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

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

KCTU Action alert over POSCO Union member Ha Joong Keun's death

[Update: August 15th saw memorial rally in Seoul for Ha Joong Keun, members of both the KCTU and the Democratic Labour Party attended. The group intended to march to the Blue House (home of South Korea's President) but all 1200 were either arrested or detained near city hall. Here's a link with pictures (in Korean).

Here's the official action alert and lenghty analysis from the KCTU over union Ha Joong Keun's death earlier this month

KCTU/KFCITU Action Alert : Union Member dies due to severe beating by riot police



At 2:30 am on August 1, 2006 Ha Joong Keun, a member of the Pohang
Local Union, an affiliate of the Korean Federation of Construction
Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU), KCTU died. He was severely beaten by
riot police during a demonstration in front of POSCO headquarters on
July 16. At that time, close to 3,000 members of the Pohang Local Union
were participating in a sit-down demonstration inside POSCO

Pohang Local goes on Strike

On July 1, the over 4,000 members of the Pohang Local union went on
strike. The union’s key demands were a 15% increase in wages,
implementation of a five-day work week, and dignity and respect at the
work site. Although the union members are hired by subcontractors, the
majority work at the construction plants operated by POSCO; and thus,
POSCO has a tremendous influence over the subcontractors in whether
they negotiate with the union or not. Recognizing this, on July 11, the
union was able to get an agreement from the POSCO management that they would mediate so that the sub contractors would not only negotiate with the union but more importantly POSCO agreed to work towards a positive and constructive resolution to the strike. However; two days later, the union discovered that POSCO had brought in replacement workers. In doing this, POSCO clearly breached the good-faith agreement with the union.

Angered, over 3,000 union members marched to POSCO headquarters to
confirm whether the revelations were indeed correct. Rather than
admitting that they had indeed hired replacement workers, the
management stated that they had no role in the matter and they were
neutral parties in the employer relationship between the union and the
sub contractors and the main contractor. The union held its ground and
sought an apology from the POSCO management. In response, POSCO refused
and called in the riot police to forcibly remove the workers.

Click "view full post" to continue reading

Union Members enter POSCO Headquarters

Fearing that they would be forcibly disbursed by at least 10,000 riot
police, on July 14 the workers, spontaneously decided to go inside
POSCO headquarters and conduct a sit-down demonstration rather than
engage in a violent confrontation with the riot police. POSCO has
alleged that the union had deliberately planned the “occupation” but it is clear that the union had not prepared for such a large-scale action as evident by the union’s purchase of larges cases of water and food after the union members had entered POSCO headquarters.

For nine days, the workers remained holed up in the POSCO headquarters
from the fifth floor to the ninth floor surrounded by thousands of riot
police. During the lock-in, the union representatives and the sub
contractors held a two-day negotiation session which ended in failure.
Although the union had requested POSCO to mediate the dispute as they
had earlier agreed, POSCO refused. In fact the management chose to
increase the pressure and repression against the union. In two
occasions POSCO cut off all power in the building; thus in the last
four days of the sit-down demonstration, the workers had no access to
water or electricity.

Union Repression---Ha Joong Keun Severely Beaten by Riot Police

In addition, thousands of riot police were called from all across the
country to possibly forcibly remove the workers from the building.
Outside POSCO headquarters, the remaining union members conducted
solidarity demonstrations which inevitably resulted in confrontations
with the riot police. At a rally coordinated by the KFCITU on July 16,
the clashes with the police was so brutal that several members were
beaten forcing them to be hospitalized. It was at this rally that Ha
Joong Keun was beaten severely on the head by riot police who kept on
pounding his head with their metal shields. This clearly further fueled
the anger and frustration of the remaining members out side the POSCO
headquarters and thus, many union members wielded steel pipes to
protect themselves from the riot police in several demonstrations after
Ha was hospitalized.

Furthermore, on July 19 in a regional rally coordinated by the
Kyonggido Branch of the KCTU, the police not only surrounded the more
than 3,000 demonstrators and blocked them from getting close to POSCO
headquarters to support those locked inside, the police used water
spray to break up the demonstration. Also, bus loads of supporters,
mainly members of the KFCITU locals were blocked by riot police from
leaving the nearby cities of Yeosoo, Daegu, and Ulsan to support the
Pohang local union. There were even some buses carrying union members
that were stopped in the highway and barred from entering the city of

Throughout the sit-down demonstration, the President of the Pohang
local Lee Ji Kyung consistently stated that the union would voluntarily
leave the headquarters if the sub contractors agreed to return to the
negotiating table. Despite attempts by the Korean Confederation of
Trade Unions (KCTU), Korean Democratic Labor Party members of the
National Assembly and the representatives of civil society groups, the
sub contractors, POSCO management, and the government refused to have
any dialogue with the union.

In the end, after nine days over 2,500 union members who had remained
throughout the occupation chose to voluntarily leave the building
without any concessions. As the members walked out of the POSCO
headquarters, the police immediately detained 138 union members who
they believed to be the key organizer of the action. Currently 58 union
leaders and members were jailed for attempting to exercise their
fundamental trade union rights. At 10:00 am on July 27, twenty nine of
those arrested went on a hunger strike to protest the continued
repression by the government as well as POSCO’s efforts to launch
an anti-union public relations campaign, in which the union has been
vilified as violent and lawless “gangsters.”

Organizing to Change the Construction Site at POSCO, where the Working Conditions are Dangerous and Inhumane.

The Pohang local union, formed in 1989 is one of four local unions
(Yeosoo local, Chunnamdongbu local, and Ulsan local) that comprises the
Network of Construction Plant Workers Union within the KFCITU.
Construction plant workers work in the construction and reconstruction
of big factories and plants that are used to produced petrochemicals,
oils, and other dangerous chemicals. In the case of POSCO, it is the
production of steel.

The work is backbreaking and extremely dangerous, as the workers are
exposed to a series of hazardous products and chemicals that can cause
serious illnesses and possibly terminal diseases. Although POSCO prides
itself in protecting the environment and incorporating environmental
sustainability in its steel production, construction plant workers work
daily in dangerous and unsafe working conditions in POSCO plants. This
year to date, there have been at least twenty minor a major industrial
accidents but 95% of these accidents are unreported and deliberately
hidden from public and government scrutiny. In addition, even though
the use of asbestos is banned in South Korea, it is still used in POSCO
plants, and thus, workers are exposed to a scientifically known
substance that causes lung cancer.

Although South Korea is considered an OECD country, the workers in
POSCO must work in working conditions similar to that of those in
developing countries. Since the construction plants have no washing or
changing facilities, the workers are forced to change outdoors. The
bathrooms are inadequate, insufficient, and filthy. In fact, in a work
site consisting of 3,000 workers, there are only 6 to 7 bathrooms and
about 5 to 7 portable bathrooms. Furthermore, since there is basically
no canteen or eating facility in the POSCO construction plant, workers
are forced to eat at the worksite, sometimes on the dirty floor or

In addition, on an average, construction plant workers work 8 to 10
hours a week, seven days a week, totally 70 hours. They are denied any
social and medical benefits or vacation pay. In fact is a “dream” of many construction plant workers to have at least one day of the week off so they can spend time with their families. Thus, it is not surprising and completely normal that construction plant workers who have worked for more than twenty years have rarely spent time with their children, and as in the words of one worker, “I worked the entire time and during this time my daughter is no longer a child.”

Relationship between Sub Contractors and POSCO

The members of the Pohang local union are categorized as subcontract
and irregular (non-permanent) workers in South Korea. Since regular
(permanent) workers are hired directly by the company they are
guaranteed three basic labor rights---the right to organize, the right
to strike, and the right to bargain. On the other hand, sub contract
workers must negotiate with the sub contractors as they are hired by
them but in reality the real power in terms of determining wages,
working conditions, and work hours lies with the user company, the main
contractor. Most user companies are big conglomerates such as SK
Petrochemicals, LG Caltex, and POSCO.

In many cases user companies have terminated contracts with sub
contracts once the workers organize and form a union. Because of this,
many sub contract companies refuse to negotiate with the union.
Furthermore, both the user company and the sub contract company shift
the blame between each other in refusing to recognize and negotiate the
union. It should be also noted that many sub contracting companies are
owned by former top level managers of user companies resulting in an
intertwined relationship between the sub contractors and the user
company. In the case of Pohang, the main user company is POSCO and thus
the real power behind the sub contractors is POSCO.

POSCO Made 6 Billion Profits in 2005 at the Expense of its Workers

In 2005 it was reported that POSCO made a profit of close to 6 billion
dollars (US). Yet, construction plant workers who have contributed
tremendously to this profit are paid simply pennies. A construction
plant worker at a POSCO plant makes an average of $90 to $95 (US) daily
for a ten hour work day, while workers in nearby cities of Ulsan,
Chunnamdongbu, and Yeosoo make an average of $120 to $150 (US) daily.

POSCO Contradicts Company Codes of Conduct and Launches Systematic Campaign to Destroy the Pohang Local Union

As many big conglomerates, POSCO is very conscious of its public image
both within and outside of South Korea. POSCO has donated millions of
dollars to environmental, cultural, and human rights organizations. It
has also launched the POSCO TJ Park Prize, an international award to be
given annually beginning from 2007 for “achievements in community
development & philanthropy, science, and education. According to
its materials, the Community Development and Philanthropy Prize will be
given to “an individual or organization that has made outstanding
achievements with the enhancements in the quality of human lives in
Asia.” Before POSCO starts giving awards to others in enhance the
quality of life, they should start at home by making sure those workers
who work at their facilities work in a safe and decent environment and
that they are paid enough to improve the quality of their lives as well
as those of their families.

In June 2003, POSCO prided itself in adopting a company Codes of
Conduct in order to, “implement corporate ethics that meet
internationally accepted standards thus making another bold step toward
becoming a globally respected and trusted company.” In both the
UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are specific articles
pertaining to the right to organize, the right to join a union, and the
right to strike. Even though the members of the Pohang Local union are
not directly hired by POSCO, they still work in a POSCO work site and
thus the international conventions comply. However, recent internal
documents that were made public by the union revealed that POSCO had a
deliberate and systematic campaign to utilize its political and
economic clout at all levels to basically destroy the Pohang local union

POSCO urged the government to send in thousands of riot police from
across the country to basically use force if necessary to break the
strike. POSCO also galvanized the local citizens of Pohang to launch
counter demonstrations against the union, stating that the union was
creating a bad image to the city. Since POSCO controls at least 70% of
the city’s economy, clearly the local government and the
businesses are heavily influenced by POSCO. POSCO also used its
influence to launch a highly distorted media campaign against the
unions through major media outlets such as KBS and Chosun Ilbo. In fact
the mainstream media has portrayed the union as violent and engaging in
illegal activities, while POSCO has been portrayed as the “innocent victim.” Finally, it should be noted that POSCO had a plan to employ replacement workers and migrant workers during the strike. By brining in migrant workers, POSCO was attempting to increase the tension between migrant workers and native workers. These actions and the campaign to destroy the Pohang local union are clear violations of all international human rights and cultural conventions that honor trade union rights and thus, contradict POSCO’s own Codes of Conduct.

Union’s Future Activities

Despite the increased repression from the South Korean government and
POSCO, the members of the Pohang local union are strongly united in
their effort to prove that their strike and their actions are justified. Although both the government and POSCO was hoping that the union would be destroyed by arresting all of its key leaders and potential leaders, the members are steadfast in their commitment to exist as a union and more importantly to make sure that their demands as workers and as human beings are fulfilled. In addition to continuing the struggle in Pohang a delegation of the local union is currently in Seoul engaged in a series of activities including visits to members of the National Assembly, main stream media head quarters, and government officials; demonstrations in front of the Blue House and the Police headquarters to protest both the government’s and POSCO’s actions; and to publicize their struggle to the citizens of Seoul.

The support for the unions has slowly increased. Recently more than 57
national civil society groups, women’s organizations, academic associations, and other organizations have professed support for the union. The KCTU had declared a national rally in support of the Pohang local union for August 4; however, due to the recent death of Ha Joong Keun this rally will also be a memorial service and march in honor of Ha Joong Keun

For more information :

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 Union
Tel : +82-2-843-1432, +82-11-326-7597 Fax : +82-2-843-1436
Email :

Monday, August 14, 2006

fighting bilaterals

There has recently been a few interesting initiatives to fight the proliferation of bilateral agreements, including more information sharing between movements in different countries (something also facilitated by the great site and this recent conference which I heard about from I'll reprint their post below.

Fighting FTAs: the International Strategy Workshop

Click on "view full post" to continue reading:

During July 27-29, 2006, FTA Watch, GRAIN and organized the first ever international workshop to make a strategic analysis of the struggles against FTA in Bangkok, Thailand. Participants come from social movements that are struggling against FTAs or bilateral trade agreements in 19 countries. For example:

Costa Rica
Costa Rica lies in the United States’ backyard. Although the government agreed behind closed doors to sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA, a large coalition of the public are against it. The people learned from the devastating experience of Mexico after it signed the NAFTA and Chile after they signed an FTA with the US. So they mobilized and put pressure on their government until Parliament refused to approve the terms of the Agreement. As a result, CAFTA is not currently effective in Costa Rica.

“Costa Rica has 4 public universities. Of these, three universities decided take a stand together against the signature of the FTA. The State Ombudsman is another organization which has taken a stand against the FTA. A former president and other senior political figures are also clearly opposed to the deal. Artists organized cultural events to strongly oppose FTAs. Finally, the parliament had to disapprove the deal”, Maria Eugenio Trejos from Pensamiento Solidario said.

Although Colombia has a high degree of intervention by the US, the people came out strongly against the FTA with the US. “On august 12, 2004, we mobilized a million people in the capital city. Indigenous people blocked the highways. The government shot people. Over six hundred people were injured and 6 people were dead. However, we were able to bring the FTA with the US under the scrutiny of the parliament. And there will be a vote in October” Aurelio Suarez from Asociacion Nacional por la Salvacion Agropecuaria (ANSA) said.

The government is in a hurry to negotiate and sign an FTA with Japan, but the people, not even the parliamentarians, have never received any information about the terms of the negotiations. Parliamentarians and civil society made an appeal to the Supreme Court because the signing of the FTA with Japan is a violation of the Constitution. Until now, the government cannot sign the FTA yet.

Mario Aguja, a parliamentarian of Akbayan political party said, “We drafted an appeal to the court saying workers will be affected. Farmers will be affected. We want information. As a parliamentarian, we have to protect people. Without information, how could we protect our people? We also started a campaign on this violation of the Constitution”

South Korea
The second round of negotiations with the US were recently closed beforeschedule because of the massive protest of almost one hundred thousand demonstrators and a one-day strike from labour unions throughout the country. Choi Jae Kwan, a delegate from the Korean Peasants League, said, “when we started our campaign, a survey found that only 20% opposed the FTA because most of them did not know anything about the FTA, hence they were neutral. But when over 300 economists and other academics joined the team to carry out a whole range of research studies for 3 months, resultingin a 700 page publication distributed to the public, there was a lot of interest. The latest poll shows that 52% now oppose the FTA. In the latest demonstration, representatives from 14 sectors such as agriculture, industry, public health, cinemas, music, media, education, consumers, etc were gather into a network with alliances at regional level. There were campaign tours throughout the country, organizing cultural festivals and seminars in every province.

Since March 2002, Robert Zoellick, the United State Trade Representative (USTR) at that time, reported to the finance committee of the US senate that the US will use bilateral trade negotiations as a tool to ensure American’s benefit around the world.

FTA or a bilateral trade agreements are being used as a new mechanism to guarantee benefits of the US in accessing resources and markets of other countries, and control over foreign economies together with international financing orgnizations like World Bank, IMF, and Development Banks in different regions. The aid and assistance by developed countries through organisations like USAID also pushes forward neoliberalist policies together with the expansion of power and military influence over important strategic points of the US around the world.

It is now clear that the FTA is not simply a matter of trade, but a political apparatus of the powerful US to expand its new brand of imperialism, in order to take over, trade, control investment and national resources of countries in different part of strategic areas around the world as we have seen from the experiences of countries in Central and South America, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and Philippines. Another important point is that countries negotiating FTAs with the US will have to support the US’s foreign policies especially war against terrorism, whereby they have to send their troops to Iraq and suppress people using labels such as “terrorists”.

However, the US is not the only country trying to expand its neoimperialism. The European Union, China, Japan and even India which is a new-born superpower, are also trying to move their policy into the same direction. This has a great effect over small countries whereby small entrepreneurs, communities, women, children and environment are severly affected.

These superpowers use “divide and conquer”tactics both at international and regional levels to pressure each country to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible in competition with each other. These agreements divide society into opposing sectors such as between exporters who gain from more exports, consumers who get short term gains of cheap imported products, patients who will have to buy expensive medicines, workers who are exploited and farmers who only await for the collapse.

The outstanding characteristic of an FTA is that every country faces is the secrecy of the negotiations, no matter how developed or democratic that country is, as happening in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. In the recent case of FTA negotiations in South Korea, the government of the South Korea has agreed to keep the negotiation texts out of the public eyes for 3 years from the date the agreement is effective. This is nothing but non-transparent, non-democratic and excludes the participation of the people. Therefore, civil societies in countries are standing up and demanding the right to participate and access information. However, available information is still limited and some governments also employed violence means to suppress demonstrators. “If it is supposed to benefit us why wont they tell us what is being negotiated?”

One outstanding feature of the negotiations is that the government in each country will try to exaggerate the benefits of FTAs as in the case of South Africa, the government publicized the FTA as a “train to heaven”, driving South Africa to join highly developed countries’rank. However, the experiences of countries already signed FTAs such as Chile and Australia revealed that the real benefits were over-estimated and in some cases the impacts were worse. In Chile, FTAs caused a loss of land, an amendment of national legislation so as to promote privatisation of basic infrastructure and utilities including water. This means, piped water, drinking water, sea water, water in reservoirs and water in rivers, altogether 80% of water in Chile now belongs to private companies. Even the ocean has been privatized.

For Australia where Australia-US FTA has already been implemented for one and a half years, there was a study showing that only 1 year after FTA came into force, the exports of Australia in fact decreased by 5% and instead its trade deficit increased by 5%. This is not what the Australians were promised. The US tried to change the legislation on intellectual property rights and the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) of Australia which will result in a higher price of medicines. At the same time, the local pharmaceutical companies have moved to other countries because they could not compete with imported products from the US. These impacts have helped to raise some awareness of the people on the FTA, leading to a demand to revise the terms of the FTA with the US, and an opposition to the upcoming FTA negotiations with China.

The experiences of different countries show that when information is disseminated, and when research and analysis are carefully done with economic, social, cultural and political dimensions, and research, people soon become aware of how FTA will impact different sectors. Until then, a powerful opposition will take place. Costa Rica whose government already signed up to the CAFTA has seen a movement to stop the approval of the FTA due to popular protest. In Philippines, the government has not been able to sign an FTA with Japan as a court case claiming it is a violation of the Constitution has been filed. In Colombia, academic institutions and other independent organisations jointly declared their position against FTA while in South Korea, Thailand and Ecuador, people have successfully used information to campaign and have been able to delay the negotiations and signatory.

From the exchange of civil society’s experience in 19 countries throughout the three-day workshop, leaders of people movements have agreed to form a network to exchange information, synthesise the experiences, and conduct analysis and joint research on impacts, hidden agendas and tactics of governments in convincing their people with the FTA. Moreover, they will keep monitoring transnational corporations and other capitalists that are a driving force of the FTA negotiations. And they will continue fighting together in solidarity.

(30 July/Bangkok, Thailand)

Participants are from 19 countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Morocco, Senegal, Mozambique, South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand

politics of naming

I'm not normally one for analytical posts too far off the mark of labour and political issues -- not that I actually post much other than current events anyway -- but I'd thought I would throw in some culture commentary for once, just because. Today's post is the connection between the naming and class valourization and is a hat's off to some better posting on this sort of thing over at antti's blog. A while back, perhaps a long while back, he posted briefly on the renaming of some of the old hillside squatter communities in Seoul and the effect this had on land values which went up once the apparent stigma (others might actually be proud) of the name was removed for middle class apartment blocks now in these areas. My post today, however, is on a similar but related theme.

As I was coming home this evening in a taxi (I visited tae ju ri and came back late) I couldn't help but notice the name of a new luxury apartment called enrichia. The is not the first use of a name like this I've see, but perhaps it was the -ia rather than the -pia (my personal pet peeve -- I'm not sure why) that got me thinking about other weird names. Enrichville, Richtel, even 'Richevil,' I'm sure there is a Richpia too; I've seen these on other complexs, or something very near to that. I've also seen lots bars and restaurants with names like nobless oblige, ennoble, nobel, etc, not to mention plenty of bobos (bourgois bohemians) and a few yuppies in the names (all used in the positive sense, as if this was something you would want to be), etc.

As far as I know from Antti's the renamed districts have pretty normal names I wonder if there is some connection, however, between english names in particular and class ideology. It just seems easier to do in English. Keep in mind that these are expensive apartments, the most expensive ones in fact. Whereas back home it is more often the not so nice apartments that have the ostentatious names.

What is so curious about it is that the names used are actually pretty crass and offensive. Noblesse oblige is only used sarcastically anyway, if you called yourself a 'noble' people would think you are a snob, and who would actually want to be called a bobo or a yuppie as a point of pride anyway. And if I told someone that I live in 'richville,' well, I just don't know... As for signs in Korean, I've just never seen anything in Korea that says "be a Yangban" (anyways, dear readers, please supply me with these if they do exist) or some slang equivalent of "snotty kids from Gangnam," perhaps "Chaebol Kid" would work, neither have I seen a "Puja Maul" so I have to assume that here English operates as some way to be classist or advertise class in a way that is well, kinda creepy and unsettling to an outside viewer.

I realize that inequality is certainly going up here, but it is no where here as much as it is in America. So, how does one actually select to go to such a place and what are the implications. How does it sound? "Hone, let's go to noblesse oblige tonight, they have really good Anju, and after that we can visit your sister in Richville." "Sorry babe, they said they were going to the Yuppie cafe."

Anyway... besides this brief foray into anthropology, I'll be back to more labour and other news soon.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Qatar Strategy

Here's a breaking story from the Hankyoreh. Seems the Korean and US governments have decided to negotiate some of the more contentious issues of its current FTA in another country. This may remind some of the strategies of multinational trade agreements after the Seattle protests of 1999. At each meeting after, the venues became much more fortified -- remember the mediveal fences and walls at Quebec City (FTAA) and Genoa (G8) -- until they just decided to leave democratic countries where international activists could gather altogether so as not to face oppossition. Of course, this situation is slightly different in that it is a bilateral agreement (and a big one at that), but the theme of moving negotiation venues as far away from opposition rings true in this case and is designed to let the more controversial issues slip out off the public's radar.

From today's Hankyoreh:

Seoul, Washington to hold FTA negotiations in third country

Seoul and Washington reportedly have a plan to hold separate negotiations on the controversial issue of pharmaceutical pricing in a third country, ahead of the third round of FTA talks to be held in the U.S.

According to Rep. Hyun Ae-ja of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), and confirmed anonymously by more than one government official yesterday, the two nations are coordinating their opinions over the time and location of the third-country negotiations. The United States, in particular, has suggested Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia or Singapore, and has proposed that the meeting happen in August.

A government official said, "These separate negotiations are official, not a behind-the-scenes meeting. In addition, the two sides haven’t yet agreed over the time and place. Whether or not to have the negotiations at all is unclear, as well."

During a forum regarding the controversial issue of pharmaceutical pricing being subject to negotiation, Rep. Hyun said, "To reach agreement on medicine pricing, South Korea and the U.S. decided to hold behind-the-scenes negotiations in a third country prior to the third official round of FTA talks due to be held in Washington."

In response, Jeon Man-bok, an official of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, remarked, "This is an issue to be disclosed by the U.S. and South Korea simultaneously, so wait and see," suggesting that the informal negotiations were indeed in the cards.

Rep. Hyun said that The Ministry of Health and Welfare earlier called the introduction of the so-called positive list system for medical pricing, currently used in South Korea, "is a matter of policy sovereignty, not a target of negotiation, but in fact, [the ministry] is bargaining with the U.S., unable to reject its demands. It is inappropriate to have separate talks on sensitive medical supplies in a third nation, which will attract relatively less attention [to the important issue]," he added.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Union activist from POSCO struggle dies from police injuries

UPDATE (Aug. 8th): Here's the link to an ICFTU article condemning the police attack. They claim that with a US 6 Billion dollar profit last year, POSCO can well afford to negotiate. Meanwhile, the Hankyoreh reports that strikes in POSCO's home town of Pohang continue to escalate, as does the police reaction.

I had been joking to friends a while back that I hadn't seen the 1001 brigade of riot police at the FTA protests so I knew it was okay to attend without serious threat. I was curious where they were anyway but later found out when I watched footage from the suppression of the POSCO solidarity protests in Pohang that same week. I've written briefly before about the 1001 (and some of the other squads numbered in the low 1000s) and their sordid history: it seems they are the ones who have inflicted the most violence on protestors, causing, in many cases, irreparable damage, even death. Our reports on the deaths of farmers during last fall's rice liberalization protests you can see in our december archives. The South Korean media has also covered some of their tactics, such as sharpening metal sheilds, etc, and there have been inquiries before. Following the brutal suppression of a non-violent protest by Daewoo Union organizers, stock footage of the 1001 was used in the British Zombie film 28 days later: in that scene where they infect the apes with 'rage'.

I think it is time for a caimpaign to get rid of the 1001 itself, as well as the other quasi mafia-ish units that do similar work. Actually, I'm really curious to how this group was formed and recruited. It doesn't seem to be the ordinary conscript riot police but a special anti-labour crack squad. Anyways, I'm reprinting the news from today's Hankyoreh below:

The Death of a Labour Union Protestor

A laborer who took to the streets demanding better working conditions has died. Ha Jung-geun was part a demonstration in support of the Pohang Construction union's sit-in at POSCO headquarters when he was injured while police forcibly dispersed the gathering, and on Tuesday he lost his struggle to stay alive. Labor activists say his brain was injured when he was hit with a police shield. The police say that is not what happened. There will have to be an inquiry, but no one can claim with any confidence that his death is unrelated to harsh working conditions and the way the authorities handled the situation.

It is the police's hard-line response that led to this tragedy. Others at the same demonstration say all of a sudden that the police attempted to disperse the event by force. The union had gone ahead with the demonstration, despite a police decision not to permit it, but the police nevertheless should have been careful enough to make sure no one was hurt. Have they forgotten how the superintendent of the National Police Agency had to step down after two farmers lost their lives in the course of the "farmers' assembly" held late last year? Law and order are important, but people's lives still have to be held precious. Otherwise police authority loses legitimacy and becomes no different than simple violence.

To keep Ha's death from having been in vain, there needs to be a thorough investigation, and the police have to be made responsible for their actions if they are found to be at fault. It really is time for a change in the police's problematic methods of dealing with demonstrations. The most fundamental solution would be to end the vicious cycle of fight-to-the-death demonstrations and the government's high-handed ways of dealing with demonstrators. We do not mean to say that it is entirely the government's fault that things get violent. However, it is the government that holds the key to ending the cycle, not labor activists. Workers whose livelihoods are already at stake do not have the physical and mental endurance it would take to end the cycle of violence. The government needs to set an example by trying not to upset these workers, and respond peacefully to protests.

The current high-handed way of dealing with the Pohang labor union needs to stop. Some 58 people have been formally arrested, more than any in a single incident under Roh Moo-hyun's government, and even more are being prosecuted. POSCO is getting ready to sue the union with a massive lawsuit. This attempt to completely destroy the union organization is only going to incite more serious resistance. It is the wrong approach, unless the goal is to wage a war on unions. The government needs to give some serious consideration as to how to end the cycle.