Edited by the PICIS Newsletter Team
Published by the Policy and Information Center for International Solidarity
Thursday, May 17th, 2001
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Editor's Note : The brutality performed on the Daewoo workers, the lay-off of thousands of Korea Telecom part-time workers, the delayed enactment of the Maternity Protection Law were more than enough to raise the anger of the workers who gathered on the Mayday protests. This year's Mayday saw one of the biggest gathering of women/men workers, disabled people, immigrant workers, students etc.. Previous mass demonstrations, such as Mayday, led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions(KCTU) has always be n somewhat uniform, but this year it was coloured with various slogans from different groups and voices. One other slogan that appeared on the banners during Mayday was the denouncement of the US Missile Defence(MD) program. The NMD-TMD is a new military manoeuvre by the US to expand its military hegemony thus bringing about a new Cold War and threaten equilibrium in East Asia. Recently, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, visited South Korea to persuade the ! Korean government to support their program, while at the same time publicizing the US plans to open up talks with North Korea. We bring to you an open letter from 'Korean Committee Against NMD-TMD and For Peace' addressed to US President George Bush.To readers of the PICIS newsletter ***** You may have visited the PICIS English website, only to be disappointed by the lack of updated information. We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience. However, we are back on our feet again and will be updating our website on a regular basis. You can also search for all articles of previous newsletters. Our biweekly newsletter will continue to be sent out to you, and will also be posted on our website for broader reading. Solidarity!
The ruling parties of Korea - the New Millenium Democratic Party(MDO) and
the United Liberal Democrats(ULD) - decided, on 24th April, to delay the
enactment of Maternity Protection Law, which was due to be executed in July,
under corporate pressure and denial from the ULD. The Maternity Protection Law
will increase the present 60-day maternity leave to 90 days, in conformity
with the guidelines stated by the ILO and UN. Corporate organizations, such as
the Korea Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of orean Industries, just
before the parliament's legislative session, held a press conference and
stated that 'the expansion of women's vacation and leave will make companies
further avoid employment of women' 'the law will increase the expenditure of
companies and will pour cold water on the efforts to revive the economy' - in
fact boycotting women and labour organizations' the efforts of the last
several years to revise the labour laws to protect the meager women worker's
ri! ghts. An MP from the ULD, Cho Hee-wook, who is known to be the foremost
antagonist of the Maternity Protection Law unhesitatingly said "my mother gave
birth to me and then went back to work in the kitchen in two days. Korean
women has 12 days of monthly leave, 12 days of menstrual leave, and then
annual leave.....women get 105 days off out of 365 days. If women get 90 days
of maternity leave, then they get 165 days off. Where in the world is there a
country like this?", when in reality women workers are eing laid-off for being
pregnant. Or for being women. Capital has always been against any protection
of women worker's basic rights, but has further propagated for the abolishment
of existing laws. Already, the enforcement of paid menstrual leave has been
loosened on the basis that it is 'irrational' and 'backwardly' in this new era
of neo-liberalism and corporate/industrial restructuring. The economic crisis
and the neo-liberal policies that followed saw the increase in the oppression
of women workers, from gender-based lay-offs to transfer to part-time wo k,
and the retrenchment of basic rights in the workplace. Sexual abuse has
increased in all parts of society, women's health is jeopardized and the
burden of reproductive labour such as housework and childraising has increased
due to the abolishment of public services. Kim Dae-Jung's slogan 'the new
millenium is women's new era' is nothing but a an empty rhetoric, a complete
blind eye to the reality that the women workers in Korea face, and as a
result, a definite gesture in! favour of capital and patriarchy.
Solidarity for Revising Labour Law for Women, a network of women and labour organizations which has been active since last August, has been holding sit-in's at the ULD headquarters, and rallying in front of the parliament. The Solidarity and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions will continue to hold rallies and demonstrations every week during May, and will heighten the level of struggle in June.
The May Day struggle always starts a day early in Korea, when on the 30th of April, students take center stage for the 430 Student Struggle Rally. Struggling in solidarity with the people's movement has been a long-held tradition for the student movement in Korea, and students gather a day early for their own culture festival before joining the rally on the 1st. Re-structuring of the University was the main concern for students this year, as the government has been implementing a program that gives se ective government subsidies to colleges which follow the re-structuring program set forth by the government itself. In the name of 'higher competitiveness' of the university, the government has been enforcing a program which results in the collapse of the less 'practical fields' such as the humanities field and the social sciences. It has also increased the burden of the students, raising tuition fees and taking away from the role of the university as a 'public' entity. A! bout 4000 students gathered at a university in Seoul to raise their voices against the governments plans, and denounced it as being part of the government's neo-liberal re-structuring program: part of the same program that has been causing so much pain to the people of Korea. At the same time, the Temporary Workers' Rally, organized by the KCTU, was taking place at a nearby university. 10,000 gathered for the new event, which was held in recognition of the growing importance of the temporary worker issue in Korea. Over half the work force in Korea are now employed as temporary workers: a result of the flexibilization of the labor market that has occurred in Korea after the IMF crisis in 97. Most of these workers are discriminated against as compared to regular workers, and do not have the protection of the law or the benefits that regular workers enjoy. Abolishment of the discrimination for temporary workers, and the establishment of equal treatment with regular workers, is an important task that the labor movement in Korea faces. We hope that the voices calling for equal treatment and the rights of temporary workers on the 30th at the Temporary Worker's Rally, signals a start to an effective movement that can improve the state of the tempor! ary workers in Korea.
Close to 30,000 gathered for the main rally in downtown Seoul on the 1st. What characterized this May Day from the previous rallies was the diversity of the participants and the many voices of the marginalized that were heard. Addresses were given to the participants by migrant workers calling for the unity of the working class; there were the women workers denouncing neo-liberalism and its brutal attack on the worker, especially the women workers; there were the temporary workers, coming from the all ight temporary workers rally of the day before, demanding equal and fair treatment for irregular workers, there were the phisically challenged workers demanding the government keep its promise of requiring all workplaces to employ diabled workers; and finally there were the Daewoo workers, laid off, then beaten(for an overview of the Daewoo struggle visit: http://cast.jinbo.net/english/) and wearing vests that read "we want to return to the factory." The KCTU, which organiz! ed had raised the level of their struggle to demand the resignation of Kim Dae-Jung, a departure from the slogans of denunciation of before. The 30,000 marched from downtown Seoul, and were blocked from their destination by riot police; minor skirmishes ensued but the government, under heavy criticism from the public for its violent crackdown on the Daewoo workers, were on the defensive. Protestors than headed to the city hall and occupied the entire 8 lanes in front of it, where they held there final ally and declared that the KCTU would initiate an all out struggle against the government in early June. Protestors dispersed peacefully after the final rally. It was a day where the voice of the weak, the marginalized, the women, the migrants, the temporary workers, the disabled, was larger than ever; where they were more united then ever with the spirit of May Day, and where they had a clear vision of the direction their future struggles should take.
We looked on with grave apprehension when you stood before the White House as the leader who would take the U.S. into the twenty-first century, in which she would have to bear heavy responsibility for peace and prosperity in the World. We cannot but confess our growing fear in witnessing our initial apprehension become reality with the passing of each day. Here, we would like to draw your attention to just one of the many concerns we have.
We remember: The Star Wars project of President Ronald Reagan, whom you hold in deep respect, ended in senseless waste of vast valuable resources which could have been used to enhance the welfare of the people all over the world, rather than defending the life and wealth of the American people or the people of the world.
We remember: Your predecessor, former President Bill Clinton, drove the people of the world into a greater insecurity by his insistence on building a missile defense system even in the first year of the Decade of Culture of Peace declared by the United Nations. We may end up remembering you, Mr. President, as the person who created a cataclysmic threat against peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the world with your unnerving pursuit of a more powerful and more all embracing missile defense system. Mr. President, you may want to say to us that it is the right of the United States of America to defend itself and its allies. You may harbour deep disappointment towards the Korean people who, instead of expressing gratitude and encouragement for your efforts, declare their apprehension. Mr. President, we believe you have to answer our suspicion and apprehension before asserting your rights.
Mr. President, you and your Administration pointed to North Korea (the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) as the central reason for your ballistic missile defense system. The military spending of north Korea, however, is less than one-hundredth of that of your government. North Korea is not known to possess nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic missiles. She has complied with the agreements to freeze its nuclear weapons development and has lived up to its pledges to suspend test launching of missiles. Furthermore, north Korea has repeatedly expressed her willingness to abandon the development of medium-to-long range missiles that your Administration is concerned with, if the U.S. government addresses the issues of security guarantees and normalisation of relations between the two countries with sincerity and good will. What is the rationale for stubbornly pushing ahead with the plan to build a ballistic missile defense system - which the U.S. government had promised to discard even at the height of the Cold War - against north Korea? What is the reason for postponing the resumption of negotiations with north Korea? Are you afraid that the evaporation of the carefully erected north Korean threat, by removing the often repeated excuse, may send your Star Wars plan to the dust bin of history. May it be the case that you a e waiting and hoping for some other excuse to arise while you try to steer away from resuming the negotiations with north Korea?
It is widely believed that the National Missile Defense and Theatre Missile Defense (known together as Ballistic Missile Defense) is actually aimed at China while north Korea is used as a convenient scapegoat. The recent attitude of your Administration to Russia, the arch-enemy during the Cold War, and to China who you describe as a strategic rival, seems to give credence to this belief and suspicion.
Even if you come true with your intentions, our apprehension and opposition to your NMD-TMD (BMD) plan will remain unchanged. We are painfully aware that true reunification and peace in Korea is only possible within the context of genuine security and peace in East Asia and the world as a whole.
You may wish to believe that U.S. economic and technological supremacy can bring NMD and TMD, which dreams of hitting a flying bullet with another bullet, into reality. The truth, however, is that however powerful a shield may be, it is bound to be penetrated - and it only requires that it be done just once. It will not be just missiles which will undermine your dream-shield. The billions of dollars and scientific-technological capacity - which should be better used for enhancing the quality of life of the American people and the people of the world - wasted in a meaningless and destructive arms race will jeopardise the morality and legitimacy of your Administration, and undermine the security right in the very the homes of the people. Your Administration will be making an enormous mistake if you believe this is in Americas national interest. There is only one way to cleanse all the suspicions and apprehension. The first step lies in a public declaration to the American people and the people of the world to abandon the misplaced and misconceived ventures for NMD and TMD. Your Administration can lead the way by dismantling all offensive weapons, including nuclear weapons, in response to the aspiration of the people of the world for peace. Mr. President, then, you will be remembered by all people of the world in the same breath as the word peace
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