Thursday, December 27, 2007

Landmark ruling for KTX struggle?

From the Korea times:

Court Stands by Female KTX Crew

By Kang Shin-who
Staff Reporter

A court has ruled that female crewmembers of the KTX, Korean bullet train, are employees of the state-run Korea Railroad (Korail).

The ruling is expected to result in a breakthrough of a long-term dispute between the female workers and the train company. Korail and KTX female attendants have been in conflict over working conditions of woman employees for almost two years.

While the women attendants are claiming they are dispatched workers from the train company, Korail is denying their claims saying they are under its outsourcing company which hired them as contract workers.

The Seoul Central District Court, Thursday, imposed a 1.5 million won fine on a director of KTX attendants on charges of staging an illegal strike but the court made it clear Korail is the actual employer of the protesting female crews.

The court stated that the outsourcing contracts on working conditions between the attendants and Korail Retail is not a substantial but nominal agreement. ``KTX female crews actually work for Korail. There is a silent working agreement between the crewmembers and the company. So Korail is the employer of the female workers according to laws on labor union and labor relations adjustment,’’ it said.

The court also said that Korail Retail was established with 100 percent of its shares owned by Korail and the management group is also from the train company. In addition, it is Korail that made regulations on KTX crews and the two companies cooperate to recruit crewmembers for the bullet train.

The court also pointed out that Korail was negligent in solving the dispute over the working conditions of the protesting crewmembers. Some 70 KTX female attendants lost their jobs as they refused to wear their uniforms to protest their poor working conditions.

Merry Christmas

CINA has pulled out of the vaults an old video of a Christmas 2003 action by the then ETU (MTU's predecessor) during a period of crackdown. When has there not been a period of crackdown? It seems that only its intensity seems to change. Anyways, if you have a sharp eye you can spot many of the migrant labour movements current and former activists about, most of whom have been forcibly deported over the years.

Here's the link.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hankyoreh editorial on International Migrant's Day

From today's Hankyoreh:

[Editorial] Ensuring the rights of migrant workers

Yesterday was International Migrants’ Day, established to celebrate the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers on December 18, 1990. Unlike other rights conventions which seek to promote rights based on citizenship and rights of residency, it called for the protection of rights regardless of legal status. The convention calls for the respect and guarantee of rights regardless of gender, race, skin color, language or any other distinction.

Korea is now in an era in which it has 500,000 migrant workers and a million immigrants, and the realities they face are so harsh and miserable that evening mentioning the convention is embarrassing. They face a host of discriminatory practices, including low wages, long hours, and the withholding of wages. Yesterday, on International Migrants’ Day, the authorities arrested “illegal aliens” in Seoul’s Dongdaemun neighborhood and other areas. We do not take issue with enforcing the law. But when the law is going to be enforced, a minimum level of civil rights procedures need to be observed. The indiscriminate way the authorities charge into residences and places of work unannounced to arrest and detain people is the same as a government admission that migrant workers have no rights.

The situation is all the more serious because of the changes the Ministry of Justice seeks to make to immigration law. The new law would allow the authorities to stop and question foreigners just for thinking them suspect. Laws governing the police require police officials to present their identification and state to what police organization they belong, even when stopping a Korean national on the street. Immigration officials should at the very least be required to identify themselves before accosting foreigners. The National Human Rights Commission once formally recommended that even when arresting illegal aliens there need to be clear parameters of authority, conditions and procedures. The Ministry of Justice’s proposed revision will allow officials to enter offices and worksites whenever they suspect there are illegal aliens inside. In other words, the revision was formulated out of consideration for nothing other than efficiency and convenience for those enforcing the law. Nowhere do you see that any thought was given to migrant workers’ rights.

It should not be that way. Migrant workers deserve the same universal rights as all of the members of our society. That belief is the convention’s point of departure. The government needs to stop determining whether their rights are respected based on whether their status is legal or not. Since it was International Migrants’ Day yesterday, the government needs to ask itself why 38 countries have signed the convention, and whether Korea still has an excuse not to ratify it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

MTU solidarity action in Montreal

No One is Illegal - Montreal visited the Korean consulate in Montreal today. Here is a quick report and pictures on their action.

Dear friends --

Attached and below is the text of the letter delivered earlier today to the South Korean Consulate in Montreal by a small delegation of activists representing No One Is Illegal, Solidarity Across Borders and the Immigrant Workers Center. We have included a few photos. The last photo shows the Consul-General taking our second copy of the letter, after ripping our first copy; he was upset that we had taken photos. We insisted in taking photos to send to our allies in South Korea.

In solidarity and struggle,
The members of No One Is Illegal-Montreal, with the support of Solidarity Across Borders and the Immigrant Workers Center.

December 13, 2007 -- MONTREAL (QUEBEC, CANADA)


TO: The Consul-General of South Korea in Montreal
1 Place Ville-Marie, Suite 2015, Montreal, Quebec, H3B 2C4

FROM: Members of No One Is Illegal, Solidarity Across Borders, & the Immigrant Workers Center (IWC) in Montreal

RE: Crackdown on Migrant Workers in South Korea

Dear Sir/Madam –

We are writing to express our outrage at the recent arrests of members of the Migrant Workers Trade Union (MTU) on November 27, 2007. We demand the immediate release of Kajiman Khapung, Raju Kumar Gurung (Raj) and Abul Basher M. Moniruzzaman (Masum) from the Cheongju detention center. We also demand and end to the targeted crackdown and labor repression against the MTU, and an end to the crackdown and deportation of undocumented migrant workers!

It is our understanding that Kajiman, Raj and Masum might have already been summarily deported. If so, we condemn the removal of these three men, and demand their return to South Korea, if they so choose.

We condemn the current crackdown on migrant workers in South Korea. Migrants come to Korea to do the "3-D" jobs: dirty, dangerous and difficult. They are the super-exploited amongst Korea's working people, and their lack of permanent status denies them basic rights.

Like other social justice organizations in South Korea, we are also writing to support the immediate regularization or "legalization" of all migrant workers in South Korea. As we say in our campaigns: "If they're good enough to work, they're good enough to stay". The more than 200,000 migrant workers in South Korea should be given full rights, as any citizen.

We make these demands as we also struggle for justice for all migrants and non-status persons in the Canadian state. Similar to the South Korean government, the Canadian government exploits "temporary" foreign labour; moreover, upwards of 500,000 people live in Canada without status. We express our solidarity with migrant workers in South Korea with this letter, but also with our day-to-day campaigns for justice and dignity in our own communities.

We ask that the South Korean Consulate express these concerns to the highest levels of the Korean government.

With sincere outrage,

Degane Sougal & Jaggi Singh
No One Is Illegal-Montreal
514-848-7583 - noii-montreal(at)

MTU leaders deported

The article below is from the KCTU's website today. CINA has video and more info here.

Photo : Emergency Committee to Stop the Crackdown on MTU holding the press conference to denounce the forcible deportation of three MTU leaders on December 13th[Photo from Chamnews]

Uregent : Three Leaders of Migrants Trade Union Deported, Morning of Dec. 13!

Early this morning (Dec. 13) President Kajiman, Vice President Raju and General Secretary Masum of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (a KCTU affiliate) were secreted out of Cheongju Detention Center, where they had been confined since they were arrested in a targeted crackdown on November 27. It has been confirmed that they were transported to Incheon International Airport and deported to their native countries (Nepal and Bangladesh) during the morning hours. This act by the Ministry of Justice is yet a further escalation of its repression against MTU and the organizing of migrant workers in South Korea.

Sequence of Events

On November 27, the three MTU leaders were arrested in a clearly targeted crackdown in an attempt to stop MTU’s union activities. Since then MTU has formed an Emergency Committee and has been carrying out an intense campaign for their release, including a sit-in protest begun on Dec. 5.

MTU and the allies in our Emergency Committee first became aware of the Ministry of Justice’s move to deport the 3 MTU leaders around noon on Dec. 11, when we received a call from the Nepalese Embassy informing us they had sent travel documents to Cheongju Detention Center for President Kajiman and Vice President Raju. Later that night, we also heard that our application for a stay of deportation was turned down by the Ministry of Justice. We therefore moved quickly and dispatched a team of over 20 allies to Cheongju to attempt to block any vehicles that could be carrying the 3 leaders out of the detention center. We were able to block a bus, through the windows of which we could see General Secretary Masum, for several hours early this morning. A brief press conference was held at 7:30am under the belief that we had temporarily succeeded in blocking the deportation.

However, later we heard reports from the Immigration Authorities and Ministry of Justice that at least two, if not all the leaders had been deported. Then, at roughly 8:30am, we received a call from a Nepali person whom had seen President Kajiman and Vice President Raju board a plane at Incheon International Airport and called us on their behalf. At roughly 10:45am, we also received a call from General Secretary Masum, confirming he had been deported as well. It has become clear that all three men were eventually taken out of Cheongju Detention Center in civilian cars through routes of which we were not aware earlier.


The early morning deportation of the MTU leaders confirms even more sharply that the Ministry of Justice is acting to repress the activities of MTU and the independent organizing of migrant workers in South Korea. This is obvious from the Ministry of Justice’s own statement that they had noted not only the union organizing of MTU but also its participation in other progressive struggles. What is more, the Ministry of Justice has broken its promise not to carry out the deportations until the National Human Rights Commission has completed its investigation of the case and made a recommendation. The Ministry of Justice is acting with completely no respect for the labor rights and human rights of migrant workers in South Korea. Its actions represent an attack on not only migrant workers, but on organized labor and all progressive forces in South Korea.

We are also gravely concerned that the President, Vice President and General Secretary will meet more repression when they return to their home countries. Our previous president, President Anwar, was detained and investigated by the Bangladeshi authorities for ‘anti-Korean’ and ‘anti-government’ activities upon returning home earlier this year. We have strong reason to believe that this was in large part due to pressure put on the Bangladeshi authorities by the South Korean government. Given the high likelihood of similar problem now, we are calling on progressive force in Nepal and Bangladesh to do everything they can to block acts of repression by their local authorities.


We are determined not to let the government’s blatant acts of repression intimidate us. Rather, our struggle will only grow stronger, sending a clear message that the organizing of migrant workers to win the rights they deserve will not be crushed. We will continue and expand the sit-in struggle and carry out protests from now to the end of the year demanding the end of repression against MTU and of the crackdown and deportation of undocumented migrants.


Now, more than ever, we need your solidarity. Already, protests actions have been organized in front of South Korean embassies in the Philippines, Nepal, Japan and Hong Kong.

International Migrants’ Day is around the corner on Dec. 18. Many of you have event planned.

-If you do we ask that you add a strong message of protest against the attacks on MTU and on all migrant workers in South Korea.

-If you do not have anything planned, we asked that you organize a demonstration in front of your local South Korean consulate or embassy, shaming the South Korean government for its blatant violations of the labor rights and human rights of migrant workers.

-Please send any pictures of your protests to and

-Please continue to send solidarity statements to and protest letters to the Ministry of Justice, fax: 82-2-503-3532 or 82-2-500-9128.

Wining the labor rights and human rights of migrant workers in South Korea and around the world is our collective task. Let us move forward together strongly!


It appears that MTU general secretary Masum has been deported. The others have probably have been as well, or so I gander from reading this:

So today the High Court officially refused to hear the appeal for Masum, Kajiman and Raju's release. Which means we are pretty much out of legal avenues to fight for their release. I heard from a Nepalese friend today that Raju and Kajiman have both been cleared by the Nepalese embassy for travel and it looks like they will probably be gone by tomorrow.

Unfortunately they will all probably just disappear without being able to make any phone calls, so we won't know that they are gone for sure until they find phones in whatever countries they have lay-overs in.
I'll update more info as I get it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mahbub Alam on MTU arrests, migrants in Korea, MWTV, etc

This week's No One Is Illegal radio broadcast (from Canada) has a longer interview with Mahbub Alam of MWTV on a bunch of topics: the MTU arrests, migrants issues in Korea, MWTV and more. You can download the whole show or just that segment of the show here from radio4all.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Videos from the year long sit in by migrant workers

CINA has just posted the links to video interviews and video documentary coverage of the one year sit-in by migrant workers that ended in November 2004. Great to see someone saving this information.

the politics of suspicion

South Korea's Chamsesang new English site Newscham has excellent story up on recent revisions to Korea's immigration law that allow immigration officials to question and detain migrants in Korea on the basis of suspicion alone.

In addition, the Asian Human Rights Commission has released more info on the law and an online petition for the release of our friends in the MTU.

Monday, December 03, 2007

new template

I decided to change over to the 'new blogger' (which is actually a few years old already) just because it is easier to control. However, this effects some of our older posts where it would say "view full posting" so that readers could read on. Now some of those longer posts will be included in their entirety but with a small text tag saying (continue reading) somewhere in the body.

If you've noticed the layout changing a bit it is because I am experimenting with different styles, for the moment (after a few changes) I think I'll keep the blue dots layout, for 'brand' identification if you will. Let me know what you think if you have strong opinions otherwise, or if you notice some formating errors anywhere.

Canada Korea Free Trade Agreement

The blog of the Canadian Progressive Economics Forum has posted the testimony of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives to parliament on the Korea-Canada FTA negotiations. Seems that the FTA is trying to copy the Korea-US FTA by putting a keeping a lot of the ugly stuff in it -- Chapter 11 Nafta-type investor-state dispute mechanisms, WTO TRIPS + agreements, and the like.

Below is a sample, you can read the entire testimony by Scott Sinclair of the CCPA here.
Pursuing monopoly protection beyond that required by WTO rules in the Canada-Korea or Canada-Andean pacts would set a very bad precedent, locking in domestic policies that Canadian governments may want to change in future, and reducing access to essential medicines in FTA partner countries. An analysis by Oxfam estimates that similar provisions in the US-Colombia draft FTA would cost Colombians an extra $940 million a year to buy more expensive medicines.

Amnesty International on MTU arrests

South Korea: Crackdown against Migrants' Trade Union

Amnesty International would like to express serious concern at the arrest of three senior officials of the Migrant Workers' Trade Union (MTU) on the morning of 27 November 2007 (Tuesday). Amnesty International is concerned that they may be arbitrarily returned to their countries of origin.

Following their arrest, MTU President Kajiman Khapung, Vice President Raju Kumar Gurung (Raj) and General Secretary Abul Basher M. Moniruzzaman (Masum) were taken to a detention centre in Cheongju, Northern Chuncheong Province, south of Seoul.

President Kajiman and General Secretary Masum were arrested in front of their houses as they were leaving to participate in a protest in front of the Seoul Immigration Office. Vice President Raj was arrested in front of the factory where he works.

They were detained for being in an irregular or undocumented situation and are at risk of being returned without due process.

Amnesty International believes that the arrests of Kajiman, Raj and Masum are an attempt by the Government to deprive them of their basic labour rights protected in the South Korean constitution, including the right to freedom of association. They also appear to be repressive measures by the Government authorities to stop the MTU from conducting its rightful union activities. They appear to be a continuation of crackdowns that have been conducted against irregular migrant workers in South Korea since August 2007.

Amnesty International considers Kajiman Khapung, Raju Kumar Gurung and Abul Basher M Moniruzzaman to be prisoners of conscience and urges the South Korean Government to release the three men immediately and unconditionally. Amnesty International is concerned that their arrest represents a violation of the right to freedom of association and represents an assault on the human rights of migrant workers. The organisation calls on the South Korean Government not to return the men to their countries of origin without a full and individual assessment of their circumstances, including due process safeguards and the right to appeal the decision to an independent authority.


The Seoul High Court issued a judgement on 1 February 2007 calling for the cancellation of the rejection by the authorities of the Migrant Workers' Trade Union's Notice of Union Founding. This ruling, in effect, recognizes and thereby legalizes the MTU as a union representing the rights of all migrant workers, regardless of their status. The Ministry of Labour has reportedly appealed against this decision to the Supreme Court.

Previously, the South Korea Government had rejected calls for the formation of a migrant workers' trade union arguing that irregular migrant workers did not qualify as workers under existing legislation.

Irregular migrant workers can now be part of a legally recognized trade union. There are some 230,000 irregular migrant workers in South Korea. However, they remain at constant risk of arrest, detention and return.

The arrests of the three senior MTU officials come at a time when the MTU were reportedly planning campaigns against revisions to the Immigration Law proposed by the Ministry of Justice. These revisions could remove the requirement on authorities, in the process of conducting checks on migrant workers, to present identification documentation, to obtain other relevant documentation such as warrants prior to entering buildings, and the necessity of obtaining detention orders before arresting migrant workers. In the crackdowns against irregular migrant workers since August 2007, about 20 MTU members and officials have been arrested.

MWTV visits jailed MTU leadership

Five members of Migrant Workers TV travelled down to Cheongju on Thursday, Nov. 29 to pay a visit to the 3 MTU members who were ambushed and arrested Tuesday morning. We spoke about their ordeal with them for about 30 minutes, giving them our support and passing on well wishes from their many friends on the outside. Masum described how the Immigration Department had prepared for this operation to the point of even knowing what type of medication he was currently taking. This was clearly a carefully planned crackdown on the MTU leadership. Masum, Kajiman and Raju are trying to keep their spirits up and urged us to do whatever we could to publicize this violation of their rights as human beings and migrant laborers. Having secretly brought in cameras and recording devices into the interview room, we were able to record a short video of our conversation, while the guards paced back and forth outside the windowed room, constantly peering in on us during the course of our visit. The video will be aired on our next news broadcast.

User inserted image

Friday, November 30, 2007

Reckless Inequality

Also reprinted at interlocals (with pictures) and Znet (without block quotes).

Reckless inequality: Dramatic arrests of Migrant Trade Union leadership highlight South Korea’s failed labour and migration policies

Entire MTU leadership arrested

On Tuesday, November 27th, the entire executive of South Korea’s Migrant Trade Union was arrested by immigration officials in three co-coordinated morning actions targeting these migrants at their places of work and residence.

The MTU is a courageous union of undocumented migrant workers, supported by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) that has been active for three years in advocating for migrant workers rights. In recent months they had held a mass memorial service for migrants that had died in Korea, whether on the job or off. They also won a precedent-setting case at the Seoul High court which had ruled that the government must accept the legal registration of the Migrant Trade Union, something which the government failed to do, preferring instead, it seems, to arrest the union’s leadership rather than recognize it legally.

At roughly 9:20am on November 27, MTU President Kajiman was leaving home to attend a planned protest in front of the Seoul Immigration Office when more than 10 immigration officers who had been hiding confronted him in front of his house.

General Secretary Masum also left his house the morning of the 27th in order to attend the protest in front of the Seoul Immigration Office. As he walked down the street, four 4 large men passed by who were laughing amongst themselves. He originally did not pay attention to them; however, immediately after, roughly 10-20 immigration officers and other people came up from behind and surrounded him.

At roughly the same time 4 immigration officers in front of the factory where he worked confronted Vice President Raju. When he demanded to see the officers’ identification cards, they presented him with a detention order and arrested him. Within hours, all three men were sent to a detention center in Cheongju, Northern Choongjeong Province, south of the capital Seoul.

In response to the arrests the KCTU has issued a petition for the release of the MTU leadership and have charged that the simultaneous arrest of three MTU leaders is a clearly a targeted attack, part of an intensification of the immigration crackdown against undocumented migrants in South Korea since the beginning of August of this year.

During this time more than 20 MTU members and officers of the MTU have been arrested. As with previous crackdowns, the authorities have admitted that the numbers of undocumented workers have not significantly decreased. The number of foreign residents in Korea has recently approached 1 million with some 230,000 said to be undocumented.

Failed migration policy reform

These numbers have swelled in recent years with the expansion of the Employment Permit System (EPS), an increase in the number of transnational marriages, and new laws governing the migration of ethnic Korean Chinese.

The EPS, designed to replace the discredited Industrial Trainee System, remains flawed in protecting migrant’s rights and encourages illegality as it has not been configured to factor in the actual costs of migration to individual workers (in the sense of hidden and illegal recruitment and brokerage costs that persist for migrants from particular regions; short, 1-3 year time horizons for employment that leaves both workers and employers with incentives to overstay the contract; and problems associated with the initial implementation of the EPS which ignored the majority of undocumented migrants in Korea by excluding them from access to permits).

Thus, a large portion of the increase in the number of undocumented year by year consists of overstayers rather than new migrants. Rather than correcting the system, the government, largely at the behest of the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Government and Home Affairs, has chosen to pursue crackdowns on the undocumented while recruiting newer workers from overseas.

As has been documented by South Korea’s own National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) [1], immigration officials routinely ignore legal procedures for dealing with migrant workers such as arranging prior warrants and disclosing their identification, and the immigration detention centers are often ill-equipped to deal with the large number of migrants they arrest in terms of safety, space, and medical care.

This message was brought home this past February when a fire at the Yeosu detention center left nine migrants dead and more injured. The fire exposed the shoddy safety conditions of migrant detention centers and the way in which the migrants who survived were treated (deported with slight compensation and before their injuries had fully healed) shocked many in Korean civil society and the public in general, spurring a further investigation by the NHRC.

The be fair, the government has attempted to make progress in terms of programs for transnational brides and children of migrant workers and Koreans as part of its anti-discrimination policies. Civil society groups have even participated in this reform and in designing service delivery. However, a number of grassroots organizations have been critical of the ways in which these services have been designed (such as education around traditional manners for foreign brides rather than education in their legal rights and resources in cases of abuse) and delivered (the creation of separate programs for ‘Kosians’ -- children of Korean and other Asians -- rather than anti-discrimination education in schools and workplaces, etc).

Fundamentally, however, anti-discrimination policy will remain stalled unless it can deal with the issues of migration policy design and the procedural violation of migrant’s rights inherent in this unjust crackdown and in the Employment Permit System itself.

As the national daily Hankyoreh reported earlier this week, progressive reform to immigration legislation does not seem likely in the near future; in fact, the opposite seems the case:

An even greater problem is that earlier this month the government revised the Immigration Law to allow agents to question foreigners based on suspicion alone, without regard to time and place, further angering migrant workers. It is not that one cannot understand wanting to provide in the law some tools to work with while enforcing it, but it is a problem when the law just gives agents wide-ranging authority and includes no stipulations on procedures.

A law governing the national police requires that a police officer present identification and identify himself when stopping someone for questioning. Similarly, at the very least, immigration officials need to be required to prove who they are. It was in 2005 that the National Human Rights Commission officially recommended that immigration be given clear conditions, parameters on authority, and procedures for arresting illegal aliens.

This failure of immigration law reform has led, as the MTU and other migrant groups have complained, to a near permanent state of immigration crackdown targeting migrants in their places of work, residence, and in public space.

One of the reasons why the MTU has been targeted, perhaps, is that they have been the most vocal in creating an organization led by the people most effected by the crackdown -- the undocumented themselves – and, along with Migrant Worker’s Television and a handful of other grassroots groups, have been the most vocal in representing their plight. Their struggles has been recognized in statements by leading Korean unions and NGOs, as well in their interaction with international organizations including Amnesty International, the UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants, and the International Labour Organization, among others, which have brought attention to the Korean government’s migration policies.

However, as has been reported in Znet and elsewhere over the last few years, the MTU and its predecessor, the ETU, have lost the majority of their leadership over the years to targeted crackdowns and government repression.

Reckless inequality

If one steps back for a minute, it is easy to see that a lot of the suffering caused immigration law is part of a larger symptom of Korean labour market policies that attempt to create flexible labour markets with little concern for those affected.

Since the 1997 crisis, and indeed before, labour law has been used to flexibilize the employment relationship and has contributed to rocketing social inequality that harmful for both politics and the economy, undermining democratic process and making the Korean economy more dependent on exports and financialization to maintain domestic demand.

The ‘participatory government’ of former labour lawyer Roh Moo Hyun has used an incomplete tripartite committee (passing agreements without consent of the largest trade union federation), unpredicted use of damage claims against workers for illegal strikes, and repression of union protests in order to get these reforms past.

For what it is worth, the KCTU has attempted to assist workers affected by these policies but has encountered its own difficulties both internally and externally. These contradictions were exposed this summer after the new labour law on irregular work was passed and strikes and sit-ins of a largely female-led force of irregular workers proliferated. In the weeks after the events, the ability of the KCTU to mobilize solidarity did not live up to what was promised and the strikes fizzled and were marginalized.

Some attribute the lack of solidarity for grassroots struggles from the KCTU to be a matter of a dominant and nationalist oriented leadership faction that dominates both the KCTU and the Democratic Labour Party, but the reasons are complex and also involve the rise of more bread and butter concerns in some of the dominant sectoral unions of the KCTU whom are affected by neoliberal restructuring, and whose concerns about job security make it difficult to organize across both place and industry.

These criticisms aside, the KCTU does remain more mobilized than national confederations in most developed countries even if it remains internally and externally fragmented, and it is important to keep this in mind. Worker’ s protests on November 11 of this year saw pitched battles between police and workers in the downtown streets of Seoul, and extreme government efforts to silence dissent such as roadblocks, water cannon, and brute force. These protests came during the yearly national day of action commemorating the death of labour activist Chun Tae Il, whose suicide during the repressive dictatorship days helped spur the largely female-led democratic trade union movement of the 1970s.

On a tragic note, the week before the protests had seen two more worker-suicides in protest of the situation of irregular workers and the new labour law. Lee So-Seon, mother of Chun Tae-il and a heroic activist of her accord, took the opportunity to criticize both the tactic itself – “Don't die any more, instead, live and fight” – and point to the lack of unity between labour and progressive groups, and lack of a progressive media, as contributing factors to the sense of despair among workers.

On a brighter note, the KCTU has been able to start to break out of enterprise level confinement and begin the slow process of establishing industrial level unions. Earlier this fall, the Korean metal workers federation announced a collective agreement that included wage negotiations not only for regular unionists but also agreements on wages and working conditions for irregular and migrant workers working in metal industries. Collective agreements have also been signed in medical and financial industries, so progress in political rights at an aggregate level among regular workers is improving but more grassroots activists within the labour movement worry about how the situation of more marginal workers without industrial or enterprise representation can remain a priority if the trade union movement becomes more concerned with sectoral issues than grassroots struggles.

Obviously there are no easy answers to these questions, gains in industrial level agreements notwithstanding, the growing majority of workers are irregular workers (recent estimates put this figure at 53% of the labour force) and in a climate of trade liberalization and labour market reform the situation for workers outside of heavy industries and strategic sectors looks difficult. Added to this is the problem of real-estate bubbles caused by financial liberalization and urban redevelopment that dramatically affect the urban poor, as has been evidenced by the struggles of venders and urban residents affected by redevelopment schemes.

It may be a bit of a cliché to say that Korean progressive movements find themselves in a crisis because of these developments. Indeed, if one looks back upon the last 30 or 40 years of the Korean labour movement, it is hard to find when a period without crisis has been the norm, but the question of how to improve the situation is not invalidated by this insight. Certainly, a large degree of the current problems can be related back to the inequality that exists between workers, citizens and the more powerful segments of Korean society.

More so, efforts by grassroots social movements to change the direction of government policy and corporate power has been further limited by the degree of participation afforded to them even by the ‘participatory government’ of Roh Moo Hyun, and the speed and scope of neoliberal reform embraced by that regime. Even those progressives from the 80s democracy movement who went into the current government have found many of their progressive reform efforts stymied both internally and by the opposition and entrenched economic bureaucracies. Thus, even the president’s more moderate former advisors have lashed out at this ‘turn to the right’. Lee Jeong Woo, former chairman of the Presidential commission of policy planning, criticized the government’s rush to sign the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement in an editorial earlier this past summer in the Hankyoreh:

The ‘‘Participatory Government’’ of Roh Moo-hyun has, over the last four years, worked in its own way to overcome a culture where ‘‘growth is everything’’ and ‘‘the market rules above all,’’ and I praise it for its efforts. The results have been a greater emphasis on harmony between growth, the re-distribution of wealth and the role of the public sector. Now, however, it is saying that it is suddenly going to trash that philosophy and go back to the familiar priorities of growth and the market. Put simply, it has turned to the right, and there ahead lies the cliff. Right now what is right for Korea is a greater turn towards the left. It is the Scandinavian social democratic model that has been judged the best of all the market economy experiments the human race has experienced so far. In public opinion surveys as well, it is the Scandinavian model that Koreans say they like the most. Though of course it would be difficult to move to that model right away, we should be gazing toward Scandinavia to get there. A free trade agreement with the U.S. means we are going to go in the wrong direction.

A “politics of solidarity”?

The broad liberal-left, however, seems at the current moment more fixated on a potential conservative conquest of political power than it is introspective on how some of this very inequality has permeated its own ranks: either in terms of the pursuit of neoliberal policy by economic reformers without the effective participation of those affected by it (which has served to eliminate much of the difference between liberals and conservatives on directions in economic policy, at least regarding labour if not trade and investment), or through neglect by more powerful and dominant actors in the political parties and union federations of grassroots struggles, often in favor of a political pre-occupation with the ‘national interest’ (in terms of ending the cold war division system) that has seen the bargaining away of much of the progressive content of the left-liberal platform and calls for progressives to unite around candidates whom seem set to pursue further neoliberal reform but have a pro-engagement stance toward the North.

Only a few on the progressive left have publicly stated that in a vibrant economic and political democracy (that could create a more viable dimension to any post-division political configuration) there needs to be more to progressive politics than furthering of neoliberal reform and the politics of growth. To this end, many hope, that whatever the results of the upcoming presidential election, a ‘politics of solidarity’ prevails on the left which puts the problem of marginalized political groups on the agenda, and includes genuine participation as a tool for achieving this – something which is going to require a genuine transformation of tendencies on the current liberal-left.

No doubt there is room for greater coordination at multiple levels between progressive forces interested in these sorts of political and economic issues, be they migrant and irregular workers’ rights or trade and financial liberalization. One place to start may be with the case with the leadership of the Migrant Trade Union currently being held in detention. Seeing as their case represents an important component of any politics of solidarity that involves the configuration of politics within and beyond national borders, it seems an appropriate place to start, perhaps both for Korean social movements and their international allies.

1. Seol, Dong-hoon et al. Survey on Undocumented Migrants in Detention Facilities of Korea. November 18,2005. National Human Rights Commission of Korea.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

English Chamsesang

I just noticed that Chamsesang has introduced an English website and has been building up stories in the past month. Great to see a growing diversity of english sources dealing with Korean social movement news!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

International solidarity with the MTU

KCTU/MTU call for action

[Photo : Emergency demonstration was held at the Seoul Regional Immigration Office on November 27th. A member of MTU was holding a picket, demanding "Free the MTU President, Bro. Kajiman and Vice-President Raju".]

Urgent Call for International Solidarity

Migrants’ Trade Union Leadership Arrested on November 27th.
Stop the Repression against KCTU affiliate Migrants’ Trade Union!
Free President Kajiman and other Imprisoned Union Officers!
Stop the Crackdown and Deportations!

1. Background

On the morning of November 27, MTU President Kajiman, Vice President Raju and General Secretary Masum were arrested, in what was clearly a targeted crackdown against the leadership of MTU. We, the KCTU and the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union call on the international labor and human rights community to do whatever in their power to secure the release of the MTU leadership and end this labor repression against MTU.
At roughly 9:20am on November 27, President Kajiman was leaving his home in order to attend a plan protest in front of Seoul Immigration Office when he was confronted by more than 10 immigration officers who had been hiding in front of his house. The immigration officers restrained the Korean activist with President Kajiman and then encircled the president. After protesting strongly, President Kajiman was eventually arrested, his shoulder hurt in the process.
General Secretary Masum also left his house the morning of the 27 in order to attend the protest in front of Seoul Immigration. As he walked down the street he was passed by four 4 large men who were laughing amongst themselves. He originally did not pay attention to them; however, immediately after roughly 10 immigration officers came up from behind him. He was suddenly surrounded by nearly 20 people and despite protesting was eventually arrested.
At roughly the same time Vice President Raju was confronted by 4 immigration officers in front of the factory where he worked. Upon seeing the vice president, the immigration officers immediately attempted to handcuff him, but failed due to his forceful protest. When Vice President Raju demanded to see the officers’ identification cards, they presented them along with a prepared detention order. Despite his protests the vice president was also eventually arrested.
Soon after all three men were sent to a detention center in Cheongju, Northern Choongjeong Provience, south of the capital Seoul.

2. Clear Labor Repression

The simultaneous arrest of three MTU leaders, is a clearly a targeted attack, planed in timing with an intensification of the crackdown against undocumented migrants in South Korea. Since the beginning of August of this year, the government has carried out a mass-scale crackdown in an attempt to reduce the number of undocumented migrants in the country. During this time more than 20 MTU members and officers have been arrested.
By their own admission, despite this crackdown, the numbers have not significantly decreased. Thus, Immigration Control has stepped up the crackdown in the last several weeks. At the same time a proposal is being put forth to revise South Korea’s immigration law to make it completely legal to carry out the crackdown continuously without any procedures, such as requiring warrants or detention orders, to protect the human rights of the people it targets. The government has clearly stepped up its repression against MTU leadership at this moment in order to get rid of the force that has been at the forefront of the struggle against the crackdown.

3. Call for Solidarity

We, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and affiliate the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union, make an urgent appeal to you to do whatever you can to support our struggle to free the arrested union leaders and end the barbaric crackdown underway in South Korea.

In particular we are calling for protest letters to the Ministry of Justice, Minister Jung Seong-Jin +82-2-503-3532 or +82-2-500-9128.

Please be sure to send a copy to KCTU by +82-2-2635-1134(fax) or e-mail at

We wish you also to know that KCTU and MTU are by no means deterred by this attack. MTU has already selected a temporary leadership and we have already planned protests for the next days. We are currently making further preparations and will mobilize every means possible to win the release of MTU’s leaders.

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

Lee Changgeun
International Executive 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

Liem Wol-san
International Coordinator
Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Union(MTU)-affiliated to KCTU
Tel : +82-2--2285-6068
Email: Website:


Mr. Jung Seong-Jin
Minister of Justice
Seoul, South Korea

Dear Minister Jung,

On the morning of November 27 between 9:00 and 9:30, the president, vice president and general secretary of the KCTU affiliate, Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union, were arrested, each in front of his separate home or workplace. This event has already received international attention. It is clear from the form in which the arrests took place that this was a targeted crackdown meant to silence MTU and the opposition struggle it has lead against the anti-human rights crackdown being carried out against undocumented migrants in South Korea. That this was a meditated act of repression is also apparent from the fact that the arrests came at the same time as the South Korean Immigration Control Office is stepping up its crackdown and a proposal is being put forth the revise immigration law to make it possible to carry out the crackdown continuously with complete disregard for the most basic procedures to protect human rights.

The arrests of the MTU leadership is a gross violation of human rights and a horrendous act of labor repression which targets not only migrant workers and MTU but also the KCTU, the 15 million workers it represents and the international labor community. As such, we will not remain silent.

We therefore forcefully call on you to meet the following demands:
-Immediately release President Kajiman, Vice President Raju and General Secretary Masum!
-Stop the targeted crackdown and labor repression against MTU!
-Stop the crackdown and deportation of undocumented migrant workers!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hankyoreh editorial on the crackdown

[Editorial] Stop the crackdown on migrant workers

Another reckless crackdown on migrant workers is underway. Yesterday three key officers in the Migrants’ Trade Union (Iju Nodongja Nodong Johap) were taken away by immigration agents. The three were clearly targeted. Just the other day two ethnic Koreans from China jumped off the roof of a Chinese speaking church in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, while trying to ditch agents there to arrest them, who then broke their legs and ankles. For how much longer is the government going to continue this inhumane crackdown?

The reason the government is going after foreign laborers with such zeal is said to be because of the rapid increase in the number of undocumented migrant workers. This kind of ruthless crackdown, however, is as bad a policy as one could have. There are said to be some 230,000 undocumented migrant laborers in Korea; is the government going to continue this way until it has grabbed them all?

An even greater problem is that earlier this month the government revised the Immigration Law to allow agents to question foreigners based on suspicion alone, without regard to time and place, further angering migrant workers. It is not that one cannot understand wanting to provide in the law some tools to work with while enforcing it, but it is a problem when the law just gives agents wide-ranging authority and includes no stipulations on procedures.

A law governing the national police requires that a police officer present identification and identify himself when stopping someone for questioning. Similarly, at the very least, immigration officials need to be required to prove who they are. It was in 2005 that the National Human Rights Commission officially recommended that immigration be given clear conditions, parameters on authority, and procedures for arresting illegal aliens.

Has the government already forgotten the appeal and recommendation issued by their Korean brethren in Germany? Eleven Koreans who went as migrant workers to Germany 30 to 40 years ago issued a statement earlier this month in which they said “all migrants should be recognized as members of society and granted rights that correspond to residents.” The government needs to take this suggestion into consideration and reexamine its proposed revision to the Immigration Law, then come up with a reasonable policy alternative that, instead of being all about cracking down, is enough to make our society feel some sense of pride about our immigration policies.

Breaking news: MTU leaders arrested

I got a few worried emails last night and thought I would start publishing things now.

Basically, in the midst of increasing crackdowns on migrant workers, MTU (Migrant Worker's Trade Union) President (Kajiman), Vice president (Raju) and General Secretary (Masum) were all arrested at 9:30am Korean time this morning (November 27) in front of their homes/workplaces. They were arrested without any formal charges and are being held at a detention center in Jeon-ju. Since then, MTU activists and other groups are currently meeting with the KCTU to discuss the situation and decide upon further action. MWTV and CINA have been reporting upon the events in English.

I heard from Masum's partner that he was arrested in front of their house. 15 people/officials met him on the street and he said they had all of the documents and knew his name. No one was hurt.

The Korean Democratic Labour Party, Solidarity for Social Progress, a national Irregular Workers Solidarity group, and others have released statements of solidarity (in Korean) in the short hours since this started.

More information to follow.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Worker's Protest, Chun Tae Il

Korea celebrates two 'May Days': the actual international day of worker's protest and an indigenous holiday commemorating Chun Tae Il, who immolated himself in the early seventies in protest of the regressive labour relations that animated the sweatshops of the textile boom of those days.

Last weekend's Chun Tae Il event got international press coverage but little contextualization. Most papers reported it as an Anti- Korea-US Free Trade Agreement event. However, the issues are more complicated than that. The FTA, the war in Iraq, this summer's assault on a largely female led irregular worker movement, vicious and violent urban displacement for redevelopment schemes, and the continuing power imbalances between of all types of workers, the government, and employers informed the scale and intensity of the protests this time.

Korea's labour movements and grassroots civil society groups have been a great hope for many in more recent years, as Korean workers have been able to achieve gains at the industrial level and in heavy industries. However, in most spaces their activism is still met with violence by a system that just won't reform itself in a way that would consider labour movements as an active political partner to bargain with and co-determine government policy. Hence, protests are often met with censure and violence, especially in times when the government gets set on passing controversial policy without public consultation and input in the process, especially in areas such as labour and trade policy where one sees the use of violence increasing in the last few years.

The Hankyoreh, in their coverage of the event, reported that the police presence at the rally was 88,000 police versus 24,000 protesters. Indeed, from video of the protests, one can see that the events got rather medieval, with police bus-top combat, armed charges, and routed 'soldiers' (if you will) and civilians, lying injured after the charge.

I don't have room for a systematic analysis of the social context in which this violence takes places, or the full tensions involved Korean labour relations at the moment, suffice to say that such levels of police violence, spurred on by government policy, are unnecessary. There is plenty of room for reform in Korean state-society relationships, and much of this conflict comes from not only efforts by elements in the Korean state and dominant economic classes to scuttle attempts at social reform, but also from the lack of determination of politicians in the last two governments to stand by the commitments to cooperative reform that they themselves made, and which were largely based on their own experience of political violence during the democracy movement.

Certainly Korean politics and labour relations do not need to erupt violently in this way, as they periodically do, but what would be needed to prevent such social conflict would involve commitments to social reform that successive governments seem unwilling to diligently pursue and thus further apathy over the political process, social conflict and the political crisis of the liberal and progressive blocs will continue into the future unless substantive changes are made, not only by political parties but at multiple levels of governance. Until then, the medieval tinge to protest and police reaction seems set to continue.

More links and pictures on the protest are available here, and more background info on Korean labour relations at this blog in general.

Friday, November 02, 2007

mourning senseless deaths

Yonhap news has just reported on the increasing number of injuries to migrant workers in Korea:
The number of foreign laborers injured at their workplaces has grown rapidly here during the past years due to a lack of proper safety education and preventative measures, despite a growing number of foreigners coming to South Korea to seek mostly low-paid manual jobs.

More than 8,600 foreign workers were injured at their workplaces here during the past three years, according to a report submitted Friday by Rep. Shin Ki-nam of the pro-government United New Democratic Party to a parliamentary inspection session.

The number of foreigners, including illegal aliens, surpassed one million as of the end of September, according to government statistics, as a large number of Chinese and primarily southeast Asian nationals flock to South Korea to fill shortages in mostly labor-intensive industries.
At the same time, the MTU and other migrant organizations have held a ceremony to commemorate those lost during industrial accidents, immigration crackdowns, and otherwise. The Hankyoreh included a short blurb about it:

Buddhist groups and migrant workers attend “Cheondojae,” a Buddhist memorial service in which mourners pay homage to the dead, at Hwagyesa Temple, which is located in the northern part of Seoul, on October 28.

Cheondojae is carried out as a way to bring peace and eternal rest to those who have died. Yesterday’s ceremony was held in honor of foreign workers who have died as a result of accidents that occurred in the difficult, dirty and dangerous industries in which most of the migrant workers in South Korea are employed. The ceremony was attended by Buddhist priests and migrant workers from Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and other Southeast Asian countries.

The organizers of the service estimate that approximately 3,000 migrant workers have died in South Korea. At the ceremony, a memorial tablet inscribed with the names of 1,037 people who were able to be identified was placed on the altar.

Photo by Kim Jin-su/The Hankyoreh.

Monday, October 29, 2007

two suicides

CINA blog has two stories of note on two suicides that highlight the problem about the high level of economic inequality and systemic brutality experienced by irregular workers and self-employed venders in South Korea.

The first is from a rally by striking irregular construction workers in Incheon on Sunday where one worker immolated himself in protest. As well documented on this site, the struggles of Korean construction workers have been some of the most difficult and intense of the last few years. In addition, and unlike action in other sectors as reported below, there remains complete government inaction here.

The second, comes after the brutal clearance of vendors in the city of Goyang, by hired thugs and city officials. The VOP international new site has a story on the repression there and CINA follows up with a few extra pictures from other sources.

Industrial unionism chalking up gains fast

Here is a news brief from the PSI international union about the recent gains made in the Korean medical sector, where industrial level negotiations have led to mass 'regularization' of irregular workers, agreements on equal pay for equal work for those not yet included in such agreements, and the establishment of new sectorial tripartite committees to work on solving the problem of irregular and to further enshrine industrial collective bargaining rights and practices.

The Korean Health & Medical Workers Union (KHMU), a PSI affiliate, and the Korean Health & Medical Employers Association (KHMEA) signed the 2007 collective agreement on 19th October. The 2007 collective bargaining has attracted social attention and public concern in terms of finding a collective solution to the problem of irregular workers.

KHMU leadership led by Chung Hae-sun, first vice-president (substitute for president Hong Myung-ok who is hospitalized due to health problem) and KHMEA negotiation group led by Lee Sung-shik (director of Sowha Children Hospital) participated in the signing ceremony. Since the 2007 CBA between KHMU and KHMEA at industrial level was agreed on 6 July at industrial level, supplementary bargaining at local (hospital) level have been concluded up to now.

In the CBA, KHMU and KHMEA agreed that wages should be increased by 4.0~5.3%, and that 1.3~1.8% out of the wage increase rate be spent in improvement of working conditions of irregular workers and eliminating relevant discrimination against them.

Since the July agreement, 2,384 irregular workers (involved in full-time jobs) working in 67 hospitals have gained the status of regular workers. Around 80% of irregular workers directly employed by the hospitals have become permanent workers. In addition, 1,541 irregular workers in 42 hospitals are covered by the CBA article of non-discrimination saying “non-irregular workers who do the same job as regular workers do shall be applied with the same wage and working conditions”. Also, working conditions and treatment of 1,285 irregular workers in 11 hospitals have been improved.

Since the July agreement, the proportion of irregular workers in KHMU-unionized 150 hospitals has dropped from 20.4% to 16.8%. In private university hospitals, it is estimated that 1.8% out of 5.3% wage increase has been used for improving the status and conditions of irregular workers, requiring 3.23 billion won (USD 35.8 million).

After the signing ceremony, KHMU is planning to discuss the matters of follow-up policy for irregular workers and effective operation of industrial bargaining in ‘National Labor-Management Council’ and ‘Special Committee on Irregular Workers’ established by the CBA. Also, KHMU is going to urge the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Labor to participate in ‘National Tripartite special Committee for Hospital Sector’ which was also agreed in the CBA.

In the successful conclusion of 2007 collective negotiation, KHMU is supposed to focus on developing union strategies on wage, employment, public heath system as bargaining agenda of industrial unionism. On the other hand, KHMU is preparing for various events celebrating its 10th anniversary as industrial union such as publication of the 10th anniversary white book and picture reports, holding of international conference on heath system and working conditions of hospital workers (26 February, 2008), and organizing of national workshop on industrial unionism.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Metalworker's union embraces migrants

From today' s Hankyoreh:

[Editorial] Metalworkers union’s embrace of migrant workers

The metalworkers union under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU, Minju Nochong) [as opposed to the metalworkers union under Hanguk Nochong] has decided to include migrant laborers as union members. This is something that gets your attention. Yesterday, the union’s central committee decided to conduct a comprehensive field study of migrant workers in workplaces under KCTU membership. The idea is to look into their pay and other working conditions, and see what obstacles they face in joining unions. The metalworkers union has already changed its organizational rules to allow migrant workers to join as full members, and allot a certain ratio of union positions to them.

Having migrant workers be part of the union will not only lead to improvements in the poor working conditions they face, but will also play a big role in building up the union’s negotiating power. The case of the union branch at Samu Precision Industries is a good example of how embracing migrant workers helps both Korean and migrant workers. The company had only 41 Korean union members. However, the place became a “union shop” in July, meaning that everyone becomes a member of the union when they become employees, which led to 22 migrant laborers becoming members of the union. This in turn led to significant improvements in the conditions faced by migrant workers there, and they came to enjoy more stable employment. The union’s negotiating power grew a lot as well when everyone became members.

Migrant workers in Korea still do not have the right to form labor unions. In 2005, approximately one hundred migrant workers in the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon region filed the paperwork for forming a regional union, but the Ministry of Labor rejected their application. A court later sided with the workers, but the ministry has appealed and the case is awaiting a final decision from the Supreme Court. Even if they get a legal regional union, however, it will be hard for them to operate at and around actual worksites. This is why it is so significant that a union specific to an industry is trying to directly embrace migrant workers.

There are 480,000 migrant laborers working in our country right now, 3.2 percent of all paid laborers. Before you even realized it, their numbers have grown to the point where they are a pillar of our economy. Treating them in a manner consistent with internationally and universally recognized labor norms is important not only in terms of civil rights, but something also needed to make for more efficient labor. There remain some workers who have a negative view of migrant laborers, saying they are stealing jobs. However, the work that is actually being done is different, so the competition is not serious and it should be remembered that the poor treatment they receive is a factor that works against the pay levels of Korean workers. Also, it is time that employers, for their part, be proactive about improving treatment for migrant workers, as a way to increase productivity.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

E-Land/Newcore workers occupy Ministry of Labour

While scanning the MOL site for some documents earlier today I found this short article. I haven't heard much lately on the Newcore and KTX struggles except that some grassroots unions are dismayed that there hasn't been more solidarity. There seems to be a cycle to these things were the larger unions/union militants promise a much larger mobilization than happens in the end.

New Core workers occupy labor office

A small group of unionized workers at New Core Co. occupied the office of the Seoul branch head of the Labor Ministry yesterday afternoon, protesting against the prolonged deadlock in the conflict surrounding nonregular workers.

Shortly after storming into the office in downtown Seoul, the outlet union released a statement, vowing to continue their protest until the government scraps the revised law on nonregular workers and takes more responsibility to solve the dispute.

"After launching the strike in June, we've done our best for the early resolution of the situation, but the company and the government have not showed sincere attitudes to our desperate demands," the statement said.

Police asked for voluntary dispersal of unionists occupying the office. Some 250 more unionists from New Core were demonstrating outside the building to support the illegal occupation.

By Ahn Hyo-lim

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Movement against Disabled Discrimination

From Voice of the People

New movement for disabled just starts

Solidarity Against the Disabled Discrimination launched 5th Sep.

by Suh Jeong Hwan

Solidarity Against Disabled Discrimination in South Korea opened the ceremony for its establishment in 5th Sep., Gwanghwamun while the government-led ceremony for Disabled People's International World Assembly was held at the same time. It was the first program of the 'Days for disable people in action'.

△The disabled people join the ceremony for the establishment of SADD ⓒJun Munsu, Voiceofpeople

It took three years for SADD, the united progressive organizations for the disabled people's right, to be launched and that was the time of tearful struggle.

The comittee for establishing SADD occupied the subway rail to demand convinient and safety measures for disbled after one of them met the death from a fall in the subway station.

As one serious disabled man who can't move by hiself died but wasn't found for a long time, the members of the committee took various acts to introduce the supproting system for disable's moves.

Kim Okjin, the chairwoman of the Solidarity for the Educational Right of Disabled, addressed that she couldn't participated to the DPI World Assembly though she was invited. "I hope to be with you, my comrades struggling for the human right of disabled people like my son rather than to be a guest in the brilliant cereomny" Mrs. Kim said.

SADD criticized that the government was proud that it enacted the Prohibitionla Law against Disabled Discrimination while it was them that had struggled to push the law but not the government itself.

SADD stated that belows should be carried out to improve the disable's human right and the NGOs in SADD would keep struggling to make it.

-Increasing the budget for disabled people from recent 0.29 percent of GDP to 2.5 percnet like other countries in OECD.
-The disable's pention.
-The quater of public rent apartment.
-The social responsibilities for sopporting system for disable's moves.

SADD are going to open conferences, exhibitions, festivals, assemblies and etc for three days.

△Disable's tents in front of the Sejong Cultural Holl where the 'Days for disabled people in action' is going in ⓒJun Munsu, Voiceofpeople

△Disabled people moving on the crossroad. ⓒⓒJun Munsu, Voiceofpeople

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More on the E-Land Struggle

From a reader:

At 1 AM on the night of Sunday Sept. 16 over 100 strikers of the E-Land/Homever stores in South Korea occupied a store in the Seoul suburbs, hoping to shut down Sunday shopping. The strike has been going on for 2 1/2 months and has been losing momentum. If you have not seen the video about the strike, watch it here [English Subtitles]. [You can also watch a video of the arrests here].

The riot police showed up at 3:00 AM and arrested about70 workers staging the occupation, and arrested more strikers and supporters outside.

Further attempts at disrupting stores are planned for the coming week, just prior to Chusok) holiday, a major shopping day.

Rain Sunday afternoon partially prevented a shutdown of a major Homever store at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, as well as the fact that over 100 strikers and supporters were already under arrest. Riot police and military (mobilized draftees) were out in force, as were a group of about 100 privately outsourced thugs. They greatly outnumbered demonstrators, and as of 6 PM Sunday no confrontation had occurred.

Background on the Strike

This is one of the most important strikes in South Korea in years. Even though it involves only 1000 workers at 60-odd stores around the country, it is viewed by the government and the capitalists as a test of the new, Orwell-named "Casual Worker Protection Law" that went into effect on July 1. If the E-Land workers are defeated, it will be open season on hundreds of
thousands of other casual workers who can be laid off at will.

To show the importance the Korean government accords to the strike, on July 20 it send 7000 cops, soldiers and private thugs to roust and arrest 200 workers occupying one of the E-Land stores.

If you wish to make a financial contribution to the struggle, send it to Oh Min Gyu, the organizer of the Casual Workers' Union. Send it to account number 470302-01-178901
Kookmin Bank
South Korea

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

UNI coverage of E-Land struggle

The UNI Commerce worker's union has been doing some great reporting on the E-Land strike. You can read the latest here. Also, here are some photos from the latest store picket actions and a video with English subtitles in which E-Land workers discuss working for E-Land, the struggle for labour rights, and the history of the company (thanks, CINA).

Friday, August 31, 2007

MWFF in the Hankyoreh

Here's a link to a story by Jenny Na on this year's Migrant Worker Film Festival, enjoy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

E-Land struggle continues, latest news

Here's the latest on the E-Land struggle, courtesy of the UNI commerce union page:

Last Saturday, E.Land workers blocked the entrance to the company's Pyongchon store, as part of the union's Zero-Sale campaign. Despite physical confrontations with riot police and thugs hired by the company as so-called strike breakers, the workers' campaign will continue.

- Is it right to terminate non-regular workers' contracts whenever the employer wants it? This was the text on the workers' banner. Their opinion is that this is not right, and the new law on protecting non-regular workers supports this view. The problem is that the law is flawed and some employers such as E.Land have never intended to apply it, using its many creepholes instead.

For the first time ever, Korean trade union confederation KCTU held an extraordinary Congress last weekend, to express its solidarity and support for the E.Land workers. The support will be concrete - a special fund was established to help the striking shop workers survive the long struggle.

These shop workers, who are mainly young women, have been on strike for two months already. Recently, their plight was further aggravated by their employer, who locked out all union members from four of their largest stores. This targeted lock-out, which is against all principles of fair labour relations, aims at forcing an end to the workers' struggle.

The E.Land workers' strike followed the company's announcement of mass dismissals targeted at its non-regular workers, who were supermarket cashiers, sales personnel and other retail employees. Instead, their jobs were to be outsourced, to allow E.Land to avoid giving them permanent employment contracts after two years of service, as required by a new law.

The two month long struggle has seen a close cooperation between the employers and the Korean government, with the aim of crushing the strike and destroying the E.Land workers' trade union. Heavily equipped riot police has physically put an end to sit-in strikes and workers have allegedly been harassed at police stations.

Workers should keep quiet and accept management decisions...

Other Korean employers are applauding from the sidelines. The Korea International Labour Foundation quotes Mr Kim Sang-ryul, vice chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on its website:

- A company leader has the right and duty to find ways to more efficiently run human resources. It is hard to understand employees demanding that management withdraw a decision by holding illegal demonstrations, Mr Kim has allegedly said at a business meeting.

- Some parts of Korean society seem to think that a company that converts non-regular workers into regular workers is “virtuous,” whereas a company that does not is “vicious,” the vice chairman said. Enforcement of the law designed to protect non-regular workers does not necessarily mean companies should change the status of all such workers, he said.

This is a rather peculiar interpretation of a law which the employers' organisations have participated in putting in place. It also raises serious questions about whether the Korean economy is developed enough to be able to compete freely on the global markets. Quite apparently, much work is still needed to bring the country's employers into the twenty-first century.

Actually, many large employers - both public and private - have found ways of regularising large amounts of non-regular workers. This includes also commerce employers. The resistance of Mr Park Song-suu and his E.Land chain can in fact signify that in addition to a bad attitude, the company may be seriously squeezed by banks who financed last years huge takeover of Carrefour's Korean operations.

Employers and government cooperate in union busting effort

Until now, international calls for the company and the Korean authorities to give up their shady union-busting cooperation and to sit down at the negotiating tables to find a solution to the E.Land conflict have not lead to any reactions. The Director General of the International Labour Organisation has written to the labour minister, demanding the government to act to release seven jailed trade union representatives, but apparently to no avail.

The E.Land conflict can be long. The workers and their trade union organisations are determined and will not allow E.Land's money to make the difference. This is why a Fund has been set up, to make sure that the 800 E.Land workers that are on strike or locked out because of their union membership can keep the roof over their heads and continue to feed their families.

UNI Commerce continues to support
UNI Commerce and its affiliates are doing their share to support the E.Land workers. US commerce affiliate UFCW, as well as the communications workers' union CWA have already contributed, as well as German UNI affiliate ver.di. The Nordic commerce unions are also participating in the effort, and have been financing important UNI Commerce project activities in the country for many years.

UNI Commerce
articles and pictures

on E.Land workers'
fight for their jobs

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

2nd Migrant Worker Film Festival

The first one was great, I'm sure this one will be great too!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

zero-sales struggle

I'm back, and will slowly start to post more. In the meantime, here are two posts updating the E-land struggle and the 'zero-sales struggle' the union has launched against E-Land. One is from the UNI commerce union page, the other from CINA. CINA also has some pics from Sunday's Migrant Trade Union rally. As I start to pick through more information, I'll update what I can.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

E-Land struggle, out of town

I'm out of town at the moment (visiting near Montreal and Toronto) and not near regular internet connection so I've fallen behind in updates about the E-land struggle and other current issues. I'll be back to regular posting by the 20th, however, if I get time I'll try to do what I can. At the moment, the labourstart newswire at the bottom left is a good source on the E-Land and other labour issues. Seems that their second sit-in, see below, was broken up but that more are planned. As for other issues, hopefully the links off this site and on the newswire can guide readers till I return.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

KMWU strike consolidates gains toward industrial unionism

To answer the question I posed on tuesday: a qualified yes.

From the Korea Times:

Unionized metal workers ended their weeklong strike yesterday after management agreed to increase minimum wages and consult with labor before making any decisions that could affect job security.

In their 10th round of meetings, the Korean Metal Workers' Union and representatives of industry management agreed to set this year's minimum monthly wage at 900,000 won ($985), an 8 percent increase from last year. The new wage applies to all employees, including temporary and migrant workers.

The KMWU had originally demanded 936,000 won, which is about half the average wage of the entire industry workforce.

The management also agreed that companies would notify labor unions about plans for mergers, divestitures or disposals at least 70 days before execution and seek the union's consent.

The companies also promised to provide fair terms to subcontracting firms.

Under the accord, the two sides will also set up a joint committee on securing employment within the metal industry.

More, here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Can Korean workers break out of enterprise unionism?

A recent article in the Korean Times explores this topic. Though the editorial slant is a bit reactive, the article is worth a read to get a sense at the initiative towards industrial unionism in South Korea.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Update on E-Land struggle

The UNI Global Union, which represents commercial workers worldwide, has started up a site dedicated to and with with plenty of updates on the Eland struggle. Including video from local TV of the raid on Homever workers at worldcup stadium, and a longer series of videos from the union itself. It's pretty emotional stuff to watch, violent police action in a supermarket makes for especially jarring video. The Hankyoreh has also run detailed story on the sit-in, police reaction, and solidarity given to the struggle by progressives. You can find the link to that here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Police raid E-Land Sit-in

Breaking news: the sit-in is over and has been raided by over 7000 police. The CINA blog has more pics and info here, and video from the previous days protests here and here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New story on labour law at Interlocals

Below is my attempt to summarize what has been going on with the controversy around the new labour law to date. Interlocals has been attracting a bit more attention recently as its founder Oiwan Lam has been in the news for taking on the Hong Kong Television and Licensing Authority. The story broke in Boing Boing last week, thanks to a poorly spelled item suggestion by yours truly (now more in the world will know about my bad spelling!), and was followed up on in the following days more and more.

South Korea: Labour strife escalates as new labour law comes into effect
Jamie Doucette

On July 1st South Korea's new Law on Non-Regular Work came into effect. The principle of the law was to protect non-regular workers, but in practice the way in which it has been put together and implemented has led to protection only for a few and increased precariousness for many.

The law was a long time in the making, and the original plan was to involve all parties -- unions, business, and government -- in the drafting process of the bill. However, very early on the tripartite process broke down, with the progressive Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) pulling out of the process when it became clear that the law would only lead to the expansion of casual, contingent, contract and temporary forms of work.

The tripartite commission did not attempt attempt to assuage the worries of the KCTU but instead rushed through an agreement on the bill with the support of the more conservative Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU). The bill was passed amidst heated protest in the late fall of 2006 and came into effect on July 1st.

After the bill was passed, the government as well as some larger firms announced that they would be regularizing several thousands of employees that had been employed with non-regular contracts. However, in the lead up to the July 1st deadline, it was found that numerous private employers as well as the government itself had been laying off non-regular workers or forcing them to sign short term contracts (in some cases 'zero' work term contracts that would allow employees to be layed off on the spot if need be).

A recent article in Korea's left-liberal daily The Hankyoreh highlighted some of these abuses, reporting that recent union surveys (carried out by both the KCTU and FKTU) had found cases of lay-offs, re-assignment or other unfair hiring practices at firms across all sectors, from hospitals and postal delivery to banking and construction.

For example, the Hankyoreh reports that, "According to the FKTU, which conducted its own inspection by visiting 56 companies between July 4-22 [sic], the Korea Expressway Corporation is currently moving to outsource its 2,000 non-regular workers and Korea Post, Korea’s postal service, also plans to replace its 3,000 letter carriers, delivery people and postal workers with workers from temporary agencies. Both companies are state affiliates."

Other investigations by the Hankyoreh itself and other investigators have found similar practices at other firms.

[Image courtesy of Voice of the People]
It is no surprise that in the midst of these practices, labour strife has heated up as the new law has come into effect. The most prominent case in the media so far has been the case of retail workers at the Homever and New Core department stores owned by Korea's E-land group. There, mostly female cashiers have staged sit-ins that have drawn wide scale support protests and boycotts as well as attention from police who have sealed off E-Land's stores. Public support for the struggle and outcry over the E-Land's hiring practices intensified after civic groups were able to uncover that the company had forged documents to avoid regularizing employee's contracts. The government has since stepped in to mediate the strike but has yet done nothing to support the workers demands for regular status.

In addition to the strikes at E-Land and Homever, female workers from the KTX, Korea's high-speed rail system, began a hunger strike on July 2nd to protest their employer and the government's continued refusal to meet their demands for gender equality, safe working conditions, and job security. The KTX workers have been on strike since March 2006 and have also faced police action against them, even as the government's own National Human Rights Commission has stated that KORAIL must redress its 'gender discriminative employment structure.'

What is interesting about the latest round of strikes over non-regular work is that they have been largely undertaken by the female workforce that has been the target of both unfair practices and labour restructuring policies. This has led many in the grassroots Korean labour movement to hope that their activism can lead to a renaissance in female-led trade unionism -- women workers by and large led Korea's nascent democratic trade union movement in the late seventies with heroic strikes in textile and light manufacturing sectors. Korea is more well known for the image of militant blue collar unionists in heavy industries, but these unionists would probably not have made the gains they began to achieve in the late eighties and early nineties if were not for the groundwork and networks laid for them by the previous generation of female unionists and activists.

This time, however, whether or not the irregular workers movement and its strong female leadership expands and makes concrete social gains may depend on the solidarity extended to them from the large union confederations, who now carry significantly more power than they did decades ago. Support here needs to include not just lip service to the plight of irregular workers, but concrete changes to union structure that have been recommended by grassroots labour groups, such as stronger voting rights for irregular workers and a greater participatory role for them (as well as migrant workers) in policy formation.

Jamie Doucette, July 17, 2007
Images 2 and 3 are from KTX workers site linked above.