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KCTU Monthly News: New Years Greeting and November-December 2004
KCTU Monthly News:  New Years Greeting and November-December 2004

Our Deepest Condolences to Those Who Are Suffering from the Catastrophic Earthquake and Tidal Waves in Southeast and West Asia

New Years Greeting

Another intense year has passed all too soon,
and we are now entering into 2005.

The river of time may flow transiently,
however, the KCTU strove through the past year
just as an unhindered torrent runs past any obstacles and straightens any curves.

This year, the obstacles that face the KCTU
are expected to be just as difficult.

Discrimination against irregular workers and the unemployed,
Self-owned businesses and small-to-medium enterprises that are collapsing like dominoes,
Those who have been caught in the trap of bad credit and end up in despair,
The 10 million people who are suffering in the depth of absolute poverty,
Workers who are tormented by the persistent job insecurity from the storm of restructuring.
These people are all losing hope for the future.

Are the dreams of these poor workers, people and peasants truly those
that are impossible to accomplish?

Working five days a week and earning enough to spend.
Developing one’s life through social safety nets and without job insecurity,
Respecting, and not hating, each other whether one is rich or poor,
Is it really impossible to build a society in which the fruits of growth are shared?

No. Our dreams can come true.

Our problem is that we do not dream.

Our society has lost its dream,
and at the same time, the people have lost their hope.

Before we blame others and before we attack others,
we must regain our beautiful dream,
hold out our hands to the citizens standing on the streets of solidarity and action.
We must let them participate in our dream.

In schools the resonant songs of students will ring.
In neighbourhoods during the evenings the scent of shared food will make everyone happy.
In workplaces, hope for the future will abundantly flow.
Unemployment will not be fear but a second chance to leap forward.
Irregular labour will not be punishment from the heavens
but merely a temporary process one can pass through according to one’s own decision.
Strangers will share warm greetings.
Politicians and corporate owners will be more mature and humble.
Media will be concerned with the wellbeing of the socially weak.
Let’s build this kind of world.

Looking at the red ball of fire rising from the east to summon a new year,
let’s regain the dreams that we had lost.

Dreams are for those who dream,
and it is only those who dream that can change history.

Let more streams gather to make a larger river
and let the river gush forth like a torrent.

Let’s do away with all the falsehood and idealism.
Let’s build a dream of new hope, of peoples’ hope,
of reunification, peace and self-determination.

1st January, 2005

Lee Soo Ho,
President, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

A Turbulent Year Passes By

A year filled with turbulence is now coming to an end. Although tremors from the general strike of 26th November against the bill on irregular workers have not quite calmed down, the hunger strike for abolition of the National Security Law still continues in front of the National Assembly.  
During this year, the KCTU has gained some achievements, such as industry-level bargaining and minimum wage for metal workers and health workers, and the postponement of the bill on irregular workers attained through the general strike despite the ideological attacks ?“workers’ movement based merely on self-interest” or “aristocratic workers’ movement” ? and physical suppression.
The general election of April was highly successful, with political empowerment of workers making further progress through the Democratic Labor Party and its gaining of seats at the National Assembly. Above all, this year was a year during which activities on irregular workers gained stability, with joint demands on irregular workers gaining more base and general strike against the bill succeeding. However, our workers’ movement still has a long way to go. After the economic crisis, disparity in our society has deepened, and the gap in working conditions between regular and irregular workers, and large corporations and small-to-medium enterprises has become wider. Although some say that organizing workers into unions has been more successful, union density of irregular workers remain at a meager 2%. It is true that representation and identity of a class-based democratic labour movement are being shaken.
Moreover, the government and capital will further promote their ‘Roadmap on Industrial Relations’ next year, focusing on their proposed bill on irregular workers, in order to flexibilize the labour market. The year 2007 will bring extensive changes to industrial relations, when bargaining channels of company-based unions will be unified and the ban on union plurality lifted. If reformation and reorganization of our movement does not head in the right direction, or if we rely on existing mannerism, then it is evident that the democratic trade union movement will weaken during the period of the extensive reorganizing.
The most important aspect during this period will be the recovery of representation and identity of the democratic trade union movement. The movement should not be centered on regular male workers within one company. What is urgent is the revival of class-based unity and solidarity in its true form. The movement must accommodate those who are marginalized inside the working class, such as irregular workers, women, disabled and migrant workers, and promote activities to further unity and solidarity. The movement based on industry-level unions must be proposed in the context of, and promoted as, the culmination of this kind of unity. The reformation of the movement must also be in line with strengthening internal democracy, and gaining self-determination and solidarity.
In face of neoliberal attack, we must proactively seek for alternatives and mobilize struggles. The entrance of a progressive party into the National Assembly is not significant in itself. It gains meaning only when the party can act as a spokesperson of all workers and the people, and as a bridge to change existing institutions and gain political power. The new leadership was elected under the slogan of ‘A Large Struggle to Change the World’. During the year 2005, we must implement large struggles together with all peoples, by culminating the demands of our members. May the New Year bring us all the best and new hope! As a worker far away once shouted, “Let’s not be afraid of becoming happy!”

Mass General Strike Targeting February Session of National Assembly
- Postponement of bill on irregular workers and formation of alternatives; Over 50% support and diverse collective actions necessary

Kim Tae-Hyun (Executive Director, Policy & Planning)

Concentrated publicity and social awareness needed on our proposal

The Environment & Labour Committee of the National Assembly decided on 29th November that it will “not table the amendments to the bill on irregular workers at the Legal Assessment Committee until after the bill had gone through hearings on 6th and 7th December.” Therefore, the proposed bill on irregular workers will not be tabled at the ordinary session of the National Assembly. Although an extraordinary session is scheduled to take place in mid-December, the National Assembly is expected to be under intense confrontation over the 4 reformative legislations, including the National Security Law and the state budget, and so the bill on irregular workers will in fact not be ratified within this year.
The stop to the imposition of the proposed bill on irregular workers is the result of the struggles of the KCTU and the strike of its members. Kim Dae-Hwan, Minister of Labour, called for the bill to be passed within the year, during the Environment & Labour Committee meeting on 29th November. However, the National Assembly was taken by surprise at the fervour of the struggles of workers outside the Assembly while union leaders and KDLP parliamentarians implemented activities inside, and eventually delayed the passage of the bill.
This is the fruit of the efforts of members and union officials who had dedicated themselves ever since the announcement of the bill last September. We must all celebrate the preliminary success of our struggles.
However, our aim is not postponement of the bill. The aim of KCTU’s struggle for the second half of the year was gaining rights for irregular workers. It was only at the government’s announcement of the bill that the KCTU aimed for its withdrawal. We must not lose our tension since the government and the ruling party can always attempt to bulldoze forth the proposed bill, even after the extraordinary session of the Assembly. Therefore, we are placed in a situation in which we must not loosen the hold on our reigns and must continue our struggles until we have completely stopped the bill and have gained an alternative legislation to guarantee rights for irregular workers. Legislating an alternative law to guarantee rights for irregular workers, not merely stopping the ill-revision of the existing one, depends upon mass general strike that surpasses the one on 26th November.
Thus, the KCTU has decided to maintain the validity of its decision on the general strike until the next extraordinary session of the Assembly, and in the meantime, raise public debate and mobilize its forces. If the government attempts once more to push through the bill, then the KCTU will immediately be able to go on another strike. The decision on the general strike that was made at the National Congress is valid until the objectives have been fully reached.
First of all, the KCTU must highlight its demands and raise social debate, beginning with the ‘Rally for Legislation of Law to Protect Irregular Workers’ on 2nd December and participation at the National Assembly hearing on 7th December. The KCTU also has the task of making our demands much more clear particularly since the issue of improving working conditions for specially employed workers is scheduled to be tabled for tripartite discussion from mid to end of December. Until now, the KCTU has been focusing on criticizing the government’s proposal, however, from now on, it must go further and raise more public awareness on KCTU’s alternative proposal.
Furthermore, the KCTU must not loosen its efforts in reorganizing a general strike targeting the extraordinary Assembly session next February. Those federations and workplaces that did not previously implement ballots on the general strike must do so now, and the KCTU should attain at least 50% vote in favour of the strike. Each federation must also decide upon series of mass actions and put them to practice. It is true that during the November 26th general strike, the federations were not able to develop various forms of mass action reflecting particular characteristics of each federation. It is necessary that each federation develop its own creative and voluntary forms of struggle. We must develop creativity and subjectivity of the masses.
It is clear that we will face a situation in which we will not be able to avoid an all-out general strike during the Assembly session in February. The government has merely taken a step back and the wall of conservatives within the Assembly and the power of the wealthy still remain intact. When our proposal and theirs collide, it is clear which side will be more powerful, particularly with the intense lobbying from capitalists. Therefore, we cannot be satisfied with a temporary postponement. It is high time that we reinforce our ranks and prepare ourselves once more for a strong struggle.

“Large-Scale Struggles to Change the World, in First Half of 2006” ? Main Items in Preliminary Plan of Action

The KCTU is undergoing discussion on its plan of action for years 2005 and 2006. Below is a summary of the main items of ‘KCTU’s Direction of Action Until 2006’

■ Direction and aims for the next decade
The ultimate aim of the workers’ movement is to mobilize the working class so that it will play a leading role in establishing a solidarity front of various sectors ? the basis on which workers can gain political force and power, and also attain national and self-determined reunification centered on the people. To this end, the KCTU will go beyond merely being an organization of its 700,000 members, and must go through drastic changes to retain its representation of the working class and to act as the mobilizing force for all peoples. It needs to break away from the past while accommodating socio-political issues as its main agenda, form solidarity with socially marginalized sectors such as irregular or unorganized workers, play the leading role in building a peoples’ solidarity front, and be able to maneuver tactics for mass struggle including its tactics inside the National Assembly. Let’s, for the time being, call this the ‘social solidarity workers’ movement’.

■ Direction for years 2005 to 2006
The KCTU must consolidate collective bargaining that includes irregular workers during the year 2005, and must transform itself into an industry-based system in order to accommodate irregular and unorganized workers, by expanding the boundaries of industrial collective agreement to cover the entire industry of same category. The KCTU must start on its road for a ‘struggle to change the world’ through a ‘social solidarity workers’ movement’. This encompasses extensive solidarity with the socially weak; movement to strengthen the public commons; extensive mass movement to gain reunification; and expansion of international solidarity against globalization, war and imperialism. To this end, the KCTU will establish an unitary peoples’ solidarity front, and a solidarity front aiming at nationalism and self-determination. It will also form a bloc within the international trade union movement.

■ Change of concept to overcome crisis
The only way for the workers’ movement to break through the regime’s isolation strategy and to provide new opportunities, is by gaining the support of the masses and be in their interest. We must be able to transform this Korean society that is ‘pro-globalization, pro-capital’ into one that is ‘progressive, pro-people, nationalist and self-determinist’.

■ Main plan of action until 2006
With the struggle against the bill on irregular workers schedule next February, the KCTU will initiate its first step in ‘changing the world’. During the first half of 2006, the KCTU will go on an all-out general strike to gain the three main social demands to overcome neoliberalism ? abolition of irregular labour and elimination of discrimination; annihilation of the government’s ‘Roadmap’ and strengthening of the three labour rights; and strengthening of public commons and alleviation of poverty. The KCTU will also establish an ‘Irregular Workers Organizing Center’ and organize irregular workers in small-to-medium enterprises by forming a fund of 5 billion won. It will finalize transformation into an industry based union by 2006, and will gain representation and democracy through organizational reformation. It will strengthen the Korean People’s Solidarity into a people’s front, strengthen solidarity with social and civic organizations, develop the reunification movement into a mass movement and expand exchange between North and South Korean workers. It will form a progressive bloc, led by the Third World, within the international labour movement, and strengthen workers’ centrality of the Democratic Labour Party and strive for the party to become a major opposition party by 2008.

Prospects for Abolition Within the Year Bleak, Yet Heat of Struggle Burns On
- More than 1,300 participate in the hunger strike to abolish the National Security Law… Develops into candlelight demonstrations

Prospects on the possibility of abolishing the National Security Law(NSL) within this year are becoming bleak, amidst the conspiracy of the ruling and opposition parties. The ‘National Solidarity for Abolition of the NSL’ is heightening its level of struggle ? strongly criticizing the leadership of the Uri Party while mobilizing campaigns in cyber space and mass candlelight demonstrations. Number of participants in the hunger strike already records 1,400, and the hunger strike on the streets is all the more getting stronger.

On 22nd December, the National Solidarity held a press conference at the site of the sit-in protest in Yeoido, and condemned the leaders of the Uri Party. “The leadership of the Uri Party has backed away under the formalistic rhetoric of normalizing the National Assembly, and has accommodated most of the demands of the Grand National Party. There are dangers now that they will attempt to revise or legislate alternative laws through 4-party talks. The weight lies on the opinion that it will in fact be impossible to abolish the NSL within this year.” The National Solidarity also showed its stern determination to continue its struggles. “Opportunist politicians, who are conspiring with reactionist forces and are giving up the historical task of abolishing the NSL, will be judged by the people and history.”

The National Solidarity, in accordance with the decisions made at its Emergency Meeting the same morning, gathered for a rally in front of the Uri Party Headquarters, and participants of the hunger strike held a candlelight march from Maronie Park to Kwanghwamoon. At 7pm, there was a candlelight demonstration to call for ‘complete annulment of the 4-party talks and complete abolition of the NSL’. On 23rd, there was another candlelight demonstration in front of the National Assembly, and also candlelight march from Seoul Station to Kwanghwamoon on 24th. Furthermore, there were cyberspace campaigns and protests, which resulted in closing of Uri MP Cheon Jeong Bae’s website on 22nd. The number of participants in the hunger strike is also growing, and on 20th the number crossed the line of 1,300.
Last 18th, 5,000 people gathered in Kwanghwamoon to hold a ‘Candlelight March to Stop Anti-Communist Attacks and for Abolition of NSL’ and strongly condemn the Grand National Party.
At 10am on 23rd December, the KCTU held its Industry Representatives Meeting and decided to culminate its organizational forces in the movement to abolish the NSL. KCTU then participated in the Seoul Station rally on 24th, and joined the candlelight march on 27th. The industry representatives will implement an all-night sit-in protest on the night of 29th, and there will be concentrated demonstrations all across the nation.

For Further Information, contact:

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

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