statements

PSSP Statement on North Korea's 3rd Nuclear Test

Posted in statements on February 18th, 2013 by pssp – 58 Comments

Stop All Measures Threatening Peace on the Korean Peninsula!

On February 12, North Korea conducted a third nuclear test. Later that day, North Korean state media confirmed that the test had been carried out successfully.

Repeated nuclear tests by North Korea now prove that the U.S. and South Korea-led response to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions has failed.

Since the 1980s, North Korea has demanded that withdraw of U.S. troops and weapons from the Korean Peninsula, the mutual reduction of North and South Korean military forces and the establishment of a framework for peace. North Korea has also sought the normalization of relations with the U.S. The U.S., however, has thoroughly ignored these demands, instead, adopting an antagonistic policy towards North Korea. Following the Bush Administration, which notoriously dubbing the country part of an ‘Axis of Evil’, the Obama Administration continues to refused negotiations, maintaining the option of a preemptive strike against the country under its policy of ‘strategic patience’. Taking advantage of its overwhelmingly superior military force, the U.S. has strengthened sanctions targeting North Korea’s economic vulnerability. These measures have merely fanned North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which it sees as the only means to equalize its position vis-à-vis the U.S. The same can be said for the regime set by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Far from controlling nuclear proliferation, the NPT has functioned to guarantee the hegemony of existing nuclear powers, especially the U.S. and has, thus, accelerating North Korea’s drive toward nuclear tests and weapons. It is now clear that the U.S.-led international response to North Korea and the NPT regime have utterly failed.

Through its three nuclear tests, North Korea has now demonstrated how close it has come to actual nuclear weapons possession. In the past, the North Korean government insisted that it adhered to the principle of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that the development of nuclear capability was only a necessary means of self-defense. This attitude has now changed. North Korea has now amended its Constitution to designate itself a ‘nuclear-armed state’ and has declared that issue of denuclearization is no longer up for negotiation. Even considering the failings of U.S. and South Korean policy, this drive towards nuclear possession is, ultimately, not the right path.

In a resolution censuring North Korea adopted on January 22, 2013, the United Nations Security Council expressed its “determination to take significant action in the event of a further DPRK launch or nuclear test”. The North Korean government should recognize its drive towards nuclear armament is bringing about hardline responses from international society and a potential military confrontation, rather than increasing its negotiating power. North Korea’s neighbors in Northeast Asia are using North Korea’s nuclear threats to justify further militarization and more increased hostility. Far from achieving its goals of a balance of power and security guarantee, North Korea’s actions are heightening tensions and threatening peace and security in the region.

For its part, the South Korea government has responded rapidly with hardline measures, as if it was almost waiting for the chance provided by another nuclear test. It recently announced the acceleration of plans to deploy missiles with the capability to reach every corner of North Korean territory and other military build-up measures.

The South Korean government makes the argument that it can control a further nuclear test or military action through equivalent demonstrations of strength. It is important to recognize, however, that far from being a solution, such threats only become excuses for more aggressive actions on the part of North Korea. North Korea’s official state media, for instance, has used UN Security Council sanctions imposed after its rocket launch on December 12th as a justification for the last nuclear test, claiming that the test was a needed response to the U.S.’ hostile violation of its legitimate rights to use satellites for peaceful purposes. The South Korean government should recognize that hardline measures have objectively failed to deter North Korea’s nuclear ambition and to mitigate ever-growing military tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The South Korean government should immediately stop using the North Korean nuclear test as a pretext for increased military armament and hardline policies. These responses will only raise tension in Northeast Asia and are likely to spur an arms race.

On the day of the nuclear test, Kim Jang-su, nominee for Chief of National Security under the new Park Geun-hye administration, told journalists that, should the test be confirmed, the “process for trust-building between South North Korea will not be the same as before.” This was a hint that the incoming administration will likely strengthen its stance towards North Korea. Now that she has been elected, Park Geun-hye has already begun to renege on campaign promises concerning welfare and economic democratization. The president-elect must not use the North Korean nuclear test as an excuse to turn her back on the Korean people’s demands for peace on the peninsula.

All advocates of peace in Korea should take a firm stance against all nuclear weapons and, at the same time, work for the reduction of military tensions on the peninsula. Supporting North Korea’s nuclear armament would only aggravate confusion and insensitivity to the danger nuclear weapons pose, making it difficult to oppose arguments for South Korea’s nuclear armament. Nuclear weapons are not a means to bring about peace, but stimulants of tension and threats to peace and stability.

The responsibility for nuclear disarmament lies first and foremost with the United States and other nuclear powers. And, tensions on the Korean peninsula can only be reduced when the United States and South Korea give up their antagonistic policies towards North Korea.

PSSP will continue to struggle against aggressive policies towards North Korea and all actions that threaten peace and stability in the region.

(Issued on February 12, 2013)

The South Korean Governments' "Program to Alleviate the Hardships of Undocumented Overseas Koreans" and South Korea's Racial Hierarchy: It's time to start breaking it down

Posted in articles, statements on March 25th, 2011 by pssp – 67 Comments

25 March 2011

On 3 January 2011, the South Korean Immigration Service, an agency of the Ministry of Justice, began an unprecedented program for the 'alleviation of hardships' for undocumented overseas Koreans residing in South Korea. Under this program, which will go on until the end of June, a large portion of the undocumented overseas Koreans ineligible for F-4 (overseas Korean visa) visas now living in South Korea, the vast majority of whom are Chinese Korean, are allowed to apply for and receive a D-4 visa (general trainee visa). After completing a 9-month occupational skills training program conducted by the Overseas Korean Technical Training Foundation, these individuals will be permitted to change their visa status to H-2 (working visa) and thus be allowed to work legally in one of the 36 industries now open to overseas Koreans under the South Korea's Guest Work System for a period of 4 years and 10 months. The primary targets of this program are Chinese and other overseas Koreans who have resided in South Korea for over 10 years along with their spouses and direct decedents. In addition, undocumented overseas Koreans who have spouses who have obtained citizenship or permanent residency, those who require treatment for the aftereffects of industrial accidents, those who are married to Korean citizens and those who have become undocumented after entering Korea on H-2 visas are also eligible. Overseas Koreans who were born before 1 October 1949 will not have to participate in the training program and will be granted F-4 visas, giving them a status near permanent residence that is now granted to overseas Koreans from Japan and the United States under the Law on Overseas Koreans. In reality, the vast majority of those who will benefit from this program fall in the first category. The Ministry of Justice has estimated that the program applies to roughly 6,000 Chinese and other overseas Koreans. Migrant-related NGOs, on the other hand, say the number could be as high as 20,000.

Reaction to this program has been mixed. Understandably, the Chinese Korean community and some of the NGOs serving it have welcomed the measure. Other forces in the migrant workers movement, however, have been highly critically. These groups (which include the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea (JCMK) and the Alliance for Migrants Equality and Human Rights) have called the program racially discriminatory because it is not open to migrants of not of Korean decent. JCMK collecting over 500 petitions from non-Korean migrant workers, both those who have resided in South Korea for over 10 years and those who have not, and submitted them to the National Human Rights Commission on March 21, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On the same day JCMK and the Alliance for Migrant's Equality and Human Rights held a press conference in front of the Human Rights Commission to call attention to the discriminatory nature of the program and racism in South Korean society, and demand legalization for all migrant workers. The press conference statement presented this day, which was written by JCMK, also criticized the legalization program for effectively concealing the fact that while the National Assembly approved the application of the Law on Overseas Koreans to Koreans from China and countries in the former Soviet Bloc in 2004, this measure has not been implemented. It called on the government to replace the 'deceitful' legalization program with guarantee of freedom of travel, employment and residence in accordance with the Law on Overseas Koreans for these overseas Koreans.

That migrant rights groups used March 21 to call attention to the discriminatory nature of the legalization program is commendable. If the South Korean movement is gong to take on racism as a serious issue, however, we need a more nuanced understanding of the implications of the legalization program and how it fits into the government's overall policy towards overseas Koreans and other migrant workers in South Korea. The passing of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination seems like a good occasion to start building this analysis.

Let's begin by looking at the interests and intentions behind the Program to Alleviate the Hardships of Overseas Koreans. The Ministry of Justice says the program is being implemented out of humanitarian consideration for the difficulties faced by (non-F-4) overseas Koreans due to their lowly economic and social position. We can guess with fair certainty that this is not the whole story. On the one hand, the program is a response to lobbying efforts by the NGOs serving Chinese Koreans. While it does not go far enough to meet their ultimate demand - the application of the Law on Overseas Koreans - the program is likely to placate them to a certain degree. In addition, the program is a means to address labor shortages in particular industries shunned by native workers with a cheap labor force that is more highly trained and socially assimilated than temporary non-Korean migrants who enter Korea under the Employment Permit System (EPS). Through the required training program and the granting of work permits, the government will be able to channel undocumented overseas Koreans, who may now be employed in any number of occupations, into specific industries where the need for labor is high while keeping them out of industries were native workers are facing high unemployment rates, most notably construction.

The Guest Work System, a program exclusively open to overseas Koreans, was first introduced in 2007. It allows for a 4 year 10 month period of residence. For the first group of workers who entered South Korea through this system, this residence period will be up in 2012. Since it is likely that many of these workers will remain in South Korea in an undocumented status, the government faces a potential social crisis next year. We can guess, therefore, that the current legalization program is also a means to test out the effectiveness of extending expired H-2 visas as a method for averting a rapid rise in the undocumented population.

The 'hardship alleviation' program comes in the wake of an announcement by the Ministry of Employment and Labor of an increase in the quota for new E-9 (EPS) visas in consideration of the vast numbers of undocumented migrant workers that have been deported and improvement in the economy. The quota has been increased by 14,000 over last year to a total of 48,000 for 2011 with the possibility of further increases later in the year. At the same time the Ministry has announced its plan to maintain the target number of H-2 visa holders in South Korea at the same level as last year (303,000), meaning that few new over Korean migrants will be permitted to enter South Korea under the Guest Work System this year. Given the implementation of the legalization program, it appears most new H-2 visas will go to long-term residents, not new arrivals. Clearly, the government envisions different roles for overseas Korean migrants and migrants of non-Korean decent. The latter are to be the most short-term, most expendable workers, with the more seasoned EPS workers pushed out at the same time as a never-ending supply of new recruits is brought in. The former, on the other hand, will be a well-trained, more assimilated and more stable, but still cheap, labor force.

The 'hardship alleviation' represents clear partiality towards 'fellow countrymen'. It, along with the recent granting of voting rights to overseas nationals and the introduction of a written pledge of allegiance to South Korea's liberal democratic system in naturalization procedures, is part of a trend towards strengthened nationalism in South Korean policymaking. Nationalist favoritism towards overseas Koreans, however, has a strong utilitarian element and is applied differentially based on wealth. The legalization program currently under way still falls short of granting F-4 visas to the majority of Chinese Koreans. The ultimate result of the benefits it grants will be to further solidify Chinese Koreans' position as second-class citizens who exist somewhere between migrant workers of non-Korean decent and Korean citizens (and overseas Koreans from developed nations) in the social hierarchy. This positioning is accompanied by an ambiguous racialization: Although Chinese Koreans are referred to as 'countrymen' [dongpo] in policy discourse and the media, overseas Koreans from China and the former Soviet bloc are still maintained as a temporary workforce tied to particular industries and are, as such, a target of government management and regulation. These overseas Koreans are still 'others' who have to register as aliens, while Japanese and American Koreans are allowed to simply notify the government of their residence in South Korea. In the workplace and in daily life as well, Chinese Koreans are treated as 'other's, lumped together with other 'Asian' migrants. (In South Korean racial discourse, native Koreans are generally excluded from the category 'Asian', which is used to refer to people from South and Central Asian countries.)

The government's utilitarian nationalism and discriminatory policies are contributing to the institutionalization of a racialized hierarchy in South Korean society where Korean citizens are at the top, Chinese Koreans in the middle and migrants of non-Korean descent from 'Asian' countries at the bottom. This hierarchy is part of a system of social control that operates through a mixture of appeasement and oppression. It also deepens divisions among the working class that keep workers from coming together to demand their rights. Chinese Koreans are being placated and incorporated as countrymen, or at least good 'migrants' who are deserving of humanitarian relief yet who will always be second-class citizens and the objects of regulation. Non-Korean migrants, on the other hand, remain outsiders and the most expendable form of labor, controlled under the EPS system or demonized as 'illegal' and 'criminal'. Meanwhile, native Korean workers are encouraged to see social belonging, political rights and employment as their unique birthrights and blame migrants, including and sometimes especially Chinese Koreans, for taking their jobs or creating downward pressure on working conditions. Being positioned at different places in this racial hierarchy makes it different for workers of different backgrounds to see their collective interests in fighting labor exploitation and the racism that facilitates it.

The 'hardship alleviation' program will be beneficial to some Chinese Koreans in the immediate. In the end, however, the racialize hierarchy it is helping to institutionalize is good neither for Chinese Korean workers nor for non-Korean migrant workers nor for native Korean workers. Accordingly, breaking this hierarchy down must be a goal and a struggle shared by all workers, regardless of their nationality and their position within it. The labor movement needs to be an anti-racist labor movement, one that finds ways to empower racialized groups that are systematically disempowered in South Korean society and the labor movement itself, at the same time as it strives to build unity between migrant and native workers. The migrant rights movement needs an analysis of racial capitalist and the place of different groups of migrants within it.

Together, we need to formulate demands that disrupt this racial hierarchy rather than perpetuating it. In this respect, the demand for application of the Law on Overseas Koreans to Chinese and Koreans from Soviet bloc countries is not helpful. While respecting the fact that these overseas Koreans are discriminated against with respect to Korean Japanese and Korean Americans, we must replace it with a call for pathways to long-term residence and political participation that applies equally to all migrants. The migrant rights and labor movements must join forces to develop concrete strategies for organizing Chinese Koreans, non-Korean migrants and native Koreans together to demand full legalization, equal labor rights, and ultimately equal citizenship rights for all.

PSSP’s Position on the UN’s 2nd Resolution and the Coalition Forces’ Attack on Libya

Posted in statements on March 25th, 2011 by pssp – 70 Comments

25 March 2011

-The Western power must cease their attack on Libya immediately!
-Libya’s liberation must be achieved by the Libyan people!

On 17 March 2011, the UN Security Council quickly adopted Resolution 1973, the second resolution imposing sanctions against Libya. Shortly thereafter, U.S., U.K. and France-dominated coalition forces began a military strike against Libya that has now gone on for several days without stop. The UN Security Councils speaks of the attack in humanitarian terms saying its goal is the protection of civilian life. We are certain, however, that the ultimate goal of the Resolution 1973 and the attack on Libya is to serve the imperialist goals of Western powers.

1. Libya’s anti-government forces and even the UN Security Council are not the ones who get to decide whether the attack will be limited to the goal of “protecting civilians” or not. It is the participating Western powers who decide the targets of military operations and the ultimate war aims. Libyan anti-government forces have no say whatsoever concerning the form, means or scope of military operations.

2. The Western powers are currently considering the next steps in their attack, including the possibility of sending in ground troops. It is true that Resolution 1973 does not allow for occupation of Libya. We only have to look a few years back, however, to know that this means little. With Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. said occupation was not the goal, but we all know what the result of the wars perpetrated on these countries were.

3. If the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences are repeated in Libya, then Libya’s future is dark regardless of whether it is the anti-government forces or the Western forces who ultimately depose Gaddaffi. The Western country’s power to make war is overwhelming, but their ability to bring peace, political security and economic prosperity to the countries that are the victims of their wars is sorrowfully weak. In addition, we can be sure that the elites the western governments help to bring to power will be the ones most beneficial to western oil companies, the ones most ready to deliver up Libya’s underground resources.

4. Contrary to what some claim, it has already been proven that western intervention is not the best means to prevent civilian casualties. The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 was disastrous, only serving to increase animosity and fear. In its wake the most horrible of racial cleansing campaigns occurred in Kosovo.

The ultimate goal of the Western power’s military action is to suppress the Arab people’s movement against western imperialism. We condemn the western power’s hypocritical talk of humanitarianism and call on the United States, the United Kingdom and France to end their attack on Libya immediately.

From Ratification to Empowerment: Reflections on the 11th International Migrants Day

Posted in articles, statements on December 16th, 2010 by pssp – 81 Comments

16 December 2010

Wol-san Liem
Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements

This December 18 with be the 11th International Migrants Day. Founded in December 2000, International Migrants Day marks the anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of the Families (hereafter, the Convention) on December 18, 1990. Around the world, migrant workers and their supporters will use this day to demand changes in national policies, work conditions and social practices that are discriminatory and oppressive towards non-nationals, and call on governments to ratify the Convention, which sets minimum basic standards states must respect.

In the last several decades, recognition of migration as a global phenomenon and the importance of migrant labor to the global economy has increased significantly. Most governments now at least give lip service to the need to protect migrants’ human rights. Nonetheless, only 43 countries, the majority of which are countries of origin, have ratified the Convention. South Korea is among the countries that has not.

If we look at South Korean policies towards migrant workers, this fact is not surprising. The Convention states that, &Migrant workers and members of their families shall be entitled to effective protection by the State against violence physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions& (Article 16, clause 2) and that they &shall not be subjected individually or collectively to arbitrary arrest or detention& (Article 16, clause 4). The South Korean government’s sole method for dealing with undocumented migration, however, is to carry out indiscriminate and often violent immigration raids, detain all of those arrested and deport them with out trial. The tragic death of a migrant workers as a result of these policies last month, shows just how brutal they are. On October 29, immigration officers raided a factory in the Gasan district of Seoul during a concentrated immigration crackdown carried out ahead of the G20 Summit. When Trinh Cong Quan, a 35-year-old Vietnamese worker and the father of a 4-month old daughter, found all exits blocked he tried to escape through a second story window. Quan fell and was severely injured. After lying in a coma for several days, he passed away on November 3. Far from taking responsibility, the Seoul Immigration Service simply claimed it had followed legally prescribed procedures and therefore owed nothing to Quan’s bereaved family.

In the area of labor rights, the Convention states that migrant workers shall not be discriminated against with respect to work conditions, remuneration, rest, health and safety measures and termination of the employment relationship (Article 25, clauses 1-3). In contradiction to these principles, the South Korean government’s Employment Permit System, maintains strict restrictions on the freedom to change workplaces and gives the power to employers to terminate labor contracts at will. By exacerbating the unequal relationship between employers and workers, this system enabling a wide range of rights violations, including under and non-payment of wages, forced overtime and lack of respect of health and safety standards.

Ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers signifies acknowledgement by states of their responsibility to work actively to eradicate this sort of discrimination. Thus, demands for ratification have important symbolic meaning. Ratification, however, does not guaranteed change, only a general acceptance of the need for change. Moreover, the standards prescribed in the Convention are highly limited, given that they represented the lowest common denominator to which the General Assembly could agree. Even more important, therefore, than demands for ratification are the struggles of migrants themselves to gain recognition as workers, as members of society and as the subjects of rights.

Many times the demands made in these self-determined struggles go beyond the rights guaranteed in the Convention. The Convention, for example, guarantees the right to basic education for all migrants (Article 30), but acess to educational institutions equal to that of nationals only to documented migrants (Article 43). In the United States, undocumented migrant youth are demanding more. They have fought for several years for passage of the Dream Act, which would guarantee them the right to attend college, access to financial support for higher education and pathways to legal permanent residence. This fight has not yet been won and the legitimacy of the Act has recently been tarnished by its attachment to the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2011 and the inclusion of a provision that would require young people who could not go to college to serve in the military to achieve permanent residence. Nonetheless, the Dream Act struggle has empowered undocumented migrant youth as a real political force in American society and made their situation impossible to ignore. It has already given birth to dozens of talented young activists who will lead the fight for migrants rights in the United States well into the future.

In South Korea, migrant workers have been fighting for the right to freedom of association since 2005 through the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Migrants Trade Union (MTU). The Convention only protects the migrants’ rights to freely join trade unions and participate in their activities (Article 26). Since its founding, however, MTU has insisted that migrants have the right not only to join but also to form their own unions, a right which under the South Korean Constitution applies to all workers, regardless of social status. Through their persistent organizing in the face of government repression, the members of MTU have demonstrated that they are in fact the subjects of this right regardless of what the South Korean government says. Their efforts, in conjunction with the efforts of migrant worker in other countries, have led to international recognition. In November 2009, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) issued recommendations to the South Korean government, clearly recognizing the right of migrant workers, documented and undocumented to form and join trade unions of their choosing and calling on the government to immediately recognize MTU’s status as a legal union.

In addition to these unequivocal statements, the ILO and UN recommendations also recognized the South Korean governments’ continued targeting of MTU officers for arrest and deportation under the pretext of immigration law violations as contrary to the principle of freedom of association, and called for an end to such attacks. Despite these recommendations, however, the South Korean government has not stopped its efforts to undermine MTU. Following the arrest and deportation of MTU officers in 2007 and 2008, the Immigration Service is again after the union’s leadership. It has issued a summons to MTU President Michel Catuira, a documented migrant worker, claiming he has not maintained a legitimate employment relationship and has engaging in political activities prohibited under the Immigration Control Law. In the meantime, the East Seoul Branch of the Seoul Regional Ministry of Employment and Labor has cancelled the employment permit granted the President Catuira’s employer clearly seeking to give credibility to the Immigration Service’s charges.

These measures are an obvious effort on to undermine MTU. If President Catuira is found to have violated the Immigration Control Law, he will lose his visa and become immediately deportable. It can only be assumed that this is precisely what the Immigration Services has in mind.

Sadly, the pressure being placed on President Catuira has received very little attention in the wider South Korean labor movement. Perhaps this is because of the general weakness of the movement at present, or perhaps its is because such attacks on MTU’s leadership have become so commonplace. Whatever the reason, the lack of response is unfortunate for several reasons. First, given that MTU is an affiliate of the KCTU Seoul Regional Council and President Michel a KCTU officer, these actions by the government represent an assault on KCTU as a whole and the freedom of association rights of Korean workers in general. Second, as migrant workers make up an increasingly significant part of the South Korean labor force organizing them becomes ever more important if the labor movement is to regain its power and ability of to defend workers wages, conditions and rights. MTU, as a union organizing migrant workers, must therefore be protected. Finally, the attack on President Catuira is representative of the racist nature of the South Korean state, whose policies reproduce the low social and economic status of non-white foreigners. In that racism serves to divide us--to keep us from uniting as workers and common people--it is a structure of oppression that victimizes all of us.

Migrant workers and migrant support organizations will mark International Migrants Day with a protest at Marronnier Park on Sunday, December 19. Labor and social movement actors can show their support for the rights of migrants by coming at in force. As we celebrate the day and call for ratification of the UN Migrants convention, we should also make a strong demand for an end to the attack on President Catuira and the continued violation of migrant workers freedom of association rights. In the long-term. if we are to reverse the entrenchment of racial hierarchy in South Korean society and enable the unity of all workers and common people, migrant and non-migrant activists must use our collective wisdom to find new ways to organize and empower migrant workers as a social and political force.

Hyundai Irregular Workers’ Factory Occupation Ends after 25 Days

Posted in articles, statements on December 10th, 2010 by pssp – 56 Comments

10 December 2010

Wol-san Liem
Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements

Yesterday (December 9), members of the Hyundai Motors Irregular Workers Chapter of the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU) left factory 1 of the Hyundai Plant in Ulsan. Their departure marked the end of a 25-day long occupation, which they had endured without adequate food, water or bedding.

Today, representatives from the Hyundai Motors Irregular Workers Chapter, the Hyundai Motors Local Branch (regular workers), and the KMWU sat down with representatives from Hyundai Motors and its in-house subcontractors. In accordance with an agreement reached between the President of the Irregular Workers Chapter, Lee Sang-su, President of the Local Branch, Lee Gyeong-hun and President of the KMWU, they presented the following 4 demands: 1) Cancellation of damage suits and charges against workers who participated in the occupation, and payment of medical bills; 2) guarantee of reinstatement for those who participated in the occupation, 3) protection for strike leaders, and 4) a plan for negotiations concerning the regularization of illegal dispatch workers.

While negotiations have begun, it will be an uphill battle to get demands met, and take even more determination before the ultimate goal of regularization for illegal dispatch workers is achieved. Past experience including a similar struggle in 2005, has shown that without the pressure of a factory occupation it is not likely that Hyundai Motors will yield much ground. For this reason many of the striking workers had not wanted to leave factory 1 until after their demands were met in full, and originally pledge to continue the occupation until Hyundai agreed to employ them directly as regular workers.

In reality, however, the striking irregular workers have faced increasingly difficult conditions in the last several days. In addition to repression at the hands of Hyundai Motors, they have been put under growing pressure by the leadership of the Hyundai Local Branch to bring their struggle to a speedy conclusion. While the KMWU Delegates Assembly voted in favor of a general strike in support of the irregular workers struggle on December 22, it had not set a firm date. Meanwhile, President Lee Gyeong-hun of the Hyundai Motors Local Branch determined to put the general strike to a second vote at a Branch general assembly, despite the fact that the KMWU Constitution gives the delegates assembly the right to call for a general strike. When the Hyundai Motors Local Branch leadership could have been educating its members on the importance of regular-irregular workers solidarity and preparing for the general strike, it was instead suggesting to its members that it was time for struggle to be over.

With knowledge of the negative result of the Branch general assembly, and the reality that the second vote signified the cancellation of general strike plans and the loss of support from the Branch, the irregular workers set to heated debate within the factory about whether to go one with their occupation or agree to leave and begin negotiations with a set of less than satisfactory demands. In the end, they chose to accept the demands listed above as a basis for negotiation and entrusted the decision to continue or end the occupation to the Chapter leadership. After meeting with the KMWU and Branch presidents, Lee Sang-su declared an end to the occupation.

Sadly, the conclusion of the occupation demonstrates clearly the limits of the solidarity between regular and irregular workers developed in the beginning of the strike and, even more so, the lack of will on the part of the Hyundai Motors Branch's leadership to support a strike that it should have recognized as the struggle of all Hyundai workers.

Nonetheless, there have been important victories through this struggle. The consciousness and daring of a few irregular workers quickly spread throughout the Irregular Workers Chapter and from Ulsan to Asan to Jeonju. The hundreds who participated in the strike have been transformed through the experience, coming to recognizing their common cause and developing the power and courage to demand their right to be treated equally. They constructed and made use of democratic decision-making structures even in the midst of the cruel conditions of their factory occupation, and formed a still growing sense of class-consciousness. Despite the fact that they will return to work on December 13, Hyundai irregular workers have vowed to continue organizing among their colleagues and preparing for the next phase of the struggle for regularization. As one reporter commented, the end of the factory occupation at the Ulsan plant represents, "a victory for the Hyundai irregular workers themselves, but a loss for the labor movement as a whole."

It is the power of class-consciousness and unity that makes struggle possible. The struggle, therefore, will surely go on.

Yeonpyeong-do: The Tragic Result of Aggressive Military Exercises and Escalating Antagonism North and South

Posted in statements on November 29th, 2010 by pssp – 81 Comments

The peace movement must gather its strength to oppose all further actions that threaten the peaceful existence of the Korean people.
24 November 2010
Policy Committee
People's Solidarity for Social Progress

On November 23 at 2:34pm North Korea fired more than a hundred artillery shells in the vicinity of Yeongpyeong-do, an Island of the west coast of the Korean peninsula that is home to roughly 1, 300 South Korean citizens. Many of the artillery rounds landed on Yeongpyeong-do in an area populated by civilians. The South Korean military responded, firing roughly 80 of their own shells. The back-and-forth, which lasted over an hour, left two South Korean marines and two civilians dead, and fires burning across the island.

The South Korean government, while stating it will do its utmost to stop the situation from escalating, has, at the same time, promised a resolute response in the event of further provocation. North Korea, broadcasting its official position on the incident through the Korean Central News Agency on the evening of the 23rd, claimed that the South had persisted with artillery exercises in North Korean territorial waters despite repeated warnings, and that the North had, therefore, "responded with an immediate and forceful attack." It also promised to "respond without hesitation with a continuous merciless military attack" if South Korea intrudes "even 0.001 mm" into North Korean territorial waters.

This incident reveals clearly the tragic nature of South and North Korea's on-going military standoff and spiraling antagonistic actions, a conflict that affects, not only the Korean peninsula, but the entire region, stimulating militarization by neighboring countries and thus escalating tensions in the entire East Asian region. North Korea's shelling of a civilian area cannot, in the end, be justified. At the same time, was must recognize this incident as a demonstration of the extreme extent to which the conflict between North and South Korea has escalated, egged on by a policy of antagonism and supposedly defensive military training staged by the South. The South's antagonistic policies and military exercises must be halted immediately.

The Tragic Result of Aggressive Military Exercises
Based on reports by the Korean Central News Agency, it appears that the North's artillery attack was a response to South Korean maritime artillery drills carried out as part of "national defense" military training. The South Korean military began these exercises on November 22, and they were scheduled to go on until November 30.
According to news reports, immediately after the plan for national defense exercises was announced, the North Korean Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland issued a statement referring to the exercises as a "military provocation" and again on the 22nd, referred to them as an "intolerable criminal action against the Korean people." After the exercises began, the North again sent a memo of protest to the South suggesting that the drills were being carried out with an attack on the North in mind and demanding that they be stopped.

South Korean military authorities responded to reports of these warnings sent by the North by claiming that that the shelling was not a response to national defense exercises, but rather a planned provocation. They added that the drills carried out in the waters around Yeonpyeong-do on the 23rd were regular periodic exercises, not national defense training, and that the North had simply used them as a pretext to attack.

Even if we are to believe this explanation, it is clear that the military authorities on both sides acknowledge that the South's military exercises are a strong stimulant to the North. In addition, even if the drills were not national defense drills, this does not change the fact that they included artillery practice in the waters right next to North Korea. The farthest distance from North Korean territory to Yeonpyeong-do is less than 12 km. Joint army-navy artillery exercises were carried out on the 23rd is an area directly south of Yeonpyeong-do. Carrying out "periodic" shelling right in North Korea's front door is unjustifiable, and is clearly a threat.

The South has consistently carried out aggressive military training since the Cheonan incident. Military authorities have clearly stated that these exercises are a "show of force" against North Korea, which have including joint training with the U.S. involving an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and PSI maritime interception drills carried out with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Our peace movement has continuously warned that these military exercises not only cannot prevent a war but, in fact, provoke the deepening of military competition among neighboring countries and an escalation of tensions. The current South Korean national defense exercises, in which the United State participates, were begun as the replaced for the Team Spirit War Games, which North Korea protested strongly in the past. Currently on-going exercises are scheduled to include amphibious landing drills. Such landing drills are carried out in an area that approximates the North Korean coastline and, as such, have been criticized as actually being practice for an invasion against the North and been the target of intense opposition by the North. Nonetheless, joint military exercises involving the United State's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier began on November 28. This move represents a denial of the central role similar military exercises have had in escalating tensions on the peninsula and threatens to further deteriorate the situation to a state of crisis.

The Vicious Cycle of Militarize Response
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has responded by announcing that the rules of engagement for the South Korean armed forces have been changed to allow for a more forceful response to North Korea, while the conservative South Korean media is calling for armed revenge. These are highly troubling developments.

The governments of both South Korea and the United States have demonstrated their plans to escalate militarized pressure on North Korea several times well before the Yeonpyeong-do incident. The joint communiqué from the recent U.S.-ROK Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), for instance, made the first reference to a "state of instability" in North Korea, clearly suggesting the two government's intentions to intervene in the event of an emergency situation. Such a measure would mean the actualization of the scenario called for in OPLAN 5029, in which the U.S. and South Korea use joint military force to destroy facilities housing weapons of mass destruction in 30 places in North Korea and land marines on North Korean territory in the event of instability arising during a transfer of power. What is more, on November 22, South Korean Minister of Defense Kim Tae-yeong told the National Assembly that the new Proliferation Policy Committee, established at the recent SCM, would consider the possibility of redeploying American tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. These statements show clearly that the U.S. and South Korean seek to respond to rising tension on the peninsula through military means only.

U.S. and South Korean military operation plans that aim at attacking or occupying North Korea, the aggressive military exercises that aim to make these plans realizable and ceaseless military build-up all only serve to make peace on the Korean peninsula more distant and plant the seeds for the explosion of an even more dangerous incident. An aggressive response on one side of the border only becomes the basis for an even more aggressive response on the other, with the situation escalating in a disastrous chicken fight. We must wake up to the simple fact that in a chicken fight there are only two possible conclusions: One side gives up first or both are destroyed.

The Need for a Mechanism to Stop North-South Military Clashes
The West Sea is becoming a powder keg capable of driving the whole Korean peninsula into a state of crisis. Three have been numerous military clashes in the area, including three in June 1999, June 2002 and June 2009 that led to dozens of casualties. These clashes continue to occur because of conflict over the military demarcation line in the West Sea, which North and South Korea have never agreed upon. The Armistice Agreement concluded in 1953 set the terrestrial border between the two sides, but did not designate a corresponding border in the nearby waters. No agreement on this line was reached in the aftermath of the armistice. The South sees the Northern Limit Line (NLL) it set unilaterally as the legitimate boundary, while the North has set a different border it refers to as the West Sea Military Demarcation Line. South Korea's responses to any movement by the North across the NLL as if they were a provocation only deepens the conflict, as do statements by the North that it will response to an intrusion of even 0.001 mm across the South Sea Military Demarcation Line with a "continuous merciless military attack."

Repetitive clashes between North and South Korea make it impossible for the two sides to develop even a basic level of trust and only induce increasingly aggressive responses.
The creation of an institutionalized mechanism for de-escalation is urgently necessary. Efforts must be made to supplement the Armistice Agreement and a set a military demarcation line to which both sides can agree. Concrete and diverse actions must be taken by both sides to develop basic mutual trust before the ultimate conclusion of a peace treaty is possible. It is time that we put our collective wisdom towards developing means to protect the peaceful existence of the people of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korean Attack's is not Justifiable
The Yoenpyeong-do incident demonstrates that the chicken fight occurring on the Korean Peninsula has taken on an even more brutal form. This is the first time since the end of the Korean War that either side as made a direct attack on the other's territory
No matter the circumstances, it is not possible to condone a military action that threatens common people's peaceful existence and steals away lives. As such, we cannot justify North Korea's shelling of an area populated by civilians. We must state clearly that such military actions cannot be repeated in the future. This is the stance that all people who wish for peace on the Korean Peninsula must take.

The Need for a United Peace Movement
Conflict on the Korean Peninsula has implications for the security of not only North and South Korea, but all of East Asia. We are gravely concerned about the state of tension in the East Asian region due to disputes among neighboring countries over the resources, territory and hegemony of China, Japan and Russia. We are concerned that further conflicts on the Korean Peninsula will only exacerbate this situation. As such, we will resolutely oppose any action that stimulates military tensions on and around the peninsula by even 1%. We cannot allow the Korean people's lives to be held hostage to a deadly chicken fight. We must choose a future for ourselves that is free of military conflict.

The Yeonpyeong-do incident has showed us the following things: 1) The Korean Peninsula is engulfed in a state of instability in which military clashes can occur at any time. 2) These military clashes are taking more and more severe forms 3) 'National defense' exercises and mutual policies of antagonism cannot lead to peace. 4) This situation has and will continue to lead to the loss of life.

We must use this incident as a chance to stop North and South Korea's antagonistic policies towards one another and move towards the establishment of a peace regime. Let us be clear about just how destructive and terrible antagonistic and threatening military actions are. In order to prevent a war of mutual destruction we must begin by building a movement in South Korea against all the stimulants to military tensions. In other words, we must build a movement calling for arms reductions, an end to aggressive military exercises and dissolution of the U.S.-ROK defense alliance.

Will our future be that of a peaceful Korean Peninsula or a peninsula engulfed by the smoke of artillery fire? The answer to this question lies in whether we mobilize under the banner of peace, or allow the South Korean government to continue to respond with antagonistic policies and shows of force. We must resolutely denounce the logic of aggressive militarize response and unite in a powerful peace movement that can build a peace regime and protect the peaceful existence of the Korean people.

The Revival of the U.S.-Korea FTA, the Global Economic Crisis and U.S. Intentions in East Asia

Posted in articles, statements on September 29th, 2010 by pssp – 5 Comments

Pilsoo Im
Policy Director
People's Solidarity for Social Progress

June 30 marked the three-year anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Korea FTA. The agreement was negotiated rapidly over the course of 2006-2007. It took less than a year and a half from the moment President Roh Moo-hyun (in office 2003-2008) first proclaimed his intentions to pursue an FTA during a New Year's address on June 18, 2006 to the moment the two countries sign the agreement. To this point, however, neither South Korea nor the U.S. has passed the agreement through their respective legislature. In South Korea, attempts to pass the agreement foundered on opposition from minority parties, most notably the Democratic Labor Party's use of physical force in December 2008 to stop efforts by the ruling Grand National Party to unilaterally introduce the bill on the National Assembly floor. In the United States, there has been no movement on the FTA bill other than a memorandum on the revision of domestic law necessary to put the FTA into effect sent to Congress by the Bush administration and a report submitted by the International Trade Commission (ITC) concerning the ripple effects the FTA would have on the U.S. economy.

Since June of this year, however, there has been a dramatic change in the pace of the ratification process. On June 26, U.S. President Barak Obama met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to discuss a delay in the transfer of wartime command of the ROK forces, while in Toronto for the G20 Summit. Immediately after his meeting, the Obama administration instructed U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to begin 'new discussions' on the U.S.-Korea FTA. As soon as these instructions were reported in the media, the Korean public began to wonder what 'new discussions' actually meant. According the South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon, "President Obama stated clearly he was not referring to a renegotiation. He gave instructions that parts [of the FTA] be adjusted at the working-level to make it possible to pass the FTA in the Congress." Still, it is rather hard to suppress suspicions that the government is simply using euphemisms to cover up what will in fact be a full renegotiation.

Questions are also being raised as to what behind-the-scenes measures led to the FTA being brought up again in this way. The South Korean government has repeatedly stated that it will not accept renegotiations aimed at revising the agreement. Thus, many people have been led to believe that South Korea agreed to reopen the FTA issue in exchange for the U.S. agreeing to delay the transfer of wartime command from April 2012 to December 2015. People are also wondering what made President Obama, who as a presidential candidate emphasized that he had voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and never supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), suddenly begin to push for the U.S.-Korea FTA's passage. To answer these questions we have to look at the U.S.-Korea FTA within the context of two major problems currently facing the United States: 1) the increasing economic imbalance (principally the U.S.' current account deficit), and the threat of deflation looming over the U.S. economy, and 2) the United State's diplomatic, military and economic conflict with China. If we do this, we see that the U.S.-Korea FTA is a part of the United State's efforts to extend its influence in the East Asian region, as well as being an emergency measure for saving the faltering U.S. economy.

I. Conflict with China
First off, the Obama administration sudden emphasis on the U.S.-Korea FTA, which comes in the aftermath of the sinking of the Cheonan, can be understood as an effort to demonstrate that absolutely no fissures exist in the U.S.-ROK alliance. In this case, however, the intended is not as much North Korea as it is China.

Competition between China and the U.S. is occurring on all fronts: political, military, and economic. Conflict in the politico-military arena can be seen most clearly in the area of maritime control. On 8 March 2009, 5 Chinese Naval ships blocked the passage of and generally harassed the USNS Impeccable, an American surveillance ship, as it was travelling in open waters near the Hainan Island located in the South China Sea. The United States protested against this action strongly, seeing it as an attack on a civilian vessel. China, on the other hand, insisted that the Impeccable had been carrying out spy activities in violation of its sovereignty. In March of this year, Chinese authorities notified the U.S. government that they see, "the matter of the South China Sea as related to Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity." While China claims the area where the Impeccable was confronted as an exclusive Chinese economic zone, the United States insists it is international waters, where any vessel should be able to travel freely.

The fact is, however, that the United States is interested in the South China Sea, both because it provides an opportunity to assert U.S. dominance in the region and because it is economically important--South Korean and Japanese oil tankers use it as a route for conveying Middle Eastern crude. This is the background behind Secretary of State Hillary Clinton statement at the ASEAN Regional Forum in July that the United States had a "national interest" in free passage in international waters in Asia. During the Forum Clinton also commented that current conflicts between China and other countries in the region over the Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea should be "settled internationally," further demonstrating U.S. interventionist intentions to China obvious displeasure.

Competition between the United States and China is being reflected as well in U.S. diplomatic efforts towards other East Asian countries. Of late, the U.S. has been rather aggressive about pursuing cooperative relationships with countries surrounding China, including Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Indonesia. These moves have been threatening enough that Chinese Rear Admiral Guan Youfei accused the United States of, "plotting to encircle China with strategic alliances," during the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue held last May.

This situation has had an impact on the aftermath of the Cheonan incident. With China showing resistance to the United State's attempts to pressure the North and impose sanctions, conservatives in the U.S. have been claiming that China's role in diplomatic efforts related to the peninsula should be reevaluated and U.S. policy towards China reformulated. These people fear that with China playing the 'good cop' next to the United State's 'bad cop', China is starting to present an alternative to the U.S.-centered world order. Therefore they wish to see a new diplomatic framework for dealing with the Korean question and East Asian relations, one that removes China's influence from the picture. For example, they are proposing that the 6-party talks be abolished and the alliance between the U.S.-South Korea and Japan made more all encompassing. To this picture they want to add a 'coalition of the willing' made up of Australia, the EU, and Russia in order to send a signal to China that it is possible to exclude it from decision-making on issue pertinent to the balance of powers in East Asia and China's national security. They suggest mediation of a peace treaty between the South and North Korea outside of the 6-Party framework, as a means for excluding China.

The United State's conflict with China has made it more urgent about strengthen its hand in East Asia in all areas. The U.S.-Korea FTA and the wider U.S.-ROK relationship that will be strengthened through its ratification are a key part of this effort. The U.S. has recently stated its intention to join the East Asia Summit (EAS), an annual meeting of the leaders of 16 countries in the East Asian region comparable to ASEAN. The U.S. hopes to see the EAS develop into a forum for consultation on regional political and security issues, through which it can increase its dominance in the region. While using the EAS to take the lead on political and security issues, it hopes to do the same on economic cooperation and free trade through APEC. In the case of the former, U.S. needs use a sturdy military alliance with South Korea and Japan as a foundation for exercise dominance as a member of the East Asian 'community'. With regards to the latter, it plans to use U.S.-Korea FTA as a foundation and a model for transforming APEC into an East Asian Free Trade Zone.

II. Increasing Economic Imbalance and the Threat of Deflation
From the first to second quarter of 2010, the U.S. GDP growth rate fell drastically from 3.7% to 2.4%. (*The GDP growth rate is the percent increase or decrease in the GDP from the previous quarter converted to reflect an annual rate.) Unemployment remains high, at nearly 10%. In addition, many economists are now saying the U.S. faces the threat of deflation for the first time since the Great Depression due to high unemployment and weak domestic consumption. Were deflation to occur, it could put further downward pressure on profits, wages and jobs. To cope with this situation, the Fed has set interests rates almost as low as is imaginable. Yet, the housing market remains in a state of paralysis. Declining income and sales tax collections are putting heavy burdens on State governments, whose fiscal woes are getting deeper and deeper. Acknowledging the precarious situation on July 21, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke admitted to the Senate Banking Committee that the United States' economic outlook was "unusual uncertainty."
The following month he announced additional revisions to monetary policy, under which the Fed will keep its massive bond portfolio from shrinking by reinvesting money from mortgage-backed securities as they mature. This move signaled the Fed's willingness to intervene even further if necessary to prop up the shaky economy.

The United State's economic problems will not be easily solved, however, as long as global economic imbalances persist. Simply put, the U.S. economy will continue to be insecure as long as it depends on foreign financing and deficit spending, while also importing more than it exports. Unfortunately for the U.S., global imbalances are likely to go on for some time. The Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan Think Tank in the U.S., provides analysis helpful for understanding global economic trends and their implications for the U.S. economy. The Institute notes that the sharp decline in the Euro's exchange rate is making global imbalance more severe. It points out that the OECD has estimated that the Eurozone will see annual trade surpluses of at least $3 billion in the next few years due to the Euro's rapid decline along with "tepid European growth." Moreover, strict fiscal policies now being implementing throughout Europe in response to the crisis will weaken domestic demand, and likely impel European countries to pursue easy monetary policies, which aim at further devaluation of the Euro. The Financial Times has also noted that European countries are looking to export their economic stagnation through 'beggar-thy-neighbor policies'. (*'Beggar-thy-neighbor' is an economics term for policies that are generally good for one countries national economy while hurting the economies of others such as protectionist measures and currency devaluation.) If this trend continues, the United States may see its current account deficit move past the all time high of $8 billion it reached in 2006.

The United State's biggest headache is coming from China, which refuses to revise its monetary policy to let the Yuan appreciate as much as the U.S. would like. The Chinese authorities set the stage for an upward move of the renminbi when they announced on June 19, 2010 a return to a more flexible and more market-based exchange rate regime like that they had pursued during 2005ᆜ. The results to date have been meager, however. As of September 10, 2010 the renminbi had risen by less than 1 percent. If maintained over the coming year, this pace would amount to an annual rate of only 4 percent. The Peterson Institute has steadfastly insisted on the appreciation of Yuan. It predicts that if China's real effective exchange rate were to appreciate by 10%, China's current account surplus would decrease by $170 to $250 billion annually, while the United State's current account deficit would improve by $22 to $63 each year. China, however is insisting that its currency has appreciated as much as any other currency over the last five years, that the United State's trade deficit has nothing to do with the Yuan exchange rate, and that the issue is being hyped in the U.S. for political reasons.

The Peterson Institute notes that large external deficits pose substantial risk to the U.S. economy. This is because "foreign investors might at some point refuse to finance these deficits on terms compatible with US prosperity. Any sudden stop in lending to the United States would drive the dollar down, push inflation and interest rates up, and perhaps bring on a hard landing for the United States--and the world economy at large." Continued introduction of massive amounts of foreign capital into the U.S. economy could plant the seeds for another economic crisis, they warn. The Institute adds to this the warning that, because the U.S. unemployment rate is so high, an increase in the trade deficit could lead t protectionist trade politics.

Recent fears of an increased trade deficit have made the Obama administration pay more attention to trade policy. On July 7, Obama announced the formation of a President's Export Council, made up of top business leaders, to advise efforts to double exports over the next five years, through his "National Export Initiative." The idea behind this initiative is essentially to create jobs through expansion of exports, thus tackling the problems of unemployment and low consumption levels, which its is feared will lead to deflation.

III. Cars and Meat, not the Real Issues
After the signing of the U.S.-Korea FTA the Bush government requested that the United States Trade Representative analyze the effects of the agreement. According to this analysis, if the U.S.-Korea FTA is fully implemented, U.S.' yearly exports will increase by from $10 to 11 billion a year in the areas of financial services, insurance, air transport, communications, and agriculture.

However, the U.S.-Korea FTA is predicted to have a negative effect on U.S. automobile production. This is one of the main reasons it has been delayed in Congress. Currently, one of the main issues assumed to be up for renegotiation is the plan to reduce the U.S.' 25% tariff on light trucks and SUV by 2.5% every year for the next 10 years. The tax reduction, however, is not so important as some in the U.S. think. The Peterson Institute notes that a 25% tariff in trucks and SUV, which dates back to a retaliatory measure taken against France and Germany during a trade war in 1963, is unusually high, abnormal, and therefore will be hard to maintain in the future, with or without the U.S.-Korea FTA. Moreover, the demand for these types of cars has decreased dramatically in the last few years due to the rise in the price of oil. Thus, there is little incentive for Korean car manufactures to invest in their production for export. Even if demand did increase, Korean car manufacturers would most likely employ American workers in American factories to produce their vehicles.

There are also concerns being raised about non-tariff barriers in the South Korean automobile market. The fact is, however, that with the exception of Canada and Mexico, the U.S. does not export cars produced within its territorial boundaries (in say Detroit or Ohio) to other countries. They are generally produced and sold through foreign car companies as in the case of GM Daewoo. In the area of beef, the Peterson Institute points out that the American meet exporters are feeling generally satisfied with the extent of market opening. All of this points to the fact that from perspective of the United States, renegotiations on the issues of beef and automobiles would not in fact be all that profitable. They are but secondary concerns. Thus, the U.S. believes they can be settled at the working-level, and sees the speedy ratification of the U.S.-Korea FTA as more important than harping on these issues.

IV. What are the real issues in the U.S.-Korea FTA?
South Korean capital chose to pursue the U.S.-Korea FTA as a response to the long-term economic stagnation that began after the Kim Dae-jung administration. At this time, neoliberal restructuring of the South Korean economy accelerated and a duel phenomenon occurred in which chaebols invested abroad at the same time as transnational capital's dominance in Korean chaebols and banks grew stronger. This led to an outpouring of national wealth. Long-term economic stagnation soon set in.

The Roh Moo-hyun administration had to come up with a solution to this problem. Korea's development strategy at the time was based on flexibilization of labor and increase in exports to the United States through depreciation of the won. However, many other newly emerging economies, such as China, were employing the same strategy. As such, something extra was needed. Roh saw the U.S.-Korea FTA as that 'something extra', and his administration pursued it aggressively. Roh, although with Korean capitalists seeking to transnationalize, believed the FTA would both tighten the economic relationship with the United States and force Korean industry and services to advance along neoliberal lines. Unfortunately, this strategy embodies a very significant contradiction. By accelerating transnational capital's investment in Korean stocks and bonds, the FTA will create appreciatory pressures on the won, causing the exchange rate to rise. By doing so it will bring down South Korea's current account surplus, thus creating a counter trend to the strategy of export-led growth, which is based on a weak currency.

For the U.S., facing a worsening of its current account deficit and the possibility of deflation, the U.S.-Korea FTA is a means for exporting its depression overseas. It is also part of a strategy for tying together the East Asian region as a free trade zone, and a diplomatic maneuver related to the United State's desire for political-military dominance in the East Asian region. However, unless the economic structure of the United States does not fundamentally change, it will be hard for it to achieve success through a strategy of expanding exports, at least in the short-term. For Korean capital, the U.S.-Korea FTA was a development strategy chosen in the face of crisis and in the midst of acute competition. However, because it will exacerbate contradictions within the Korean economy, it cannot be a 'crisis exist strategy' for South Korea.

The U.S.-Korea FTA is not a satisfactory solution for either country. Rather, it is being pursued as a sort of emergency plan to cope with the crisis. It is clear, however, that this plan, the choice of capital, will not be enough to overcome the structural crisis of capitalism.

Why we must build a Movement AGAINST the G20

Posted in articles, statements on September 14th, 2010 by pssp – 4 Comments

By Gu Jun-mo

PSSP Policy Committee

The G20 Summit will be held in Seoul, from November 11 to 12. In preparation, G20 leaders are busy looking for ways to protect existing power structures and the current economic and financial order. Similarly, activists in South Korea are busy getting ready to confront the G20 when it arrives. However, there is a lack of agreement within the South Korean movement as to how we should approach the G20. Opinions range from beliefs that 'critical engagement' is the best way to go to convictions that simple criticism is not enough. The former base their position on what they see as the positive points of the G20: that it seeks to solve the global economic crisis, that it includes South Korea and other developing nations, that it is implementing certain financial reforms. Many of us believe, however, that these 'positive points' are, in fact, hollow, and that the G20 is fundamentally problematic. We recognize that the G20's fundamental goal is to manage and protect global capitalism while furthering the interests of a few dominant countries. Thus, we believe it should be the target not of 'critical engagement', but of determined opposition. Moreover, we believe that building a people's alterglobalization movement-a movement that seeks democratic alternatives to global capitalism-is vital at this moment in history, and that the struggle against the G20 is a means towards this ends. The following article explains our understanding of the G20's nature and concludes by suggesting a direction for the people's movement in relation to the upcoming Summit.

I. How should we understand the G20?

A. Unrepresentative, Illegitimate and Undemocratic

The G20 is, at its core, unrepresentative, illegitimate and undemocratic. Out of the 190 countries around the world, only 20 participate in the G20. These few countries do not and cannot represent the interests of the rest of the world. Moreover, most participating countries have been the strongest promoters of neoliberal policies, which have already been proven to create poverty and inequality around the globe. The G20 countries are also the ones responsible for the current crisis. As such, the G20 has no legitimacy. Finally, participation at G20 meetings is closed, and the decision-making process and content of discussions are not made public. This makes the space completely undemocratic.

When the economic crisis spread throughout the world in the second half of 2008, the United States and hegemonic European states moved quickly to respond in the form of G20 Summits. Through the four meetings held during the last two years, the G20 has names itself the highest decision-making body on issues related to the global economy. In addition, by discussing many issues outside the realm of the economy, such as development, poverty and the environment, the G20 has sought to make itself the central instrument for the maintenance of international hegemony. However, like the G8, the G20 has no status in international law whatsoever. There is no standard for why this body includes 20 countries. Rather, the countries included were decided on through a process carried out within the G7 (the G8 minus Russia) between 1997 and 1999, at the end of which 12 developing countries were selected based on the size of their economy and geopolitical factors. It was the G7 who made the final decision on who would be invite in and who left out.

What gives these few countries the right to make decisions that affect the fate of the rest of the world? In many ways, the G20 is organized along the same line as the shareholders' meeting or board of directors of a corporation; economic scale is the basis upon which the right to participate and decision-making power are allotted. This clearly has nothing to do with democracy. Developing countries are now participating, but most of them, as the 'strong men' in their respective regions, are supporters of the U.S.-centered world order. There is means for the 170 countries excluded from the G20 to voice their opinions or represent their own interests.

This undemocratic and illegitimate character is the main reason why 900 social movement organizations in 115 countries, including Jubilee South, ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens) and others have signed onto a "Statement on the proposed 'Global Summit' to Reform the International Financial System." This statement calls for a new framework for discussing alternative ways to solve the current economic crisis, one that protects democratic participation and debate (See www.choike.org/bw2/). These organizations propose that an international conference convened by the United Nations replace the G20 as the body for discussing reform of the international economic system. The UN conference they propose would: 1) include participation from all governments around the world, 2) include representatives from civil society, citizens' organizations and social movements, 3) have a clear timeline and process for regional consultations in areas most affected by the crisis, 4) be comprehensive in scope, tackling a full array of issues and institutions, and 5) be transparent, with proposals and draft outcome documents made publicly available with ample time for discussion. While the UN itself has clear historical and structural limitations, the fact that hundreds of organizations signed this statement demonstrates widespread recognition of the G20's fundamentally problematic nature. The simple question posed by Filipino alterglobalization activist Walden Bello-"Who gave them the authority to solve this crisis?"-speaks to the same recognition, and points to the basic premise upon which anti-G20 struggles are being carried out around the world.

The inclusion of South Korea and a few other developing countries in the G20 does not in anyway alter the G20's basic nature. Perhaps South Korea's participation, and its hosting of the next Summit, appear positive for national image and prestige, when viewed from the perspective of narrow self-interest. But the G20 should be evaluated, not in terms of its meaning to individual countries or their governments, but from a perspective that puts the rights of the common people around the world first. In other words, the G20 should be evaluated from an internationalist perspective. From this perspective, it is clear that a new democratic framework is needed to replace the G20. In particular, this new framework should centralize, the needs, not of countries from the North, which have built their wealth through histories of imperialism, and which are responsible for the current crisis, but rather of the people of the global South who have historically been victims of capitalist plunder.

B Management, not Change; Words, not Action

Despite the fact that the G20 was convened to deal with the economic crisis, it is not confronting the real issues at the center of the crisis-neoliberal ideology, the overwhelming power of financial capital, global inequality, and attendant social problems. Rather, the G20 is treating the crisis as a problem of tweaking policy. It is seeking technical and bureaucratic fixes, while strengthening the authority of the IMF, the institution most responsible for causing poverty and inequality around the world by forcing neoliberal structural readjustment programs. In other words, the goal of the G20 is to revise policy only to the extent it does not threaten the interests of participating countries and leaves in tact the structures of global dominance that have been in place for the last 30 years. It is looking for ways to manage the world system that maintain the current hegemonic system and is thus friendly to capital and dominant classes. Thus, it has no intention of overcoming financial globalization or abolishing neoliberalism.

The G20 is able to act this way because of widespread belief that the crisis can be solved without fundamental change. This, however, is not the case. The current crisis is a systemic one that cannot be overcome without extensive structural change. Neoliberal financial globalization is the result of efforts to respond to capitalist crisis in the 1970s. At that time, capital"s strategy for getting around a lack of profitability in the real economy was financialization, in particular speculative investment in stocks, bonds and real estate. Speculative activities grew deeper and deeper, getting more and more out of control… until the system collapsed. If we survey the capitalist economy now, we see that there is no clear area for investment that might function, like real estate did, as a bubble for financial accumulation, nor is there a new source of growth within the real economy. As such, the capitalist economy is facing the likely prospects of a long period of low growth and instability. During this period, the problems of poverty, climate change and agriculture will only get worse. The time is ripe, now more than ever, to break from the current order and look for an alternative to capitalism.

Rather than taking action, the G20 is disguising the severity of the situation through clever words and packaging. When, beginning in the second half of 2009, the economic crisis looked like it was weakening, the G20 began to make references to issues like employment, development, and the environment. We have, however, seen little real progress in these areas. G20 leaders boast of their friendship and unity and put on nice performances before the cameras. But as time goes on, promises made fall to pieces. We have seen all of this before with the G8. When G8 leaders found themselves on the receiving end of criticism for pursuing neoliberal policies, they began to claim they also saw issues such as foreign loan write-offs and development aid as important. These proclamations succeeded in giving the G8 an air of legitimacy. In fact however, very few steps were taken in these areas. Most of the talk was just that-talk.

It is the same with the G20. G20 leaders have made public promises in the areas of labor rights, the environment, and development, but there is no real substance. They have said they will work towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, take interest in the problem of climate change, develop policy concerning the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels, make efforts towards job creation, respect labor rights, etc., etc. But in each country, these pledges are already being broken. South Korea is case in point. At the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, leaders promised that international labor standards would not be ignored or deteriorated. However, in South Korea the government of Lee Myeong-bak is weakening labor law protections and repressing labor activities. In addition, while stricter financial regulation is being discussed on an international level, in Korea the law maintaining a division between financial and industrial banks and regulations on financial commodities are being weakened and more power is being given to investors.

II. Financial Regulation: Implications and Limitations

A. Stronger Regulation and Taxation

The G20 has been promising stricter financial regulations since its first meeting. However, it has very little to show after two years of discussing reforms. Therefore, social movement organizations around the world have been calling for stronger controls on financial capital than those being discussed at the G20. A statement released by ATTAC in October 2008 entitled, "The time has come. Let"s shut down the Financial Casino: ATTAC"s Statement on the Financial Crisis and Democratic Alternatives" represents one of the most comprehensive statements of this position. ATTAC puts forth 4 demands: 1) the creation of a new democratic economic order, 2) breaking the dominance of financial capital and putting the real economy and social needs first, 3) making those responsible for the economic crisis pay for its cost, and 4) policies for controlling finance through reform of central parts of the financial system.

The financial regulations being pursued by the G20 cover only a very limited part of only the fourth demand. They are therefore, clearly insufficient to bring about substantial change to the current economic order out of which the crisis developed. Yet, many movement forces are focusing only on what is being said within the G20, demanding that the regulations being discussed are strengthen. For example, demands are being made that hedge funds and private equity funds be required to reveal to the public the exact portfolios and extent of leverage of the assets they have invested. Demands are also being made that the system for regulating financial commodities be changed from a negative system (listing only the types of commodities prohibited) to a positive system (listing all commodities that are allowed) so that each new financial commodity with be clearly brought under public supervision. And, demands are being made that tax havens for speculative capital and offshore financing centers be completely abolished.

In addition, a movement has developed calling for the implementation of what is being called the Robin Hood Tax. The Robin Hood Tax would be a tax of 0.001% ~ 0.05% on all financial transactions, including those involving stocks, bonds and foreign exchange. The idea for the Robin Hood Tax grew out of the Tobin Tax concept. The Tobin Tax would tax only foreign exchange transactions. Proponents of the Robin Hood Tax believe that the principle of taxing the profits made on commodity transactions should be applied to the financial sector without exception. They hope that such a tax would reduce the scale of short-term financial transactions. Moreover, they are calling for a fixed amount of the massive resources procured through this tax to be used to battle climate change and contribute to the development of impoverished countries-hence the name, 'Robin Hood Tax'.

B. Enough to Propel Change?

How should we view these various demands for stricter financial regulations? Simply, they are needed, but they are nowhere near enough. First of all, these demands are asking for only micro-level changes. They do not address most of ATTAC"s demands, namely the call for a new framework to replace the G20, for fundamental policy reform to control the power of financial capital, and to make those responsible pay for the crisis.

A tax on financial transactions is part of one of these demands-the call for fundamental policy reform to control the power of finance. But a financial transactions tax has to be coupled with other measures, including prohibitions on Large and Complex financial Institutions (LCFI), prohibitions on privatization of public enterprises and pensions, and transformation of distribution policy, if it is to be effective. If these elements are brought together something close to fundamental change is possible. However, many social movement organizations are focusing on just the financial transaction tax or just one or two other measures in isolation. Or, they are trying to make the reforms being discussed within the G20 a bit more progressive through lobbying-based strategies. In taking this approach, they are forgoing the goal of systemic change.

It is not possible to truly constrain the power of financial capital through a piecemeal approach. Because the opinion of each country is different and financial capital is still powerful, reform policies discussed within the G20 necessarily get distorted in the process of trying to mediate competing interests. The G20, which is linked to the interests of the U.S. and European powers, and through them to the interests of financial capital, has no reason to promote real change.

Without a complete change of direction based on agreement about the need to root out neoliberalism and financial globalization, individual policy reforms cannot be effectively implemented. Therefore movements that focus on the possibility of implementing micro-level policy reforms will also have a very difficult time even achieving their stated goals. Beyond this problem however, is the problem of seeing limited financial regulation as an end in itself, rather than as one step in a larger process of transformation. We need use the fight for financial regulation as a means through which to expose the essence of neoliberalism and create the force necessary to propel a movement for an alternative to global capitalism-an alterglobalization movement. Therefore, we must frame demands for thorough financial regulation within the context of wider demands for systemic change.

III. What should the goal of the G20 Struggle be?

So, what should be the goal of a struggle confronting the G20? In short, we should see this struggle as a chance to build a people's alterglobalization movement. The strategy of movement building has three component parts. First, the G20 struggle should be an opportunity to expose the fact that the economic crisis and the related social crises we are currently facing are deeply systemic and endemic to the capitalist mode of production. The reason that some people have hope that the G20 will provide solutions and believe critical engagement with the G20 is possible is that they misunderstand the economic crisis as temporary and superficial. When we understand financial globalization in terms of series of connected policies and act as if tweaking these policies will solve the problem, this misunderstanding is reproduce. It is also reproduced when we act as if climate change can be confronted simply through implementation of a few policies, introduction of new technology, and carbon emissions trading, rather than a fundamental revision of how we produce and consume. It is reproduced when we think of dealing with poverty and inequality only in terms of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, rather than in terms of new methods of distributing wealth. The struggle against the G20 needs to be made into an opportunity for expanded debate and discussion about the current political-economic conjuncture, not in terms of individual policies, but in terms of the root causes of inequality and of fundamental transformation. If we can do this, we will begin to be able to conceive of the alternatives we wish to pursue and the type of movement we need to build.

Secondly, we must use this opportunity to expose the real nature of the G20 by making it the focus of our struggle. It is, of course, important to use this opportunity to raise individual related issues, such as ending practices destructive to the environment and development aid to impoverished countries. Our main target, however, should be the G20 itself. The South Korean government's main propaganda thrust is to link the G20 to South Korea's prospects advancement. In response, we must expose the fact that the G20 is set up as an instrument for managing a capitalist system faltering on its own structural contradictions, that it is making a concerted effort to avoid rather than bring about real change, and that South Korea's role is to support U.S. hegemony while acting as if it represents developing nations. The Lee Myeong-bak government is planning to use every means available, including enactment of new laws and methods of intimidation, to shut down protests during the Summit. Therefore, strong resolve and great effort is required from social movement forces. It is important that the South Korean movement takes up this responsibility collectively and is not divided by the effort to focus on too many separate single issues.

Finally, we need to use this opportunity to develop our creativity and to begin discussing concrete alternatives to the current system-in other words, we need to use this opportunity to expand alterglobalization discourse. In the first part of this decade the alterglobalization movement was strong. Within it, people actively envisioned what a new society would look like. After the world economy plunged into serious crisis, however, this sort of thinking has actually decreased. The struggle against the G20 is an opportunity for as to being again to talk seriously with one another about the type of world we want to live in and would look like. Let's use this moment well.