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Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 01:53:05 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: RS <ursa@INTERLOG.COM>
Subject: Fw: Finally, KCTU Recognised

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From: Praxis1871@aol.com <Praxis1871@aol.com>
To: undisclosed-recipients:; <undisclosed-recipients:;>
Date: November 27, 1999 3:09 AM
Subject: Finally, KCTU Recognised

Finally, the government gives in to recognise the KCTU

KCTU News, 23 November 1999

Today, the Ministry of Labour finally, after four previous rejections, accepted the ‘notification of the establishment of a trade union’ submitted by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Recognition of the KCTU

The legal recognition won by the KCTU is the final seal of recognition for the struggle and aspiration that the KCTU represents. It is the vindication of the demands of Korean workers who have refused to live as second class citizens, who fought to win a voice in the society, politics, and at work.

The establishment of the KCTU on November 11, 1995, after 8 years since the massive explosion of workers’ struggle in 1987 and the birth of democratic trade union movement in November 1970 was itself a historic landmark in the emergence of a new force in the Korean society. Furthermore, the mammoth month-long general strike from December 1996 to January 1997 surged the KCTU forward as a force to be reckoned with.

The refusal to recognise the KCTU by the government—the present and all the previous governments—was an insistent attempt to refuse to acknowledge the emergence and also to suppress the growth of the new force represented by the KCTU.

The recognition was won on the basis of unimaginable dimension of sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of workers and tens of thousands of activists. More than 3,000 trade unionists were imprisoned since 1987 when the new movement was born, and many have died as a result of the brutal repression and sheer hard work.

Following the news of the final acceptance of the KCTU’s notification, the KCTU leadership traveled to the Moran Park, where many of the labour movement activists are laid to rest, including one Chun Tae-il, who ignited the aspirations of workers by setting himself on fire 29 years ago, on November 13, 1970, and Choi Myung-ah—a director for organising in the KCTU’s national office—who collapsed in the first days of the recent economic crisis and the IMF neo-liberal restructuring regime in March 1998.

In the press conference to announce the legal recognition, President Dan Byung-ho declared We shall continue to struggle to realise the fruition of the democratic trade union movement in the expanded domain of activities on the foundation of the principles of independence, democracy, struggle, and moral strength which have kept alive by so many pioneers who gave their lives in the course of our struggle.

The Technicalities Involved

The Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act stipulates that any one who wants to establish a trade union shall submit an application. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, since its formation on November 11, 1995, has made such an application on four occasions.

The main reasons for the rejection have been the inclusion of a teachers union which was ‘banned’ until July 1 this year; and the inclusion of dismissed workers, who are not eligible to be members of a trade union, among the elected leadership.

KCTU’s last application submitted following the passage of the special law legalising teachers union was rejected on single ground —that a dismissed worker is included among the elected leadership.

KCTU submitted a new application on November 12, 1999, after celebrating fourth anniversary of its foundation. In order to by- pass the obstacle which the government has failed to overcome, the KCTU included only the president and general secretary in the section of the application form requiring the name and address of union officials. This was seen to be a safe recourse as the law or the application form does not stipulate that all of the officials need to be listed.

The Ministry of Labour returned the application calling for supplementation—to list all the elected officials. The question arose: this was a pretext for rejecting the application yet again. The decision of the Ministry of Labour was a surprise to all—even among some key people in the government. KCTU decided to re-submit the application with the names of all the elected leaders, including that of Vice-President Yoo Duk-sang, the dismissed worker who was not eligible to be a member of a union. (He was formerly the president of the Korea Telecom Trade Union before his dismissal.)

On November 19, in re-submitting the application, the KCTU declared that rejection of the application would signal a total severance of all formal links between the KCTU and the government. Everyone began to wonder what excuse the Ministry of Labour will come up to recognise the KCTU’s application, as it became clear that the Ministry of Labour was not capable of weathering the sheer political pressure that would result from the rejection.

On November 23, 1999, the Ministry of Labour, finally woke to the reality, acknowledging the undeniable presence of the KCTU.

In the official letter delivered to the KCTU, the Ministry of Labour, however, tried to find an excuse for its decision in a cover letter to the certificate. It commented that Vice-President Yoo Duk-sang among the officials of the said confederation was recognised to be a trade union member at the time of his election on March 31, 1998 as he was in the process of challenging the validity of his dismissal in accordance with the Article 4 of the Addenda of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act; he has, however, forfeited his status as a trade union member as his dismissal was confirmed by the Supreme Court on September 4, 1998; let it be therefore, informed that he is not an official in accordance with the Paragraph 1 of the Article 23 of the above mentioned law, to take action in accordance with the mentioned regulation.

The Struggle that Moved and Changed the System

The legal recognition of the KCTU involved many years of struggle, including the campaigns that resulted in the changes in the laws. The labour law had to be changed to remove the stipulation that prohibited multiple unions and a new law had to be enacted to recognise the teacher union.

It was a struggle that required the imprisonment of many trade union activists and leaders on the charge of third party intervention. And it involved the dismissal of more than two thousand teachers and imprisonment of more than 200 of them in 1989 when they organised their union.

The legal recognition of the KCTU is also a victory for international trade union movement and the vindication of the standard setting and supervisory vigilance of the International Labour Organisation, and common international aspiration for basic labour and trade union rights enshrined in the ILO Conventions.

KCTU remembers many trade union activists and human rights activists from all over the world who have fought with the Korean workers to defend and build a new workers’ movement and helped the KCTU to win recognition from the international community. The solidarity efforts have been vital in sustaining the KCTU’s struggle to win the legal recognition in Korea.

What Lies Ahead

The legal recognition of the KCTU is not, however, the full recognition of freedom of association—the basic labour, trade union, and human rights—in Korea. Some one million government employees are still denied the right and freedom to form or join trade unions. The KCTU has reaffirmed its continuing struggle to win the necessary changes, as marked by the recent international symposium on trade union rights for government employees co- sponsored by the Public Services International. At the symposium the KCTU and the PSI resolved to submit a joint complaint to the ILO for violation of freedom of association.

Many millions of workers remain outside the trade union, unable to rely on the organised strength to win just rights and fair conditions. The economic crisis has brought the reality of these workers to the fore. More than 50% of workers in Korea are employed in irregular, atypical, or non-standard jobs. Many of them work outside the protection of the Labour Standard Act or the various benefits of existing institutions, such as the Industrial Accidents Insurance Act. The majority of these workers are women workers: 70% of employed women workers are found in this category.

KCTU has resolved to exert its strength and deploy its resources - and to maximise its newly acquired status—to reach out to these workers. At the same time, the KCTU is preparing itself to make the next year, year 2000, as the year to reduce the statutory working hours to 40. This will be an important job-retention and job- creation initiative which will also enable the humanisation of work and enhance the quality of life. It will—as seen from the experiences in Europe—will be an occasion to modernise and improve work organisation leading to greater productivity.

Another important organisation task for the KCTU is to transform the current union structure, from enterprise unionism to industrial unionism. This will be a vital requirement in the KCTU’s effort to reach out to wider range of workers and to undertake its campaigns more effectively. It may—unless the government and employers acknowledge the inevitability of the change—require continued difficult struggle on the part of the KCTU.

The legal recognition also means the right and obligation of the KCTU to take part in the various policy review bodies of the government, such as, the Prices Review Board. It is said that there are some 70 such policy review bodies where the KCTU needs to take part and make its mark. In order to do this, the KCTU will need to invest and develop its resources and capacity to meet the task effectively.

The legal recognition is a recognition for what KCTU is and what it stands and what it has struggled for. With the legal recognition, the KCTU, now, faces the challenge to take up the new opportunities to further realise its vision. It will require the same kind of commitment from all the people who have been part of this struggle, in and outside Korea. President Dan ended the press conference with an appeal to all who have been with the KCTU to be with us in our struggles and endeavours to grow in strength as a powerful force for alternative that leads the changes.