(en) A LESSON FROM SOUTH KOREA (ca)

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Mon, 10 Mar 1997 16.10 GMT


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EXTRACT FROM _CNT_ FEB 1997 C/ Molinos, 64. 18009 Granada Espan~a ----------------------------------- A LESSON FROM SOUTH KOREA

Over the last month the South Korean working class has been organising general strikes and huge demonstrations. We are seeing the most important labour protest to have occured in an industrialised country since the beginning of the era of the 'free market'.

The cause of the mobilisations of the Korean trade unions lies in the 'liberal reforms' which the State has introduced and which aim for more 'flexible working', simple euphemisms for legislation which makes sacking workers, bringing in scabs, lowering wages, lengthening the working day and raising the number of temporary workers easier. All this means that the South Korean capitalist state has decided to introduce anti-union legislation similar to that introduced by Reagan, Bush and Clinton in the US and Gonzalez (TN former Spanish prime minister) in Spain, ratified by Aznar (TN current Spanish prime minister). From there we arrive at the Korean situation. ---------------------------------------------- MORE ON KOREA? http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/search.html ---------------------------------------------- In the first place it is worthwhile emphasising the militancy of the South Korean workers which gives the lie to the image which exists in the West of the Asian worker who is seen as docile and submissive that is to say a racist image of the 'productive ant'. Any student of South Korea who is even moderately informed will know of the history of struggle that has unfolded over the last 50 years within the South Korean syndicalist movement. Between 1945 and 1950, the peasantry/workers set up thousands of revolutionary councils which were destroyed by the intervention of the US during the Korean war (1950-53) and 10,000 unionists were imprisoned or sent to concentration camps all in the name of the free world. During the 60s and 70s, the revolts and protests of students set the scene for a new working class movement which extended to the capital cities of the most important provinces in the country. This militancy ended with the famous massacre of Kwangjo where 3,000 workers and students died in 1980. State repression against the workers gave strength to one of the hardest labour regimes in the world: a 60 hour working week, salaries which barely reached minimum levels, state controlled unions etc. Labour exploitation became one of the foundation stones of what came to be known as the South Korean 'economic miracle', with an increase of 20% in exports and GDP growth of between 10 and 15%. The other side of the Asian dragon's 'success' was labour exploitation.

Shamefully, some left wing economists, critical of 'free market capitalism', considered Asian 'sate' capitalism a valid alternative, emphasising the growth in economic production and assuming that the 'collaboration' between capital and the working class was a 'social pact'... South Korean workers have now destroyed the myth of a 'social pact' and the most radical sections have openly rejected both 'liberal' capitalism and state capitalism.

Fact File SOUTH KOREA Pop. 44.1m Pop per Km sq. 448 Human Development index. 86 Av inflation. 1989-94 6.8% Main Export Destination. United States (22.1%) Foreign Debt as % of GDP. 14.4 Cost of Living Sept 1994 112 (New York=100)

The second lesson we can draw from the South Korean strikes is that the vast majority of the middle classes identify with this struggle. More than 75% of the inhabitants of Seoul, the capital, support the strikers' demands and the vast majority support the call for a general strike. Bank employees, professionals and even the workers on the stock exchange, in their suits and ties, have joined in the street protests. In contrast to the Spanish situation, where the leaders of the CCOO and the UGT organised a ritual day of strike action before accepting Gonzalez's labour reforms thus demoralising the youth, in South Korea, and thanks to continual mass action, the union is enjoying the support of large numbers of young workers who are not affiliated and also workers in the public sector.

South Korean syndicalists are different to their Spanish and American counterparts in so far as they are independent of any political party, especially those bourgeois parties of government and parliament. At first, the most radical unions led the organisation of protest action whilst the more moderate elements kept to the background. However, once the protest had spread the factory workers forced the more moderate unions to back the struggle. Once again the contrast with Spain is evident because here the union leader Antonio Gutierrez did the opposite because of pressure from the pro government union the UGT. Again unlike the Spaniards the South Koreans did not sign a 'Moncloan Pact' (TN agreement between unions and government in Spain limiting union independance). The radical Federation of Korean Unions which has about 500,000 members is still an illegal organisation despite enjoying the support of a growing number of workers and its ability to face up to the state. In South Korea the class struggle is an integral part of the democratic transition which is aiming to achieve social guarantees, job security, fair salaries and a recognition of workers rights in the work place which, until now, resemble military barracks. With this action the workers have shaken the cement of the most powerful economic conglomerates of the country: the management of Hyundai, the main car manufacturer has closed its factories indefinitely. --------------------------------------------------- SAURIEZ-VOUS TRADUIRE CET ARTICLE POUR NOS LECTEURS ET LECTRICES FRANCOPHONES? ---------------------------------------------------- The general strike does not only affect the workers but has implications for democracy in general. Labour reform was passed by a parliament under governmental control at a secret session at 5.00am with the opposition excluded and all done by state decree. The strike is just as much against the legislation as against the authoritarianism of the methods used. However, in Spain the union leaders continued to maintain a close link to the regime of Gonzalez despite his arbitrary use of power and state decrees..

The process of democratisation in South Korea provoked the recent death sentence for the ex dictator General Chun Doo Hwan by a Supreme Tribunal - a decision which met with approval from the unions and the public in general. In contrast with Spain military impunity is no part of the transition to democracy. The Korean labour revolution is a part of this transition, even though the victory of the workers is not assured, and the unions are making it clear that free market capitalism is neither inevitable nor the the only possibility. With its heroic words and actions they are demonstrating that working class struggle is not only possible but it can count on the support of more and more people... For unionists and intelectuals in Spain and the US now is the time to follow the Asian example. Not its model of economic exploitation but rather its example of working class struggle.

FREEDOM PRESS INTERNATIONAL http://www.tao.ca/~freedom

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