Date: Wed, 17 Dec 97 21:46:19 CST
From: rich%pencil@VM.MARIST.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Historic Seoul Labor Media Conference Held; Int’l Solidarity Growing
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Historic Seoul LaborMedia Conferenc ---------- */
On October 10-12 in Seoul, South Korea, labor video, computer, media and labor teachers from around the world met to hold an labor telecommunications conference.
It was no accident the conference was taking place in Korea. The massive Korean labor upheaval and general strike held in December 1996 and January 1997 had brought not only the ignition of the Korean labor movement but an international communication net work that helped back the strike. The conference also came on the heels of the LaborTECH conference held in San Francisco in July and co-sponsored by UPPNET and LaborNet-IGC. Both these organizations had actively helped publicize the Seoul conference as w ell as Labournet-UK.
The combination of the computer/communication revolution with the development of an independent labor movement in Korea has led to some historic firsts. For the first time in the history of labor, a general strike was linked up with the world working cla ss through the use of an interactive web page and with videos on the general strike that were screened around the world.The Korean government was shaken and stunned by the global actions in solidarity with the Korean workers.
These technologies helped build an international day of solidarity on January 10, 1997 of rallies and protests at dozens of Korean embassies and consulates around the world.
The importance of international labor communciation links was not lost on the Korean labor movement. The conference was sponsored not only by many labor video, computer and labor information/education organizations but also by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
The Korean Confederation Of Trade Unions had been the leading force behind the general strike and had seen the need to use labor communication technology to build labor solidarity links. The KCTU was not only a sponsor of the conference but also an acti ve participant with many of it’s top leaders attending sessions and hosting a reception for the international delegates.
The conference itself was held at Yonsei University which only last year had been a battle ground during the general strike. Ten thousand police had surrounded the university to crush a student protest and had arrested over 1,000 students. Some of them w ere still in jail along with trade unionists including a leader of the public workers union who was framed up to prevent the action of his union during the strike.
The Seoul LaborMedia conference also was held in the midst of a massive political and economic crisis. The capitalist parties were in disaray with the President of Korea resigning from his own party a week before the conference. The currency crisis was knocking the value of the won off 3% a day and a successful national strike had just taken place at Kia industries that forced the government to nationalize the conglomerate.The first Seoul International Labor Film and Video Festival was scheduled to be h eld and some were concerned that the organizers of the conference would also be arrested since the films had not been through the censorship board.
The conference topics and planning had been discussed online prior to the conference and many of the suggestions were integrated into the conference agenda. With a team of nearly 100 students, academics, videograpers and computer experts, the conference book in Korean and English was put together for distribution at the conference, the videos from around the world were captioned into Korean and all the logistical and security arrangements were organized.
I had come a week earlier and met with the Sam-mi Specialty Steel hunger strikers who were fighting their discriminatory discharge by POSCO. They had a web page in English and asked for international support for their struggle. Their web page is at (http :kpd.sing-kr.org/~sami). I had also spoken at a rally of 8,000 workers on November 8 from throughout the country who were commemorating the death of Jeon Tae Il. Ten years ago, in protest of the inhuman labor conditions, Jeon Tae Il had immolated himself and every year on Novemb er 9, the Korean trade union movement comes together to commemorate his life.
Theater performers, musicians, drummers and even a rap band called Mayday performed before the thousands of workers and students who had come from throughout the country to this annivesary.
The following day November 9, a national labor rally was held of 30,000 workers and Kwon Young Ghil, president of the KCTU announced his candidacy for president of the country. His party which is called People Victory 21 (firstname.lastname@example.org)was formed after a special conference of the KCTU decided that workers needed a political alternative to the business parties. The government is refusing to register the party and unions are not allowed to participate in politics despite the role of business in politics.
Many of the LaborMedia delegates joined labor representatives from around the world who were introduced from the platform to loud applause. Not surprisingly, there was not a word about the rally of the labor political campaign in the two daily English pa pers in Korea, The Korean Times and the Korea Herald.
The LaborMedia conference not only faced many logistical problems but also the threat of a police raid. Under Korean law, every film or video must be sent through a censor before it can be screened.
The previous week, Suh Joon-sik, a human rights activist had organized
the Second Annual Human Rights Festival in Seoul and had been arrested
for screening films without getting them approved so there was real
concern that our conference would also face the same fate. The police
and government officials called the conference organizers to find out
if the films we were showing had been approved. The conference
organizers said that since the film makers were attending the
conference these would be in an
educational fo rmat. Because of
the presense of over 15 international delegates, the fact that the
Yonsei University department was a co-sponsor and finally the fact
that the KCTU was sponsoring the conference made it very difficult for
the authorities to move to shutdo wn the film and video festival.
Using simultaneous translators from Korean to English, the KCTU and other sponsors gave greetings to the conference. The panels had a wide variety of topics from the role of labor video around the world to labor technology in the working class. Many of t he presentations had also been translated into Korean so participants could read the documents prior to the contribution. Many of them have also been posted on the Labormedia web page at http://kpd.sing-kr.org/labormedia What was clear even from the beginning of the conference is that activists and leaders of the Korean trade union movement and labor communicators are closely following labor developments internationally. A online chat was also set up for labor communicat ors around the world to discuss and participate in the conference.
Labor research and education groups such as the Korea Institute For Labor Studies and Policies(KIPC@chollian.dacom.co.kr) and the International Politics f Economy Center Of Korea (http://kpnews.cpnet.or.kr) were already publicizing in Korean the developm ents of labor communication around the world as well as translating labor articles on the internet into Korean for distribution through faxes in Korea.
More and more Korean unionists are setting up computer networks for information discussion and debate.The Democratic Seoul Subway Workers Trade Union and the Hyundai Heavy Industry Workers Union both have computer user groups and there are thousands of unionists now going on line. The KCTU’s officers all have email and we learned from the conference that there is a continuing debate and democracy and other issues in their computer networks. In fact, according to participants, workers who were critical of various polices were using these networks to express their points of view.
In fact, the government is so worried about the democratic use of the internet that it recently banned access to Geocities for Koreans because of the Korean labor and political sites. Geocities hosts more than 1,000,000 web sites. One discussion that too k place was on the qestion of security and the use of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) outside the United States. This encryption software according to Israeli participant Eric Lee, is vital in protecting labor information and communication. It of course, is ban ned in Korea, but according to Lee, Hyundai and other major corporations are probably already using it.
The response to the video screening was a packed theater of students, workers and teachers. Many of the labor struggles from India, Japan, Palestine, Canada and the US had never even been heard of by Koreans. Many were stunned by the power of these image s and the similarity between the Korean struggles and those around the world.
UPPNET’s video on the Liverpool dockers internatonal day of
All For One was well received. The Japanese presentation
on labor video by Akira Matsubara of Video Press in Tokyo focussed on
how the visit of the Liverpool dockers are brought together the
struggles of not only the Japanese dockers against deregulation but
with the Kokuro railway workers who have been fighting privatization
of Japan Rail (JR) for over 10 year s. Akira video taped their tour
and the now internationalization of this important struggle.
One important workshop was on how technology is being used to further
exploit the labor movement. In a paper subtitled
Economy Of Beepers, Korea University Professor Kang Su Sol
outlined how part time and temporary workers are being furth er
exploited through the use of beepers. They only work when they are
beeped and they have become Korea’s
virtual workers. A
contribution on the use of computer technology in Japan and how
Japanese workers are being forced to purchase their own computer s in
order to keep up at work showed another aspect of how computers or the
lack of them by workers is causing growing fear of being left behind
and marginalized from the work force.
There was a great deal of interest in the UPS Teamsters strike and how US unions were able to successfully mobilize against the company. Additionally, many unionists were interested in the formation of the Labor Party in the United States and some were following it on Labor Party newspaper on the web.
One important issue that was discussed was the difficulty of Koreans and others in using the internet which is largely in English. Debate centered on how unionists could be able to communicate using new technology to overcome problems of language.
One of the major achievements of Korean labor communicators was their ability to put up a large number of web pages in English about the general strike and on the struggle of the trade unions. The Social Information Networking Group (SING), the Task Grou p For Labor Information (TASK) and the Solidarity Committee For Progress and Democracy were all groups that were working to provide information on the internet about developments in the Korean labor movement. These organization have also played an importa nt role in the critical process of educating Korean workers about the use of communication technology.
Participants from South Africa, England, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Israel and the US were astounded at the extent of labor communication technology being developed and used by the Korean labor movement.
Another debate that took place at the conference was the issue of
globalization of the world economy and how labor should respond to
this. Discussion and documents during the conference pointed to the
similarity of deregulation of labor, privatization an d contracting
out in every country of the world. The IMF itself was only weeks away
from going to Korea to reorganize the Korean economy and the
capitalist press was wailing about how Korea must implement
Mexican Plan to solve it’s economic problems.
Chris Bailey of Labournet from England argued that it would be wrong for the conference to take a position on these issues without a fuller discussion. After some debate, a compromise amendment to the closing conference document submitted by Peter Water man said that globalization should come democratically from below and not from the top down.
This debate will obviously continue on this and many other issues and this is now possible on the internet.
During a discussion among some of the delegates, agreement was reached that there would be a Labornet-Korea established, a international labor video distribution network and exchange developed and a plan to have international labor film and video festiva ls in every country around the world during May.
A delegate from Canada, Julius Fisher also volunteered to see if there was enough support and finances to plan the next LaborMedia/LaborTech conference in Vancouver in 1998. The delegate from the South Africa Food And Allied Workers Union, Kubeshni Goven der, also said she would work to see if we could have a similar conference in South Africa in 1999. Following the conference, Eric Lee in solidarity with the Korean workers established a web page on labor news and struggles in Korea. The page is located at www.solinet.org/LEE/korea.html The Seoul International LaborMedia Conference played an significant role in not only building solidarity and links with the Korean working class but also strengthening labor communciation links worldwide.