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From ysli@hkusua.hku.hk Sat Jan 27 07:35:31 2001
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2001 07:44:02 -0600 (CST)
From: Kevin Li <ysli@hkusua.hku.hk>
Subject: S. Korea: Struggle of Temporary Workers at Korea Telecom and E-Land
Article: 113866
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

The Struggle of Temporary Workers Continues despite Suppression

By Kevin Li, 26 January 2001

Drowned out amidst the declaration of strikes and struggle by two of the biggest trade unions in the public sector: the Korea Telecom Union, with its 40,000 union members, and the Korea Electric Power Corporation(30,000), two other struggle in Korea continue despite outright violence from management/government and indifference from the majority of the working class.

The first scene: while the leadership of the KEPCO union was selling off the public interest by agreeing to the separation and foreign sale of the electric service in exchange for pay raises and more benefits, the temporary workers at E-land, who have been on strike for more than 3 months now, were attacked by riot police and forcefully dispersed while holding a demonstration in front of one of their offices and protesting against the actions of management. Second scene: the Korea Telecom union went on strike against the expectations of many, raising the hopes of those that had been let down by the anti-working class decision of the KEPCO union leadership. The 5 day strike by the Korea Telecom union was able to secure certain important gains for the regular workers at the company (delaying of privatization plans, job security for regular workers), but the union turned its back on the struggle of the temporary workers, numbering 10,000 and on strike since early December, by concentrating on the interests of the regular workers during negotiations with management.

As a result, the 7000 workers have had their contracts terminated and are now without jobs. Contrary to the actions of the regular union, the union of the temporary workers acted in solidarity with the regular workers all throughout the strike, joining them on the strike site and holding rallies in solidarity, but are now, to this day, waging a solitary struggle against the unjust lay-offs.

It was expected that the strike by the workers at Korea Telecom and Korea Electric Power Corporation, both numbering more than 30,000, would be able to energize a labor movement that, in the view of many, had been too lethargic in the face of many recent concessions to capital and government. With basic labor rights being violated constantly and living standards decreasing, it was hoped that the struggle by the two biggest unions in the public sector for job security and the preservation of public services would be able to reverse the recent trends in Korea. However, a combination of undemocratic decision making, bureaucracy, self interest at the cost of working-class interest, and the resulting failure to bring together the struggles of both regular and temporary workers has left the working class movement worse off than it was a month and a half ago.

With the percentage of temporary workers rising sharply after the IMF crisis 3 years ago, the issue of discrimination against temporary workers, and the increasing division between temporary workers and regular workers has become one of the most vital issues within the progressive sector in Korea, and mainstream society as well. Recent studies have shown that temporary workers take up more than half of the total working class in Korea. Suffering from low wages, job insecurity, and almost no benefits despite doing the same jobs for the same amount of time as regular workers, these workers have just recently started to voice their demands here in Korea. For fair and just compensation for their work, for more job security, for more benefits, for equal treatment with regular workers, and ultimately for the abolition of the temporary worker system. It remains an uphill battle however, as capital and management do not want to give up the profits gained from cutting wages and benefits, as well as the added freedom for lay offs that the temporary worker system allows. The unwillingness from the traditional trade unions, representing mostly regular workers, to actively support the cause of the irregular workers, as shown in the case of the Korea Telecom union, is also hindering progress.

The temporary worker system issue is one that lies at the center of the neo-liberal restructuring drive the world over. It has resulted in the deterioration of living standards and the deprivation of basic labor rights that have been attained by many years of struggles against brutal oppression. It also epitomizes all that is wrong with the direction which globalization is taking: in which the majority of the people are forced to give up more and more in the ‘race toward the bottom’ for ‘competitiveness’ and ‘a flexible labor market’ to ‘survive in the age of globalization.’ This is why it is important that all those opposed to neo-liberal globalization focus on this issue and support the struggle of these workers.