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 [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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 [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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, ohmynews.com 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.