The rise and rise of the Korean national football team in the World Cup competition was more than matched by the rise and rise of the number of imprisoned Korean trade unionists.
by Andrew Casey
As voices around the world became soarer and soarer cheering on the Korean underdog team the host country's government has used the cover of the World Cup championships to arrest and jail another twenty-three trade unionists.
The latest batch of arrests puts the score for the total number of imprisoned trade unionists in that country to 52.
Just before all the tumult and the shouting dies down union activists around the world have held protests and demonstrations in front of Korean consulates to tell the Korean government that they have not been able to completely hide their anti-worker activity.
Thursday June 27 had been declared International Day of Action in solidarity with Korean workers.
Key international union groupings such as the Metal Workers Federation, the Public Sector International and the Food and Hotel Workers International asked affiliates around the world to organise co-ordinated protests on this day.
In Sydney more than 80 union members - mainly organised by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union - met in front of the Korean Consulate in Martin Place where they were addressed by John Parkin of the AMWU, John Robertson from the NSW Labor Council and Ian Cohen, Green MP.
The key role of the AMWU in organising the Sydney rally was appropriate because only this week, more than 20 unionists at Korea's largest heavy industry firm, Doosan were targeted for arrest, including Kim Chang Keun, the President of the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) a member of the Korean Metal Workers' Federation (KMWF).
A strike which started at the end of May at Doosan has hit the company hard costing it, according to some reports, more than $A400 million in business.
Because of the strike it has not been able to ship heavy equipment that it produced for various overseas projects, including a desalination plant in the United Arab Emirates, and for overseas clients, including General Electric of the United States.
Rather than sit down and negotiate, the company has stepped aside and allowed union leaders to be targeted by police for beatings and arrest.
This is a regular industrial tactic in Korea when talks between the company and union members collapse riot police are called in to bash protesters and drag away key union leaders.
To avoid the violence union leaders and activists have regularly claimed sanctuary in Catholic Cathedrals where the police - in this increasingly Christian country - dare not enter.
From inside the walls of the Cathedral the union leaders seek to negotiate a final agreement.
Union Has Win Setting Up Political Party
To try to change this confrontational style of industrial relations one of Korea's national trade union centres - the militant left-wing KCTU - launched earlier this year its own affiliated political party - the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).
In local government elections - just completed - it won a significant base of support making it the third largest political grouping in Korea.
During the June 13 local government elections, the DLP won 8 percent of votes nationwide - pushing out some older more traditional parties and marking a new milestone in Korean politics.
Emboldened by the party's performance in the local government elections, the best showing by a progressive party in Korean history, the DLP leader Kwon Young-ghil announced he wanted to unite all progressive forces against what he calls "neo-liberals" in the run-up to the presidential election slated for Dec. 19.
Kwon, a former journalist and labour union leader, ran in the 1997 presidential election as the candidate of People's Victory 21, the predecessor of the DLP. At that time his party managed to earn only 1.2 percent of the vote.
"The election result points to the fact that a growing number of the Korean people have begun to regard progressive forces as an alternative to a political establishment tainted by corruption scandals and endless partisan struggles," Kwon told local media outlets.
Kwon attributed the success of the DLP to its wide support base among young voters, the working class and the underprivileged.
"The DLP is the nation's first genuine progressive party deeply rooted in people of lower social strata and local grassroots organisations," he said.
The DLP was founded in 2000 as a political alliance of organisations representing labourers, farmers and intellectuals, including the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. Kwon was a former KCTU chairman.
The party's calls for socialist policies and dissolution of the chaebol conglomerates, has made the new union- created political party a target for conservative parties.
International Organising For Day Of Protest
The preparation for this international day of action for the release of imprisoned trade unionists in Korea, was put together jointly by the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and the Public Services International (PSI) and endorsed by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
It was also actively supported by Global Unions such as, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) and International Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW) who joined in the campaign, calling on their affiliates to take part in the action.
The KCTU asked for the international support and requested supporting unions to organise protest rallies and letter writing.
In Sydney AMWU activists handed out letters to people passing the protest and asked them to sign them to show support - several dozen signed protest letters were taken by a union delegation and handed into the Sydney Korean consulate.
Unions in more than20 countries took part in the co-ordinated day of action.
Apart from Australia there were protests organized in Germany, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, USA, Mauritius, Belgium, Japan, France, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Denmark, Switzerland, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Austria, the Philippines
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union produced thousands of leaflets and posters about the trade union repression in Korea and the June 27 international day of action, distributing them to workplaces around the country.
Apart from the Sydney demonstration the AMWU organized protests in other cities in front of major Daewoo or Hyundai dealerships.
The union also produced a special leaflet for the Korean community to distribute at the major sites where Koreans gathered to watch the World Cup semi-final between Korea and Germany in the June 25 evening.
Workers' World Cup Campaign
The June 27 International Day of Action brought to a culmination the international World Cup campaign for the release of imprisoned Korean trade unionists which was an initiative of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
The ICFTU promoted an innovative internet-based awareness campaign highlighting the reality of modern Korea.
The ICFTU internet campaign included the production of a popup poster telling viewers "Our Team Won't Be at the World Cup". This poster was put out in 15 different languages and adopted by a considerable number of union websites, as banners or "pop-up".
Action in Korea
In Korea, the KCTU and its member federations, including the IMF-affiliated KMWF and the PSI affiliated Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU, declared illegal by the Korean government), joined in the global action with a series of solidarity vigils on the eve of the international day of action.
On the eve of the international day of action, KCTU, KGEU, and the People's Alliance (a broad coalition of people's organisations) held a vigil at the Myongdong Cathedral in solidarity with the imprisoned trade unionists.
The main rally will took place at 3 p.m. at the Jongmyo Park in downtown Seoul followed by a march through the main streets of Seoul to the Myongdong Cathedral. Similar rallies were held in six other cities across the country.
Korean unionists sidelined in prisons:
· Dan Byung-ho, KCTU president
· Jeong Yong-cheon, chairperson, Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU) - Central government branch
· Lee Kyung-soo, chairperson, KCTU Choongnam Regional Council
· Bang Hyo-hoon, organising director, KCTU Choongnam Regional Council
· Lee Seok-haeng, former vice-president, Korean Metal Workers Federation (KMWF)
· Han Seok-ho, organising director, KMWF
· Kim Seong-gahp, Daewoo Motors, KMWF
· Kim Il-seup, president, Daewoo Motors, KMWF
· Kim Jeong-gohn, president Daewoo Shipyard, KMWF
· Oh Se-wook, Daewoo Shipyard, KMWF
· Kang Bong-woo, Daewoo Shipyard, KMWF
· Jeong Byung-kwon, Daewoo Shipyard, KMWF
· Lee Min-hyung, Daewoo Shipyard, KMWF
· In Young-soo, KMWF Choongnam Branch
· Yoon Min-reh, Signetics, KMWF
· Im Young-sook, Signetics, KMWF
· Lee Jin-seong, Daewoo Motors, KMWF
· Yoo Hee-yong, KMWF Choongnam Branch
· Kim Jeong-bae, Doosan Electronics, KMWF
· Kim Joon-ho, Doosan Electronics, KMWF
· Jeong Cheol-woo, Doosan Electronics, KMWF
· Noh Yong-joon, Hanjin Heavy Industry, KMWF
· Lee Jae-ho, Daewoo Car Sales, KMWF
· Han Sang-dae, KT-Contingent Workers Union, Korean Federation of Transportation, Public & Social Service Workers Unions (KPSU)
· Shin Tae-bong, National Social Insurance Workers Union, KPSU
· Kim Young-joon, National Social Insurance Workers Union, KPSU
· Kim Woon-yong, National Social Insurance Workers Union, KPSU
· Im Seung-joo, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Oh Seung-soo, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Jeong Yoon-ji, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Cho Joon-seong, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Lee Young-woo, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Kim Soon-seup, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Lee Ho-dong, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Kim Jin-young, Korean Power Plant Industry Union, KPSU
· Im Seung-kyu, Seoul Subway Workers Union, KPSU
· Yeum Ki-yong, Korean Health and Medical Industry Union-Ulsan Branch, Korean Federation of Hospital Workers Unions (KHMU-KFHWU)
· Lee Mi-ja, KHMU Ulsan Branch, KFHWU
· Chang Young-jin, Korean Federation of Taxi Workers Union (KFTWU)
· Kim Yeun-kyung, KFTWU
· Kim Ho-gohn, KFTWU
· Choi Choong-koo, KFTWU
· Kim Jeong-hee, KFTWU
· Min Byung-mo, KFTWU
· Jeong Bong-seok, KFTWU
· Park Sang-yong, KFTWU
· Moon Sang-min, Seoul Clerical Workers Union, Korean Federation of Clerical and Financial Workers Labour Unions (KCFLU)
· Kim Kyung-hwan, National Union of Mediaworkers (NUM)
· Kim Byung-hak, Taekwang, Korean Chemical and Textile Workers Federation (KCTF)
· Kang Seong-cheol, KCTU Dismissed Workers Struggle Committee
· Nam Kyu-won, KCTU Dismissed Workers Struggle Committee
· Song Soo-keun, KCTU Dimissed Workers Struggle Committee
Some notable unionists wanted for arrest:
· Cha Bong-cheon, president, KGEU
· Lee Yong-han, general secretary, KGEU
· Cha Soo-ryeun, president, KHMU-KFHWU
· Kim Chang-keun, president, Korean Metal Workers Union, KMWF
· Lee Dong-ik, KCTF Ulsan branch
Imprisonment Is Only The Tip Of The Ice-Berg
Thousands of other unionists are subjected to other forms of legal action, apart from imprisonment and being wanted for arrest.
1,797 unionists are subject to legal action, summoned to appear before the police for questioning. Some of these unionists may also be issued with warrants of arrest, leading, eventually to imprisonment.
Employers have taken court action for damage claims amounting to 125,427,800,000 won for industrial disputes at 32 enterprises. As a result, bank accounts of unions have been frozen by court orders while bank accounts, assets, and wages of individual union leaders and activists have come under court control.
A total of 2,560 workers have been subjected to disciplinary action by their employers, ranging from warnings and suspensions to dismissals.
6 leaders of the newly formed Korean Government Employees Union have been served with dismissal orders for their role in the formation of the union. 26 leaders of the Korean Teachers Union are currently dismissed for the various collective action undertaken by their organisation.
Thousands of other unionists in South Korea are subjected to other forms of legal action, and many have lost their jobs for forming a union in their work place.
The arrest and imprisonment of unionists in South Korea is a flagrant abuse of fundamental workers' rights.
Show your support
You too can show your support for this international activity by sending a protest letter to President Kim Dae Jung at the following address:
Mr. Kim Dae-Jung
The President of Republic of Korea
Seoul 110-820 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Republic of Korea Fax: +82-2-770-0347
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