Policy & Information Center for International Solidarity
The biweekly PICIS Newsletter No.73


  June 14 Wednesday, 2000  


Headline : KCTU General Strike

International Solidarity : Demonstration Against Korea Japan BIT

Since the Last Newsletter

In-Depth Look : Anti-American Sentiments on the Rise

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Headline : KCTU General Strike

The KCTU has warned the government for the past few months of a general strike if it's three major demands of 1)Reduction of Working Hours(From 44 to 40) and the 5 day Working Week  2)  Compensation for Damage brought on by the IMF and an Immediate Stop to the Restructuring Process 3)  Reform of the Tax System/Securement of 10% of the GDP for Social Security- abolishment of discrimination against irregular workers and the transition of irregular workers to full-time work; were not met by the government.  On May 31st, the KCTU, convinced the government was not engaging in, and did not have the intention to initiate sincere talks with the people nor the KCTU, went ahead with its plans for a general strike.  On the morning of the 31st the KCTU leadership announced a nation-wide, 4 day general strike.  An estimated 70,000 workers across the country took part in the walkout on the 31st, with the Seoul National University Hospital Union and the Korea Health and Medical Workers' Union leading the way with it's demands for more full time jobs.  Some 15 rallies took place on this day across the country, including a 20,000 member rally in Jong-Myo park in Seoul.  The actions continued as the KCTU held rallies on both weekend days on the 3th and the 4th, with more than 10,000 workers in participation.  

  Due to various factors, the KCTU chose the strategy of combining the general strike struggle with the collective bargaining struggles of each separate trade union.  This led to irregular participation in the general strike, with over 70,000 participating in the first day, and only 40,000 or so on the second day participating, as many of the individual trade unions which had arrived at an agreement with management withdrew from the strike.  The number rose to 70,000 on the third day again, however, as major unions such as the Korea Broadcasting Service and Hyundai Motors took part in the strike.  The size of the strike decreased steadily since the third day until the KCTU ended the general strike on the 10th of June.  

  The strike had it's products for the KCTU: wages increased an average of 10% for unions that came to an agreement with management, the KCTU received positive responses from the government(although concrete plans are still lacking) concerning the 5 day working week, the Korean Air Lines pilots were able to form a union during the process of the strike.  Two of the medium-sized unions in the KCTU were able to agree to a five day working week with management.  Many of the trade unions were able to solve the problem of irregular work as management agreed to shift these to full-time jobs.  However, the strike had many shortcomings also.  Many of the powerful unions, such as the Korea Telecom Union, Seoul Subway Workers' Union, and the major auto manufacturers were largely absent from the general strike.  This resulted in the general strike, and the demands of the workers participating in it, not becoming a major social issue and not having the social influence of past general strikes.  

   The demands of the KCTU were, of course, based on the needs of the workers but also are a reflection of the needs of the people in general, who have suffered too much from the restructuring process since the IMF crisis of 3 years ago and globalization in general.  The polarization of wealth, increasing irregular and part-time jobs, rising stocks but decreasing standards of living, high unemployment, decreasing wages, and etc.......The people of Korea have realized over the past three years just what the dark truth behind the slogans of 'free trade,' 'increased investment' and 'liberalization' have been.  This was shown in the wide support for the actions of the workers among the general public.  It seems the people in Korea have started to seriously question the position of the Kim Dae-Jung on government on core issues and have started to demand alternatives, such as the 5 day work week and the securement of a higher percentage of the budget for social security.  However, the government is pushing ahead with its neo-liberal policies, continuing negotiations for bi-lateral investment treaties with Japan and the U.S., as well as announcing new plans for re-structuring in the financial sector and the public sector.  

  It is still uncertain if the government will even partially accept the demands which the KCTU put forth during this general strike.  It is also uncertain if the KCTU, which do not have any concrete results to show for the several general strikes waged over the past 3 years, can put together a plan of action to counteract the world-wide attack of capital.  One thing is for sure, a hard and long-term struggle lays ahead for the people of Korea.

International Solidarity : Demonstration Against Korea Japan BIT

The new prime minister of Japan, prime minister Mori, arrived in Korea on the 28th of May, and while the press has reported on the meeting between the two state heads as being related to the historic talks between North and South Korea, it is hard to believe that other agendas are not on the minds of the two leaders. South Korea and Japan have been involved in negotiations for the signing of a bi-lateral investment treaty between the two countries ever since President Kim Dae-Jung visited Japan in late 98, and it is believed that this meeting will take the negotiations further, and into the final stages. That is why about 500 hundred people, organized by the Korean People's Action Against Investment Treaties and the WTO, or KoPA, gathered in downtown Seoul near the Japanese Embassy today to protest the negotiations for the investment treaty. KoPA is a network made up of over 40 progressive and people's organizations including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Korean Farmers' League(KFL), People's Solidarity for Social Progress(PSSP), Sarangbang Group for Human Rights, and Green Korea.

  The negotiation process for the bi-lateral investment treaty, and the bi-lateral investment treaty itself, have many problems. The negotiation process itself has gone on within closed doors, without any input from the subjects which it would directly affect. Also, the treaty itself is filled with clauses and agreements which are essentially are the same as the ones which were in the Multi-Lateral Agreement on Investment, defeated by international resistance in 1998, and which were on the agenda at the WTO meetings in Seattle of last year, which were also met by stiff resistance from people all over the world. The workers, unemployed, farmers, students, and other activists in the streets at Seattle, Bangkok, Washington, and other international meetings, today in Seoul as well, were jointly voicing their adamant opposition to the structurally enforced inequalities of 'free trade' and neo-liberalism, which the bi-lateral investment treaties are directly related to. The progressive sector of  Korea, mainly due to the efforts of KoPA, have continually voiced their opposition to the negotiations for the bi-lateral investment treaty, holding several demonstrations in front of government offices and holding a joint forum in solidarity with the trade unions and progressive organizations in Japan during the past few months. However, the government has pushed through with the negotiations despite such voices in opposition to it and now are approaching the final signing of the agreement.

  The bi-lateral investment treaty between Japan and Korea will result in the complete liberalization of investment and the setting up of free trade areas in Korea and Japan. We have already seen from the case NAFTA what results this will have on the people of Korea. It will have a disastrous affect on the livelihood of the workers and people in both countries as wages will drop and jobs would be lost, it will also destroy the environment and will result in the deterioration of democracy in both countries. Workers, under the new investment treaty in the free trade area, will be denied basic labor rights, and the treaty will seriously restrict the government's control in matters which concern the national and social needs of the environment, community, and region. The investment treaty also includes an unprecedented clause in it which would severely restrict the activities of trade unions and prevent any action that would harm the investment of Japanese capital. Such investments treaties, we have seen, only work for trans-national capital.
The demands of KoPA are the following:

  First, that the Kim Dae-Jung government immediately reveal the complete process of the Korea-Japan Bi-lateral Investment Treaty negotiations.
  Second, that the government first go through a thorough evaluation and research process on the effects that the Investment Treaty would have on the rights of the workers/people, as well as the environment and society as a whole of both countries, with the full participation of civic and people's organizations
  Third, that the government should immediately stop all negotiations for the Investment Treaty unless the above demands are met.

KoPA has also announced that the Korean people will go on an all-out struggle against Investment Treaties in solidarity with the people of Japan unless the above demands are met.

Since the Last Newsletter

5.26-5.28  The Korean Alliance of University Student Associations held their first peaceful rally in 5 years.  13,000 students from across the country gathered in Pusan University for 3 days and demanded the total eradication of the National Security Law, evacuation of U.S. troops in Korea, and an end to U.S. intervention in Korea.

6.09  7 members of a national organization for the poor went into a sit-in strike of the headquarters of the New Millenium Democratic Party, the party in power.  They demanded an end to the several forceful clearings of slums in various areas of Seoul. The government ordered riot police in to arrest the protestors.

In-Depth Look : Anti-American Sentiments on the Rise

A somewhat bizarre picture covered the pages of most daily newspapers earlier this month.  It a the picture of a mass of people, about 3000 students, residents, and activists of various civic groups forming a human chain around a barbed wire fence.  The place was Maehyang-ri, which is located in Kyonggido province about an hour and a half away from Seoul.  The barbed wire fence encompasses what is called Kooni Range, an American military bombing range.  The protestors were demanding the facility's immediate closure and compensation for damage and suffering the have been caused byt the decades of bombing drills.  Clashes with riot police during the demonstration left several participants with minor injuries. Decades of bombings near the villages have had disastrous affects on the health of the village residents and on the environment of the area around the village.  Frequent mistakes made during bombing drills have forced the villagers to live in a constant state of fear, and such a mistake  was what set the movement for the closure of the range on fire.  6 live rounds of the MK-82 bomb were mistakenly released in the sea just outside of the village, leaving several people hurt.  A Korean-American joint investigative team was set up to investigate if there had been any damage that needed to be compensated for, but unbelievably came up with the answer that no such actions were needed.  The range has currently been temporarily been closed down to stiff resistance from various civic groups and village residents.

  This is not just a problem of a military training site, which I imagine is not a problem unique to Korea.  The core issue in the Maehyang-ri is the inequality which exists in the relationship between the U.S. and Korea, and as a direct result of this, the inequality which results in the status and actions of U.S. personnel situated in Korea.  This is shown directly in the Status of Forces Agreement between South Korea and the U.S. which governs the treatment of the 37,000 U.S. service members here.  Because such problems exist, a comprehensive movement that calls for the total rethinking of the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea has gone into actions.

  About 200 top officials from the government, universities and labor and civic groups issued a declaration late last month calling for a speedy resolution of problems related to the American military bases here. In the declaration, they demanded that the U.S. government apologize for crimes involving members of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), thoroughly investigate the alleged massacre of Koreans during the Korean War and offer compensation if the allegations are proved.
  They also called for the immediate closure of a bombing range in Maehyang-ri, Kyonggi Province and revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the U.S.-South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty.
  The governments of both countries have been slow in reacting, delaying time and time again talks for the revision of the SOFA and not coming up with a resolution for the Maehayng-ri incidents.  Revision talks for the SOFA are scheduled for late this month, and no such plans exist for the Maehyang-ri situation.  More demonstrations are scheduled around the bombing range.  We will keep you updated on the results.