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Dear Comrades,

Comrades in South Korea have indicated it would be useful and greatly appreciated if as many international solidarity messages as possible could be organised for the South Korean general strike on May 31.

Any solidarity messages, from groups of workers, delegates, union committees and unions, or parties and other organisations would give a big morale boost to the striking workers. For information on the situation in South Korea leading up to the call for the May 31 general strike, see the article by Eva Cheng in Green Left Weekly 404 May 10, (attached below).

Send the messages to KCTU General Secretary, Dan Byung-ho, KCTU International Department <, with Blind Carbon Copies to PWC < and KILSP <

Comradely greetings,
John Percy
National Secretary
Democratic Socialist Party


SOUTH KOREA: Car workers battle government, IMF

Led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the workers of South Korea's four main automobile manufacturers have launched a united campaign to resist a government plan to allow the sale of Daewoo Motors, one of the four, to a foreign bidder.

Pressure is on Korean firms to repay foreign creditors at any cost; such repayment is a key requirement of the International Monetary Fund's late- 1997 US$57 billion package to bail out South Korea's economy.

Daewoo's creditors are now trying to force the company's existing shareholders to surrender ownership so as to generate the funds to repay debts owed to them. Korean workers believe that once Daewoo is sold, other car plants will face a similar fate.

Acutely aware that the decimation of the Korean car industry would pave the way for attacks on broader layers of workers, many unions have voiced their opposition to the sale in a united campaign. They have demanded that the government nationalise Daewoo instead.

After a series of strikes failed to gain them a sympathetic hearing from the government, the KCTU has called for a general strike on May 31 to press for its demands. The KCTU has a membership of 570,000. Many sectoral and progressive groups have also lent their support to the campaign to ``save the Korean automobile industry'' and are seeking to develop alternative plans to re-establish Daewoo Motors as ``a viable and competitive global car maker''.

They formed a broad coalition in late March, with the participation of such groups as the Korean Federation of Farmers Associations, the National Urban Poor Federation, the National Alliance for Democracy and Reunification, and the National Association of Professors for Democracy.

Various public actions have already been held under the coalition's banner, including petitioning, protest rallies and prominent newspaper advertisements.

From April 6-12, 72,000 workers at the four main car makers - Daewoo Motors, Ssangyong Motors, Hyundai Motors and Kia Motors - took part in rolling stoppages to demand that unions are allowed a say in Daewoo's future.

On April 19, Daewoo Motors Workers Union led a two-hour strike, supported by strikes by members of Ssangyong Motors Workers Union. A further round of strikes by member-unions of the KCTU, including those not in the car industry, took place on April 27. Further mobilisations, including strike ballots among KCTU members unions on May 22-27, are scheduled to take place in the lead up to May 31.

The KCTU has proclaimed this ``May Campaign'' in pursuit of three main demands:

South Koreans' average working hours per week rose from 46.7 in 1997 to 47. 9 last year. The KCTU has also highlighted the high accident rate among Korean workers which, according to statistics of the International Labor Organisation, was 3.33 deaths per 10,000 workers in 1997. This compared to the rate of 1.2 deaths per 10,000 in Mexico in the same year, 0.05 in the US in 1996 and 0.1 in Japan in 1994.

May 10, 2000

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