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Daily protests in Korea against neoliberal policies and repression

Korean People's Action against FTA & WTO(KoPA) 11th November 2003

Source  :  Korean People\'s Action against FTA & WTO (KoPA)

Protests against liberalisation of services and agriculture, and against repression on workers have been taking place in Korea almost everyday during the last week. Number of injuries are accumulating as riot police continue to brutally suppress demonstrations.

On 6th November, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions(KCTU) staged a warning general strike of 4 hours, and about 10,000 workers, students and activists gathered in central Seoul to protest against the government's hardline stance and implementation of neoliberal labour policies. Several protestors were injured when the riot police tried to forcefully disperse the demonstration during a peaceful march. The workers have recently been particularly angered by the fact that the government, despite the deaths of several workers, is still reluctant to pursue any measures to deal with the repression and unjust labour practices of businesses (and the government itself), and with the severe discrimination that is being enforced upon irregular workers. It is also determined to push forward its plans for 'reforms' in industrial relations focused on weakening the bargaining power of trade unions.

The next day, there was a Korea-Japan solidarity action against Korea-Japan Free Trade Agreement(FTA). Members of KoPA, 'No FTA! Emergency Campaign(a Japanese coalition of workers and activists against Korea-Japan FTA)' and the 'Korea-Japan Joint Struggle Committee of Construction Workers' gathered in front of 'Japan Club (an association of Japanese corporations investing in Korea)' to protest against the bilateral FTA that is expected to devastating for the Korean economy and the people. Studies have proven that the FTA will worsen Korea's trade deficit and ultimately be profitable only for Japanese capital. Japanese businesses have explicitly demanded the Korean government to include in the FTA, measures to deal with the 'strong workers movement' in Korea. The protestors tried to deliver a letter of protest to the Japan Club, but was stopped by riot police.

8th November saw a development in cross-sectoral solidarity actions against WTO, FTA and the Free Economic Zones(FEZ). A rally of 500 participants took place in front of the National Assembly on Saturday, to protest against the attempts of the Korean government to legislate liberalisation policies in public services, and against bilateral trade and investment treaties. KoPA and sectoral coalitions such as 'National Education Solidarity against Liberalisation and for Protection of Public Education', 'Joint Counteraction Committee against FEZ and Liberalisation of Health' and 'Korean Coalition for Cultural Diversity(KCCD)' jointly organised the rally. The participants strongly condemned the attempts of the Korean government to legislate policies that will allow foreign investment in schools and health care centers within the FEZ -in fact, implementation of WTO's 'autonomous liberalisation' -, the attempts to cut down the screen quota system (protection for Korean film industry! ) through the Korea-US Bilateral Investment Treaty, liberalisation of the agricultural sector through the commitment to the WTO and Korea-Chile FTA, and neoliberal labour policies that are driving many workers to take their own lives. Through a declaration, the participants vowed to continue to expand solidarity and strengthen joint struggle against the Korean government and transnational capital. Further mobilisations, activist training camps and actions to pressure the National Assembly are being planned by KoPA and other coalitions.

More than 50,000 workers, students and activists gathered in front of the City Hall in center of Seoul for the National Workers Rally on 9th November, organised by the KCTU. The National Workers Rally is a rally that takes place annually in commemoration of Jeon Tae-Il, the 'working class hero' who sacrificed himself and triggered the dawning of the movement for democratic unions in the 1970's. This year's rally was particularly intense, due to the unrelenting attitude of the government and capital despite the series of self-immolations, and the anguish of the workers who have vowed to implement a general strike. The workers demanded for the government to ban seizure of property of workers and unions, to ban discrimination on irregular workers, to stop dispatch of troops to Iraq, and stop to all neoliberal flexibilisation and liberalisation policies. After speeches -some in tears and some in determination- the participants tried to march to Kwanghwamoon just a few hundreds ! of meters away, but was confronted by layers of riot police who blocked the march. The level of police violence has been on the increase during the last few weeks, and this day was no exception. The Seoul Metropolitan Police sent in brigades of their specially trained riot police, who are well-known for their ruthlessness. The police used the edges of the metal shields to beat the protestors and even bypassers who were standing on the pedestrian. Protestors retaliated with molotov cocktails, which appeared for the first time in the city center in three years. 113 people were arrested, several were injured, and one worker lies in a coma. Another rally is scheduled for 12th November, when the KCTU is staging a general strike.

In the midst of it all, the government and the National Assembly announced that they will put the Korea-Chile FTA on the agenda of Assembly's standing committee on 10th November. If the FTA is passed in the standing committee, it will then be presented to the National Assembly -paving the way for ratification and effectuation of the FTA. The Korea-Chile FTA is expected to be devastating for peasants, as imports from transnational agribusinesses flood the market. The Korean Farmers' Solidarity, a coalition of Korean Farmers League and other agricultural organisations, staged a protest in front of the National Assembly today, vowing 'revenge' at the general elections next year to the parliamentarians who vote in favour of the FTA. Some peasant members chained themselves to lampposts inside the National Assembly, while others fought demonstrated outside. Again, many farmers were injured and arrested during the confrontation with riot police. The Korean Farmers Solidarity is pl! anning to mobilise 100,000 peasants and farmers on 19th November at the National Farmers Rally, in protest against the WTO and the FTA. Strategies are being formulated to broaden solidarity between the different sectors and organisations struggling against liberalisation.

* Korean People's Action against FTA & WTO (KoPA) is a network of trade unions, peasants, environment and women's organizations, social movements and political parties, dedicated to the struggle against neoliberal globalization, and for equality and justice. It was formed in 1999 during the IMF restructuring of the Korean economy and just after the 3rd WTO Ministerial.
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