Saturday, July 16, 2011

Welfare Politics

Grand National Party (GNP) Chairman Hong Joon-pyo has embarked upon a “pro-working class journey,” making visits to the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) on July 14 his first official events since assuming the party leadership.

“There is no conservative and no progressive when it comes to policies for the working class,” said Hong during an afternoon visit to the PSPD. “The right thing to do is work together to solve North-South Korean problem, starting with working class policies.”

GNP chairman reaches out to pro-working class organizations, Hankyoreh

Over the past two years there has been quite a shift in the discourse of Korean politics, with the ascendency of welfare state discourse. Unlike the conservative discourse that framed welfare states as immoral excess and dominated Anglo-American countries from the 1980s, this discourse seems generally affirmative and has resulted in competition between parties vying with different visions for making Korea into a welfare state. Much of this talk revolves around policies such as free school lunches and lower tuition, but there is a potential here for more coherent and egalitarian political vision to shape the discussion. That the very terms of the debate are structured around welfare shows that there is weakening of conservative discourse and that, in many ways, the political left should be able to more effectively leverage the debate towards a more comprehensive social democratic vision. Unfortunately, I haven't seen much in the way of substantive policies from the DP, both parties seem to talk about welfare apart from the necessary policies needed to pursue it, such as progressive taxation. In other words, they tend to depoliticize the discussion. It will be interesting to look in more depth at some of the new organizations that have sprung up in this debate are proposing to reshape Korea's political economy. I'm going to try to post more on this, and a few other things, in the coming months.

Pictured above: proto-welfarist Robert Owen's New Lanark

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The National Security Law Returns

Big-character posters put up on a scarecrow
[From the Korean Democracy Foundation photo archives Flickr pool]

The National Security Law continues to haunt South Korean civil society. I heard about this case back in January but I didn't have all the details until recently. Perhaps a wider campaign is needed to overturn the NSL. Under Roh, lawmakers argued that it had become a defunct law, but since Lee Myung Bak was elected in 2008, investigations under the NSL have increased significantly.

Eight South Koreans convicted for breaching National Security Law

24 February 2011

AI Index: PRE01/082/2011

Amnesty International has condemned the conviction of eight members of the Socialist Workers League (SWL), a small association that espouses socialism. All eight men were found guilty under Article 7.1 of the National Security Law (NSL) for ‘propagating or instigating a rebellion against the State’.

Among the eight is Oh Se-chul, a professor emeritus and founding member of the SWL, who was convicted for one-and-a-half years, suspended for three years. The other seven all received sentences ranging from one to one-and-a-half years, suspended from two to three years. All of them intend to appeal the decision.

The SWL was founded in 2008 and calls on the working class to build a ‘socialist state’. The SWL has about 70 members and has been seeking to register as a political party. The organization sought to promote itself and socialism by attending various demonstrations and distributing pamphlets.

“It is hard to see how eight men distributing pamphlets can constitute a genuine threat to national security. These men have been convicted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association. The conviction must be overturned,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.

The NSL contains clauses that prohibit ‘anti-state’, ‘enemy-benefitting’ and ‘espionage’ activities but does not clearly define them. Amnesty International believes this law has been used as a form of censorship, to punish people for publishing and distributing material expressing views that oppose the positions or policies of the government.

“The NSL has long been used as a tool to silence dissent and to arbitrarily prosecute individuals who are peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. To prevent further human rights violations this law needs to be abolished or fundamentally reformed to bring it in line with international standards,” said Catherine Baber.

Amnesty International recognises that South Korea has serious security concerns with regard to North Korea. However, security concerns should never be used to deny people the right to exercise their human rights, in particular the right to express their views peacefully.

In 2008, the Seoul District Court twice rejected requests to issue detention warrants for several members of the SWL. The judge rejected the requests noting that the activities of the SWL represented no substantial threat to the security of the country.

In August 2009, eight members of SWL including Professor Oh, were charged for violating Article 7 of the NSL. The unsuccessful attempts in 2008 to get a detention warrant had included charges under Article 3 (forming anti-state groups) as well as Article 7 of the NSL.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amnesty International Call for Action

Here is an urgent call for action put out by Amnesty International in support of Michel Catuira, current MTU President.

Michel Catuira, President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU) in South Korea is at risk of being deported. The Korea Immigration Service has told him that he must leave the country by 7 March or he will become undocumented and subject to forcible deportation. Amnesty International believes he has been targeted for his role in the MTU.

As of 7 March 2011, Michel Catuira, a 38-year-old Filipino national and President of the MTU, will be subject to forcible deportation from South Korea. The government of South Korea refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the MTU and has staged a number of crackdowns on its leaders since it was founded in 2005.

The harassment of Michel Catuira began in July 2010. The Ministry of Employment and Labour ordered him and his employer to appear for an interview under suspicion of a false employment relationship. The Ministry did not find any prosecutable violation of labour or immigration law. However, it found that Caturia’s workplace, a shoe factory, had little business. As the main goal of the Employment Permit System (EPS) is to provide foreign labour to companies with labour shortages, the Ministry sent a memo to Michel Catuira’s employer suggesting that they file a change of workplace for him.

In November 2010, Michel Catuira was called to appear before an investigation team of the Korea Immigration Service on “suspicion of violation of the Immigration Control Act in the course of applying for a workplace transfer and with relation to actual performance of work duties at present”. They concluded that he was not working at the shoe factory, thus, the grounds for his work visa was “deceitful”, in breach of article 89.1 of the Immigration Control Act. On 10 February, the immigration authorities cancelled his visa, and on 14 February, he was told that he had until 7 March to leave South Korea.

The MTU has been very vocal during the past few years in favour of the respect, protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers in South Korea. In particular the MTU has spoken out against restrictions placed on migrant workers’ freedom to change workplaces and against immigration raids, which have resulted in arbitrary arrests, collective expulsions and violations of law enforcement procedures, including the excessive use of force.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English, Korean or your own language, urging the authorities of South Korea to:
Restore Michel Catuira’s visa status and refrain from forcibly deporting him;
Immediately stop all practices which result in obstacles or deterrents to actively participating in trade unions;
Immediately remove obstacles to participating in the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU), in particular by recognizing its status as a legal union in South Korea in line with domestic and international law and standards.

Chief Commissioner of the Korea Immigration Service
SEOK Dong-hyun
Korea Immigration Service
1-19 Gwacheon, NC Building 8th Floor
Byeolyang-dong, Gwacheon
Gyeonggi Province 427-705
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82-2-500-9097/9059
Salutation: Dear Commissioner

Minister of Justice
LEE Kwi-nam
Ministry of Justice
Gwacheon Government Complex
88 Gwanmoon-ro, Gwacheon
Gyeonggi Province 427-720
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82-2-503-3532/7023
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to:
Minister of Employment and Labour
Bahk Jae-wan
Ministry of Employment and Labour
Gwacheon Government Complex
88 Gwanmoon-ro, Gwacheon
Gyeonggi Province 427-718
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82-2-503-6623
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.