market capitalism is certainly not too reconcilable with economic democracy in the end. It's ironic, but it seems perhaps that a government that came to power from the democracy movement would be the one to improve the power of private capital.

4. Trade liberalization. Domestically focused forms of neoliberalism aside, bilateral trade agreements between South Korea and other countries, particularly the US but not limited to it as the South Korean government is now negotiating several agreements at the same time. At any rate, in terms of the Korea - US free trade agreement, the key issues here are are social security and agricultural production. Culture industries are important here too, but some of the problems they are facing are also stem from the financial restructuring outlined above. These are the core issues that are the real risks from the FTA. Farmers will lose big time, they simply can't compete with American agribusiness. The fact that the US got the Korean government to agree to keep certain drugs off their pricing system is also retrograde, and sets an eerie precedent for other bilateral trade agreements.

5. Expansion of irregular work and other forms of precarity. Neoliberal labour market restructuring is also huge issue here and it stems in part from the faulty financial restructuring in the sense that smaller firms have problems investing and keeping costs down, especially as the government has gotten out of industrial policy, and continues to do so even beyond the bounds, in some cases, of the countries it models its policies on. Thus, flexibilization here is perceived as a way to give industry a chance to save on costs, but it ends up benefiting the larger corporations and keeps the smaller ones in a race to the bottom. Actually, it should be mentioned that 'irregular' work, in the legal definition of the term is only one aspect of precarious employment relations. 'Irregular work' in the sense of lack of job security, democratic voice, and sketchy workplace standards has long been a feature of the Korean model and even persists today in many sectors. Note the myriad levels of subcontracting relations. You certain see this in the areas around Dongdaemun where small basement and attic sweatshops persist in the thousands, not just in the peace market area but north of the station as well. Many or most of them in the latter are owned by the women who work in them, so, in a sense they are not irregular workers, but their situations are often more precarious than the officially 'irregular' or contract workers we so often talk about.

Finding an appropriate tactic that can organize these workers, in addition to unionized workers as well as the myriad other subjects affected by neo-liberalism, or just plain capitalism, in South Korea seems quite an urgent chore at the moment. Especially if the large labour federations want the support of these people in the battle against the policies that effect them more directly such as labour repression and the labour relations roadmap.

6. Empire: or state making and war making in NE Asia. Not to sound obtuse, but the end of the cold war on the peninsula would certainly help in the sense of limiting the governments ability to continue conscripting young men to battle labour and social movements in the streets. There still is a militarization of protest policing on the peninsula which is a direct result of the survival of cold war militarism. Of course, there is also the influence of regional inter-state competition here as well, and this keeps tensions up, and thus provides an excuse for maintaining arms, but protest could probably progress much further if only the military presence (both foreign and domestic) here could be minimized. That way you wouldn't see military operations against elderly villagers in Daechuri (as happened last may to 'seal' the area to make way for base expansion) or ten thousand police in downtown Seoul every weekend in anticipation of the next protest.

Protests ongoing

The above is by no means conclusive, and there much more depth we can go into in terms of the many tensions informing the current forms of restructuring and the protests against them. Instead, it is better to conclude by stating that even in the midst of all these tensions, Wednesday's protests, while perhaps not a 'people's uprising' were still very significant, and, in some ways, an important example for other movements in the region. Not simply for the courage and determination of South Korea's social movements, but also for their resilence in the face of crackdown and repression. I think many hope that movements in the region and internationally will show the same level of resilence, and hopefully coordinate around many of these issues in the future. Now is certainly a time for solidarity, with the Seoul government banning future demonstrations by Korea's No to FTA coalition. Nonetheless, protests will continue with protests scheduled for this coming Wednesday and the next; with the government racheting up tensions, it seems that messy confrontations will also continue.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

cindy sheehan visits pyeongtaek

I meant to post on this a few days ago. Anyways, at the moment Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink are in Korea. This visit comes at a good time as 37 lawmakers submit a resolution to get Korean troops out of Iraq and things turn worse near Pyeongtaek as Chairman Kim Ji-tae of daechuri was sentenced to 2 years in prison for organizing protests against the base expansion there. Besides visiting daechuri, Sheehan will be giving talks and attending today's Anti-FTA rally.

fta demo livecast

The Korean NOFTA site will have a livecast of today's (Wednesday) demonstration up on their page. I won't be at my computer while the demo is on, but if anyone sees it, please post a comment on how the livecast turned out.

multiple demonstrations tomorrow

Well, tomorrow is an omnibus day of protest, including most of the anti-FTA and labour relations roadmap issues we've been covering some time now. Here is a quick pre-protest story from the Korea Herald, and another from KOILAF. Seems that they are having trouble seeing how all these issues are connected; nonetheless, tomorrows events should, hopefully, create more popular cognitive connections between the struggle over decent working conditions, fair rather than free trade, and democracy in the workplace. Well, let's hope that message comes across.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

And now for something completely different

I've been looking into the issue of property speculation a little recently for my own research, dealing in part with the growing expansion of financial capital here on the penninsula. As most people know, there is a speculative bubble in the real-estate market that is growing and growing right now, with the consequence that a lot of property appears to be over-valued, with some of those cookie cutter concrete apartments now reaching the price of some European castles. Actually, that is what this following story from the Korean times is all about: the type and location of European castle you could sell your apartment in order to buy, no joke.

The warning strike and after

Here is my post for interlocals on yesterday's warning strike.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) held a warning strike yesterday in protest of several pressing labour issues including: the negotiation of the Korea US Free Trade Agreement, the signing of a tripartite agreement without consent or participation of the KCTU, the expanse of irregular work and oppression against their organizations and the sorry state of workers accident insurance and workers compensation.

The Korea Herald reported that, in all, 57,000 workers joined the four hour strike, though the KCTU reported that substantially more participated. Several more thousand rallied in front of the National Assembly during the afternoon and then marched to the headquarters of the ruling Uri Party where a vigil was held into the evening.

Originally, Wednesday's event was supposed to be the beginning of an indefinite strike but that event has been delayed to November 22nd. This was partially as a response to media criticisms of the KCTU's choice of the 15th, as it is the day that national university entrance exams begin, but also the decision to delay the indefinite strike was also declared as a way to give the government time to respond to the four major criticisms the KCTU voiced yesterday before deciding on further action. If the indefinite strike begins on the 22nd, KCTU workers will be joined by lots of other protest groups, including farmers and student groups, who will making that day an omnibus event against the FTA. The nation's police are already up in arms about what could turn out to be one of the largest protest of the year, following large anti-FTA protest and heavy police response in July.

In addition to Wednesdays protest, there were also solidarity actions in Australia and in other cities world-wide. Finally, the KCTU recently put out a film about Korea's labour relations issues, 10 years after the OECD: trade union repression in Korea which you can watch over at the Christian's CINA blog.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

walkout wednesday

As the KCTU walkout starts today, CINA has some stories on this protest and some others that are scheduled for the month.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

MWTV news in English

I'm a big fan of Migrant Worker Television Korea, I think it is an excellent project that is really breaking down barriers and promoting migrant's issues. They have news in multiple languages which you can view on their broadcast on in text on their website. However, I've had problems for months opening their english news because of some bugs on their site. However, the problem seems fixed at the moment and, after some prodding by myself, they have started pasting it in text rather than attaching it as a pdf file (which I think was the cause of the problem). Anyways, I'll reprint below the migrant news from the last week of October. As you can read, there are some interesting developments in terms of policy, with the last few workers under the trainee system now being merged into the Employment Permit System, which is a mildly progressive step, but still one which does not address the overall contradictions of the EPS, or basically any form of guest worker policy which does not address the crisis of long term residents and the fact of immigration -- of which there is of yet no clear policy. I've written a bit about this issue before, back when the EPS was first being introduced, you can read it here, but keep in mind that numbers have doubled since then, and that crackdowns continue apace, though they range quite a bit in periods of severity.

Click 'view full posting' to read the latest MWTV news...
The weather's taken a sharp turn toward winter in the last couple days, so be sure to bundle up when you're heading outside.

Welcome to Multilingual Migrant Worker News for this, the fourth week of October.

I'm Linda Kwon.
Our top story tonight...

With just two months left until the Industrial Trainee Program is abolished, the Korean government has announced that the organizations currently involved with the industrial training program will become involved with the Employment Permit System after the industrial training program is discontinued.

In the fourteen years of the Industrial Training Program's existance, migrant workers have become well acquainted with these affiliate organizations such as the Korean Federation of Small & Medium Businesses.

These agencies are renowned for taking illegal commissions for job placement services. In spite of this, the Korean government has decided to join hands with these organizations to become official partners in handling the Employment Permit System. Which indicates that the government does not have a specific plan to reform and improve policies for migrant workers.

Labor human rights organizations are protesting against the proposed system and began various protests including sit-ins and rallies on October 11. They stated that official agencies of the/handling the Employment Permit System should be formed as an independent organization, or appointed by the Human Resources Development Service of Korea which is currently responsible for the Employment Permit System.


Migrant workers are still not being adequately protected under Korean labor law. According to the Ministry of Labor, about 81% of companies hiring migrant workers
violate wage agreements and other labor regulations such as physical harassment and overtime work.

Although about 1,270 labor violations were reported regarding migrant workers, only 510 cases have been settled. Among the reported cases, over 90% are about unpaid wages which total over 1.6 billion won.

Hyunggyu Maeng from the Grand National Party said that there must be many more migrant workers than have been reported who are suffering due to employer labor violations. He also asserted that the government should provide more effective and proactive solutions.


According to the Ministry of Labor, last year 56 employers were reported for sexual harassment charges and 60% of the total cases happened in small & medium size companies. The primary victims of sexual harassment were women in their 20s who totaled 46% of the cases. While 75% of those facing harassment charges were men in their 40s.


Keumsil Gang, former minister of labor and the current ambassador of women’s rights expressed grave concern about the issues of female migrant workers. She pointed out the seriousness of migrant women’s issues, especially the women who have come to Korea through international marriage. Gang is planning to visit Vietnam and the Philippines for detailed survey. She also announced that proper solutions for migrant women’s issue would be discussed through cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Gang was appointed to the post of women’s rights ambassador this past September.


A high school teacher donated an apartment worth over 600 million won to a medical center for foreign workers. Last August, Sunhee Min, a teacher at Il-Sin girl’s commercial high school donated her apartment in Bundang to the medical center for foreign workers in Garibongdong in Seoul. Her husband passed away in 1993 with acute leukemia and he left the apartment. She said that her husband would be pleased to know that the money would be used for saving lives. Min had worked at a factory when she was young. She finished her college education as a part time student and obtained a teacher’s qualification. She has worked as a high school teacher for the last 26 years.


There are no famous actors or world famous directors. However, the 1st Migrant Worker Film Festival has attracted the media's attention. The film festival kicked off in Pocheon on the 1st of October, and since then, has held screenings in Ansan, Seoul, and Daegu. A number of films made by migrant workers themselves were included among the 30 featured domestic and foreign films. These films show the current situation of migrant workers. The film festival has been touted by Korean media as a good opportunity for Korean society to better understand migrant workers and break down the wall of mutual distrust.

On October 22, We Too Love Bucheon 2006 Multicultural Festival was held in Bucheon. Migrant workers from 12 countries including Nepal, Russia, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh participated in this event. The festival kicked off with an parade of participating migrant workers. In addition, cultural performances of different countries, a quiz show, sport activities including a cricket tournament, and an exhibition of traditional cultures & food were prepared.

The highlight of the festival was an actual traditional Bangladeshi wedding ceremony between a couple from Bangladesh. There was also a concert featuring traditional music from Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, and Sri Lanka.


This year's Nobel Peace Prize went to Dr. Muhammad Yunus along with the bank he founded, Grameen Bank for the simple, yet revolutionary, idea of lending tiny sums to poor people to start businesses, helping hundreds of millions of people earn their way out of poverty. Grameen Bank was founded in 1976 and the world has long recognized Yunus and his bank’s contributions to reducing poverty by providing ‘Micro-credit’ over the past three decades. On October 18, Yunus visited Seoul to receive the 2006 Seoul Peace Award. In spite of a tight schedule, he met with migrant workers from Bangladesh at the Shilla Hotel on October 19. In the meeting, Yunus asserted that migrant workers should work together to reduce poverty in Bangladesh. Participating migrant workers also discussed current problems they are facing here in Korea. After receiving the 2006 Seoul Peace Award, Professor Muhammad Yunus left for Bangladesh on October 20.

We have a couple announcements for you tonight...


Starting next year, the Ministry of Labor has revised work safety laws to ensure faster reporting of industrial accidents. The revised regulation states that if a death or serious accident occurs at the workplace, it must be reported within 24 hours. In addition, the reporting process will also be improved so that there will be someone to receive calls at night and on weekends. The phone number to call to report any serious accidents at work is 1588-3088.


The first annual Migrant Worker Film Festival "Films Without Borders, Moving Imagination" has been successfully touring various regions around the country and will continue to run until November 19.

The remaining dates are as follows:

October 29th, in Pusan at the Community Media Center as well as in Maseok at Shalom House.

Sunday, November 5 in two locations: Bucheon at the Migrant Worker House and in Uijeongbu Songuri - Songuri-dong Office.

And lastly, Sunday November 19 in Shiheung at the Jakun Jari Migrant Worker Center.

For more information, please visit the MWFF website at [or you can call 6366-0621].


That's all for this, the fourth week edition of Multilingual Migrant Worker News for October.

You can watch rebroadcasts of the news on our web site at or
Thanks for being with us. Good night.

Getting ready for Wednesday

I personally missed it (how dissapointed thy must be) but yesterday was the big rally, or Labour Assemby (but no march) downtown in anticipation of the KCTU's warning strike to take place on Wednesday -- which will include 4-hour walkouts or more at numerous workplaces. There has a been something of a back and forth between the Seoul authorities and the labour movement recently over permits for the march, which was originally denied for this event until the KCTU resubmitted a compromise saying that they wouldn't march but only meet. It seems that they stuck to this agreement as you can read from the two mainstream media stories I'll link to (here and here) on the event. It's pretty disappointing however that the media is more focused on the traffic planning than the substantive claims about worker's rights and their curtailment that the unions are raising. Especially in regards to the increased repression the labour movement has seen this year (Pohang irregular workers struggle and the KGEU crackdown being the two most publicized -- but also the recent crackdowns on migrant workers which have included the raiding of a local mosque last month). Wednesday strike, which is also an international day of action, is designed to foreground these struggles within the overall context of the Labour Relations Road Map which is being through without KCTU consent or participation.

Finally, I've included some pictures from the event (courtesy voice of the people). Note the aesthetics on the rally posters, kind of different for KCTU rallies, kind of reminds me of the british artists Gilbert and George, well with a more socialist edge -- interesting, nonetheless.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

After the DLP visit

here is an a short article on the recent DLP visit to North Korea. I'm actually quite curious if these visits are building stronger horizontal connections between people in this party and North Korean counterparts. In general I think non-rigid forms of connections between the two would be good. But who knows what the interaction was like. The article is also interesting in that it mentions some of the factions (the old NL and PD split) within the DLP. Here is the LINK.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Missle test reaction in Korea and US

The topic many not be as fresh now, but Matt, gusts of popular feelings, in an interesting post on propanganda has some interesting things to say about the different receptions of the North Korea nuclear test here and in the states.

There has been a lot commentary on this issue over the last few weeks, and I'm not so interested in reviewing this material except to say that although the tests certainly registered amongst people here as a genuine concern, indeed as a renewed topic of political debate, the representation of the threat posed by tests to Korean society have not had the same frenzied amplification as they have elsewhere.

Below is an excerpt from matt's post showing an example of how the US press used the incident of a regularly scheduled civilian drill that happened just after the test to make it seem like the Korean population was paniked and in fear. I'll reprint the except from his post which includes some interesting visual material, as well as commentary.

From "gusts of popular feeling":

To see an example of said American tv news in action, you need only look here. In the video clip found there, from October 16, you can hear this commentary:
In one corner of the globe tonight it is a full scale crisis. North Korea has now proven to the world it is now a nuclear nation. For its neighbours, those in close missile rangle, that is bad news, as it is for the US government, who worry that it will become at kind of nuclear arms dealership dealing with all the wrong people. Tonight US intelligence has picked up fresh evidence they might be planning another test, on the very same day when we were able to confirm that the first test was indeed the real thing.

Today, South Korea was taking the threat seriously. In Seoul, 40 miles from the border, regularly scheduled air-raid drills today, people running for underground shelters. While in the north, Kim Jong-il's second in command told a military rally they would be victorious over the united states.
I guess MSNBC was just hoping no one would put any thought into what 'regularly scheduled' means. How can South Korea be 'taking the threat seriously' by having an air-raid drill when it's a regularly scheduled one? Ah, but no matter, all you need to do is show rapid-fire shots of people running into subways in order to make it seem very, y'know, crisis-like. Follow that by North Korea saying it will defeat the US, and everybody is off to Walmart to buy duct tape.

Fox News was kind enough to also provide a video clip of their story about the civil defense drill here. I include it because, unlike NBC, you can take screen shots:

We are told, "This entire city of ten million shut down, there is no traffic on the streets, there are no people on the streets." Strange. By my place traffic continued as usual. Of course, this reporter is not exactly being truthful. There are several people in the streets, including himself in his cameraman. Look behind the man in yellow in the first picture, and you'll see some photographers with a tripod. It seems the media weren't required to seek shelter; they were too busy trying to scare the hell out of people living elsewhere in the world.

And people ask me why I don't watch TV.

These 'news' clips are basically telling Americans that it's a full scale CRISIS, NORTH KOREA WILL DEFEAT US, seoulites are RUNNING for the subways (which is utterly uncommon here) - first we confirm the FIRST TEST was the REAL THING, a genuine NUCLEAR BOMB, and now there are TWO BONGOS, A SCOOTER, AND A HALF DOZEN SOLDIERS near the TEST SITE - ANOTHER TEST could occur in OUR SLEEP! aaaAAAAEEEEIIIIIIEEEEEEAAAAAGHHHHHHH!!! Run! Run to the mall! Max out your credit cards!! (Brought to you by American Express)

Of course, when North Korea does this, its called propaganda.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Critical Constellations -- Interlocals

I've recently become involved with a few other projects that I thought I would promote on this site. One is the Hong Kong based site,, a site which is attempting to connect english/non-english news on grassroots and inter-local issues in the region through original dialogues, stories and translations. It's only been up for a few months but is expanding quickly.

The other site is a blog for the institute for the study of democracy and social movements here in Seoul (where I am a visiting researcher), so far it is oriented towards promoting and circulation some of the wealth of english material produced each year by Korean academics and other intellectuals engaged with critical social movement issues. Unlike Interlocals, we're off to a slow start, but a start nonetheless, so please check us out. I've tentatively called the project critical constellations, as a mock-up description of what, to an extent, social movements are, constellations of multiple actors and expressions organized in often fluid networks, all striving to identify and inflect important social issues in a critical manner.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

November 15: International Solidarity

Here's the link to a call for a day of international solidarity with Korean workers organized by the Building and Wood Worker's International. This event in particular focuses on the struggles of Korean construction workers, whose union comprises both regular and irregular workers, who have faced a intense summer of harrassment and arrest, especially after the strike in Pohang in August which was covered here (you can search our August archives for more). This was also the strike in which Ha Joong Gun died from injuries inflicted by the riot police. Seems that there will be protests and pickets in front of Korean embassies world wide.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

(Metal) shield to the head

FTA Protest Continue

Here's the link to a report from the Hankyoreh about the continuing protests against the FTA. Seems twelve protestors were injured yesterday. The TV news showed some protestors being hit in the head with metal shields. Seems to be the tactic of choice for Korean riot police, a tactic which has claimed three lives in the last year. We wrote about this last August, so it goes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sunshine and Rain

There was a isolated wind and rain storm today, in Kangwondo, Korea, a province that stretches both sides of the border and is home to two of the most scenic mountain parks in North and South: Kumgang (diamond) and Sorak (snowy crag) mountains. Coincidently, it is the Kumgang mountain tours to North Korea that the US asked the South to discontinue during Condoleeza Rice' s recent trip. Since the test the sunshine policy of Kim Dae Jung and successive regimes has come under fire a bit, and in something of a straw man type manner, I should add. In response, however, Kim Dae Jung has been out defending his policy (in many ways, the problem was not too much but too little sunshine, in my opinion). Here's a story on that from the Hankyoreh.

It was sunny down south in Jeju today, where the fourth round of Korea-US FTA talks are beginning. From this evenings television news here, it seems that 15-20 000 where out protesting, and at least several dozen tried to make it to the resort site where the conference is being held in order to protest. To do so the attempted to swim across a lagoon there, in repeat of the farmer protest in Hong Kong against the WTO last year, when 300+ Korean farmers braved the december water to make their point. I've seen no account of the swim in English as of yet but here is a quick story on the protests from monstersandcritics, and a more in depth look from the Hankyoreh.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Migrant Workers Film Festival

I should have posted on this sooner, but MWTV and other groups have a sponsored a travelling film festival this month, the MWFF. I just went to one of the Seoul nights this week, but there are still nights in Bucheon and other cities around the country this month. There is an interesting range of films here about migrant workers, and not solely in Korea but in other countries around the pacific, from Taiwan, to Canada and Malaysia. Check out their program (in english and other languages) at their website (

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Conflict Escalating

Here's my backgrounder on what's been going with the KGEU, feel free to use it for progressive purposes... Should be up over at interlocals later today.

Labour conflict escalating in South Korea

Following an ILO regional meeting in Busan, South Korea, labour relations have soured in that country over the month of September with a large government offensive against the 140,000 member Korean Government Employee’s Union, and a back door agreement with a government-friendly union selectively advancing segments of the government’s labour reform roadmap which many fear will pave the way for further expansion of irregular work on the peninsula.

Offensive against the KGEU

Over the last month the Korean government has waged an aggressive crackdown against the Korean Government Employee's Union (KGEU), forcibly closing down 121 of 251 KGEU chapter offices nationwide -- literally welding them shut with metal bars and iron plating -- and arresting, as of October 10th, over 100 members of the KGEU and other organizations in solidarity with them.

The origins of this struggle are related to the slow consolidation of public sector labour unions in the post-dictatorship era. Korea has been under continuing pressure from local and international organizations to recognize its public sector trade unions. Though many of these unions have existed for some time, the Korean government has been taking the slow road to legally recognizing them. The Korean Teacher's Union was only recognized in 1999, and there is a large ‘public servants’ union (employee's in sectors such as railroads and transportation), but the government has still to recognize Korea's large government employee's union (KGEU), which has been underground for quite sometime.

In many ways, the cause of this crisis is a constitutional matter. As Article 33 of the Korean constitution states:

Article 33 [Unions]

(1) To enhance working conditions, workers have the right to independent association, collective bargaining, and collective action.
(2) Only those public officials who are designated by law, have the right to association, collective bargaining, and collective action.
(3) The right to collective action of workers employed by important defense industries may be either restricted or denied under the conditions as prescribed by law.

As the KGEU cannot ‘legally’ exercise these rights without legal recognition, the Korean government have refused to recognize them until the union agrees to certain limitations on their rights: basically giving up the right to strike and dis-allowing what it terms ‘higher’ public officials (basically half of the KGEU’s 140,000 members) from joining the union. The union refused to agree, in principle, with the limitation of the three basic labour rights as recognized in the Korean constitution. Which seems reasonable, as the government’s offer here is on constitutionally shaky grounds. Nonetheless, the Korean governments’ response to the union in its short history have been severe.

Since it was founded in 2002, almost all KGEU public meetings, assemblies, workshops, or press conferences have become sites of police violence and, frankly, unbelievable resistance, with union members, at times, literally keeping the riot police at bay while carrying out important votes. Nonetheless, the KGEU has organized strikes and weathered the persecution, even growing in size. For its part, the Korean government has slowly ratcheted up the pressure, declaring a special law on the rights of government employees forbidding them from bargaining and taking collective action, including penal provisions for those who disobey. The law, passed in 2002, included a grace period which ended in 2006. Since then the oppression has only escalated.

Staff elections of the KGEU were blockaded in January of this year, and in February ministers from the Ministries of Justice, Government and Home Affairs, and Labour issued a joint statement and countermeasures against the KGEU which was followed in March with instructions for the voluntary withdrawal of all union members and notification of all cases of non-compliance so that legal action may be taken. Between March and September the government kept up its pressure by forcing local governments to report on the actions of KGEU members and submit the names of members involved actions.

In September, at an ILO regional meeting in Busan, South Korea, the ILO criticized the Korean government for denying public servants their basic labour rights, and delegates further denounced the intervention into the matter by the Ministry of Government and Home and Affairs and Minissty of Justice, saying that these ministries have no right to intervene in labour conflict and that collective agreements must be made by bargaining between the union and employer’s, not third parties. Nonetheless, the current crackdown against the KGEU began just days after the ILO Busan conference ended, which is ironic mostly because the Korean government had hosted the conference to showcase improvements to labour relations in the country.

Labour relations worsening

What this says about the overall conditions of labour rights and democracy on the Korean peninsula is not encouraging. September’s crackdown against the KGEU was accompanied by the signing of tripartite agreement between the government friendly (or state-corporatist) union, the Federation of Korean Industries (FKTU), business, and government. The agreement, signed without the consent or participation of the larger Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) delays important clauses on union pluralism and paves the way for expanded irregularization of employment. This makes a mockery not only of the concept of tripartite negotiation between labour, management, and government endorsed by the ILO – 2.5-ism may be a better term to describe its current Korean embodiment – it also sets a dangerous precedent for distinctively anti-democratic labour relations to come, and has thus been criticized by a wide segment of Korean civil society, including legal and constitutional experts.

The KCTU, meanwhile, has promised more strikes and industrial action against the roadmap bill and ongoing union repression in November.

2006 Copyleft

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pyeongtaek, KGEU

Looking back at some of the events from the last month here is a good collection of stories and pics on the raids against the Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU) from CINA. Kotaji also has some comments and the draft of letter of solidary from a meeting of European social movements recently gathered in Brussels.

Days in Daechuri also has its own article on the large rally against the removal of villagers in Pyeontaek that took place in front of city hall on Sept 24. They also have links to other stories on the rally as well as pics.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

back at it: KGEU, Labour Roadmap, Posco workers sued

My apologies to avid readers for the lack of posts over the last month. I'm back at it now and will be ramping up the posts in the coming weeks. In case you haven't heard or read about them, there are a few big stories from the past month that need some coverage.

Attacks on the KGEU

The first is the government offensive against the Korean Government Employee's Union, a union of civil servants that doesn't agree with the limitations on their labour rights that the government is forcing them to accept in order to have legal recognition. Thus, this union is 'illegal' for the time being and is now undergoing some severe repression. It's important to mention here that it is not just the KGEU that doesn't agree with these limitations but members of the ILO as well, who have criticized the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs for their intervention in labour relations in such a way. Here's the most recent press release from the union, along with a chronology of this month's attacks on KGEU offices everywhere, attacks which are continuing. The KGEU has 140 offices nationwide, over 81 have been shut down as of Sept 23. You can also find the online campaign on the KGEU site.

Labour Relations Road Map

The other major story, and one that has flown slightly under the radar, is the tentative tripartite (really 2.5-ite) agreement between the FKTU, Business, and Government, on the labour relations road map. Basically, they have agreed to postpone the two contentious issues (trade union pluralism, and pay for full-time labour organizers) for three years -- basically this is a setback for union democracy within and between workplaces. This also means that other aspects of the bill may move forward quite quick: expansion of irregular work, etc., without full trade union participation. The FKTU has also begun campaigning for foreign investment by advertising the agreement it strung together with business and government withouth any consent or participation for the larger KCTU. 2 and half-ism seems to have replaced tripartitism, indeed. If some of the other elements of the roadmap are passed, it seems that we will be seeing more and more illegal strikes as the venues for legal trade unionism is made smaller and smaller and people struggle to protect themselves. So far the governements reaction to this has been punitive. For example, it seems that the irregular workers who struck at POSCO in August are being sued for 1.7 million (US), a move which can only lead to more violence if this money is garnished from workers private savings as it has in the past.

The KCTU is promising strikes against the legislation in November, we'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

houses, fta, infrequent posts

I'm out of the country right now and am not sure how much I will be able to post over the next few weeks, but, never fear, I'll manage to get some stuff if not in abbreviatted form.

At the moment, it seems the Pyeongtaek demolitions have started, here's an article in the Hankyoreh and a more first hand account from Days in Daechuri. From their post at that blog it seems that apparently there were 22,000 police on hand vs. 40 villagers. Yikes.

The FTA talks in Seattle have also been completed, not much was accomplished this round though. Here's the link to a story on that as well.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

FTA Round 3: first day report

Here's a story from the Hankyoreh/Yonhap on the opening of the FTA talks in Seattle. Scenes of the protest were also broadcast on the news around Korea, so that means the story is getting quite a lot of coverage. The newscast I saw focused on how American workers and Korean farmers had marched together. There was also some fun shots of American protestors doing some protest dances with the farmers.
South Korea/US FTA talks open amid protests.

Free trade negotiators from South Korea and the United States ended the first day of talks Wednesday, sending mixed signals that they achieved "some progress" but also faced "some challenges."

Outside the negotiating venue, several hundred U.S. protesters, joined by about 60 South Koreans from Seoul, staged a peaceful rally, shouting, "Stop the FTA." There were no reports of violence.

At the negotiating table, all exchanges were serious and businesslike, both sides said.

Click view fullpost to continue reading

"Today, some meetings have made some progress. I think some other groups were facing some challenges," Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler told a group of U.S. business leaders after the meeting which lasted almost eight hours.

"I hope this meeting will be a very productive round," said Cutler who headed the U.S. delegation in Seattle. "I think we have good discussions in industrial and agricultural goods." The chief South Korean delegate, Kim Jong-hoon, said the first-day discussions did not cover rice, one of the most sensitive items on the table. Rice is the main staple of the 48.5 million South Koreans.

"Because today is the first day, the mood was good," Kim said.

"No discussions on rice was held today." South Korea is keen to protect its uncompetitive agricultural sector, including rice, while the U.S. is concerned about its less competitive textile industry.

The two sides aim to wrap up the negotiations by year's end to allow time for their lawmakers to ratify the accord before June 30, when the U.S. president's "fast track" authority runs out. The authority allows U.S. trade officials to negotiate a deal without congressional amendments.

Given a number of knotty problems lying ahead, however, it's unclear whether they will be able to meet the schedule. In Seoul on Thursday, a group of 24 lawmakers, including 14 ruling party members, filed a legal suit, questioning the constitutionality of the proposed FTA.

This week's talks, which will continue until Saturday, come amid predictions of difficulty. Two previous rounds of talks, the first in Washington and the second in Seoul, ended without much headway.

Other knotty topics on the agenda include the status of goods made in an inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea, automobiles, textiles and South Korea's new drug-pricing policy.

The second round of talks in July ended a day earlier than scheduled, after U.S. officials pulled out, protesting South Korea's new drug-pricing policy, under which patients are reimbursed when they buy medicine approved by the government.

U.S. officials argue that the Korean system could discriminate against newly developed American medicines. South Korea has so far refused to back down.

A smaller-than-expected protest rally involving several hundred people was held two blocks north of the Museum of History and Industry in downtown Seattle where the talks were held. Organizers had predicted "thousands" would attend the ally.

"No to KORUS FTA," the protesters shouted, with some beating drums. KORUS FTA stands for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.

"I don't understand why our government pushes ahead with the free trade talks with the U.S., because it would be no help for our national interest," Kang Ki-gab, a South Korean opposition lawmaker, said at the rally.

Wearing South Korea's traditional cotton robe and slippers, the farmer-turned lawmaker from the labor-friendly Democratic Labor Party claimed the proposed free trade deal would only help big businesses.

U.S. protest leaders said the FTA, if implemented, will take away American jobs, because cheaper South Korean mobile phones, automobiles and other goods will flood the American market.

"America's workers have too much experience with failed agreements like NAFTA," said Thea Lee, a policy director of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, using the acronym of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed between the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 1993.

"The promises are always the same: more jobs, more investment, more economic growth. But the reality is always the same: jobs lost and greater inequality," she said.

Aehwa Kim, an official with the Korean Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA, which organized the Seattle rally, said, "American workers will be just affected as well as Korean by low-paying jobs or unemployment, and the loss of benefits." After the rally, the protesters marched down the streets, making a Buddhist-style bow every three steps. About 30 bicycle-riding police officers escorted them. There were no reports of arrests.

The South Korea-U.S. free trade talks are the first sensitive trade meeting to be held in Seattle since violent protests prompted the cancelation of the opening of World Trade Organization talks in the city in 1999.

Seattle, Sept. 6 (Yonhap News)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Korea-US FTA: Round 3

Well, the third round of FTA negotiations are starting up today in Seattle. The perfect opportunity to promote the wealth of material recently put up on the Korean No to FTA site. Of particular interest is an essay by Cho Hee-Yeon of SungKongHoe University on the Korean government's 'rush to neoliberalism.'

There are also some interviews with Korean activists visiting Seattle, and some position papers on the Korea-US FTA's effects on workers. Enjoy.

Also here is an update from the Korean NOFTA group.

Korean and US activist to protest Korea-US FTA meeting in Seattle.

From September 6 to 9, 2006, in Seattle, a 60-member delegation from the Korean Alliance Against Korea-US FTA (KOA) will join hundreds of US activists to protest the 3rd round of FTA negotiations.

The week is filled with joint rallies, press conferences, marches, and workshops, including the Koreans' unique methods of protest that incorporate Buddhist ideals of dedication (sam-bo il-bae ‘3-step/1-bow’ march on 9/8) and Korea’s traditional funeral march (on 9/9).

Labor, women, and farmers’ groups are at the forefront of these events. One goal of the Seattle protest is to build a lasting, global solidarity against neoliberalism. The only way to form any kind of resistance against the flow of unrestrained capital is to construct an international network of progressive movements. Seattle is a symbolic place for Korean activists, and they are prepared to let their voices be heard.

For South Korea, a free trade agreement with the US, similar to the effects of NAFTA and US and Mexican workers, would mean the loss of millions of jobs, the disappearance of farming families, and the privatization of social services for which the Korean people have fought for many decades. Over 50% of Korea’s population opposes this hastily conceived FTA. And the negotiations themselves are undemocratic and non-transparent.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

ILO Pusan: problems and prospects

Below is a quick story from the Hankyoreh about the ILO Asian Regional Meeting now underway in Busan and some short comments of my own. I was down there for the first day's worker group meeting and the special forum on the Korean situation. It was good experience.

Members of the POSCO construction worker's union were at first not allowed to enter the event but they eventually made it past the smaller than normal police corden (just about a hundred police, not the normal thousand or more for large events and rallies) and came in and joined the forum. They were accompanied by protest singers who warmed up the crowd before the speakers went on.

Besides an outline of some of the current struggles on the penninsula by Korean delegates, the worker's group of ILO made several strong statements from their fact-finding mission undertaken by international members, I hope these make some headway.

The biggest problem of the evening was that Migrant Trade Union president Anwar Hussain was threatened with deporation and arrest if he attends the conference, which he is invited to as an official KCTU delegate. Anwar did make it to Mondays event (held one day before the event officially begins) but union members were extremely concerned about his safety. Protests are currently underway and being lodged by the KCTU and Migrant supporters. Starting tomorrow there will be a rotating one person demonstration (a Korean form of protest that is used to get around legal obstacles) in front of the Mok Dong immigration office. Worker's Groups members of the ILO and international unions are also trying their best to get Anwar into the event where he was scheduled to attend the migration forum tomorrow.

From the Hankyoreh: Meeting sheds light on plight of Korean Workers

There is a meaningful event going on right now in Busan, at which participants from nations in the Asia-Pacific region are looking for ways to create better labor conditions. The Asian Regional Meeting of the International Labor Organization (ILO) takes place every four years and will continue this year until September 1. Approximately 600 representatives from labor, business, and government have come from approximately 40 countries. The event presents our society with an opportunity to think about international labor issues, but the sad realities faced by workers in Korea make you feel like international issues are concerns for other countries. It is actually turning into a time when others are learning about the lack of rights faced by Korean laborers.

A fact-finding group representing the international labor community, here in Korea on the occasion of the ILO meeting, attempted to visit the offices of the new civil servants’ union but was prevented from doing so by the Gyeonggi provincial government. The group criticized Korea for "meeting the demands of the World Trade Organization while failing to keep its promises to the International Labor Organization" and said it would report its findings to the ILO and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and continue to monitor the labor situation here. Korea has failed to adopt repeated recommendations by the ILO for improving labor policy. Typical examples would be its failure to fully guarantee civil servants the "three labor rights" - freedom of association, right to bargain collectively, and the right to strike. This is one of the reasons Korea continues to be labeled a country that suppresses labor.

To make matters worse, a migrant worker who represents fellow foreign laborers in the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU, Minju Nochong) was kept away from the proceedings because he is currently an illegal alien. He was on his way to a session discussing ways to protect migrant laborers and he was an official delegate from KCTU, and the government was as unflexible and intolerant as could be in preventing him from attending. An ILO event is a rare opportunity to make your claims known to the global labor community, so the right to attend such an activity should be guaranteed within certain limits.

And so, as it turns out, the world is being shown Korea’s shameful labor policies and harsh conditions during this ILO meeting in Busan. All of this is, in turn, the result of a "policy for show" that obsesses over appearances without making substantial policy changes and improvements in labor conditions.

Nevertheless, Korea still has an opportunity to have the meeting come to an admirable end. The government should immediately begin listening to criticism from Korean and international labor organizations and demonstrate a willingness work together to resolve the issues. The world will take a new look at Korea when changes have been made, and Korean labor and the government will be able to restore mutual confidence. One hopes to see the meeting in Busan be a starting point for resolving the many labor issues Korea faces today.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Update #2 Gov't arrests memorial rally participants for POSCO worker

Seems that the entire memorial rally/procession of Ha Joong Keun was arrested last week in Seoul. Here is the KCTU's action alert on the topic:


On August 16, over 1,000 members of the Pohang local union, an affiliate of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union (KFCITU), KCTU were participating in a legal and peaceful demonstration to protest the death of one of their colleague, Ha Jeung Keun who died as result of severe beating he suffered under the hands of the riot police in a demonstration to support the union’s strike that began on July 1. In the midst of a peaceful procession where some union members wore funeral dress and held photos of Ha Jeung Keun, the police blocked the union members from marching toward the National Police headquarters. Unable to proceed further, the union chose to conduct a sitdown demonstration on the streets of Seoul. The riot police responded by forcibly arresting the union members. In the end 736 union members were arrested including key leadership of the KCTU, the Korean Democratic Labor Party, and the KFCITU.

August 15 is a national holiday in South Korea, to celebrate the “Liberation” of Korea under Japanese colonialism. While the entire country was celebrating, 63 union members of the KFCITU still remain in jail for their participation in action supporting the strike launched by the Pohang local union. Although the vast majority of those imprisoned are leaders of the Pohang union, four members of the national and local branches of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the General Secretary of the KFCITU are also in jail. Despite the strike, which began on July 1, negotiations between the union and the sub contractors are still proceeding forward, albeit in a turtle’s pace. The union’s main demands are a 15% increase in wages, five-day work week, and better working conditions.

Throughout the strike, the government’s actions have been to violently stop the strike in order to protect the interests of POSCO, a major leading South Korean company, where over 90% of the Pohang members work through a series of sub contractors. The government at the urging of the POSCO has sent in thousands of riot police to not only stop the strike but also any demonstration the union coordinates even though it has gained legal permits to hold rallies and marches. The police violence has resulted in serious injuries to several members and tragically it has caused a death and a miscarriage.

To continue reading, click 'view full post'

On August 1, 2006, Ha Jeung Keun, a 42 year old member of the Pohang local union died due to the beating by the riot police during a legal demonstration organized by the KFCITU on July 16. Witnesses have stated that the police repeatedly beat Ha Jeung Keun in the head with their metal shields. The police and the South Korean government have yet to take full responsibility for these actions. The union and the family of Ha Jeung Keun has asked the government to launch a full and impartial investigation on the circumstances leading to the death of Ha Jeung Keun, fully punish those responsible for his death, and sufficiently compensate the family of Ha Jeung Keun. The family has refused to proceed with any funeral ceremonies until the government agrees to their demands. However, the government has to take any responsibility. In fact, the media has questioned the union’s claims as to the true nature of Ha Jeung Keun’s death.

In addition, on August 10, the union announced at a press conference that Ji Hyun-Sook, wife of one of the union members who was participating in a sit-down demonstration at POSCO headquarters tragically miscarried as a result of violent confrontation with the riot police. On July 19 during a demonstration coordinated by the KCTU Kyonggido Branch, she along with close to 100 family members of the union marched towards POSCO headquarters in an attempt to see their husbands, fathers, and sons; however, the riot police forcibly stopped their peaceful march and a confrontation between the riot police and the family members took place. As a result of this confrontation XXX was hurt and immediately hospitalized. At the time the doctors raised concerns about the status of her unborn child and advised her to be careful. Unfortunately she lost her child as a result of the riot police’s actions. The union along with a number of women’s groups has launched a complaint against the Human Rights Committee.

In one of the most recent rallies organized by the KCTU, the police continued its violence as they attempted to forcibly stop the union members in their efforts to march towards POSCO headquarters. 186 union members were injured and some of them are still seeking medical attention. 16 members were detained---a key leader of the KFCTIU was forcibly pulled down from the union truck and immediately arrested. The violence became so bad that even the Pohang citizens who were witnessing the confrontation attempted to intervene on behalf of the union members. The police response was to beat the Pohang citizens as well.

Despite the repression by both the government and POSCO, the Pohang local union is committed to continue with their struggle until their demands are fully met. Currently, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has called for two national rallies to protest the police violence, the government repression against the KFCITU, and to call for the government to accept full responsibility for the death of Ha Jeung Keun. One of the rallies will be held on August 27 in Busan, prior to the ILO Asia Pacific Regional Meeting (ARM). It is ironical that the South Korean government is hosting the ILO ARM at a time when it is increasing the repression of trade union rights in South Korea. Your support is critical to put international pressure against the South Korean government.


Send a protest letter (sample enclosed) to President Roh Moo Hyun at the Blue House: 82-2-770-1690 (Fax) or e-mail at Copies should be sent to the Minister of Labor, Minister Kwon Ki-Hong at 82-2-503-9723 (Phone), 82-2-503-9772 (Fax) or e-mail at

Conduct a demonstration in front of the South Korean consulate or embassy in your country.

Please send copies to the KCTU and the KFCITU.

If you have any questions or need more information, please contact:

Lee Changgeun
International Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: Web-site :
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

Lee Jin-sook
International Director
Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions
Tel : +82-2-843-1432, +82-11-326-7597 Fax : +82-2-843-1436
Email :

Honorable Roh Moo Hyun
Republic of Korea
Blue House
Seoul, South Korea

Via fax: +82-2-2198-3151

Dear President Roh:

On behalf of the __________, I am writing to express our outrage at the violent repression faced by the members of the Pohang local union of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union (KFCITU), KCTU.

According to the KFCITU, the Pohang local union launched a strike on July 1, 2006 for a 15% increase in wages, five-day work week, and better and safe working conditions. Throughout the strike the union has and continues to conduct a series actions including a nine-day sit-down demonstration at POSCO headquarters, candle light vigils, visits to the National Assembly, distributions of union strike literatures, and rallies. However, it is our understanding that rather than trying to objectively mediate to resolved the strike in an equitable fashion, your government has chosen to sent in thousands of riot police to violently stop the union from conducting legal and peaceful actions.

The police violence has resulted in tragic consequences. Over 200 have been injured. Some are still seeking medical attention. One union member, Ha Jeung Keun has died as a result of his injuries. According to witnesses the police repeatedly beat Ha Jeung Keun on the head with their metal shields. In addition, a wife of a union member miscarried due to a confrontation with the police when she and other family members conducted a peaceful march to see their husbands, fathers, and sons who were conducting a sit-down demonstration at POSCO headquarters. The police’s actions are unacceptable and we fully denounce the use of any violence used by the police to stop the union from attempting to exercise their fundamental labor rights. We strongly urge you to launch a full and impartial investigation into the series of violent acts conducted by the police. In addition, we urge your government to punish those responsible for the deaths of Ha Jeung Keun and fully compensate his family for their tragic loss.

We would like to point out that your government’s actions and the specific violent attacks by your government against the KFCITU contravene the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection o the Right to Organize Convention, 1948) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949). These instruments are considered fundamental human rights and although South Korea did not ratify them it has an obligation arising from its membership in the ILO to respect and enforce the principles, which are the subject of these conventions. We find it ironic that your government would engage in anti-union activities that contradict ILO conventions particularly since your government will be hosting the ILO Asia Pacific Regional Meeting later this month. These actions clearly show that your government has very little respect for the ILO conventions and thus, do disservice to dishonor “the spirit” of the ILO.

In order for your government qualify to hold the ILO ARM, we believe you should immediately release of those arrested as a result of the police’s brute force to end the strike. Your government should also call the police to rescind the arrest warrants of union members who are “in hiding” as a result of the strike. More importantly, we strongly urge you to stop all forms of violence against trade unionists when they exercise their fundamental right to organize, to strike, and to collective bargaining. We will continue to monitor the situation until this matter is resolved.

Your Union President