Monday, December 29, 2008

The KTU makes news in the north!

It's not every day that the KCNA mentions the Korean Teachers Union ...

December 27. 2008 Juche 97

Lee Myung Bak Group's Suppression of Jongyojo under Fire

Pyongyang, December 26 (KCNA) -- The Youth and Students Solidarity for Implementing the June 15 Joint Declaration of south Korea released a statement on Dec. 20 denouncing the Lee Myung Bak puppet group for their crackdown upon the Teachers' Union of south Korea (Jongyojo).

The statement accused the prosecution authorities of perpetrating such violent actions as searching the office of the Seoul branch of Jongyojo and confiscating documents there on Dec. 11 on unreasonable charges and committing similar crimes in the office of Progressive Network on Dec. 19.

This rowdyism is nothing but an undisguised targeted search and suppression perpetrated by the Lee regime under the pretext of "security" as it is aimed to destroy Jongyojo at any cost, regarding it as a thorn in its flesh, it charged.

It urged the prosecution authorities, a waiting maid of the Lee regime, to immediately halt the suppression of Jongyojo and the Lee regime to step down at once as it is keen to bring back the era of dictatorship.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hankyoreh on the challenges facing the KTU

[Editorial] The KTU’s long road back to achieving ‘true education’

“Who has called us educators?”

So started the founding declaration of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU, Jeon Gyo Jo) on May 28, 1989. The document starts with introspection about what teachers had become. “We have infringed on students’ ‘right to learn’ (hakseupgwon) by not responding to the demand for honest education and for having allowed ourselves to become the propaganda brigade of the ruling forces, because of the harsh coercion of the dictatorship regime as it tramples on the independence and political neutrality of education.”

The accomplishments in democratizing education that teachers, parents and students have achieved with sweat and blood in the two decades since the KTU began with that self-reflection as its point of departure are now like a lamp facing the wind. Just like the dictatorships, the Lee Myung-bak administration has made a concerted effort to turn education into part of the propaganda apparatus of the political establishment, turning local boards of education into the administration’s puppets. It has come to the point where teachers are being fired just for informing students of the mere fact they have a choice as to whether to take the state-administered examination, the ilje gosa. You are watching a return of the barbaric era of years ago, when roughly 1,500 teachers were fired at the time of the KTU’s early beginnings.

The administration’s attacks on history textbooks, in order to distort them to its liking while ignoring the scholarly and educational accomplishments in the area, are just one of its many barbaric actions. More basically, the problem is how education marketization policy is tearing education apart and causing extremes of socioeconomic polarization in education in general, this under the name of school autonomy. It is making students into test machines with “school diversification policy” and the policy on “giving schools choice,” which essentially means the revival of the fiercely competitive ipsi university entrance system. It is worsening education’s dependence on extracurricular, supplementary tutoring and turning education into a tool for handing down wealth and social status among the few from one generation to the next.

The KTU has chosen a new leadership team. It feels awkward having to congratulate the new leadership at a time like this. On the other hand, when has KTU ever enjoyed peaceful times? The dictators always tried write off democratic and humane “cham (true) education” as “communist indoctrination” while dismissing teachers who were aware of what needed to be done. The way current administration, the old establishment media, government education authorities at various national and local levels, and public security agencies have joined together as one in the effort is just like it was two decades ago.

The KTU achieved legality despite all the suppression, and it has been the main promoter of the democratization of education. It has been powered by the full support of parents and students, which itself originated in the KTU’s dedication and passion for cham education. In these dark times, we hope to see the KTU rise again for the long march of educational democratization, renewing the resolve it had at its founding, respecting the will of students and parents, and standing tall as the main doers of education that is true.

Please direct questions or comments to []

Posted on : Dec.13,2008 13:25 KST

Saturday, December 13, 2008

[kctupower] KCTU President Arrested - Calling for Solidarity!

KCTU President Arrested!

Bro. Lee Suk-haeng, President, was arrested on 10:40 pm, December 5th by the police due to organizing an “illegal” general strike on July 2nd, 2008 and solidarity struggles to support E-land Retail Precarious workers strike in 2007. The July 2nd general strike was conducted to call for protection of people’s right to health and renegotiation of April 18 Protocol on US beef import to reflect food safety concerns. Since the June, 2007, the E-land Retail precarious workers union has conducted strike to protest against the termination of contract and illegal subcontracting by the employer which was aimed at evading relevant provisions in the new irregular workers bill that went into effect on the 1st of July, 2007. The KCTU organized various solidarity actions to support the E-land Retail Shop precarious workers strike.

Bro. Lee Suk-haeng would be mainly charged with “obstruction of business” provision in section 314 of the Penal Code due to the role in July 2nd General Strike and solidarity actions for Eland Retail precarious workers. However, we believe that workers organization should be able to use strike action to pursue solutions to problems posed by social and economic policies. And it should be noted that the ILO strongly urges that no one should receive criminal sanction or be deprived of their freedom for the fact of simply exercising the right to strike. In particular, we would like to emphasize that the ILO has recommended continuously that South Korean government “adopt a general practice of investigation without detention of workers and bring section 314 of the Penal Code (obstruction of business) in line with freedom of association principles.”

At the hearing to review a detention warrant against Bro. Lee on December 8th, the Court ruled the detention of him.

Facing this urgent situation, we are calling you to conduct every possible measure to urge the South Korean Government to stop trade union repression, implement and respect fully the ILO CFA recommendations and principles of freedom of association, and adopt a general practice of investigation without detention of workers including an immediate release of Bro. Lee Suk-haeng. [KCTU]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

SMOE screws teachers

The Hankyoreh:

Seoul Education Office to nullify collective bargaining agreement
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education notified the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU, Jeon Gyo Jo) and other teachers’ unions that it has fully scrapped collective bargaining agreement it signed with the unions in 2004. Tensions began to flare when the union voiced its opposition to the move, calling it an “an attempt to incapacitate unions.”

The KTU:
This illegal and arbitrary decision indicates very clearly that SMOE does not recognize teachers’ organizations as partners in public education, in direct violation of United Nations agreements to which South Korea is party.

SMOE says: Unions can’t 'intervene' in education policy, so policy 'accords' need to be corrected.

CEART would say: if policy affects
1) teachers' freedom or responsibility, or
2) perceptions of teachers' professional competencies, or
3) the functioning of the education system as a whole, or
4) the ability of teacher organizations to participate meaningfully in dialogue on any of the above,
then teacher organizations must be negotiated with.

SMOE, not the KTU, is 'intervening' where it should not!

(And if there is a committee responsible for monitoring the teacher assessment plan, every member should read these 2008 reports very carefully. They could prove to be very effective weapons.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Support Migrant Workers Freedom of Association and MTU [kctupower]

Dear Friends and Allies,

Please show your support for the Migrants Trade Union and the right of migrant workers in South Korea to form and join trade unions. Send a statement expressing support for MTU’s right to freedom of association to the South Korean Supreme Court.

The Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union (MTU), an affiliated of the Korean Confederation of Trade unions, was formed in 2005 as a union for and by migrant workers regardless of visa status. We seek to improve working conditions, stop the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and win migrant workers’ human and labor rights.

Since we were found the government of South Korea has sought to stop our activities, refusing to acknowledge our legal union status and targeting our leadership for arrest and deportation. This repression has grown even stronger in recent months. MTU’s second president, vice president and general secretary were arrested in a targeted crackdown and deported at the end of last year. And again, on May 2nd MTU’s third president and vice president were arrested by immigration officers who had been waiting in hiding for them and then deported on May 15th. The Ministry of Justice carried out the deportation despite the fact that the National Human Rights Commission had made a decision calling for a stay of deportation until its investigation into human rights violations during the arrests into was complete.

This heighten repression comes right as the Supreme Court decision that will decide on MTU’s legal union status draws near. The Ministry of Labor and South Korean government have been refusing to grant MTU legal union status based on the assertion that undocumented migrant workers do not have the right to freedom of association under Korean law. MTU has since been fighting to gain recognition. On February 1, 2007, the Seoul High Court, overturning a pervious decision, ruled in favor of MTU’s legal union status, stating clearly that undocumented migrant workers are recognized as workers under the South Korean Constitution and the Trade Union Law, and therefore the subjects of legally protected basic labor rights, including the right to freedom of association. The Ministry of Labor appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court where a decision is expected wit! hin this year, as early as next month.

International human rights conventions which South Korea has signed, and which it is bound to respect under its own Constitution, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) all protect the rights of workers regardless of social status to freedom of association. In particular, the CERD General Recommendation No. 30(2004) states that “guarantees against racial discrimination apply to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status” and that “all individuals are entitled to the enjoyment of labor and employment rights, including the freedom of assembly and association, once an employment relationship has been initiated until it is terminated.&! rdquo; In addition, ILO Convention No. 87 protects the right to freedom of association for all workers, “without distinction whatsoever” and has been shown to apply to undocumented migrant workers through Committee on Freedom of Association recommendations (UGT, 2001 and AFL-CIO/CTM, 2002). While South Korea has not ratified Convention No. 87, it is bound to uphold the rights protected in it as a member of the ILO under the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998).

Despite this basis in domestic and national law, the Ministry of Labor is still refusing to acknowledge MTU’s legal union status. The new conservative president Lee Myeong-bak has also stated he will not tolerate MTU. MTU’s needs the support of organizations around the world to assure it will gain the legal recognition it deserves!

International human rights and labor organizations and the South Korean National Human Rights Commission have all decided to send position statements in support of MTU to the Supreme Court. We are asking that your organization also issue a statement supporting MTU’s legal union status and send it by fax to the Supreme Court. Please also send a copy to the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Justice. All statements will be announced at an upcoming press conference.

A sample statement is included below. However, we welcome self-written statements reflecting the position of your organization as these send and even more powerful message.

Please send a copy of your statement to the KCTU at, and MTU at

Sample Position Statement

Supreme Court, Republic of Korea
Teukbyul 3bu
219 Seocho-ro, Seocho-gu
Seoul 137-750
Republic of Korea
Fax: 02-2-533-2824

Ministry of Labor
427-718 Government Complex II,
Jungang-dong1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do,
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-3679-6581

Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea
Building 1, Gwacheon Government Complex,
Jungang-dong 1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-2110-3079

Regarding Supreme Court Case No. 2007du 4995

To the Honorable Justices of the South Korean Supreme Court

The Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union was founded in 2005 and has been carrying out legitimate union activities since. The South Korean Ministry of Labor and South Korean administration have refused to acknowledge MTU’s legal union status because its founders are undocumented migrant workers. However, as was shown in the Seoul High Court ruling of February 1, 2007, the South Korean Constitution and the Trade Union Law protect the right to freedom of association of all those who enter into employment relations as workers, including undocumented migrant workers.

International law to which South Korea is party including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) all protect the rights of workers, regardless of social status, to freedom of association. In particular, the CERD General Recommendation No. 30(2004) states that “guarantees against racial discrimination apply to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status” and that “all individuals are entitled to the enjoyment of labor and employment rights, including the freedom of assembly and association, once an employment relationship has been initiated until it is terminated.” In addition, ILO Convention No. 87, which South Korea is bound t! o uphold as a member of the ILO, protects the right to freedom of association for all workers, “without distinction whatsoever” and has been shown to apply to undocumented migrant workers through CFA recommendations (UGT, 2001 and AFL-CIO/CTM, 2002).

We are concerned that the Ministry of Labor’s denial of MTU’s union status is in contradiction to these international conventions and to South Korean domestic law. It is our position that countries that adhere to international human and labor rights standards must protect the right of migrant workers, regardless of visa status, to freedom of association. As such, it is our position that the denial of MTU’s legal union status should be reversed and MTU should be granted recognition.

We hope that the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court will take these matters into consideration and make a decision that upholds the South Korean Constitution and the international conventions to which South Korea is party.


Representative’s Name,

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: Web-site :

Monday, July 14, 2008

Solidarity Appeal to Support the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union, KFCITU [kctupower]


From July 1 to September 20, 2006 over 4,000 members of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Local Union, an affiliate of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union went on strike. Their demands were a 15% increase in wages, implementation of a five-day work week, safe and healthy working conditions, and dignity and respect at the work site. Although the union members were hired by subcontractors, they worked at the construction plants operated by POSCO, a major steel production company in South Korea. Thus, POSCO had a direct influence over the sub contractors as they controlled the conditions and the ultimate approval of all contracts with these subcontractors.

During the strike the union engaged in several industrial actions, the most public was the sit-down demonstration conducted by 3,000 union members at POSCO headquarters in Pohang for nine days starting July 1st. In an effort to support the workers who were holed up inside POSCO headquarters and surrounded by more than 10,000 riot police, local unions affiliated with the KFCITU conducted rallies that were brutally suppressed by the riot police.

In the end, the workers peacefully concluded the sit-down demonstration and the strike came to an end when over 67% of the membership agreed to accept the agreement. It should be noted that the agreement the union had signed in September, 2006 specifically contained language that would ensure that union members would be not be barred from work in POSCO facilities even though they were hired by subcontractors. Nevertheless, at the time both the sub contractors association and POSCO had stated that at least 25 union members including the key leadership would be barred from working at POSCO.

Members of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union Still in Jail

The strike would come at high costs to the local union, as it resulted in the arrest of close to 100 union members. Currently eight are still in jail having been sentenced to two and a half years to three and a half years for their leading role in the sit-down demonstration and strike. With the exception of Lee Ji Kyung, former President of the local union, all are expected to be released later this month. In addition, close to 200 members were injured in the various industrial actions that took place during the strike and as a result many were hospitalized. However, the most tragic result of the strike is the tragic death of Ha Joong Keun.

Ha Joong Keun, who was brutally beaten on the head by several riot police during a demonstration on July 17 in front of POSCO headquarters, while his colleagues were conducting a sit-down demonstration inside POSCO headquarters died on August 1 due to his injuries. Even though nearly two years have passed since his death the government has still failed to take full official responsibility for his death. The union’s calls for an impartial government investigation have yet to materialize.

Relationship between Sub Contractors and POSCO

The members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are categorized as subcontract and irregular (non-permanent) workers. Since regular (permanent) workers are hired directly by the company they are guaranteed three basic labor rights---the right to organize, the right to strike, and the right to bargain. On the other hand, sub contract workers must negotiate with the sub contractors as they are hired by them but in reality the real power in terms of determining wages, working conditions, and work hours lies with the user company, the principal contractor, in this case POSCO.

In many cases user companies have terminated contracts with sub contracts once the workers organize and form a union. Because of this, many sub contract companies refuse to negotiate with the union. Furthermore, both the user company and the sub contract company shift the blame between each other in refusing to recognize and negotiate the union.

POSCO Repression of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union

Since the 2006 strike conducted by the union, POSCO has used its political and economic clout in Pohang, where they control at least 70% of the economy to implement a deliberate and strategic plan to break the union through the following tactics:

1. Linking employment with Union Disaffiliation

 Workers who are members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are refused employment and are barred from working on POSCO facilities until they disaffiliate from the union.
 In order for union members to work in POSCO construction sites even though they are hired by subcontractors they must possess entrance passes issued by POSCO. However, POSCO refused to issue entrance passes to union members. This is in violation of South Korean labour laws.
 POSCO exercises preference over subcontractors that refuse employment to members of the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union.

2. Rejection of the Collective Bargaining Agreement

 A collective bargaining agreement is a promise between the trade union and the employer that was agreed upon in good faith bargaining. Even though the POSCO was not the party to the agreement between the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union, they have a strong influence in the implementation of the CBA through their role as the principal contractor.
 After the 2006 strike, POSCO filed a civil lawsuit against the union seeking compensatory damage of one million and eight thousand US dollars.
 POSCO auctioned off a tract of land acquired for the construction of a building for the labour union. Thus, POSCO is using financial tactics to break the union.

3. Union Officials are Barred from Entering POSCO Facilities

 Prior to the strike officials of the union routinely visited POSCO operated construction sites to address the needs and concerns of union member; however, they are now limited access to the site to twice a week. This clearly restricts and interferes with the union’s ability to conducting trade union activities.
 Since the union officials and staff have limited access to the construction site, there is also less scrutiny or questions raised on occupational safety and health standards resulting in a greater increase in the number of work-related accidents.


1. Please send your letters (a sample letter is enclosed) to Mr. Ku Taek Lee, Chairman and CEO
POSCO, 89-2 POSCO Center, Kangnam-gu, Dae Chi Dong, Seoul, Korea, Via fax : +82-2-3457-6000

2. You can also send your protest comments (see a sample below) on the POSCO website at

3. Please send copies of letters (sample letter is below) to the KFCITU headquarters at 82-2-843-1436 (Fax) or e-mail it to


Mr. Ku Taek Lee
Chairman and CEO
89-2 POSCO Center
Kangnam-gu, Dae Chi Dong
Seoul, Korea
Via fax: +82-2-3457-6000

Dear Chairman Lee

On behalf of the ____, I am writing to express our outrage at your repression against the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union affiliated to the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions.

In July 1, 2006 the union had engaged in a strike that was amicably resolved through a collective bargaining agreement between the union and the subcontractors association on September 20, 2006. As you know this agreement included language that specifically stated trade union members would not be discriminated or barred from working in POSCO facilities. However, it is our understanding that your company has been using your strong influence as a principal contractor to link union membership with employment. Union members have been denied identification passes to POSCO facilities and we have been told that you have asked union members to disaffiliate to remain employed or be employed. This is a violation of South Korean Industrial Labour Laws 81.

More importantly, I would like to point out this is violation of the ILO Convention 87---Freedom of Association. This also goes against POSCO’s policy of Codes of Conduct which you adopted in June 2003. According to your company’s Code of Conduct, the goal of POSCO is to “implement corporate ethics that meet internationally accepted standards thus making another bold step toward becoming a globally respected and trusted company.” In both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are specific articles pertaining to the right to organize, the right to join a union, and the right to strike. Even though the members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are not directly hired by POSCO, they still work in a POSCO work site and thus the international conventions comply.

POSCO is internationally recognized for being a major global company. Your company prides itself in having a vision that ensures ethical and social responsibilities. We would like to point out that a major social responsibility of your company should be the workers who work at your facilities regardless of how they are employed because as a principal contractor you have major responsibilities regarding the working conditions particularly around the issues of health and safety. Since your company has deliberately restricted the access of union officials and organizers to address issues of their members, we have been told there is a lack of adherence to safety and health regulations resulting an increase of work-related accidents at POSCO construction sites. This is unacceptable and worrisome for us because workers safety should come first before any form of profit.

We urge you to immediately stop repressing the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union by immediately stopping all anti-union campaign against the union. Be a positive corporate leader by respecting trade union rights for all workers in your work sites. In doing this your company will be truly a leader in the international business community.


Your Union President

E-mail Sample Comment

I am writing to express our outrage at your repression against the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union affiliated to the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions.

It is my understanding that POSCO has utilized its influence as a principal contractor to link union membership with employment. Union members have been denied identification passes to POSCO facilities and we have been told that you have asked union members to disaffiliate to remain employed or be employed. This is a violation of South Korean Industrial Labour Laws 81. This also goes against your company’s policy of Codes of Conduct which you adopted in June 2003. According to your company’s Code of Conduct, the goal of POSCO is to “implement corporate ethics that meet internationally accepted standards thus making another bold step toward becoming a globally respected and trusted company.” In both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are specific articles pertaining to the right to organize, the right to join a union, and the right to strike. Even though the members of the Branch of Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union are not directly hired by POSCO, they still work in a POSCO work site and thus the international conventions comply.

We urge you to immediately stop repressing the Branch of the Pohang Construction Plant Workers Union by immediately stopping all anti-union campaign against the union. Be a positive corporate leader by respecting trade union rights for all workers in your work sites. In doing this your company will be truly a leader in the international business community.

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: Web-site :
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Guarantee Democracy and Human Rights at all Moments [kctupower]

Protesting the Denial of border entry of the KCTU Delegation to the G8 Summit by the Japanese government.

Statement from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions G8 Delegation

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) with a membership of 800,000 is a major confederation of South Korean trade unions actively fighting to advance democracy, human rights, and a democratic trade union movement. At this very moment, we are conducting a General Strike against the importation of U.S. beef; privatization of public services, and the failure of the current Lee Myung Bak government to address the genuine concerns raised by South Korean citizens about food safety. The negotiations around the importation of U.S. beef within the context of the unequal KORUS FTA has denigrated South Koreans the right to food safety and privatization will force the working poor to undergo more social sacrifices.

The G8 Summit is a gathering of representatives of corporations and governments that support their interests to further the advance an agenda of neoliberalism, privatization, and free trade. The neoliberal economic agenda has not only failed to resolve urgent issues that affect workers in general, but have triggered a global emergency on financial markets, food supply, and the environment. This is a moment when we truly need to seek another path, another direction, and another praxis.

Therefore, the KCTU delegation consisting of 9 representatives of various KCTU affiliates traveled to Japan to participate in the G8 Summit on July 4 to ensure that workers’ voices and interests were addressed. It was the goal of the KCTU delegation to join other civil society groups and popular movement to oppose the neoliberal agenda. We believe this is a fundamental human right and responsibility we carry in these momentous and challenging times.

Four members of the delegation arrived in Haneda Airport, where they were forced to undergo a lengthy individual examination without any proper explanation. The other members of the delegation that included KCTU Vice President Huh Young Goo were denied entry to Japan by the Japanese Immigration Department without any explanation. Their passports were confiscated and during the process Vice-President of the Korean Health and Medical Workers Union, Lee Keun Sun was detained when he protested the actions of the Japanese Immigration officials.

Prior to entry, the KCTU had notified the Japanese Immigration Department the purpose for their visit and the details of the activities during the G8 Summit. The KCTU had been invited by the Japan-based G8 Action Network to participate in their planned events. Despite having followed all proper standard protocol and procedures, the Japanese government unfairly denied the entry of the KCTU delegation
to the G8 Summit.

The KCTU believes that the irrational denial of entry by the Japanese government is politically motivated and an attempt by the government to pre-emptively block any dissenting voice during the G8 Summit. This is clearly a repression of people’s right to freedom of expression, right to dissent, and against human rights as guaranteed by all international conventions. The KCTU challenges the undemocratic actions of the Japanese government.

The KCTU determines that the denial of entry of the KCTU G8 Summit Delegation is an overprotective measure to ensure “peaceful” proceedings of the G8 Summit without any disruption or dissent. This is of course a repression of democracy and human rights. The KCTU will continue to organize for the right for workers to express their voices and raise concerns as a fundamental human right in solidarity with other trade unions and civil society groups in Japan as well as the social movement at the international level. At the same time, the KCTU will focus on revealing the corporate greed of the G8 Summit and to show that there are people’s alternatives to neoliberalization through dialogue and solidarity.

Finally, the KCTU wishes to convey its sincere thanks to Japanese and international trade unions and civil society groups for the support in this difficult time. In solidarity, we will stop the neoliberal agenda and achieve true democracy and human rights.

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
July 7, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

The KCTU Launches a General Strike Against the Announcement of South Korean government on April 18 Protocol on US beef [kctu power]

On June 25th, the KCTU Central Executive Committee voted to launch an unlimited General Strike to support the South Korean people’s movement against the government’s announcement to import U.S. beef as stipulated in the Protocol of April 18.

Upon immediately taking office, Lee Myung Bak rushed to make an agreement on import health requirements for US beef in order to promote the ratification process of KORUS FTA without any consultation with concerned parties including trade unions, peasants groups and civil society. With the publicity of agreement on the April 18 Protocol, South Korean people began to raise concerns about the safety of the U.S. beef that would be imported to South Korea. These concerns would galvanize into mass demonstrations in the form of candle light vigils that was attended by all sectors of South Korean society deeply concerned about the safety of the food put on their table. More importantly, South Koreans became increasingly angry over the indifferent attitude of the new government under the administration of Lee Myung Bak who refused to acknowledge the concerns of the people. His actions were reminiscent of “authoritarian-like” acts conducted under previous dictatorships and conservative governments. Since the agreement was announced, candlelight vigils and rallies have taken place on an almost daily basis. Especially, on June 10th, more than one million people gathered to protest against the April 18 protocol and other 'business-friendly' policies of the new government including privatization.

Due to the huge demonstration, the government had to postpone the announcement of April 18 Protocol and conduct additional consultation with the US government. According to the USTR News, "the June 13-19 discussions in Washington, led by Ambassador Schwab and Trade Minister Kim, focused on ways to facilitate the commercial, private-sector agreement between Korean importers and U.S. exporters to ship U.S. beef from animals less than 30-months for a transitional period until consumer confidence in South Korea improves. To support these voluntary commitments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will establish, once the import protocol is in force, the "Less than 30 Month Age-Verification Quality System Assessment (QSA) Program for Korea" administered by the U.S. government under the Agricultural Marketing Act. This program will verify that all beef shipped to Korea under the program is from cattle less than 30 months of age."

The contents of the beef deal that the government will notify to the public in an official gazette on the 26th regarding is exactly the same as what it had planned to make public last month. The only difference is the 3 supplementary provisions that were the result of the April 18th additional consultations. These added provisions state that 1) 'the two government support the transitional voluntary measures through the verification quality system assessment regarding less than 30 month age" cows, 2) that brains, eyes, skull bones, and spines will not be imported if importing firms do not put in orders for them, and that 3) regarding on-site inspections, the South Korean government can add beef processing sites that it judges to be necessary to the inspection list. Ultimately, the intestines, AMR, crushed meat, spine bones, leg bones, tail bones, and tongues, all previously denied release into domestic markets, will be imported without restrictions.

Regarding quarantine authority, the approval and revoking rights for export processing plants remains with the American government, and finally, there is no mention of regulating animal feed. This means that none of the concerns that have been raised so far have been properly addressed. Moreover, there are significant discrepancies between the South Korean government's announcement of the negotiation result and the American government's letter regarding it, adding fuel to the speculation that the South Korean government has intentionally 'gift-wrapped' the contents of the consultations in order to press ahead with the notification process and also to take the momentum away from further candlelight protests.

First of all, the U.S. government's letter has characterized the recent additional consultations not as a 'negotiation' but as 'discussions' between the two trade representatives to facilitate transitional measures based on commercial understanding. This means that the results of the talks are not binding. Furthermore, although the South Korean authorities have announced that import of the brains, eyes, spines, and skull bones have been 'stopped,' the U.S. letter states solely that "There have been no transaction up to the present regarding the brains, eyes, spines, and skull bones, for which no demand exists in Korea. We confirm the expectation that such commercial practices will continue." It seems clear that 'additional negotiations' were just a means to buy time so that the popular resentment at the international trade system, which does not allow the people access to the means to control the safety of the very food they eat.

Nevertheless, the government has disregarded the demands of the people for their right to healthy food and the defense of the country's sovereignty regarding inspections. It has instead focused on putting out the candles. The government announced the results of the additional negotiations on the 21st, and has pushed forward with notification on the 26th. This is equal to neglecting the basic rights of the people. It is also commensurate to a declaration by the Lee Myung-bak government that it is not willing to represent the will of the people, and that it is solely interested in constructing a market fundamentalist system, for the benefit of 1% of the privileged class of the population.

The KCTU has gone on a general strike to support the people's right to their health and the candlelight demonstrations, and also to oppose the privatization drive and neo-liberal policies of the Lee Myung-bak government. Taking into account the urgent nature of the situation, the KCTU's general strike will commence with those workplaces that are able to immediately commence on collective action, and the current plan is to progressively extend it to other federations and industrial unions.

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: Web-site :
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One million South Korean people and workers protested against the Unfair US beef import agreement and the government policies!

[kctupower] One million South Korean people and workers protested against the Unfair US beef import agreement and the neoliberal government policies!

On June 10th, around one million people and workers gathered to demand renegotiation of US beef import agreement across the country. In case of Seoul, around 500,000 people participated in the candlelight vigil and march.

In spite that this protest was mainly coordinated by the People’s Countermeasure Council against Full Resumption of Imports of US Beef Endangered with Mad Cow Disease, an umbrella group of civic and labor organizations, the protestors were composed of various spectrum such as middle and high school students, workers and families with small children. And many KCTU members refused to work overtime and joined in the protest. Today's rally and march was held on the 21st anniversary of the June Grand Struggle of 1987, which was the most important momentum for the development of democracy in South Korea.

The peaceful candlelight vigil and marches have been kept almost on a daily base since May 2. The People's Countermeasure Council organised the "72-hour People's Action Relay" from June 6 to 8th. During the "72-hour relay of people's action", demonstrators tried to march to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae(Blue House) after the candlelight vigil so as to make their voices heard to the President. A number of citizens were injured, arrested or detained.

Today on June 10th, the police blocked the street toward the presidential office by the big containers. For the citizens, the container-wall was considered as a symbolic sign that the government is not ready to respect and implement the people's opinions.

Facing the huge people's anger and demonstration, all the ministers of the current cabinet had to offer the resignation including Prime Minister Han seung-soo on June 10. And all the top advisers for the President Lee Myung-bak including Chief Secretary of Presidential Office, Ryu Woo-ik, already offered to resign on June 7th.

It is natural that the ministers and top advisors of the presidential office who have to take responsibility for this situation should resign. However, it should be pointed out that the people's anger and demands cannot be solved only by the resignation of the cabinet.

The government of South Korea have to recognize that it lost the people's confidence and the people are also questioning other government policies on education, health care and consumer prices. Therefore the only solution is for the government to take immediate actions to implement the people's demands of renegotiation of the US beef import agreement, repeal of privatization scheme of public services including education and health care and the construction plan of the Korea Grand Canal. This is a matter of democracy and the fundamental right to exercise one’s expression and protest.

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

Monday, May 05, 2008

KCTU - Repression against the Migrant Trade Union leadership continues

Repression against MTU Leadership Continues!

The South Korean government has attacked MTU (Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union) once again. On May 2, only one day after workers around the world celebrated May Day, MTU's newly elected president and vice president were forcibly arrested by immigration officers, the president in front of the union office and the vice president at his home. We are deeply enraged by this act of repression against MTU and migrant workers' organizing in South Korea!

Description of the Incident
At roughly 8:20pm on the night of May 2, President Torna Limbu and MTU's vice general secretary were walking out of the MTU office when they were suddenly confronted by 10 to 15 immigration officers who were waiting hidden around the corner. The officers surrounded the president and without presenting a detention order violently forced him into a van waiting nearby. When the vice general secretary attempted to protest he was physically restrained by officers who shouted at him not to interfere with public affairs.

Soon after, at around 9:00pm the same night, union officers become unable to contact MTU Vice President Abdus Sabur. When a union officer and a Korean supporter went to check on him, they found his house empty. A neighbor informed them that immigration officers had been their shortly before. At 12:30am it was confirmed that the vice president had also been arrested and that both men were being transported to Cheongju Detention Center 2.5 hours south of Seoul.

The arrests of both MTU leaders were clearly pre-planned. Immigration officers had followed the president since the previous day when he participated in May Day activities. The vice president recognized a person who had sat nearby him at a fundraiser the week before among the officers who arrested him. That President Torna heard the officers in the van carrying him communicating consistently with those stationed near Vice President Sabur’s house and in other areas in Seoul also shows clearly that the arrests were coordinate with one another.

Long-term Attack on MTU
This outrageous act of repression comes only several months after the targeted crackdown against MTU leadership on November 27 of last year in which the former president, vice president and general secretary were all arrested. In the wake of that attack MTU, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and supporters from the labor movement and civil society carried out a 99-day sit-in protest calling for an end to the oppression against migrants and migrant organizing and at the same time rebuilt MTU. On April 6, MTU elected a new leadership, with President Torna at the forefront, and moved forward determined to fight the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and win migrant workers' labor and human rights.

The new conservative government of Lee Myeong-bak, however, has only strengthened the policy of repression against migrant workers. A mass crackdown against undocumented migrant workers has again begun and Lee Myeong-bak has stated that he will not tolerate undocumented migrant workers' unionizing.

Supreme Court Case
Lee Myeongbak’s statement is a direct reflection of the attitude the South Korean government has taken towards MTU since its founding in 2005. At that time the Ministry of Labor rejected MTU’s official union status, claiming that undocumented migrant workers do not have the right to freedom of association and union activities. MTU carried out a legal battle against this decision and eventually won in the Seoul High Court on 1 February 2007. However this verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court, where a decision is expected to be reached by the middle to end of this year. The Ministry of Labor bases its appeal on the claims that the right of undocumented migrant workers to freedom of association is not protected in the South Korean Constitution or stated clearly in international law. However, we know that workers are workers, entitled to the same labor rights, no matter what country they reside in under what visa status. This was clearly shown in the High Court decision, which ruled that undocumented migrant workers are the subjects of equal labor rights under South Korean law and in rulings of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (UGT [2001], AFL-CTM [2002]) and the Inter-America Court of Human Rights (17 Sept. 2003), which show that international law protects the union rights of undocumented migrant workers.

Stop the Repression!
The arrests of President Torna, Vice President Sabur and previous union leadership, and the South Korean government’s refusal to recognize MTU’s legal union status are clearly an attempt to break MTU's opposition to oppressive policies towards migrant workers. This repression is not only against MTU, but against migrant workers’ organizing in general and, indeed, the entire labor movement.

Despite the attacks, MTU stands unwaivering in our opposition to the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and in our position that migrant workers, regardless of their visa status, are entitled to equal labor and human rights. We therefore make the following demands:

1. Stop the repression against MTU and release President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur immediately!
2. In the name of the right to freedom of association of all workers, recognize MTU’s legal union status!
3. Stop the crackdown against legalize all undocumented migrant workers!

Call for Solidarity
Ours is a fight not only for migrant workers in South Korea but for migrant workers all over the world. Therefore, once more, we ask for your support. Please show your solidarity in the following ways.

1. Organize a solidarity protest in front of the South Korean embassy or consulate in your area.
2. Send a protest letter in your organization’s name to the South Korean Ministry of Justice and Commissioner of Korea Immigration Service. (See the example letter below, please send to all the fax numbers given)
3. Encourage your members and networks to sign the online petition at this link:
4. Please send us a copy of protest letter and a word of any actions you take and pictures if possible. ,

Let’s struggle together for the rights of all workers!

Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

Sample Protest Letter

Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea
Building 1, Gwacheon Government Complex,
Jungang-dong 1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-2110-3079

Commissioner of Korean Immigration Service
Fax: 82-2-500-9059, 82-2-500-9128, 82-2-500-9026

To the South Korean Minister of Justice Kim Gyeong-han:

We, the ___________(organization’s name), write to express grave concern and outrage at the recent arrests of the President and Vice President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU). We see this attack as an assault not only against MTU but against the migrant workers movement and labor movement worldwide.

On the evening of May 2, only one day after May Day, MTU President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur, were arrested at separate places between 8:20 and 9:20pm. The President was coming out of the MTU office with the MTU Vice General Secretary when they were suddenly confronted by 10 to 15 immigration officers who were waiting hidden around the corner. The officers surrounded the president and without presenting a detention order violently forced him into a van waiting nearby. When the vice general secretary attempted to protest he was physically restrained by officers who shouted at him not to interfere with public affairs.

Soon after, 10 to 15 immigration officers banged on door of Vice President Sabur’s residence, entered and forcibly arrested him. Both men were transported that night to Cheongju Detention Center 2.5 hours south of Seoul. These arrests were clearly preplanned and carefully carried out in an attempt to stop MTU’s rightful union activities. Even more maddening, they come only several months of a similar attack against MTU’s leadership in which the previous president, vice president and general secretary were arrested and later deported at the end of last year.

We are aware that this targeted crackdown against MTU’s leadership coincides with the pending Supreme Court Case concerning MTU’s legal union status. We are concerned that despite a Seoul High Court Ruling on 1 February 2007 in favor of MTU, the Supreme Court decision, most likely to come out in the middle or end of this year, may deny South Korean migrant workers’ right to freedom of association, in contradiction with South Korean and International Law. We wish to assert that all workers, regardless of their visa status or the country in which they reside, are entitled to equal labor rights, including the right to form and participate in trade unions.

The arrests of President Torna, Vice President Sabur and previous union leadership, and the South Korean government’s refusal to recognize MTU’s legal union status are clearly an attempt to break MTU's opposition oppressive policies towards migrant workers. We see this not only as repression against MTU, but as repression against migrant workers’ organizing and the labor movement worldwide.

We therefore make of you the following demands:

1. Stop the repression against MTU and release President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur immediately!
2. In the name of the right to freedom of association of all workers, recognize MTU’s legal union status!
3. Stop the crackdown against legalize all undocumented migrant workers!


(name, title, organization)

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: Web-site :
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

Monday, April 14, 2008

KCTU Newsletter: Ministry of Labor, Chaebols, Layoffs, MTU

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)
Monthly Newsletter
The Second Edition, 2008

KCTU Position on the Ministry of Labor’s 2008 Report to the President

1. On the 13th of March, the Ministry of Labor stated in its report to the President that it would focus on the advancement of industrial relations as the main driving force behind improving the economy and creating new jobs. The Ministry's 'advancement of industrial relations' signifies cooperation between employers and workers, at the center of which is restraint from strikes and pay raises on the part of the unions. It has been presented to buttress the Lee Myung-bak government's economic policy and in essence, forces the workers to make unilateral sacrifices. This is unacceptable in a situation where inflation means that real wages are decreasing and irregular workers can barely scrape by with making only 1200$ a month on average. With economic polarization deteriorating by the day, the employment stability of the irregular workers and wage increases for them are in order, but the Ministry of Labor has continued to present policies in line with the market principle of the Lee government. The Ministry has forgotten that it needs to represent the rights and interests of the 14 million workers in this country, and has solely stressed pro-corporate policies that are designed to increase labor flexibility.

2. The Ministry of Labor also stated that it would resolve industrial disputes based on the principle of the rule of law, and come up with a tailored response to various types of conflicts in order to further this type of industrial cooperation. Even though restraint of demands for wage raises and the urging of no strikes in effect constitutes a violation of basic labor rights, this statement has taken the position that it will repress with state power collective action, as in the case of Koscom. However, the reality is that after the irregular workers' bill went into effect last year, mass lay-offs have ensued and despite clear demonstration of unjust labor practices by the employers during this process, the government has failed to take measures to reprimand non-compliance, and has rather stepped up oppression of collective action. The Ministry had previously announced that it would deal severely with illegal acts regardless of whether they were perpetrated by the employers or workers, but has deleted articles in the industrial relations act that stipulate unjust lay-offs on the part of the employers will be dealt with the criminal code. This means that even when an employer unjustly lays-off a worker in order to intervene in trade union activities, this act cannot be disciplined according to the criminal code, while collective action on the part of the workers can be punished under the name of obstruction of business. Taking this into account, the Ministry of Labor's principle of the rule of law is likely to translate into unilateral repression of just struggles on the part of workers for guarantee of rights and their livelihood.

3. The Ministry of Labor has stated that it would come up with various complementary measures, including revisions to the law and institutional changes, in order to resolve the issue of irregular work. However, such changes are being pursued with the flexibilization of labor as the objective, and would expand irregular work and not contribute to protecting their rights. The problem with the current irregular workers' bill is that it is impossible to attain irregular workers' employment stability by simply limiting the period of their use, and that you need to limit the grounds on which precarious work can be used in order to do so. However, the Ministry is adhering to the line that the period of irregular workers' can be used needs to be extended from 2 to 3 years: the employers' position. Moreover, the Ministry of Labor is planning to expand the areas in which dispatch work can be used, which is a clear sign that it seeks to further neo-liberal labor flexibilization, and thereby exacerbate the employment crisis which the irregular workers face.

4. The Ministry of Labor has announced plans to improve the wage system from one based on seniority to one based on productivity, and also for the expansion of flexible work schedules for a revitalized labor market. Flexible work schedules is a employer-centered institution which forces longer working hours onto the workers, and which also cuts their wages. A wage system based on technical proficiency and level of skill at the industrial level is the right path, while one based on productivity can lead to wage cuts for older workers. Changes to the wage system and working hours are issues that have a direct effect on the wages of workers, and should never be decided upon uni-laterally. It should be decided at the industrial level by applying the principle of equal wages for equal value labor in order to reduce wage disparities.

5. Coverage through the industrial accident insurance is due to be extended to specially employed workers such insurance salesmen, golf caddies, cement mixer drivers, and home study teachers. However, the number of specially employed workers, resulting from diversification of the economy, is not just limited to these workers but also includes quick delivery workers, screenwriters, dump truck drivers, tele-marketers and others. Industrial accident insurance, as a form of social insurance, needs to be extended to all these workers. ■

[Comment] Relaxing the separation between financial and industrial capital : the Lee Myung-bak government goes all out for the Chae-bol

April 2nd, 2008

Corporate taxes will be lowered, public corporations will be privatized, and now the restrictions industrial capital owning financial firms will be lifted. There is no end to the pro-chaebol policies of the Lee Myung-bak government. The national finance committee, in its report to the President on the 31st of March, made official its three-stage plan to relax the laws which had restricted industrial capital from owning banks.

With the crisis management abilities of financial institutions yet untested, and a transparent and rigorous monitoring system still not in place, allowing industrial capital control over banks and thereby allowing banks to become bigger in size would not increase competitiveness, but rather raise the level of risk in the financial sector. Taking into the account the illegal practices of the chae-bol and their culture of collusion, a downgrading of financial transparency is a real possibility. In the case a chae-bol conglomerate finds itself insolvent, market logic dictates that a bank that has lent to it stop additional lending and attempt to recover the money. However, what bank owned by a chae-bol would be able to turn against its mother company if the restrictions between industrial and financial capital were relaxed? The bank would then delay recovering the funds, with the company potentially going into further debt. The situation could lead to tax money being injected to save the chae-bol and bank in order to rescure it, with re-structuring programs being instituted that would seriously effect the workers. This is exactly what happened with the Daewoo securities, which was mobilized to try to save the Daewoo group from falling into further crisis.

The relaxing of such regulations also leads to concern that financial firms could be abused to become the monetary source for reckless expansion into other areas of business, while they could also be mobilized to strengthen chae-bol control over subsidiary companies through circular/mutual financing. The most salient example of such practices was the circular financing between the Samsung group's subsidiaries. This method of financing connected various subsidiaries in a ring of complex mutual financing(‘Everland- Samsung Life Insurance- Samsung Electronics- Samsung Card -Everland') and allowed the Lee family to retain control over the Samsung group. With restrictions on financial firms controlling non-financial enterprises, Samsung Life Insurance had been forced to lower the percentage of stocks it owned in Samsung Electronics. If these restrictions and regulations are revoked, it will open up the way for Everland to restore the circular network of control that it had previously had. Everland's largest shareholder is an individual: Lee Jae-yong, the son of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee. This is the reason why the Samsung Economic Research Institute has constantly called for the relaxation of regulations and restrictions governing the relationship between industrial and financial capital.

In the end, the Lee Myung-bak government's policies regarding such regulations will only strengthen the monopolistic control of the chae-bol, while consolidating their inner control structure. It is the clearest sign yet that its policies are geared toward solely the chae-bols. ■

[Statement] The lay-off of 99 Allianz Life Insurance workers is the responsibility of the Lee Myung-bak government

April 1st, 2008

The administrative committee at Allianz Life Insurance has decided to lay-off the 99 trade union members that have been on strike. This is a clear case of unjust lay-offs and needs to be immediately retracted. Those responsible also need to be held accountable. The 99 workers were all managers of branch offices, but they were legally trade union members with the right to strike. Nevertheless, management decided on their dismissal after the Minster of Labor stated that they "were not subjects that could join a union." The grounds for dismissal were identical to the Minister's comment. In effect, the Minister of Labor has taken sides with the managers and shown a disregard for legal rights that has lead to mass lay-offs.

Allianz Life Insurance acquired Che-il Life Insurance in 1999, and has gone through a restructuring process that has seen the number of employers decrease to 1600 from 2700. They are now attempting a second round of re-structuring by implementing a performance based pay system. However, the employers and union had previously agreed "to implement a performance based system that is acceptable to both management and union" in 2005 and again in 2006. The strike was sparked when the company broke the agreement in Jan of this year and tried to force through the new wage system. The breach of agreements between management and employees is itself illegal, as are the lay-offs.

According to the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, those that have been laid off are sales managers that have only had their titles changed, and "the Ministry of Labor in the past has recognized trade unions formed by sales managers, and recognizes them at most companies as trade union members." Moreover, Supreme Court rulings in 2003 and 2004 have confirmed that trade union membership of branch managers is legitimate, rendering the Allianz employer's argument that branch managers aren't entitled to basic labor rights because they are part of management groundless.

Regarding such unjust labor practices by the employers, the Lee Myung-bak government much touted 'principle of the rule of law' has disappeared. What's more, the labor minister has taken the lead in siding with the employers while disregarding basic labor rights, further reinforcing the Lee government's 'principle' of favoring the employers. The KCTU urges the Allianz Life Insurance company to revoke its unjust lay-off of workers and to take back the new performance-based wage scheme which it had uni-laterally forced upon the workers. We also urge the Ministry of Labor to intervene to stop the repression of the workers and call on the government to recognize the unjust nature of the current situation at the company and take measures to correct them. Ignoring such calls will result in the KCTU, in solidarity with the Allianz Life Insurance union and the KCFLU(KOREAN FEDERATION OF CLERICAL & FINANCIAL LABOR UNIONS ), organizing a national struggle on the issue. ■

MTU Continues the Struggle for the Labor Rights of Undocumented Migrant Workers

Since 2005, when the KCTU-affiliate, the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union (MTU) was first formed, the South Korean government has been trying to stop its activities. The government claims that because MTU’s leadership is made up mostly of undocumented migrant workers, it does not have the right to legal union status. Repression against MTU increased last November with the arrest and deportation of MTU’s president, vice-president and general secretary all at the same time in a targeted crackdown. MTU was not silent in the face of this attack. Supported by KCTU, the Korean labor movement and Korean civil society, we responded with a sit-in protest that lasted over three months, culminating in a mass protest on 24 February, attended by over a thousand migrant workers, Korean workers, activists and Korean citizens. At the same time MTU carried out an intensive campaign to reorganize our chapters and branches, which had been severely weakened to the government’s crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and its targeting of MTU.

MTU is now ready to push forwarded to expand our work and continue to strengthen our union. Our sit-in protest concluded on 11 March with closing ceremony attended by supporters from all sectors of the labor movement at which MTU’s acting leadership, union members and supporters made pledges for continued struggle in the future. Many MTU members have also come forward as leaders elected in chapter and branch elections, demonstrating their courage in the face of continued repression. On 6 April, we also held our general assembly to elect our new president, vice presidents, general secretary and other central officers and adopted our organizing and campaign plans for 2008.

The road ahead is not easy. After the Seoul High Court ruled last year that undocumented migrant workers’ right to freedom of association is protected under South Korean law and MTU therefore deserves legal recognition as a union, we are now awaiting a Supreme Court decision. However, recently on March 19, President Lee Myeong-bak made a statement that a union by undocumented migrant workers would not tolerated, clearly referring to MTU. This statement demonstrates that the Supreme Court ruling is by no means a foregone conclusion in our favor; it will take our determined effort and support domestically and internationally before MTU’s legal union status and the right of migrant workers to union organizing is respected.

Last December KCTU filed a complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association concerning MTU’s case. It is clear that the complaint and MTU’s struggle has already received considerable attention from the international labor and human rights communities. This was demonstrated on 18 March when MTU spoke at a side event at the 7th Session of the UN Human Rights Council co-sponsored by Migrant Rights International, Forum-Asia and KCTU. MTU and KCTU are also planning am international campaign to further raise awareness about MTU’s case and build support for the right to freedom of association of all migrant workers regardless of their immigration status. Through this campaign we seek to demonstrate that MTU’s struggle is not only for migrant workers in South Korea, but a struggle to win recognition for the labor rights of migrant workers worldwide. ■

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NCLB, Lee Myung-bak style


(More sickening:

Government unveils debt rescue scheme

The government yesterday announced plans to bail out as many as 290,000 credit delinquents and extend more credit loans to struggling small enterprises.

Under the initiative named "New Start 2008," individual credit delinquents will be allowed to get loans with their deposits in the national pension fund as collateral, and pay back their debts, beginning in August.

They can borrow half the amount of their accumulated pension contributions.

There are currently up to 2.6 million credit delinquents, and financial authorities are considering various possible measures to rescue them from snowballing debt and interest.

A separate rescue plan is expected to be announced later this week.

"New Start is our way of putting people back on their feet, while at the same time preventing the abuse of the system and burdening state finances," said Lee Dong-kwan, the presidential spokesman.

But to prevent possible moral hazard, the government said that the redemption scheme will be implemented temporarily.

The rescue project comes amid mounting criticism that the new Lee Myung-bak government - with its very rich ministers - has little regard for the economically disadvantaged.

Civic groups have been calling on the administration to assist viable participants in the market to help them get back into the competitive economy, since the growing number of delinquents and other social outcasts has been taking a toll on the overall health of the economy.

Addressing such demands, Cheong Wa Dae said the New Start project aimed to offer aid to those who have been pushed to the margins because they were underprivileged to start with, or as a result of certain policy errors.

"If we don't get these people back on their feet again, there is no way we can ever ease the structural polarization that defines our society today," said the presidential office, explaining of the program's mission.

New Start also outlines plans to extend a total of 1 trillion won ($1 billion) in loans to struggling proprietors via provincial credit guarantee funds. The loans, however, will be limited to 10 million won or less per company.

Up to 125,000 companies may become beneficiaries, assuming that they each receive an average of 8 million won, the presidential office said.

To provide better protection for temporary workers, the government said it would urge companies to provide all workers with employment insurance.

Regarding local farms, the government vowed to use some 4.35 billion won to start a state-run lending business for farming equipment. This is in response to the fact that farms spend so much money to buy new equipment. In addition, livery farms will be given access to 1 trillion won in loans, which the government plans to extend at a low interest of 3 percent. These loans are to be used for purchasing feed, as prices have lately surged due to soaring demand.

To help attract more people to the nation's struggling traditional markets, the administration devised a plan to allow government officials to use their "welfare points" at such markets. Officials are currently given up to 640,000 won a year to cover costs related to education and health care.

The presidential office has designated every last Saturday of the month as a day for visiting traditional markets.

By Kim Ji-hyun*



*Kim Ji-hyun, if I should some day have the pleasure of meeting you, you will regret getting out of bad that day.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

KCTU Newsletter: POSCO in India, Lee Myung-bak

I haven't seen these newsletters posted anywhere so I'll put them here when I get them

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)

Monthly Newsletter - The First Edition, 2008 (Feb 25th, 2008)

For the Lee Myung-bak government: the realization of democratic values is the key, not a "global Korea" of savage market competition

Lee Myung-bak will take office today as president. The key themes of his government have already been outlined: advancement, practicalism, a global Korea, revitalizing the economy, change/autonomy/creativity, etc. This simply means that he will closely adhere to the logic of neo-liberalism as the principle for managing the country. He has already stated that standard for enacting all policies would be how 'business friendly' they were, and in reorganizing the government structure has made clear that he wants a 'corporate-style' government. Regarding public enterprises and the public sector in general, his plan is not to raise the quality of services for the people of the country, but to restructure them through marketization. Comments have been made regarding introducing market logic into the social welfare system as well. The Lee Myung-bak government is thus fully prepared to implement and systemize a winner-take-all neo-liberal competition regime. We are deeply concerned that a new age of authoritarianism, based on the sacrifice of the workers, peasants, and the socially dispossessed, may be approaching.

Our society has experienced a rapid polarization of the economy from the neo-liberal policies instituted after the financial crisis of 1997. The reason that the previous Roh government was defeated by such a large margin in the last presidential elections was due in large part to the fact that he wasn't able to alleviate the polarization that had excluded the socially weak. Therefore, if Lee Myung-bak, voted in by a large margin, wishes to serve the people and revitalize the economy as he has promised, then he must urgently resolve the structural problem that is economic polarization. The task that Lee has been bestowed with by the people and history, is to redistribute in a balanced way the wealth that is concentrated in a small group and to realize economic democracy in order to protect the socially dispossessed.

However, the Lee government has pushed forward with policies that have disappointed the public, such as deregulation regarding corporate activities, relaxing the restrictions on the finance industry, and unprepared proposals regarding english education. The view of the new government regarding industrial relations has also stressed the law and principle over dialogue and compromise, while pursuing the flexibilization of the labor market, privatization of the public sector, and 'advancement' of industrial relations law and institutions. In a nutshell, this means that the new government will continue to increase the number of irregular workers in order to further flexibilize the labor market, and will oppress the workers that resist in the name of the law and principle. The Lee government's labor policy is equal to sacrificing the workers in order to create a 'business friendly' environment. Furthermore, Lee has already made clear his anti-worker stance through various disparaging and distorting comments aimed at unions and workers. This renders questionable his competence as the leader of the country, and his view on labor needs to undergo a fundamental change.

A core task that our society faces in its battle to overcome polarization is reducing the number of, and guaranteeing basic labor rights to, the irregular workers that face constant employment instability, exclusion from basic rights, and low wages. However, the Lee government has not only promised to ratify the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, but has also declared that it will seek the conclusion of multiple FTAs, exposing the Korean economy to indiscriminate competition and the public sector to private capital, thereby exacerbating polarization.

Furthermore, regarding the formulation and implementation of policies, the Lee government has tended to bulldoze them through rather than subject them to democratic processes and social debates. This leads us to the concern that his time in office could be detrimental to democracy. President Lee has repeatedly spoken about running his political party and the government as a CEO, and about the need to resort to authoritarian means to control demonstrations. Nowhere is this more clear than in his view regarding the construction of a canal that runs across the country: he has said that the majority of the public is opposed to it because they haven't seen it and that they will change their minds once it is finished. He remains adamant and plans to push through with the building of the canal. This is why many are concerned that democracy, nurtured through a difficult historical process after 1987, is in danger of moving backward under this government.

President Lee Myung-bak owes a lot to the people of this country. They have selected him as their president despite a past of numerous counts of collusion and wrongdoing, on the hopes that he would bring economic democracy. The people, in terms of their livelihood, are that desperate. That is why if the Lee Myung-bak government fails to deliver on resolving economic polarization and further improving democracy, he will face the backlash from the public, as well as from history. ¡á

Denouncing Human rights violations during the construction of a POSCO still mill in India

Joint Statement of Korean Social and Civic organizations and KCTU (Feb. 19th, 2008)

"POSCO must state its position regarding the human rights violations that are occurring in the state of Orissa"

We, the social and civic organizations of Korea, express our serious concern at the violence that is being perpetrated in the Jagatsingpur region of the state of Orissa, where a steel mill is scheduled to be built by POSCO. We have come together to demand that POSCO, as a relevant party, take responsibility and respond accordingly to the incidents.

The site of the violence is the region where POSCO is planning to build the largest steel plant in Asia. On the 22nd of June, 2005, the state government of Orissa and POSCO signed a MoU regarding mining, the building of a steel mill that can produce 12 million tons annually, and the construction of ports and other relevant facilities needed for the operation of the steel mill. POSCO's investment is the largest ever single case of foreign direct investment in India's history, as well as one without precedent in Korea. However, international environmental and human rights groups, as well as NGOs in India, have voiced concern that if the still plant were to be built, the livelihood of the more than 20,000 residents in the region, mostly still living according to traditional methods of life, would be threatened. The destruction of the environment is also a major issue.

The concerns have become reality with the serious violation of human rights in the region. According to Indian organization and Amnesty International, the violence started when the state government tried to forcefully relocate the residents in the site designated for construction and the residents resisted. In February, April, September, and November of 2007, there were repeated clashes between the state government and the residents. On the 29th of November, residents that had been on guard at the main roads and bridges into the region were attacked by 100 armed personnel. They threw home-made bombs at the tents of the demonstrators and went on to beat and sexually harass the mostly-female demonstrators. They also destroyed the residents' property and in the process left 50 injured, 15 of them in serious condition. What has shocked international human rights organizations, however, is the fact that the police, stationed just 5 kilometers from the site of the attacks, stood by without doing anything while the attacks were perpetrated. Moreover, the police took over the barricades that the demonstrators had erected as soon as they dispersed. The Orissa state police not only blocked off the village and stopped food from being supplied, but they also in effect allowed the armed men to violate the human right of the villagers and demonstrators. The village, with the police in control and the possibilities of another attack, have led to a state of de facto martial law, and the villagers are afraid that the situation may become worse.

With construction to start on the 1st of April, full-scale repression of the villages that are still resisting is expected. The appalling human rights that we have witnessed in Korea on the part of police and hired thugs during forced evacuation of shacks is being repeated in India.

We are seriously concerned that the Orissa state government and the federal government of India have not engaged in sufficient dialogue with the residents while they have endured human rights violations while demanding measures for their livelihood. Sacrifices have mounted across the country as Indians have taken a stand for their livelihood against the special economic zones that the government has vigorously pursued. We believe that ignoring the plight of the residents in favor of the needs of corporations, especially foreign ones, is a position that needs to be fundamentally reconsidered.

There is no way evade raising the responsibility that POSCO, as a concerned party to the project, has regarding the human rights violations. As a company that has stressed corporate social responsibility, it needs to accept its responsibility for the human rights violations and environmental damage that this large-scale investment has resulted in. POSCO has objected that it has no direct responsibility for the violence, but pressuring the Indian government for a rapid implementation of the project is translating into the violence against the villagers. The social and civic organizations of Korea remember the violence perpetrated by POSCO against construction workers union a few years ago in Pohang, and therefore are worried that we might see a similar ending in India. A truly respected corporation is not one that succeeds on the base of the tears of villagers and destroyed environment. It is still not too late for POSCO to come forth with its position to the relevant parties on the violence and environmental destruction, and to present a viable solution.

We urge POSCO to recognize the seriousness of the issue and initiate a dialogue with the residents before the situation deteriorates further.

< Our Demands >
- POSCO, as a concerned party, should take measures to stop further violence from occurring.
- POSCO needs to present a concrete resolution to the incidents occurring in India.
- POSCO needs to initiate a transparent and democratic process to take into account the demands of the villagers and residents.

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

Friday, February 22, 2008

Upon participating in a language teachers association symposium

I suppose I was more than a little out of place. Most of the educators in attendance were promoting and developing arguments against English language education. Less being better, none being best.

Someone asked my opinion of Lee's approach. I said it made little sense for the entire population to become fluent in the same two languages. Silence. For this audience, it made little sense to become fluent in any additional language, if this meant that the first language would receive less attention. I was immersed in monolingual pride.

But there was also anger in the room. People are angry that skill with a foreign language is virtually a passport to yangban status, for example. And maybe some of the anger is fueled by anxiety over loss of culture. Perhaps above all, English is simply equated with greater integration into a vicious empire-network that these people want no part of.

We all know that there are people in Washington and London who are quite pleased that East Asians are learning so much English. These people know whose voices dominate international flows of information. So, no English, and those voices are more easily ignored. I think I get it.

Mais ce n'est pas la guerre.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another peace education activist behind bars

Sorry I didn't catch this sooner. Teacher Kim Hyung-geun was arrested January 29 and charged with violating the National Security Law. He remains in Seoul Prison. Police had raided his home in April 2007, but hadn't charged him with anything.

Why the delay? Some things change, some things get worse.

Two other teachers charged a year ago are awaiting trial. See here and here for background.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Konglish is the future of Korea

TEE and the classroom

I want to talk (more) about the curriculum policy formerly known as English Only, and which is now trumpeted and tromboned as Teaching English in English (TEE).

I want to begin with an anecdote. In 2004 I taught at a middle school in Incheon. One fine day, there happened a demonstration lesson, conducted by an ambitious and competent English teacher. Parents, teachers and officials from the Incheon Office of Education observed the lesson. It was English Only and was by all accounts a resounding success - the accounts of its refugees excepted, of course. Two learners spent the entire lesson hiding out in my office. They had been excluded from the Big Event because they did not possess the language required to participate in the demonstration learning activities.

They had the skills necessary to describe the situation to me, however. They used the dictionary at and found the word they wanted: 재해: "disaster." Very apt: a teaching approach that deliberately excludes the learners who most need it is disastrous.

This, I want to suggest, is TEE.

Lee Kyung-sook is fond of saying that TEE and "English immersion" (by which she means, I think, content-based language teaching) are based on "decades of research." And she's right. Unfortunately, that research was done decades ago. Most SLA theorists and researchers have long since moved on, and those who care about what actually happens in classrooms now stress the importance of social interaction, the negotiation of meaning, and attention to language form in addition to content. And if a first or shared language, i.e. Korean, can help learners discover features of language form, then it should be used.

There is very exciting work being done with bilingual education in the U.S. I would suggest that Ms Lee explore it, if bilingualism is what the government wants to achieve.

The thing is, I am not aware of a single language learning expert who believes that L1 should be excluded from lessons. The government has adopted a position that is far more extreme than that of the most ardent supporters of content-based language instruction elsewhere. The government’s proposed policy is bad pedagogy. But it is not only bad pedagogy; I think that it is bad for Korea.

I summarized Canagarajah's critique of English Only earlier. "Linguistic genocide" was mentioned: English Only "challenges the validity" of newer varieties of English. I want to talk about what this might mean.

Konglish is the future of Korea

I do not mean to suggest that Konglish is the future of 대한민국, Daehan Minguk. But I believe that it is the future of Korea. "Korea" is itself a Konglish word, likely derived from 고려, Goryeo.

I'm using Konglish to refer to Korean English. Some folks like to say that Konglish is just "bad" or "broken" English. While I'm not sure, I assume that folks used to say the same about Singlish or Singapore English. Indeed, the government of Singapore still says this — I guess that they don't care that Oxford puts Singlish words in its dictionaries.

What is language for? Many things of course, but I would suggest that a very important function of language is its use as a vehicle for culture. Knowledges, experiences, histories, worldviews, rituals, songs, foods, philosophies, all are constantly (re)created with and through language.

So then what is an international language for? It is used as a vehicle for cultures. It carries the knowledges, experiences, histories, worldviews, rituals, songs, foods, philosophies of nations.

Anime, sushi, karaoke are English words, used throughout the world, and these words carry Japanese culture with them. How did this happen? Yes, the Japanese economy is powerful. But simply, concretely: people, real people at real times and in real places, mixed languages. One can imagine an American diplomat in a restaurant in Osaka, asking "What is this?" His fellow diners could have answered "It's just what it looks like, slices of uncooked fish served on fingers of boiled rice." Or they might have done something more daring. They might have said "This is sushi." This would have been a challenge, a dare: recognize this as an addition to your language, your knowledge, your worldview.

Everyone in Korea could one day be fluent in English - but whose English? Or rather, which Englishes? Will they all be "borrowed?" If so, great opportunities will be missed. The vehicles will belong to others - there will be no Korean-made vehicles. Other nations will lose the contributions and challenges of Koreans, and "Korea" will stay in 대한민국, unknown.

I can think of a number of words that would make excellent additions to English. Han (恨), cham, jeong. Maybe minjok, since "folk" was abused by Nazi propagandists.

"Glocal" is a very clever portmanteau. The expression "I'm so poor at x" is interesting, the way it ties poverty to a perceived lack of ability. I don't say "It's nice to meet you" if I have already met someone, but I appreciate how the expression recognizes that you never meet the same person twice (as you cannot throw a rock into the same river twice).

But if TEE is enforced, these can never be English words or expressions. Neither can these: pansori, chaebol, ondol, kimchi, hanbok

Because if Korean words are excluded from classrooms, there can be no mixing of languages. When I delivered that quiz, about 40% of students said that "handphone" didn't belong, though they all knew what a cordless phone was. They said it was Konglish and as such didn't belong with the "English" words. This is TEE: there can be no mixing. TEE means that Korean culture will not be represented in the world of Englishes. Korean English will never join Cameroon English, India English, Fiji English, or any of the many Englishes used by millions of people but ignored by the current national curriculum.

I can think of a few ideological supports for TEE. A more obvious one is simply that the elite study in the U.S., and usually come to believe that (Standard) U.S. English is "superior" to the English that is developing in Korea. Others simply associate English with CNN, Hollywood, and the New York Times, so ignore the contributions of other English users.

But there may be something else at work as well. Many people believe that Koreans are one homogeneous - think "pure" - ethnic group, one "race." For these people, mixing means dilution. A subtraction, not an addition. Perhaps, to some, Konglish is not a vehicle for culture but rather a "mongrel" that must be put in a sack and drowned while it is still young.

If this happens, if TEE is enforced, countless students will be excluded from their classrooms, and the world will be poorer for it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Education Reform, brought to you by YBM

Best read as a Bill Hicks monologue, but you'll need to include a generous audience, because this shit isn't very funny.

.. So apparently president-elect Lee Myung-bak, otherwise known as the Second Coming (was Roh similarly obsessed over in the weeks following his election??), has a rehab plan for the country's hagwon and overseas schooling dependence. Anyone hear about this? Have you read about this? Well he's going to take action, yes he's a Man Of Action, our LMB.

The key elements of his Action Plan: he's going to 1) see that the the English-Only Policy is enforced; 2) encourage competition among high schools by dropping university admissions regulations; and 3) have "easy" high school subjects, like sciences and maths, delivered in English.

Call me a conspiracist if you like, but hagwon directors themselves might have designed this Plan.

First, "English through English." Half the country's English teachers report that they could deliver lessons wherein the first language of everyone in the room is conspicuously absent. But forget for a moment that this bad pedagogy, that most English teachers KNOW that this is bad pedagogy, and that this is the reason most teachers are resisting the policy (for a superb example of L1 use in an English lesson see this article (subscription).) And forget what will become of teachers unable or unwilling to teach "English through English."

No tarot deck is needed here. The enforcement of this policy will force many families into debt in pursuit of private English-intensive preschooling, and exclude entirely those children whose families cannot afford it. English will soon be taught from first year elementary, and if Korean is not used, children who are not already familiar with English will be so lost that they won't even find the starting line.

Already there are middle school students who do not know even the (latin) alphabet. In 2006, two such students spent a class hiding out in my office - they had been excluded from the teacher's English-Only "demo lesson," because they could not participate in the innovative activities that parents, teachers and ministry officials had come to admire.

Second, high schools and university admissions. Most high schools in the country are privately owned and administered, even if they're heavily funded by provinces. And every city or gu has its elite high schools. The kids who attend these schools expect to get into a good university. As for the kids in other schools .. let's say that the curriculum at these schools is less challenging, and expectations rather lower. President Roh attempted to change this by forcing universities to base admissions partly on students' performance at their particular school. This was to encourage bright students to attend lower-perfoming high schools and thus help raise their school's academic profile.

Allowing universities complete freedom in admissions will allow them to select from high schools of their choosing. Which will in turn force middle school students into hagwons, and parents further into debt, to better kids' chances of getting into choice high schools. Indeed, the KTU warns that universities may soon be looking at students' middle school records as well, which will force more elementary students into hagwons, etc.

Third, English-medium instruction in high schools. LMB wants high schools delivering "easy" subjects like maths and sciences in English by 2010. These are the easy subjects?! Who the fuck does the transition team pretend to be kidding? "Easy" subjects, for second language use, are art, physical education, and later, geography (see this research article, sub required). No doubt hagwons are already hanging "Learn Science English Here!!!" banners.

Now if our messiah were actually serious about education reform, he'd set up a nation-wide fully-subsidized preschool system, start funding universities so that exlusion from the elite schools does not doom young people to drudgery, address regional imbalances in education funding, wrest control of secondary schools from petty oligarchs, and help create learning communities that foster social, moral, and intellectual development rather than enforce regimens of testing, ranking and standardization.

.. And since teachers are abandoning the KTU, the organization that is best placed to challenge Lee and his education-as-business model, soon we'll all be "service providers," encouraging failing kids to absent themselves from standardized tests so that we can receive our pay incentives, and our schools their funding.

I hope our uniforms are tasteful.