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Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 22:16:12 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Korea: KCTU Gen Strike Set for April 19
Article: 61518
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.18952.19990419061746@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** labr.global: 307.0 **/
** Topic: Korean KCTU Gen Strike Set for April 19 With Subway Workers to Lead **
** Written 5:54 PM Apr 17, 1999 by labornews@labornet.org in cdp:labr.global **

Date: 04/17 7:53 AM
From: inter@kctu.org

KCTU Concerted Campaign: All Set to Go—Subway Workers to Lead the Struggle

KCTU News, 17 April 1999

The KCTU-wide general campaign, including rolling strikes by selected unions, is set to roll into action on Monday April 19, 1999 with the strike by the Seoul Subway Workers Union leading the way. The government, spearheaded by the Public Prosecutors, has threatened to arrest all leaders responsible for the strike action, with some 40 elected leaders of the Seoul Subway Workers Union on the top of the long-list.

The first stage of the general campaign is scheduled to reach a peak with a massive public rally on May Day. The May Day rally will, then, lead to a new build up, gaining new momentum with the major unions of the Korean Metal Workers Federation leading the second wave.

The KCTU Demand

The KCTU General Campaign is aimed at forcing a change in the overall orientation of the government’s restructuring policy. The Kim Dae Jung government, in actively espousing the discredited IMF policy of neo-liberalism and Washington Consensus, has enshrined mass lay-off (retrenchment, redundancy, dismissal for economic reasons, workforce reduction) as the central and only component of ‘restructuring’ programme. The ill-advised policy—perhaps aimed at appeasing the Wall Street neo-liberal zealots—was, last year, responsible for the dismissal of some 400,000 workers and the collapse of the domestic economy as a whole. The dire consequences of dancing to the tune of logic of ‘international confidence’ in the eyes of foreign concerns was the decimation of the domestic resilience and a horrendous increase in unemployment to two million in official figurms (four million in the KCTU analysis).

KCTU calls for an end to this mad policy. A joint government-labour statement (a sample of a presidential statement was recently produced by the KCTU to be posted in public locations only to be torn down by riot-police) declaring the halt in the layoff drive will pave the way for a negotiated alternative reform programme based on working hour reduction. A commitment to reduce working hours will be the central anchor of all reform measures in the sphere of economic policy, corporate structures, taxation system, social security system, and participatory social consensus process.

The Seoul Subway Workers to Lead the Way

The KCTU general campaign will be led on April 19, 1999 by the workers at the Seoul Subway. They have already begun their activities since last week with a rolling ‘work-to-rule’ campaign. The drivers, station staff, maintenance divisions have, for the last one week, stuck to operational rules in all their work. This has led to unsafe trains being kept away from operation until serviced to top safety level and drivers sticking to stipulated stop time requirements at each station.

The Public Sector Workers to Carry the First Wave

The Seoul Subway workers will be joined by other members in the Korean Federation of Transport, Public and Social Service Labour Unions (KPSU). On April 16, the KPSU held a press conference to announce that a total of 35 unions with 80,000 members will strike starting from April 19. The action will begin on 4 a.m. Monday with the Seoul Subway workers, to be joined later by workers from 25 other unions including the Dacom, National Sports Promotion Corporation, National Evaluation Authority, Korea Electricity Technology Authority, National Oil Pipeline Authority. On April 21, they will be joined again by unions at technology research institutes, while the Pusan Urban Transit and Korean Refrigeration workers will join on April 22.

The 50,000 strong Korea Telecom Trade Union is expected to keep the strike momentum escalating by joining in on April 26. On Sunday April 18, the Telecom workers will hold a general meeting of all members where more than 20,000 workers are expected to begin a nation-wide Korean Telecom Trade Union vote to go on strike.

The Streets to Heat Up with Workers Struggle

To bolster the strike action, the KCTU will organise daily mass rallies in Seoul and other major urban centres. The street demonstration campaign starts on April 17 with a public rally at the Seoul Central Station to be attended by some 10,000 workers before marching to the Myongdong Cathedral.

The Myongdong Cathedral is expected to become once again the centre of action and the seat of the KCTU General Campaign Headquarters, as the major KCTU leadership is expected to set camp there. All mass public rallies planned to be held in Seoul will end with street march to the Cathedral hill.

The striking workers will converge for a demonstration of force on April 19 in a mid-afternoon mass rally. Similar rallies are scheduled for every day until the May Day. Each day more than 10,000 workers are expected to demonstrate in Seoul streets. Later in the day, more workers will be mobilised for evening rallies with marches to the Myongdong Cathedral.

Workers, Farmers, Urban Poor, and Unemployed to Join Hands in Common Struggle

On April 22, the KCTU will hold a special solidarity rally together with the Korean Urban Poor Federation while worker-farmer solidarity will be shown off in another special rally on April 24 jointly organised by the KCTU and the Korean Farmers Federation. In another rally on April 24, the KCTU and an alliance of unemployed workers associations put a set of demands to the government calling for a substantial policy change to create jobs, minimise unemployment, and provide livelihood support for people affected by the crisis and the IMF SAP programme.

The sectoral solidarity rallies will culminate on April 27 with a National People’s Rally which will bring together workers, farmers, urban poor, women, student and youth, and all other sectors of the society affected by the crisis and the neo-liberal madness. The multi-sectoral solidarity actions and broad alliance have surfaced on the basis of a common understanding to join forces in pushing for a genuine reform.

On April 15, the leaders of the KCTU, the farmers movement, and the urban poor people’s movement held a joint conference to announce the adoption of common platform for solidarity and joint struggle. The three sectoral representative organisations denounced that the government was bent on sacrificing the livelihood and rights of people in order to appease and satisfy foreign and domestic monopoly capital. The joint declaration called for the dismantling of the chaebol system by evicting the dynastic family clans from the management and separation of ownership and management. Furthermore, the three organisations demanded a thorough going clean up of the corrupt politicians and government practices. And they committed themselves to support the struggle for working hour reduction, cancellation of farmers’ debts, and end to criminalisation and eviction of street vendors.

Korean Workers Struggle Moves to Washington

Organisations of Koreans living in the U.S. and some American activist groups critical of the IMF neo-liberal campaign joined forces for a joint rally in Washington D.C., U.S. to reject the IMF agenda and to express their support for the struggle of the KCTU. The U.S. groups declared their commitment to develop stronger links with struggles of workers and people in other countries which have come undert the IMF dictates and the Washington Consensus to encourage and foster a broader world-wide common opposition to the neo-liberal agenda.

Workers Struggle Boosted by Accelerated Party Building

In the morning of April 18, 1999, a year-long effort to broaden and step-up the movement-wide debate and momentum to build a working class-based progressive political party will come into a historic fruition.

The commitment of more than 1,000 leaders of various social movements, including the decision of the KCTU Central Committee on April 7 have paved the way for the launching of a Progressive Party Promotion Committee. The new body will be entrusted with the preliminary work for an as-yet unnamed progressive political party of the people. The initial work will lead to the establishment of a formal party preparation committee in June or July.

The organisation of a mass based progressive political party will provide the missing link between the militant people’s struggles and the thrust towards people’s power in all spheres of life, including the government and politics.

Repression Cannot Stop the Struggle

The government, led by the security-ideologues at the Public Prosecutors Office, has already announced its intention to crack down on any strike action by the KCTU. In keeping with the tradition of police orchestration of industrial relations, the Public Prosecutors Office declared that it will initially target some 40 leaders of the Seoul Subway Workers Union if the strike goes ahead.

The Public Prosecutors Office declared that the KCTU’s demand for an end to restructuring and working hour reduction are not matters for negotiation. And any KCTU-led opposition to the government policy is illegal, liable for prosecution. Furthermore, the Prosecutors also declared the Seoul Subway Workers Union’s opposition to the management’s plan to cut back wages and benefits is illegal because it is a part of the government policy of burden sharing. It rationalised that the decision to cut back on wages and benefits of government-employed workers was a symbolic gesture of the government to share the pain of the current crisis.

The shrill charges made by the government at this early stage prepares the scene for a repeat or bettering of the record imprisonment of workers set last year when nearly 300 KCTU leaders and members were put away in jail. The KCTU, however, plans to push ahead with its plan for a month-long general campaign, if the government continues to insist that it cannot permit a direct negotiation with the KCTU. At the April 17 public rally in Seoul, some 3,000 KCTU leaders and activists submitted signed statements declaring their determination to continue the struggle regardless of the government threat of imprisonment.

The KCTU’s general campaign programme, which started late last year with broad public education and awareness raising activities began to return results just as the campaign is set to step up its gear. Various public opinion surveys conducted by media and even government itself are beginning to show that Koreans in general opposed the current layoff drive and supported working hour reduction as the centre piece of thorough-going reform programme. For example, an opinion poll conducted this week by the KBS found that 64% of the respondents opposed the layoff policy and 75% supported working hour reduction.

These results fly in the face of the government, which mobilised all its means, including the repeated public statements by the President Kim Dae Jung, to insist and inculcate that mass layoff was necessary and unavoidable if Korea were to get itself out of the crisis and appease the ire of the IMF and foreign investors.

The government, despite its efforts to appear unmoved by the KCTU’s build up, is beginning to show signs of concern at the gravity of the situation. It may not, therefore, be a surprise to see a flurry of last-minute—and perhaps uncoordinated -- feelers from the government for negotiation. The KCTU leadership is planning to respond carefully to these turn of events, even if it is suspected that these proposals would be less than genuine attempts to begin a sincere process for a negotiated settlement but last minute manoeuvrings to scuttle the KCTU’s plan for general campaign.