Thursday, October 02, 2008

Slow Posting

Been slow posting these days, because, well, work and life are too busy. However, with the global financial crisis and LMB's continuing show, I feel like there is a mountain of things to post on. Alas, hopefully, there shall be time for that later. For the moment, however, this photo, from the Hankyoreh, is very interesting and mimics that famous moment from the 1989 protests in Tienanmen square.

Disarming appearance

As tanks roll down Tehran Street in the Gangnam district during a parade commemorating Army Day on October 1, Kang Ui-seok, 22, a law student at Seoul National University, goes nude to urge the government to dissolve the army.

Kang appeared suddenly at 4:20 p.m and commenced with a short role play in which he brandished a fake gun he had made out of snack food, putting a stop to the parade for about 30 seconds. Kang was arrested immediately.

Police said that prior to the parade, Kang hid for 12 hours in a trench he had dug himself.

According to police, Kang said that If Korea were to dissolve its army, it could help underdeveloped countries by saving the lives of starving children. In explaining his demonstration, Kang said that he had appeared in the nude to symbolize the condition of being unarmed and was meant to evoke peace and nonviolence.

The police booked him on charges of obscenity later that day.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

buddha background

Hye Jin Kim from Global Voices Online has a good overview of the motivating factors behind the continuing protests by buddhists here, including some of the reactions from netizens like the one below:

On the date when 200,000 Buddhists started the protest, the government announced a beautiful spy scandal like Mata Hari. What did the National Intelligence Service do for 10 years? I knew someday soon North Korean spies would be arrested once the government changed. And a beautiful spy who has sex as her weapon was sensationally caught on the same date when those Buddhists gathered. As history has proved so far, the moment of the public announcement is perfect this time again. The story is so similar with those you can see in Sunday Seoul or Sunday Newspaper. I read what she has done. In the technological period of the 21st century, what she did was to find information that we ordinary people can even simply find through searching on google, and using gps and the internet. Wow… she is such a stupid spy. I really don’t understand what North Korea tried to do with her.[…] Restoration of Baek-gol-dan and female North Korean spy… It seems that we return to 20 years back. Maybe, Samchung Revival Camp and control of hair and skirt lengths will start again.[…]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

buddhists protest

From today's Hankyoreh:

Buddhists protest perceived bias in Lee administration

200,000 protesters demand apology from President Lee and resignation of National Police Agency Chief Eo

In what was the first event of its kind, approximately 200,000 Buddhists belonging to 27 Buddhist denominations protested in downtown Seoul on August 27 against what they called religious discrimination on the part of President Lee Myung-bak’s administration.

The Ven. Wonhak, head of the organizing committee for what was called the “All Buddhists’ Assembly for Denouncing the Lee Myung-bak Administration’s Constitution-Destroying Religious Discrimination,” said that Korean Buddhism is in the most “distressful” state it has been in “since it came to Korea 1,700 years ago.”

“Buddhism has been kicked out into the street by thoughtless fanatics who dream of a Christian republic,” he said.

Monks and regular believers filled the streets in front of Seoul City Hall, from Taepyeongno and Deoksu Palace to the corner of the Hanwha Building.

Kim Kwang-jun, an Anglican priest who is head of the National Council of Churches of Korea’s Committee on Interfaith Dialogue, issued a statement of solidarity.

“As a Christian I apologize for cases of religious discrimination, like when Rev. Jang Gyeong-dong caused controversy for insulting Buddhism,” said Kim. “The Lee administration has discarded the principle of separation of church and state and even the principles of democracy, all in the name of pragmatism.”

Protesters issued a resolution demanding an open apology from President Lee, the resignation of National Police Agency Chief Eo Cheong-soo, the legislation of a prohibition on religious discrimination, and “favorable consideration” by the authorities for people wanted for involvement in the candlelight protests.

Organizers said they will be operating a “Religious Discrimination Monitoring Group” to determine whether President Lee takes action in good faith on their demands, and that they will organize similar protests across the country if he does not.

In the afternoon, protesters marched to Jogye Temple, going from the Sejongno intersection to Jonggak and on to Ujeonggugno. The police mobilized approximately 7,000 police officers from 85 riot police units.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government says it will fine the organizers for “using” Seoul City Hall Plaza without a permit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh se chul arrested

This is from the Korea Times:

Economist Nabbed for Praising Socialism

By Bae Ji-sook
Staff Reporter

Police arrested a renowned economist for speaking out against capitalism, which is in violation of the National Security Law. Civic groups and academics are criticizing the government for suppressing so-called progressive scholars over false information.

Some are worrying whether these new moves will bring back the ``public security'' era when police used excessive force against people under the name of ``keeping the peace'' in the authoritarian era of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said Wednesday it had arrested Oh Se-cheol, honorary professor at Yonsei University, and seven other Socialist Workers League of Korea members on Tuesday. The eight are now being questioned in Ogin-dong, central Seoul, over whether they have criticized capitalism and praised socialism as well as other acts considered benefiting the enemy ― the North Korea.

The police spokesman said Oh, chairman of the league, and others have released leaflets and other materials denouncing liberal capitalism. The group's flags were seen at the candlelit protests against U.S. beef imports, he added.

The investigative body also said Oh openly sought the establishment of a revolutionary socialist group saying, ``We are the revolutionary forces that declare the world proletarian revolution publicly and express the determination to struggle with the proletariat of the world including Korea in the history of the workers' movement and communist movement in Korea after 1945,'' on the group's Web site.

However, academia and others are criticizing the police's moves since Oh is well known for denouncing North Korea. Roh Hoe-chan of the minor New Progressive Party said, ``Oh and his groups constantly said the North has been polluted with other ideas in socialism, which all socialists should `refrain from following'. Shouldn't the group be defined as anti-North Korean?''

About 10 civic groups held protests in front of the investigation room saying, ``Why should they be punished for talking about what they believe in, which is obviously not praising the enemy?''

``Oh criticized capitalism even under the military junta in the 1970s but was never prosecuted for violating the law. I do not understand the government's ethics on the issue,'' Prof. Han Sang-hee of Konkuk University said calling for the government's respect on a variety of social ideas.

Some speculate the investigation will see a revival of the debate about whether the National Security Law should be abolished. The law bans all kinds of praise, promotion or sympathy toward the enemy. In this case, the enemy is North Korea, experts say.

Since a reconciliation mood swept the Han peninsula in 2000, there were only two other cases of such groups being involved in violation of the law. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the law was submitted for abolishment at the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, Suwon District Public Prosecutors' Office said it caught a female North Korean spy disguised as a defector. According to the office, 34-year-old Won Jeong-hwa disguised herself as a defector in China, married a South Korean man and came to the South in 2001. Then she contacted several military officers and handed over confidential information to the North.

The office has also arrested a military captain who handed over information and another man for delivering such stuff to the North.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


In the news today:

Gap between regular and irregular workers has grown
Widening difference in salaries and income growth between the two groups since irregular worker protection law was implemented

A survey has revealed that since July of last year, right around the time a law to protect irregular workers went into effect, the income gap between regular and irregular workers in their 20s and 30s grew.

The company Incruit took a look at the 2006 and 2008 first-half wages (based on fixed salaries) of about 30,000 of its own website members between the ages 20 and 39. The data, released Monday, shows that the salary gap between the regular and irregular workers grew by almost 100,000 won in the two-year period. In the first half of 2008, the average monthly salary of regular workers at the company was 2.282 million won, while that of irregular workers was 74 percent of that at 1.689 million won, producing a gap of 593,000 won. The gap had grown from two years earlier. In 2006, the average monthly salary of regular workers was 2.154 million won, while that of irregular workers was 77.1% of that at 1.661 million won, producing a difference of 493,000 won.

There was also a difference in income growth -- this year, regular workers made 5.9 percent more than they did two years ago, while irregular workers only made 1.7 percent more.

This trend can be confirmed in a March survey by the Korea National Statistical Office. In 2007, the salary of irregular workers was 64.1 percent of that of regular workers.; this year, it had fallen to 60.5 percent.

Song Min-jung, a researcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, believes that the quality of employment for irregular workers fell after the protection law went into effect, with many irregular workers switching to by-the-hour work or dispatch work with poor working conditions.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Signs of reaction

Two worrying stories for Korean civil society from today's Hankyoreh below. Some more conservative readers might assert that the government is just asserting law and order in this case. But without laws governing protest that conform in practice and operation to basic freedoms of assembly or association, results like this are bound to happen as it becomes very easy to pin a demonstration on a particular organization or have stuff removed from the internet by decree rather than principled investigation. Anyways, it should be clear that these two stories are simply signs of reaction, which in the end seem certain to alienate people from the current government as they undermine basic normative principles of civil society.

Photo is from CINA.

Arrest warrant issued for 3 KCTU leaders
37 other KCTU leaders summoned for questioning in growing crackdown on candlelight protest organizers

Police began tracking down three leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions on July 24 after a court issued a warrant to arrest them on charges of playing a leading role in organizing large-scale strikes and candlelight demonstrations against U.S. beef imports. The KCTU, one of the nation’s two largest labor umbrella organizations, strongly protested the move, saying they had been “targeted by police.”

Immediately after the court issued the warrant to arrest the three KCTU leaders, Chairman Lee Seok-haeng, Deputy Chairman Jin Young-ok and Secretary-General Lee Yong-sik, the Seoul Yeongdeungpo Police Station dispatched hundreds of police officers, some of them plain-clothed, and cordoned off the KCTU office in an aggressive move demonstrating its will to arrest them.

“Chairman Lee and others played a leading role in massive strikes held by the KCTU to demand renegotiations of beef deal,” a police officer said. “Last year, they also refused to be summoned on charges of masterminding a strike and occupying E-Land stores, in spite of several calls for them to appear. We plan to combine all pending charges to date and conduct an investigation into the KCTU leadership.”

Saying that strikes led by the KCTU on July 2 illegal, prosecution and police ordered 37 senior leaders of the KCTU, including Chairman Lee, to appear for questioning. Arrest warrants were issued for nine of the 37 leaders, including Chairman Lee and Yoon Hae-mo, the chief of Hyundai Motor Co.’s labor union.

In a press conference held at the KCTU office later in the day, Chairman Lee said, “The police action is unfair political suppression of a fair exercise of the right to defend the health of people and laborers. The government of President Lee Myung-bak must immediately stop its suppression.”

NPA orders Google to remove video from YouTube
Footage reports on allegations that NPA Chief’s brother invested in a hotel linked to prostitution

Controversy is flaring after an Internet crime investigation unit of the National Police Agency was found to have ordered Google Inc.’s YouTube, the world’s most popular video-sharing Web site, to remove footage from a South Korean TV report about allegations that a company in which a brother of NPA Chief Eo Cheong-soo invested was involved in prostitution. The NPA also ordered domestic Internet portals such as Naver and Daum to delete the video footage, which was originally televised by Munhwa Broadcasting Corp.’s Busan branch. Under South Korean laws governing the Internet, a person can ask an Internet portal to remove information from its Web site if the information defames the person in question. The NPA has been accused of taking unlawful and excessive action towards Internet portals, where freedom of expression and communications should be guaranteed, to defend the reputation of the NPA chief’s family.

On July 24, an official at Google’s Korea unit said, “We received an official statement on May 27 from the NPA’s cyber terrorism countermeasure team demanding that we delete video footage about a brother of NPA Commissioner General Eo Cheong-soo, citing defamation. That evening, we temporarily deleted two pieces of video footage. The Internet Protocol addresses for both pieces of video footage are blocked so users in South Korea can’t access them,” the official said. The NPA was found to have sent the same official statement to other local Internet portals such as Naver and Daum as well as video-sharing Web sites.

The original footage, aired by MBC’s Busan branch on April 23, reported that the brother of NPA Commissioner General Eo had allegedly managed a hotel that allowed prostitution. The report was credited with the “This Month’s Journalist” award from the Journalist Association of Korea in June. Yang Guen-won, the head of the NPA’s Internet crime investigation unit, said police had “sent an official letter, according to legal procedure, after judging that the controversial report broadcast by Busan MBC is related to the reputation of the entire police organization, not just Commissioner General Eo Cheong-soo himself.”

However, critics blamed the NPA for taking excessive action because, under the current laws, it has no right to ask Internet portals to delete the video footage and it has not taken any legal action, such as filing a complaint with the Press Arbitration Commission.

Kim Gap-bae, an attorney, said, “The Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection permits a person to ask an Internet portal to remove posted material if the person feels they have been defamed. For defamation cases involving public officials, in particular, an individual, not a state organization, should file the complaint.”

Unlike domestic Internet portals, Google’s Korean unit strictly bans it from editing materials posted on its Web site. Google’s Korean unit asked a legal department at its U.S. headquarters to sort out whether the video footage could cause defamation, and Google’s U.S. headquarters replied that it could not be constituted as such. In spite of the reply, Google’s Korean unit had still blocked the footage for 56 days, or until July 23, when The Hankyoreh began investigating the issue.

This means that South Koreans cannot watch the video footage on the Korean-language version of the YouTube Web site, but the footage is still available at other YouTube sites based in the United States and other nations.

Internet users have criticized the police and Google’s Korean unit, saying, “Police are curbing freedom of expression on the Internet unconditionally, making the country a state in which censorship still exists.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I haven't updated links for a long time on this blog and I was just getting started and realized that the Korean Women's Workers Association have a new site and an excellent, frequently updated blog in English. I've updated the link on the right to go to their new site. The picture above is from a recent rally for a 1 million won (US 1000 a month) minimum wage.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Changes to laws around foreign workers

Very interesting development in terms of foreign workers these days. Workers will now be able to work for 5 years and can change workplaces. These were both demands made by the Equality Trade Union -- Migrant Branch (predecessor of the MTU) back when the EPS was being negotiated. How to regard this development? What does it mean for the migrant rights movement?

I guess it is a partial victory. The 5 year concession was something there was more support for from the small business federation back in the day, the change of workplace procedure probably came from a number of sources inside the ministry, civil society, employers etc. Both aspects of the policy are obviously designed to prevent workers from becoming undocumented as after 3 years most workers haven't paid back the illegal brokerage fees that they have paid, if they had to pay them, which I believe they do in a majority of cases, and when faced with exploitation in the workplace many workers change workplaces but become undocumented in the process, so this change in the law should improve conditions generally in terms of the number of people without status.

What it does not address, however, is the claim for justice on behalf of those migrant that have been in Korea the longest and who were excluded from the EPS as an act of punishment. Unfortunately, I think it will have the effect of diminishing solidarity for them as the problems in the EPS used to continuously force people into undocumented status who then feel more solidarity with longer term migrants. I think it is these migrants that an amnesty and some sort of designation allowing them to apply for residency is needed, so they can go about their lives as they have been trying to for years in the midst of continually changes permit systems and perpetual crackdown. This is an important question of distributive justice. Those migrants with families and long term roots should be considered first, but the 'right hand' of the state (Justice, and Interior ministries) do not recognize the social suffering of these people, they even cause much of it, and therein the problem exists.

Here's the article from the Times:

Foreigners Can Work for Up to 5 Years By Bae Ji-sook
Staff Reporter

From July 28, foreign nationals will be able to work for up to five straight years without having to make the obligatory one-month sojourn outside Korea to extend their job contracts, the Ministry of Labor said Tuesday.

According to the revised Foreign Workers Employment Law, those currently allowed to work for up to three years will be able to extend their contracts for another two years. Currently, they have to leave the country for one month before renewal.

``Foreign workers complained over the cost involved in the one-month trip and management said their absence damaged business,'' Kim Yeon-shik, a ministry official, said.

Employment procedures will also change for management to hire more eligible persons. Under the current system, employers have to pick workers from those passing a Korean language test without screening their individual details.

But a new list will show each jobseeker's qualifications and career record. Employers will also be able to recruit directly via interviews overseas.

Workers will also get additional support. The government will provide job information to ethnic Korean Chinese people to help them settle in Korea more easily after signing work contracts.

In order to prevent workplace exploitation, conditions will be specified that allow workers to transfer to other companies. Workers can apply for transfers when wages are delayed and if their employer violates the Korean Labor Law.

``Under the new system, employers will be able to secure manpower from overseas and workers can easily adjust to Korean society,'' the official said.

The current employment permit system (EPS) allows a maximum three-year contract and renewal of up to two years, while the transfer of workplaces is limited to factory closures or worksite abuse.

In April, 377,032 foreigners were working under the EPS and 75.4 percent of them were working at companies with less than 30 on their payroll.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

the streets are full again

Well, the protests are back on with about estimates of 80,000 -- 400,000 on the streets (looks around 200,000 from the pic below. Here's a link to more pics at the OMN site.

This one is from around 10pm.

This group seems to be international these days; a youth subculture, in Canada they seem to focus on protesting scientology.

Early evening.

I haven't heard anything about the 'anti-protest' that was planned. I think they were probably drowned, exponentially.

Friday, July 04, 2008

ILO on Song Hae Bae Sang

I just pulled this of the Metal Worker's page. Seems the ILO has weighed in on a number of practices that limit workers freedom of association. Especially the use of damage claims to discourage workers from unionizing or going on strike. This practice has pretty notorious since it began in the 2000s. The problem is that the legal basis for collective action is not up to international standards so it is pretty easy for employers to sue workers for union activity. The ILO has been trying to bring Korea up to convention standards for a few years now.

ILO makes recommendations on irregular workers in South Korea
ILO Committee on Freedom of Association calls on Korean government to investigate and remedy alleged anti-union acts against falsely subcontracted workers and requests that obstruction of business laws are brought into line with freedom of association principles.

SOUTH KOREA: The International Metalworkers' Federation joined the Korean Metal Workers' Union and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions at a press conference in Seoul today, July 3, welcoming the findings of the International Labour Organization on the complaint against the Korean government.

The ILO has called on the Korean government to investigate and remedy alleged anti-union acts against falsely subcontracted workers at Hyundai Motors, Hynix/Magnachip, Kiryung Electronics and KM&I and to take all necessary measures to promote collective bargaining for subcontracted workers.

Significantly, the ILO requests that the Korean government "take all necessary measures without delay" to bring "obstruction of business" laws into line with freedom of association principles.

The Committee states that, "violence, criminal sanctions or disproportionately heavy pecuniary penalties are not conducive to a constructive industrial relations climate, especially in the absence of affirmative measures to promote dialogue and collective bargaining."

During the press conference IMF called on the Korean government to restore the rights of the Kiryung women workers who are over 20 days into a collective hunger strike in protest of their unfair dismissal.

"The ILO clearly states that "The non-renewal of a contract for anti-union reasons constitutes a prejudicial act within the meaning of Article 1 of Convention No. 98." I hope that the government heeds this strongly worded recommendation to reinstate the workers," said IMF General Secretary Marcello Malentacchi.

These and other recommendations to the Korean government are included in an interim report issued by the Committee on Freedom of Association in June 2008 in response to the complaint lodged by KMWU, the KCTU and the IMF.

The unions made the complaint against the Korean government for neglecting to protect and facilitating violation of subcontracted workers' rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining and collective action, in breach of ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

The complaint, case number 2602, details a series of violations dating from 2004 to 2006 at Hyundai Motors plants in Ulsan, Asan and Jeonju and at Hynix/Magnachip, Kiryung Electronics and KM&I.

For a copy of the Interim Report and recommendations from the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association click on this link.

For a summary of the details of the complaint, click here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

two stories of note

Both of these are from today's Hankyoreh:

Members of the New Progressive Party try to fix the party’s broken signboard at their headquarters on July 1. The signboard was broken by members of an association of former members of the Headquarters Of Intelligence Detachment, the seat of South Korea’s secret counterintelligence operation. On the evening, members of the association made a assault at the headquarters of NPP, and resulted in property damage, some persons of injuries and five arrests, .

According to police and an NPP official, five members of the association arrived at the NPP’s headquarters shouting, “Come out Jin Joong-gwon! We will kill all communists!” Jin, a journalist and activist who is known for his criticism of both conservatives and liberals alike, has been active in broadcasting reports from the site of the candlelight protests since they began on May 2.

During assault of the association members, one woman of NPP was injured and a man of NPP hospitalized. Jin was also injured. All five association members, including the secretary-general, were arrested.

Religious groups get involved in candlelight protests
On edge, gov’t reaches out to religious leaders to placate protesters

The South Korean government, which has been getting tougher on candlelight rallies for renegotiation of the U.S. beef agreement, is on high alert as Christian and Buddhist groups have begun to join the demonstrations, following an “emergency mass” led by the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice on June 30. With religious groups joining the candlelight rallies, the protests have grown and are peaceful once again. The government, for its part, seems to be trying to reach out to the organizations.

On July 1, Christian groups, including the National Council of Churches in Korea, said they would hold an “emergency prayer meeting” in front of Seoul’s City Hall on the evening of July 3. Buddhist groups, including the Solidarity for Buddhist Environment and LotusWorld, plan to hold a large-scale Buddhist service on July 4.

“Catholic, Christian and Buddhist groups are trying to overcome the situation. If there is no change in the government’s stance, we will consider issuing a statement signed by the leaders of seven groups representing seven different denominations,” said Yang Deok-chang, a senior official with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea.

The “emergency mass” held by the CPAJ on June 30 was attended by some 30,000 citizens, all holding candles, on the plaza in front of City Hall. Led by the Catholic priests, citizens marched peacefully past Namdaemun, Seoul’s South Gate, and Myeong-dong, instead of heading to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae, or the Blue House.

The activities of the Buddhist groups in particular have put the government on edge. Buddhist groups have long felt that the government is more partial to Christian groups, perhaps because President Lee Myung-bak is a confirmed Christian and an elder at Somang Presbyterian Church in Seoul.

The CPAJ’s participation is also worthy of note. It was active in the pro-democracy movement of the 70s and 80s and has come to serve as a kind of moral compass. Last fall, it represented Kim Yong-cheol when he brought allegations of corruption against Samsung Group.

As if the government sensed the urgency of the situation, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said, without any prior notice, that he would meet with Ven. Jigwan, the executive chief of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the country’s biggest Buddhist sect. The meeting was cancelled, however, due to a protest by alliance of Buddhist groups organizing the July 4 Buddhist service, which called on the prime minister to first draw up his plans for renegotiation of the U.S. beef agreement before meeting with the Ven. Jigwan. The prime minister is also believed to be considering meeting with various religious leaders, including leaders of Catholic and Christian groups.

In a rare move, Culture Minister Yu In-chon proposed opening a “direct dialogue” between the government and the People’s Countermeasure Council Against Mad Cow Disease, which has been a leading organizer of the candlelight rallies. In an interview with CBS radio, Yu said, “So far, (the government and the organizers of the candlelight rallies) have only told their side of the story, but it seems there has not been much chance for the two sides to meet and talk with each other. The most urgent thing is dialogue.”

“As the government has no channel for talks with the rally organizers, I’m asking some people to hold talks. To open a channel for discussion, I think the organization leaders who are in detention need to be treated with leniency,” Yu said.

Cheong Wa Dae has so far declined to comment on the situation, but was believed to be monitoring the situation closely. It also appears to be taking extra precautions as religious groups are now involved in the candlelight demonstrations.

However, it’s uncertain whether the government action will placate candlelight protesters and religious groups because it lost trust with a violent crackdown on the rallies, during which it called the candlelight protests “illegal” and “violent.” Civic groups responding to the culture minister’s proposal to hold talks with the People’s Countermeasure Council said that the proposal is “nonsense, because police have already arrested some of the activists from the council.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Neoliberalism gone wacky

What is interesting about the truckers strike that is now going is that the government is saying that it is going to force truckers back to work. However, truckers are considered 'self-employed' and therefore it is their right to refuse a contract. In other words lacking a collective agreement they have the option of 'exit' under contract law. This a feature of a lot of neoliberal labour market flexibilization, but the government does not want to recognize even this. It's funny, many of the truckers would like instead to be considered workers, with a collective agreement, but the government won't recognize that either. So, that is the present dilemma. The government says truckers are workers and then orders them back to work, the truckers say they are workers and demand a contract but the government says they are self employed and thus not allowed to collectively bargain. There is the paradox, it doesn't even seem to be about defining how one participates in the market anymore: with a collective or individual contract, instead it seems purely about a harder form of class power and the forced compulsion to work.

[Editorial] Redefining the meaning of a laborer

One of the primary reasons why the Korea Cargo Workers Union strikes again and again is that a permanent negotiation between the KCWU and the shippers is impossible. Since the law categorizes drivers who own their cargo trucks as self-employed, it is impossible for the KCWU and a representative group of shippers to negotiate several issues, including the transport rate. As a result, all things came to a head and a large-scale strike cripples cargo movement once every few years. That is why the government needs to acknowledge laborer rights of KCWU members at this point and move forward with discussions to grant them a legal status the same as, or similar to, laborers.

In fact, the problem, regardless of the KCWU’s strike, has been one of the key labor issues in which the government should play a leading role to resolve. Like cargo truck drivers, there are a growing number of people who work like laborers but are categorized self-employed. Labor organizations estimated the number of those workers, who are described as specially-employed workers, stood at some 1.8 million people.

Of them, many workers became “self-employed” at the request of their employers and signed a subcontracting or consignment contract, instead of a labor contract. Until the early 1990s, most drivers of cargo trucks and ready-mixed concrete vehicles were regular workers at construction companies. As the companies handed over their trucks to drivers and changed their contract formats, the drivers became a “personal businessperson” only in appearance.

In European nations and Japan, there is an overall trend where the government grants legal rights for specially-hired workers, by categorizing them as a laborer or a worker similar to a laborer. In 1974, the German government allowed the specially-employed people to join or establish a labor union after introducing the concept of a worker similar to a laborer. The French government guarantees collective rights for specially-employed workers.

In particular, it is notable because the number of specially-employed people has sharply risen since the IMF bailout in late 1997. By changing the contract format, an employer is freed from following labor laws and paying for various types of insurance such as workers’ compensation. To avoid regulations and financial burdens, it is certain that employers would intensify their efforts to change the contract format. It is time for the government and the National Assembly to make sincere efforts to redefine the meaning of a laborer and expand the scope of it.

Please direct questions or comments to []

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tireless blogging

The new Castle MB?

I don't know how to measure Matt' s frankly scary blogging productivity, but I can celebrate it. Here are links to a lot of interesting photos, commentary, and organizational context involving the protests, here and here, the picture above is from the second link.

Korea's image, brand in trouble?

I really don't like to editorialize much but here is a link to an interview with a foreign consultant in the Korea times discussing how Korea's brand image was in trouble.
``Sometimes it can be good to have discussion and lively debate, but if it's not in the right context, people may say, 'oh my god what's happening there,''' he said.

Korea used to be known as a country of the "miracle" due to its rapid transformation from a war-ravaged agricultural economy into a manufacturing powerhouse, but it has lost its glorious image and is now turning into a republic of "protest."
Essentially, it is good example of the narrow minded frame of much of the mainstream press, in Korea and abroad (our National Post says much the same thing) as well as some segments of the business community for profit which would rather see government run as a business and not as politics in which collective conflicts are resolved . Anyways, last time I checked Korea was a country, an ensemble of social and cultural relations, not a product. Viewing a country as a brand is not only idiotic, it is dangerous, there is not much democratic in trying to maintain a country's 'product image' instead of providing public goods and social justice.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Castle MB

From the Hankyoreh:

Barricades that blocked protesters incite widespread resentment
Internet users invent phrases laced with sarcasm to express criticism of gov’t action

» In the photo above, a protester waves the national flag of Korea atop a barricade of shipping containers constructed by the government at dawn on June 11. The sign under the protester reads: “Is this what you call ‘communication?’” The sign skewers President Lee Myung-bak for saying he would communicate with the general public prior to constructing a barrier to keep them out. Below, the barricade is removed in the morning of the same day.

The watchword for the huge candlelight protests attended by up to one million people on June 10 was “Myung-bak castle” (Myungbaksanseong). The word combines the first name of President Lee Myung-bak and a Korean word that means “mountain fortress wall,” with the latter part referring to the rows of shipping containers used by police to block protesters from approaching the Blue House.

A 5.4-meter-high wall of shipping containers filled with sand, one of three such walls, was removed from the main thoroughfare on Sejong Avenue in the early morning of June 11. However, the phrase invoking the barricades is likely to stay on people’s lips as a symbol of President Lee Myung-bak’s refusal to communicate with the citizens of Korea.

The term “Myungbak castle” was first used by Internet users almost instantaneously beginning on June 10, and generated a number of derivatives. As police constructed the shipping containers as a way to block protesters, the term “Welding Myung-bak” (Yongjeopmyungbak) was coined just as quickly. This term refers to the method police used to weld the containers together. Tens of thousands of messages with the term “Welding Myung-bak” were posted on the Internet debate site Agora, which is operated by Daum Communications.

Some of the messages left online exude the sense of sarcasm and scorn felt by the majority of the general public toward the government. One person wrote, “Because a huge fortress wall was constructed overnight, it should be designated as a World Heritage site.”

Another said, “The look of the grand canal and the fortress wall reminds me of Qin Shi Huang.” The Grand Korean Waterway, which would connect Seoul to Busan via three interlocking canals, is one of the president’s pet projects, while Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China and built China’s Great Wall.

A composite photograph that combines a photo of the shipping container barricade with a caption saying, “This is the ‘Myungbak castle,’ which has been designated as National Treasure No. 0,” spread rapidly through the Internet.

Behind the widespread criticism and satirical comments, lies a sense of anger and regret over President Lee’s having turned a deaf ear to the public. A 32-year-old office worker who works in Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul, near the site where the barricades were constructed, said on June 11, “When I saw the ‘Myungbak castle’ on my way to the office, I felt a sense of despair.” The worker, who was only identified by the surname Choi, said, “If (the government) were to think about how to allay public resentment instead of thinking about how to block the voices of the people, it could suggest more than 100 new plans.”

An Internet user with the nickname “Themis” wrote, “With the ‘Myungbak castle,’ the response to citizens holding candles is akin to a trampling of the people’s will. This government has made another big mistake.”

Police officials even criticized the construction of the barricades. A police officer said, “I was surprised to hear about the idea of blocking a main thoroughfare with a wall of containers. With the wall, citizens were made to feel that they were shut out and mistreated. I think the countermeasure seems to have gone wrong.”

Please direct questions or comments to []

See also this interesting article on the new culture of protest involved in the demos.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What next?

[Photo: some art students at a local Seoul university invented this brilliant piece of protest technology, and have been showing it off at the protests]

After Tuesday's huge protest (which Matt has a good post on here, along with another one on the history of protest in Seoul over the last 100 years), Lee's prime minister and cabinet announced their intention to resign, others are wondering how far the fallout will extend, as even conservative groups are criticizing the president, albeit in a neoconservative fashion that misses the cause of the protests. One thing seems sure: the protests are set to continue:

From the Herald:

Protests against U.S. beef imports and a wide range of government policies are expected to continue through the week as various civic groups plan to stage a series of mass rallies in downtown Seoul.

A coalition of about 1,500 civic groups called "the people's council for countermeasures against mad cow disease" will memorialize the deaths six years ago of two schoolgirls, at Seoul Plaza tomorrow.

They were accidentally run over in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province in 2002 by a U.S. military vehicle. This tragedy brought thousands of citizens to the streets, calling for the withdrawal of the U.S. troops in Korea. Candlelight vigils will be held along with the memorial service.

The coalition has organized the vigils since April 27 in reaction against the April 18 deal on U.S. beef imports, which demonstrators condemn for being made without "public consensus."

Also tomorrow, the Korea Cargo Transport Workers Union will go on strike. It is demanding that the government formulate countermeasures to lesson the burden created by soaring oil prices. The union has linked its planned walkout to the ongoing popular protests against the beef import deal.

On Saturday, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the biggest umbrella labor group, will vote whether and when to stage a walkout. Members of the KCTU have participated in the vigils.

Also on Saturday, a funeral ceremony will be held for Lee Byeong-ryeol in Seoul and other parts of the nation. Lee, 43, set himself on fire on May 25 in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, after calling for the toppling of the government. He died on Monday.

Marking the 8th anniversary of the June 15 inter-Korean joint declaration, various civic groups, including the KCTU, will hold a massive commemorative event.

On Tuesday, when 80,000 citizens, according to a police estimate, rallied in Seoul, the "people's council" set a deadline of next Friday for the government to determine whether to scrap or renegotiate the beef deal. The government response, therefore, could either mitigate or escalate the protests, observers said.

During Tuesday's rallies, as protesters and police exercised restraint to avoid violent clashes, vigils proceeded peacefully. No serious injuries were reported. However, police detained 24 sit-in protesters yesterday morning for obstructing traffic at the Sejongno intersection in central Seoul.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It got bigger!

I'll add to this post later, but it seems from first glance that the protests got absolutely bigger. Here is a story from the BBC and the Korea Times, has lots of pics and video in Korean.

From what I can tell, it does seem like 800 to 1 million got out nationwide.

As the Korea Times story above reports:

The culmination of a month of protests drew the largest number of protesters ever, coinciding with the June 10 ``People Power'' struggle in 1987, which forced the military dictatorship to adopt a direct presidential election system. It was the first time in more than two decades that such a large number of people gathered in Seoul and other major cities.

People from all walks of life ― from students and workers to former activists who fought for democracy 21 years ago ― joined the rallies, demanding the government renegotiate the beef deal with the United States.

The coalition of civic groups claimed 1 million citizens participated nationwide, including 500,000 in Seoul alone, while police estimated the total number at around 200,000. Tens of thousands of citizens also held separate gatherings in Busan, Gwangju and dozens of other cities around the country.

``As an witness to all major historic events in the past, I took part in this candlelit vigil to join the call for the renegotiation of the beef agreement,'' said Yoo Chung-sik, 69, who accompanied his 63-year-old wife. ``I wanted to share this spirit of freedom though I'm old.''

Hundreds of students marched from Yonsei University to Seoul Plaza, many with the portrait of the late Lee Han-yeol, a former Yonsei student who died after being injured during the 1987 protest. Activists from that time accompanied them.

``I have a lot of worries because of difficulty getting a job. I came here on foot from my school, even though it's an exam period. It reflects the severity of the beef issue,'' said Kim Tom, 23, a student from Yonsei. ``I thought I should come here instead of going to the library.''

Police closed three main roads leading to Cheong Wa Dae by building a two-story barricade of shipping containers. They welded the containers together, filled them with sand and coated their surfaces with grease to prevent demonstrators marching to the presidential office.

Some 40,000 riot police officers were mobilized at major rally sites.

The photos are from Oh my news and show some of the magnitude and some of the humor of this thing.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Ebb or flow?

Photo courtesy of CINA

Well Friday and Saturday nights protests seemed massive. Who knows if Tuesday will be a 'super Tuesday' that protest organizers promise or if things will quiet down a bit. Seems to me that it might be hard to get that many people out on a work night. But things have swelled all of May, so we'll see.

CINA has posted a number of links to stories and photos.

Friday, June 06, 2008

culture of protest

from the Korea times:

Gone Is Solemnity at Rallies

The words under the photo of a baby squeezing President Lee Myung-bak’s nose reads: “Don’t breathe as oxygen is wasted.”
/ Courtesy of Newsis
By Kim Rahn

Staff Reporter

``I drink every day because of you.'' This is not a lament by a jilted lover but a witty criticism written on a placard at a candlelit vigil against President Lee Myung-bak.

The mood at recent candlelit vigils against the resumption of American beef imports is quite different from the past. Far from somber, catchphrases and parodies jeering the authorities often take on amusing and humorous tones ― enough to make onlookers fall about laughing.

In the past, demonstrators, tying red ribbons around their heads, used to try and look as grim as possible, punching their fists in the air and chanting serious make-or-break slogans.

However, these days the atmosphere is lighter.

Students are using short, simple, sarcastic phrases on their placards. A schoolgirl holds a picket saying: ``I've lived only 15 years,'' insinuating that she doesn't want to die of mad cow disease at that age.

Others use funny cow costumes to get their message across. A protestor in a cow outfit was seen holding a flyer that read: ``Mr. President, you go and eat mad cow ― a message from angry Korean cows.''

With many middle and high school students participating in the gatherings, a picture of a girl in her school uniform holding a candle has become the symbol of the rally. A picket held by a teenage girl says: ``We are doing what we've been taught to at school,'' indicating she felt she was doing the right thing.

A demonstrator in cow outfit holds a placard saying: “You (Mr. President) go eat mad cow.” at a candlelit protest against the imports of U.S. beef. / Yonhap
Protestors also ridicule the police. When water cannons were fired on demonstrators, they shouted, ``Why don't you give us hot water?''

When riot police officers stood atop patrol buses to warn demonstrators to disperse, ralliers said, ``Sing for us!'' and ``Dance for us!'' as if they were at a the concert of a pop group.

Demonstrators also put parking tickets on riot police buses parked on the street to block protestors from approaching the presidential house.

After attacking the Web sites of the Seoul Metropolitan Mobile Police and the ruling Grand National Party, hackers also attempted to make fun of the authorities. A picture of a polar bear that looks scared popped up at the main page of police, with the bear saying, ``It.. it hurts when you be.. beat me!'' satirizing police's recent use of violence against ralliers.

Analysts say that the words and phrases written on placards and various Web sites reflect changes in the culture of rallies here, underlining a shift from analog to digital.

``In any country, as democracy improves, protests turn from militant ones to peaceful ones. Rallies are becoming a sort of cultural festival here. We are witnessing a change with this cheerful mood and these funny slogans,'' Yonsei University professor Kim Ho-ki told The Korea Times. ``Parody is one of the most representative forms of postmodernism.''

Seoul National University professor Han Sang-jin said, ``In this modern but risky society where varying interests groups confront each other, parody will become an important ingredient of protests by the younger generation.''

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

new generation?

From the Hankyoreh: Protests continue, Rallies draw new generation of protestors. The Korea times has announced that the KCTU is planning a general strike for the 16th but the link is broken. Meanwhile Lee Myung Bak is trying to assuage public discontent but it doesn't seem to be working, even according to the Heritage Foundation, however, the HF seems to want to make the protests sound more like an general anti-US sentiment issue, which is wrong.

Also, a 72 hour long protest begins today. And even mainstream conservative groups have joined the fray.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some photos from last night's rally has a number of photos and reports from last nights rally, in Korean. Seems like it was pretty big. Even the BBC reported 100,000.

Some video here at Daum, and here on youtube, some candid remarks from a police captain: "Police chief: Guys, when you hit people, try to avoid being filmed by people, journalists, and reporters. If you got pictured when you hit women and handicapped, cover up each other and try to identify who pictured you.." or so that's what one comment says.

[Update 1], a whole series of news stories here on youtube, and a vast collection of DIY video and others here.

[Update 2], Some more pics from Sunday's rally below and from Ohmynews and from Chamsesang, via Kotaji.

The gusts of popular feeling continue...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mad cows, stubborn presidents

I've tried to stay away from the mad cow issue for a while now (both physically and intellectually) because you can read about it everywhere these days, but I thought I would post this article just for those of you who don't compulsively read the Hankyoreh like I do. I think the issue deserves a wider, critical reading which I don't have time to do. [Update: I've elaborated a little bit more on this issue in a reply to anonymous reader Scott on a previous post] Certainly there are those who want to pin it down to anti-americanism but I think the issue is much more complicated than that. Mostly it seems about the attitude of the president and ruling party both to principled negotiation and to protest. Theoretically I'm sure there are just as lax, or worse, safety regulations on some Korean or Chinese or Australian products but that doesn't seem to be the key issue, it's just that government seems so open about accepting a lower standard and repressing opposition to its position by brandishing the opposition as violent or leftists and arresting them. That the government has not realized that most of the people protesting come from a less institutionalized background than the unions or NGOs has really been one of their fatal flaws, nothing creates a generation of activists more than ideologically branding them 'communists' and them putting them in jail as seems to have happened to a number of people from high school students to housewives and retirees over the last few weeks. Oh well, that should provide a welcome antidote for Park Chung Hee nostalgia and further erode LMB's support base. Good work, and done in less than three months in office!

S. Korea resumes U.S. beef imports
Opposition parties still demanding that beef agreement be renegotiated

Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries Chung Woon-chun on May 29 announced the conditions for the importation of U.S. beef and apologized about the government’s handling of negotiations on the import sanitary terms. The beef agreement was reached with the United States on April 18.

In reaction, opposition parties, including the United Democratic Party, declared to stage outdoor protests to nullify the announcement. Civic organizations are also strongly against the announcement, taking the next step in their fight against the resumption of U.S. beef imports by renewing their protests and continuing to call for renegotiation of the deal.

Chung pledged to step up efforts to fully manage quarantine inspection procedures and beef distribution. The ministry also requested that the Ministry of Public Administration and Security publish the announcement under the name of the related minister via a government newsletter. The newsletter will carry the announcement sometime around June 3.

As a result, Korea will begin importing U.S. beef with few limitations on the age of the animal and the kinds of animal parts allowed into the country, including bone-in meat and intestines.

According to the new import conditions, all animal parts from cattle younger than 30 months old, except for tonsils and the end of the small intestine, will be imported. For beef from cattle older than 30 months, Korea will import all animal parts, with the exclusion of seven specified risk materials known to be at higher risk for mad cow disease, such as back bones.

These changes are quite different from the original rules, which stipulated that only beef from cattle less than 30 months of age would be allowed. South Korea has banned imports of bone-in-beef for four and half years since 2003. U.S. beef imports have been banned completely since last October when bone fragments were found in a shipment of imported meat.

The final announcement contains the full text of the ROK-U.S. beef agreement, with the exchange of letters denoting U.S. recognition of Korea’s quarantine sovereignty attached. The exchange of letters was signed by trade representatives from South Korea and the United States during an additional round of negotiations earlier this month.

In consideration of the people’s concern about the safety of U.S. beef and the effect of the resumption of imports on South Korean livestock farmers, the ministry announced that all of the nation’s restaurants will be required to inform customers of the country of origin of all beef dishes.

Opposition parties and civic groups have renewed their protests against the government’s enforcement of the beef notification and are planning to take further steps to nullify it. The UDP issued a resolution on the same day the ministry made its announcement, saying that the only way to resolve the current crisis and satisfy the people’s demands is for the government to abandon its plan to enforce the notification and immediately begin renegotiations. “If the notification takes effect, we will stage all-out protests to nullify the beef deal,” the UDP said.

Please direct questions or comments to []

Monday, May 26, 2008

Politicized Policing

Yet another post from the Hankyoreh (as you can see my free time has been limited lately). This one comes after yesterday's crackdown on LMB's beef agreement with the US. Lot's of stuff happening which can catch up on through most Korea-related blogs and websites. The crackdown on the protests seems set to provoke a large reaction from the public, but what is perhaps most disturbing about them is the way in which the policing involved reminds many observers of the role of the police in previous dictatorships. Since LMB's election to police have seemingly been reintegrated into the governments political strategy and have been monitoring and interfering with civic groups. The crackdown yesterday signifies the first time that they have shown their face in this new role vis a vis civil society or speech related protests (if one accepts that the authoritarian policing of labour and especially migrants was never fully eliminated).

[Analysis] Lee administration reversing democratic achievements
Infringement on media freedoms tops list of troubling changes made since Lee Myung-bak took office

»[PICTURE] Police drag away citizens who participated in a two-day, sit-in candle vigil to protest the resumption of U.S. beef imports when they try to march toward Cheong Wa Dae at dawn on May 25.

There are growing concerns that the administration of President Lee Myung-bak, who marked his first three months in office on May 25, has reversed some of the democratic progress that Korean society has made. For the first three months, law enforcement authorities, including the police, the prosecution and the Board of Audit and Inspection, have been mobilized to ingratiate themselves with the government’s initiatives. Regular meetings on public security with the National Intelligence Service, which were common under the military-backed government in the early 1980s, have been revived. The terms of the directors of public entities, which are guaranteed by law, have been ignored and an advisory opinion on the rights of migrant workers given by the National Human Rights Commission was overturned by a remark made by President Lee.

In a clear sign of a setback in progress toward democracy, riot police beat protesters and forcefully arrested them in the early morning on May 25 and 26 to disperse a street rally after a candlelight vigil was held to oppose the planned resumption of U.S. beef imports. Democratic achievements, obtained by the Korean people since the pro-democracy uprising in June 1987, have gradually been undermined. Human rights have been suppressed easily enough by intelligence authorities resuming investigations into members of the civilian population. With the government-controlled economic system showing signs of revival, the road to economic democratization has become rockier. Where the law ends, the politics of intervention begins.

Kim Ho-ki, a sociology professor at Yonsei University, who described the government of President Lee as “neo-liberal authoritarian rule,” said it is characteristic of the government to use “neo-liberalism to handle education, employment and welfare policies under market principles, while trying to control civic society and social movements with an authoritarianism similar to that employed during the Yushin (revitalizing reform) regime and the fifth government.” The Yushin regime and the fifth government, which date back to the 1970s and 1980s, constitute one of the darkest chapters in modern South Korean history. At the time, South Korea was ruled by military generals with most the basic rights held in abeyance. “Such a way of ruling is fundamentally opposed to the pluralism brought by the democratic era, so will amplify social unrest and discord,” Kim said.

Of the setbacks democracy has suffered, what’s most worrisome is the government’s attempt to control the media. The Board of Audit and Inspection, the Korea Communications Commission, and other government agencies are engaging in a full out attempt to force Jung Yun-joo, the president of the Korean Broadcasting System, to resign from the post. It is becoming clear that the government is trying to appoint people who are considered as “yes-men” to serve the administration of President Lee at posts in broadcasting, at news wires and media institutions, where the government has an influence on personnel appointments. Nevertheless, conservative media outlets, which had trumpeted the idea that they would protect media freedoms under the liberal governments of the past decade, have kept mum. The cozy relationship between powerful politicians and the conservative media, which put democracy into limbo until the 1980s, has returned.

Kim Hyeong-gi, a professor of economics at Kyungpook National University, said, “During the administration of former President Roh Moo-hyun, (the government) weakened the privileges of the major law enforcement authorities. But the government of President Lee Myung-bak has tended to strengthen its authoritarian rule while promoting the idea of a market economy. This phenomenon has occurred because the country turned conservative before the monitoring of law enforcement authorities by the National Assembly and civil society had taken root, and amid a lack of democratic maturity.”


I found this recent article in the Hankyoreh terribly disturbing:

The Hankyoreh launches campaign to support S. Korea’s foreign brides

More foreign migrant women are getting divorced, only to be bought and sold on an increasingly large domestic marketplace

» Southeast Asian migrant women relax at a shelter in North Gyeongsang Province in early May. An increasing number of foreign brides are getting divorced, only to be sold and purchased for remarriage.

An increasing number of foreign women who have come to Korea as brides are getting divorced. Many of these women are just one step removed from experiencing the same fate as other foreign women before them who have become the victims of violent acts committed by their Korean husbands committed suicide. Their lives are at stake. Sadly, this is just another portrait created by the barbaric acts committed in a society that buys wives for Korean men. In response to this crisis, The Hankyoreh, in conjunction with the Women Migrants Humanrights Center, has launched a campaign to support foreign women living in South Korea. The campaign will run for a month beginning on May 12.

The campaign aims to highlight the lives of migrant women who have come to be divorced in Korea. A considerable number of foreign women who have come to Korea through marriage usually do not return to their home countries and are forced to lead unstable lives, before and after their marriages fail. Many of them get remarried via the services of middlemen looking for a broker’s fee or find work in nightclubs or other places offering low wages.

The story of one 21-year-old Cambodian woman is representative of the increasing number of foreign women who are traded for money. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, first came to Korea in July 2007, when she was greeted by her new 93-year-old father-in-law, an apple-grower in North Gyeongsang Province, and her 51-year-old husband. Before long, her hopes for a new life turned to despair. Her husband’s shabby house was full of piles of garbage that gave off a disgusting odor. She soon learned that her husband had a mental disorder and he behaved badly whenever he drank, which caused her to flee to a neighbor’s house to escape his drunken tirades. Her father-in-law expressed his regret about the situation, but said he could not let her go because he had paid such a huge sum of money to get his son a wife. He had borrowed ten million won (US$ 9,551) and paid it to a matchmaking service.

One day, a neighbor visited the house and advised the father-in-law to sell the woman for 5 million won. The father-in-law agreed. Another village resident, looking back on the time, said, “As the rumor that the woman would be sold for 5 million won spread, there were many volunteers who offered to take her cheaply.”

A pastor from a neighboring area introduced the father-in-law to a man in his 40s who wanted to take her in, but the clergyman said that the man could not pay more than 500,000 won for her. The woman’s father-in-law demanded a payment of at least 2 million won, but when his offer was rejected, he attempted to take her to his house. The woman panicked and sought help at a center for foreign women in North Gyeongsang Province and in April, she was finally granted a divorce.

Now that she is free, she is getting more marriage proposals. She is in high demand because there are no additional commissions to be paid. The woman, however, still feels uneasy about remarrying in Korea. Han Guk-yeom, a representative of the Women Migrants Humanrights Center, said, “A fundamental problem is that Korean society thinks of migrant women who settle in Korea through marriage as ‘goods.’” They remarry for cheap commissions or get jobs in “places of entertainment.”

Gwon Mi-ju, an official of the center, said, “Many migrant women can be seen at massage parlors or noraebang (singing rooms) in local areas and I think that most of them are divorcees.”

situated authoritarianism

The government continues its history of completely repressing the MTU and migrants in general. Here is a letter from the latest MTU president, Torner Rimbu, to be arrested and deported by the government in a coordinated crackdown. From the Hankyoreh:

Are migrant workers disposable?

Written by Torner Rimbu, the president of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union, from the Cheongju Detention Center

My respected Koreans and migrant laborers! I greet you in struggle! They say if you want to be a great person you need to meet great people, and I have met great people like you. I have been unable to become a great activist, but I did my best.

I came to beautiful Korea to escape poverty. But as discrimination towards, and exploitation of, the weak exist everywhere, I gave all my youth wandering about during my difficult life in Korea hoping to realize my Korean Dream, but at no time was I happy.

Korean society changed as time went by, but the oppression and discrimination towards the weak did not. I was unable to receive proper treatment for injuries to my waist, neck, and disk. Once, someone made use of my legal status as an “illegal alien” to commit fraud against me, and, instead of getting legal help, I suffered more. I have worked hard for the sake of the migrant union since that time in 2003. But the biggest crisis for me came when I was fired from my company because of the “employment permit program” that began in August 2004. I had no money and could find no work; the crackdown was intensifying and I had nowhere to go. I came to think that something was wrong, and I thought migrant workers would have to raise their voices. I followed my seonbae (elders) to a sit-in at Myeongdong Cathedral. The slogans at the time were “Stop the deportations!” and “Fully legalize undocumented migrant workers!” During the 386-day sit-in struggle I learned more about Korea, and learned more still from the fine Korean seonbae I met, and their determination to struggle was handed down to me as well. A great many Koreans joined in strong solidarity, giving us much needed strength.

The Korean Ministry of Justice, however, was always out to crush the migrant union and would not let me be. On May 2, 2008, at 8:30 p.m., I fell victim to a targeted arrest operation by more than ten Seoul Immigration Office employees on my way to a candlelight protest against imports of American mad cow beef.

Why does the Korean government want to arrest and deport us? There are some 230,000 undocumented migrant workers in Korea; does it want to deport them all? Are the police and the Ministry of Justice on a joint crackdown operation from May 1 to July 31 because the president ordered it to reduce the number of illegal aliens to zero? (Editor’s note: President Lee Myung-bak said, “We should protect legal foreign laborers, but ban illegal foreign laborers from walking freely,” at a Labor Ministry briefing on March 14.) How many of our migrant worker friends are going to be hurt or killed in the course of this crackdown? If undocumented migrant workers have done anything wrong, then their only sin is having come to Korea and worked hard to achieve their dreams.

But there is still hope. There is hope because of the solidarity of many Korean citizens and migrant workers. Someday, we will meet again and struggle together and work for more ultimate things, for the abolition of all discrimination. I would ask that you afford more proactive interest in our effort, that you support us and offer your solidarity.

They say cowards kneel. They say betrayers betray. But those who are courageous struggle. All of you who have stood with us migrant workers are fine comrades. And you are courageous comrades. I may already have been deported by the time you read this, but I wish you good health. May we meet again.

Torner Rimbu, the president of Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union, was deported to Nepal on May 15.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More on the latest MTU arrests

From today's Hankyoreh

Migrant Trade Union leaders arrested for holding demonstrations
Latest arrest could be the start of sweeping crackdowns on migrant workers

» Migrant workers hold a demonstration to protest government oppression in the Jongno district, Seoul, on January 20.

The Ministry of Justice announced on May 5 that it had arrested two leaders of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union, including its president Torner Rimbu, for organizing demonstrations against the government. The MTU is protesting the arrests, saying that the incident is the beginning of a sweeping roundup of foreign workers.

According to the ministry, the two MTU leaders led demonstrations against government policy. The MTU, with the cooperation of other civic groups, have held demonstrations to demand that all immigrants without visas be given legal status and the employment permit system, which allows companies to hire migrant workers only when Korean citizens cannot be found, be abolished. The ministry announced that it would deport the two MTU leaders, both of whom had overstayed their visas. Torner Rimbu became the MTU president after the group’s former president, Kaji Man, was deported in November.

The ministry formed a task force on May 1 and launched the first crackdown on all migrant workers without visas since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in late February. The ministry plans to continue its crackdown for the next three months, and says that it will prevent illegal foreign workers from making inroads into the domestic labor market.

“The target of crackdown is our leaders, the fact that two of our leaders were arrested as soon as the crackdown began proves it,” representatives from the MTU said.

Lee Jeong-won, an MTU official, said that they saw the crackdown coming after the new government began stating that there should be stricter enforcement of the law. The government wanted to remove the MTU leadership ahead of the crackdown on migrant workers, Lee, the MTU official, added.

The MTU also said that dozens of immigration authorities ambushed Rimbu, the MTU president, in order to catch him.

Monday, May 05, 2008

MTU leaders arrested

The MTU is courageous, but it seems that the frequency with which the government is attacking their leadership is frightening: three sets of leaders in 6 months. The new government seems to have sped up the political repression against politicized migrants even faster than the previous one.

KCTU - Repression against the Migrant Trade Union leadership continues

Repression against MTU Leadership Continues!

The South Korean government has attacked MTU (Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union) once again. On May 2, only one day after workers around the world celebrated May Day, MTU's newly elected president and vice president were forcibly arrested by immigration officers, the president in front of the union office and the vice president at his home. We are deeply enraged by this act of repression against MTU and migrant workers' organizing in South Korea!

Description of the Incident
At roughly 8:20pm on the night of May 2, President Torna Limbu and MTU's vice general secretary were walking out of the MTU office when they were suddenly confronted by 10 to 15 immigration officers who were waiting hidden around the corner. The officers surrounded the president and without presenting a detention order violently forced him into a van waiting nearby. When the vice general secretary attempted to protest he was physically restrained by officers who shouted at him not to interfere with public affairs.

Soon after, at around 9:00pm the same night, union officers become unable to contact MTU Vice President Abdus Sabur. When a union officer and a Korean supporter went to check on him, they found his house empty. A neighbor informed them that immigration officers had been their shortly before. At 12:30am it was confirmed that the vice president had also been arrested and that both men were being transported to Cheongju Detention Center 2.5 hours south of Seoul.

The arrests of both MTU leaders were clearly pre-planned. Immigration officers had followed the president since the previous day when he participated in May Day activities. The vice president recognized a person who had sat nearby him at a fundraiser the week before among the officers who arrested him. That President Torna heard the officers in the van carrying him communicating consistently with those stationed near Vice President Sabur’s house and in other areas in Seoul also shows clearly that the arrests were coordinate with one another.

Long-term Attack on MTU
This outrageous act of repression comes only several months after the targeted crackdown against MTU leadership on November 27 of last year in which the former president, vice president and general secretary were all arrested. In the wake of that attack MTU, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and supporters from the labor movement and civil society carried out a 99-day sit-in protest calling for an end to the oppression against migrants and migrant organizing and at the same time rebuilt MTU. On April 6, MTU elected a new leadership, with President Torna at the forefront, and moved forward determined to fight the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and win migrant workers' labor and human rights.

The new conservative government of Lee Myeong-bak, however, has only strengthened the policy of repression against migrant workers. A mass crackdown against undocumented migrant workers has again begun and Lee Myeong-bak has stated that he will not tolerate undocumented migrant workers' unionizing.

Supreme Court Case
Lee Myeongbak’s statement is a direct reflection of the attitude the South Korean government has taken towards MTU since its founding in 2005. At that time the Ministry of Labor rejected MTU’s official union status, claiming that undocumented migrant workers do not have the right to freedom of association and union activities. MTU carried out a legal battle against this decision and eventually won in the Seoul High Court on 1 February 2007. However this verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court, where a decision is expected to be reached by the middle to end of this year. The Ministry of Labor bases its appeal on the claims that the right of undocumented migrant workers to freedom of association is not protected in the South Korean Constitution or stated clearly in international law. However, we know that workers are workers, entitled to the same labor rights, no matter what country they reside in under what visa status. This was clearly shown in the High Court decision, which ruled that undocumented migrant workers are the subjects of equal labor rights under South Korean law and in rulings of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (UGT [2001], AFL-CTM [2002]) and the Inter-America Court of Human Rights (17 Sept. 2003), which show that international law protects the union rights of undocumented migrant workers.

Stop the Repression!
The arrests of President Torna, Vice President Sabur and previous union leadership, and the South Korean government’s refusal to recognize MTU’s legal union status are clearly an attempt to break MTU's opposition to oppressive policies towards migrant workers. This repression is not only against MTU, but against migrant workers’ organizing in general and, indeed, the entire labor movement.

Despite the attacks, MTU stands unwaivering in our opposition to the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and in our position that migrant workers, regardless of their visa status, are entitled to equal labor and human rights. We therefore make the following demands:

1. Stop the repression against MTU and release President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur immediately!
2. In the name of the right to freedom of association of all workers, recognize MTU’s legal union status!
3. Stop the crackdown against legalize all undocumented migrant workers!

Call for Solidarity
Ours is a fight not only for migrant workers in South Korea but for migrant workers all over the world. Therefore, once more, we ask for your support. Please show your solidarity in the following ways.

1. Organize a solidarity protest in front of the South Korean embassy or consulate in your area.
2. Send a protest letter in your organization’s name to the South Korean Ministry of Justice and Commissioner of Korea Immigration Service. (See the example letter below, please send to all the fax numbers given)
3. Encourage your members and networks to sign the online petition at this link:
4. Please send us a copy of protest letter and a word of any actions you take and pictures if possible. ,

Let’s struggle together for the rights of all workers!

Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

Sample Protest Letter

Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea
Building 1, Gwacheon Government Complex,
Jungang-dong 1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-2110-3079

Commissioner of Korean Immigration Service
Fax: 82-2-500-9059, 82-2-500-9128, 82-2-500-9026

To the South Korean Minister of Justice Kim Gyeong-han:

We, the ___________(organization’s name), write to express grave concern and outrage at the recent arrests of the President and Vice President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU). We see this attack as an assault not only against MTU but against the migrant workers movement and labor movement worldwide.

On the evening of May 2, only one day after May Day, MTU President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur, were arrested at separate places between 8:20 and 9:20pm. The President was coming out of the MTU office with the MTU Vice General Secretary when they were suddenly confronted by 10 to 15 immigration officers who were waiting hidden around the corner. The officers surrounded the president and without presenting a detention order violently forced him into a van waiting nearby. When the vice general secretary attempted to protest he was physically restrained by officers who shouted at him not to interfere with public affairs.

Soon after, 10 to 15 immigration officers banged on door of Vice President Sabur’s residence, entered and forcibly arrested him. Both men were transported that night to Cheongju Detention Center 2.5 hours south of Seoul. These arrests were clearly preplanned and carefully carried out in an attempt to stop MTU’s rightful union activities. Even more maddening, they come only several months of a similar attack against MTU’s leadership in which the previous president, vice president and general secretary were arrested and later deported at the end of last year.

We are aware that this targeted crackdown against MTU’s leadership coincides with the pending Supreme Court Case concerning MTU’s legal union status. We are concerned that despite a Seoul High Court Ruling on 1 February 2007 in favor of MTU, the Supreme Court decision, most likely to come out in the middle or end of this year, may deny South Korean migrant workers’ right to freedom of association, in contradiction with South Korean and International Law. We wish to assert that all workers, regardless of their visa status or the country in which they reside, are entitled to equal labor rights, including the right to form and participate in trade unions.

The arrests of President Torna, Vice President Sabur and previous union leadership, and the South Korean government’s refusal to recognize MTU’s legal union status are clearly an attempt to break MTU's opposition oppressive policies towards migrant workers. We see this not only as repression against MTU, but as repression against migrant workers’ organizing and the labor movement worldwide.

We therefore make of you the following demands:

1. Stop the repression against MTU and release President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur immediately!
2. In the name of the right to freedom of association of all workers, recognize MTU’s legal union status!
3. Stop the crackdown against legalize all undocumented migrant workers!


(name, title, organization)

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