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Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 22:25:21 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Korean Unions Move Toward Party
Article: 77497
To: undisclosed-recipients;
Message-ID: <bulk.7462.19990925121510@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** labr.global: 319.0 **/
** Topic: Korean Unions Move Toward Party **
** Written 10:07 PM Sep 22, 1999 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **

Two labor groups poised to increase political clout(1)

Korea Herald, Vol. 199909, no.77, 22 September 1999

Last year, a landmark agreement was reached among labor, management and the government to lift the ban on unions’ political activity.

Now, one year later, labor groups are rapidly increasing their political clout. Their immediate goal is to make a visible mark in the upcoming 2000 National Assembly elections. Later, they hope to fill actual government posts with their members.

In alliance with People’s Victory 21 and other social groups, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the nation’s second largest umbrella labor union, announced last month its intention to form a progressive party around those it sees as the most underprivileged—manual laborers, farmers and the poor—by the end of the year.

At around the same time, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), the nation’s largest umbrella labor group with more than 1 million members, unveiled its plans to secure 20 Assembly seats at the 2000 general elections.

By 2004, the labor group hopes to launch its own party.

Putting their elaborate plans aside, it remains to be seen whether the labor groups can exert a considerable influence on a deeply conservative political structure, although the groups themselves generally paint a bright picture of their own political futures.

Lee Sang-hyun, an organizing member of the progressive party envisioned by the KCTU, said he could cite three reasons why his party stands a good chance of garnering a substantial share of the vote.

First, unlike progressive parties of the past, the Democratic Labor Party will not be a clique made up of a handful of the intelligentsia, but will consist of common people. This will inevitably appeal to the masses, said Lee, a former high-ranking official of the KCTU.

Secondly, Lee said that recent political developments have raised the possibility of introducing a new election method, in which the electorate votes for both a party and a candidate. This system makes it easier for new parties to earn votes.

Finally, Lee said that his party will not form around a group of dissidents, but around specialists from various fields who can run the government efficiently.

A number of recent surveys do indeed indicate the public’s disillusion with existing political parties and show unprecedented support for progressives.

A survey conducted in May by Hangil Research showed that 24.4 percent of Koreans would be willing to vote for a progressive party candidate if the new election method were introduced.

The figure is considerably higher than the percentage of people who said they would vote for the opposition Grand National Party, 13.1 percent, and the ruling-coalition United Liberal Democrats, 5.3 percent. Only slightly more, 31.8 percent, said they would vote for the ruling National Congress for New Politics.

Similar findings came out of an Internet survey conducted by the Hankyoreh daily newspaper Aug. 30-31, right after the launch of the Democratic Labor Party was announced. Out of 9,611 surveyed, 28 percent, or 2,717, indicated support for the new progressive party.

The FKTU’s views on the growing power of progressives aren’t much different from those made of the progressive party.

However, the labor group says it’s not yet time to go at it alone.

The FKTU’s immediate plan is to form a coalition with an existing party that is willing to express the group’s interests.

We need more time to grow; to educate our members to think and act politically, said Hyun Ki-hwan, director of FKTU’s political affairs department. We feel that our political campaign and candidates should not be the affair of top executives, but should heavily involve rank-and-file members. Only then will true democracy be reached.

Hyun refused to mention, however, which political party the labor group is considering associating itself with.