Our Only Hope is to Unite!
Masok, Chairperson of Equility Trade Union Migrant Branch
Source :  Asian Workers News No. 136
Are we workers? Are we migrants? As far as I know there are 180,000,000 migrant workers in the world and more than 350,000 migrant workers in South Korea.
In my analysis, even though we do work and earn wages, we aren't real workers for two reasons. One, is we don't have legal status or recognition from the Korean government or society. The other is, we don't recognize ourselves.
We all know very well about how we are discriminated against in this society and violated by employers that support the government. We also know that if anyone violates us, we can't file a formal complaint without the help of a NGO. If we don't get proper pay from an employer, we can't do much about it. Were all helpless.
The government says that we have to repatriate and we can't do anything about it. Even though 94% of the 260,000 illegal workers registered under the voluntary reporting system, we know that more than 95% of us won't go back to our home countries. We also know that the Korean economy needs us, and of course, we need work to earn money for good living. However, the government behaves like and says that it doesn't need illegal workers.
Is this sentiment really true? If it is, then how can 260,000 migrants work illegally when not even one North Korean citizen can hide? If they don't need us and why is every December penalty free for us? They know very well they need us because we are cheap and docile workers.
Our weak point is that we work very hard here, but we don't have any rights as workers or human beings, only because we are foreigners and our language and skin colour is different, not because were illegal.
Don't think that government doesn't know about us. It knows about our situation. It just wants to control us because if we stay here, we learn more, we marry Koreans, we mix into Korean culture and if we unite and demand our rights then well become uncontrollable.
If we aren't workers then do how do we know about workers rights? How do we know what a workers culture is? Why are we concerned about government policy that's related to us? Why have we tried to unite to obtain our rights? Maybe all we know that answer.
We can't become united because we are illegal. We cry, we hide in the mountains when Immigration comes after us, we are killed by drunken Koreans and we are arrested and hand-cuffed. Its very easy to call for unity and demonstration, but if we do so then we become open targets for Immigration. We think that if we don't fight for our rights, then we can work here and Immigration won't catch us.
Speaking personally, I consider myself to be a real worker, as you do.
When I became a unionist, I was introduced to another world - the world of the worker.
I've experienced a lot of disadvantages, discrimination and violations from employers, and even Korean co-workers during the six years of hard work I've done here.
Workers of the world say, "Workers all around the world unite!" and "Workers are one!". When I was in Bangladesh and first came to Korea, I couldn't understand why workers must be one, and why they fight and strike and demonstrate. Then I learned that its because 90% of the population are workers, who are controlled by only 10% of the population that are employers. I also learned that workers are poor and helpless and at the mercy of the employers, who are always happy to earn money from form the labours of the workers. This is why workers, including migrant workers, have no choice but to unite against the oppression of employers.
Anyone who goes overseas to work automatically becomes a migrant worker. However, now that employers have no nationality due to globalisation, why can't workers do the same? Just think that if a Korean worker goes to the USA for work then he/she is considered a foreign or migrant worker. These Koreans must know their rights, so that they can fight to achieve and maintain them.
Yes, dear migrant workers, we are helpless and not living with kindness from employers, but we aren't pitiful. This is because we have strong arms from our hard work, strong willpower and the power of unity. We have the right to unite, strike and demonstrate. Every worker has these rights, anywhere he/she works.
If we look to other countries and the situation of migrant workers there, we can recognise ourselves. Yes, everyone knows that this is not Europe or the USA, but do you think that the situation in those places changed without any demand or demonstration? No!!!
What have we done in Korea? Did we demand legalisation and a stop to violations and crack-downs? I know that if a child doesn't cry, his/her mother won't know whats wrong.
Every migrant worker has a right to demand his/her rights because migrant workers are real workers and human beings. If we think its impossible, then maybe it is. But, if we think its possible by our strong unite, we would be achieve our hope in Korea.
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