Korea: Suppression of Anti-FTA Struggles Continues

– Korean Government’s Deliberate Distortion on Metal Workers’ Just Walkouts
On June 19, the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, an affiliate of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, announced that it will hold a general strike from June 25 to June 29. The strike aims to show workers’ three demands. One demand is to protest against the Korea-U.S. FTA, scheduled to be signed by the two countries on June 30. In addition the union is striking in opposition to the government’s law on irregular workers, which is predicted to create more unstable and low-paying jobs and Korea’s minimum wage structure, which does not provide a living wage to low-paid workers. The third one is to demand a law protecting outsourced workers. June 29 is also the day of a national rally against the FTA hosted by the Korean Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration and conservative media have lambasted the action calling it an ‘illegal political strike.’ They are recklessly complaining that the action is not aimed at protecting the interest of union members, but instead politically motivated and therefore against the law. Using these excuses, the administration is planning to arrest and prosecute union leaders and mobilize massive force to stop the strike from going forward. About nineteen union members are expected to be indicted from the strike.

But the administration’s logic is highly hypocritical: Whenever workers strike for improvement in their working conditions and wages, the administration criticizes them for acting ‘merely out of self-interested.’ Yet, now, when the KMWU calls an action to protect not only its own members, but the interest of Korean society at large, they label the action ‘political’ and ‘illegal’ and seek to break it with national force. This hypocrisy shows that in fact in the administration’s opinion, no form of strike at all should be allowed. For KMWU’s however, this strike is not about following the flawed claims about legality made the government. KMWU has called the strike knowing full well that no matter what process it went through in decision-making, the administration would call the action illegal, because it understands the necessity of taking a stance against a destructive trade pact, whose negotiation did not even bare the faintest resemblance to democracy. The administration’s threats against KMWU, on the other hand, only make it all the more clear that it and the conservative forces, with which it is aligned, are repressive and anti-labor in nature. Here, it is the administration’s tactics, not the KMWU’s action, which should be deemed undemocratic.

The administration and the mainstream media have been claiming that the car industry, which is part of the Metal Workers’ Union, stands to gain the most out of all sectors from the FTA. The fact is, however, while it is questionable how much exports to the U.S. will really increase because of the FTA, it is quite clear that any profits will go to capital and not to workers themselves. The Korean auto industry is already overrun with foreign investment, and the tendency for businesses to move outside of Korea in search of cheap labor is high. The result is increased job insecurity and competition between workers and the diminishing of labor conditions and labor rights. The Korea-U.S. FTA and all FTAs only stand to increase these trends while making the movement of capital overseas easier. In addition, the influx of cars from the United States will put pressure on domestic producers, easily leading to reduction of the domestic labor force and weakening of protection for

labor rights.

However, the KMWU’s strike is not focused narrowly on the interests of one part or even all of its membership. Rather it is an action in recognition that the Korea-U.S. FTA is harmful to all workers and, beyond that, to all common people in Korean society. Given this, it is clear that the strike is a Constitutional right and courageous and just action against an unfair trade policy that puts the profit of a few big corporations before the interests of people. We, Korean Alliance, are holding press conferences and releasing statement about the just nature of this strike. We stand firmly with the KMWU to defend the strike and stop the signing of the Korea-U.S. FTA.

-Police Trying to Arrest Two Co-Chairs of Korean Alliance-
On Friday, June 22, a week before the national rally to be held on June 29, the police made a request to the courts for the arrest warrants of two chairpersons of the Korean Alliance. They are required to appear on Monday in person where the validity of their possible warrants will be determined. Along with the suppression of Korean Metal Workers’ Union’s strike next week, the police’s attempt to arrest the officers signifies the overall suppression of the people’s movement.

The suppression, ordered by the Roh Administration, is an assault on the people’s right to what we think is wrong about state affairs. Freedom of association is thus fundamental in a democratic society. The suppression violates the basic rights inherent in all free people, and such rights ought to be protected in a democracy. The persons who should be investigated and arrested are the Roh Moo-Hyun administration.

Mr. Oh and Mr. Jung have devoted over four decades of their lives to the people’s struggles against authoritarian regimes and destructive effects of neoliberalism. Mr. Oh has led Korea’s unification movement and social movement. Mr. Jung served as Chair of the Korean Peasants League and is responsible for taking Korean farmers’ struggle to the international stage. They both have been previously imprisoned for a number of years for their activism.

At the moment, two other officers of the Korean Alliance are under warrants. Park Seok-woon, Executive Committee Chair, and Ju Je-jun, General Secretary, have been wanted by the police for charge of instigating anti-FTA protests since November 2006. For the past 7 months, they have been living and working with KoA under warrant.

For countless number of Korea’s activists, warrants and arrests have become a harsh reality. The state suppression of the people has continued below the guise of a democracy. But this also testifies the strength and will of the people of Korea and the world to fight against regimes and policies that harm their community and livelihood. In opposition to the planned signing of the Korea-U.S. FTA on June 30, the Korean Alliance will hold a national rally on June 29. The rally is part of the campaign to stop the ratification of the trade agreement. This campaign is expected to continue well into the fall and winter seasons.

No FTA Newsletter
Official News of the Korean Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA
www.nofta.or.kr nofta@hanmail.net
June 25, 2007