Archive for November, 2010

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

Posted in statements on November 29th, 2010 by pssp – Be the first to comment

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.

Illegal Dispatch, Labor Flexibilization and the Hyundai Irregular Workers Strike

Posted in articles on November 23rd, 2010 by pssp – Be the first to comment

Wol-san Liem,
Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements
23 November 2010

On November 15, some 40 temporary workers at the Hyundai Motors Plant in Ulsan City, Southern Gyeongsan Province, began an occupation at the seat factory, one of five buildings on the plant's premise. These workers were formally employed by the in-house subcontractor Dongseong Inc., which had announced it was closing down the day before. Hyundai Motors had told the workers they would only be allowed to sign new contracts with a different in-house subcontractor if they renounced their membership in the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU), Hyundai Irregular Workers Chapter. Choosing neither to cave to labor repression nor to continue to accept precarious indirect employment, the workers took action, demanding that Hyundai hire them directly as permanent, or 'regular', workers.
Management reacted quickly and violently to the occupation, forcing the workers out of the factory and sending twenty to the hospital in the process. Far from silencing their demands, however, the repression sparked a tide of collective action. With Hyundai claiming it had no responsibility to negotiate with workers employed by in-house sub-contractors, the Hyundai Irregular Workers Chapter called a strike. The struggle spread across the Ulsan plant, with workers in factories 1, 2 and 3 stopping production, and then to the Hyundai plants in Jeonju and Asan. While occupations and work stoppages have been temporary in most sites, hundreds of workers continue to occupy factory 1 in Ulsan as of November 22. Over 70 workers have been arrested and dozens injured, with riot police and company-hired thugs continuing to use violent tactics against the strikers.

The Violence of the State and Capital
In South Korea, the violence of capital and the state manifests itself in more ways than one. We see it, not only in clubs and shields, tear gas and pepper spray, but also in the desperate choices workers sometimes make--tragic acts of protest that give public expression to the deadly nature of the exploitation they face on a daily basis. 40 years ago the young worker Chun Tae-il clutched a copy of the Labor Standards Act and light himself on fire seeking in the flames a new world that would respect work and human dignity. Since his death there have been countless other cases of self-immolation: Bae Dal-ho, Lee Hae-nam, Lee Yong-seok, Pak Il-su, Jeon Eung-jae, Heo Se-uk, Kim Jun-il, and on and on and on. On November 20 another name was added to this list. At roughly 4:30pm Hwang Inha, a temporary worker who had worked at the Hyundai Ulsan Plant's factory 4, set his own body ablaze in the midst of a KCTU-sponsored solidarity rally at the plant's main gate. By some great fortune, rally participants were able to put the flames out quickly enough that Hwang, while badly burned, will not lose his life. This is an important comfort. But the strikers, their supporters and the general Korean public must come to terms with the reality Hwang's heat-wrenching act seems to confirm: Hyundai irregular workers' struggle is a matter of life and death, not only for each individual involved, but for all irregular workers, and in the end, all workers in South Korea.

In-house Subcontracting--- or Illegal Dispatch Work
To understand the significance of this message requires context. First, it is necessary to understand the conditions under which Hwang and his comrades work. What I have called "in-house subcontracting" above more properly goes by another name: illegal agency, or in South Korea 'dispatch', work. Dispatch work refers to the situation in which a worker is hired by an outside agency but is 'dispatched' to work for a different company. Workers employed in this manner are most often paid low wages and their contracts are always of a temporary nature. Moreover, dispatch employment allows the actual capitalists for whom workers produce avoid responsibility for their wages and working conditions. Hwang and his irregular worker colleagues work inside Hyundai factories making Hyundai cars, and yet they are technically employed by someone else. They can be fired at any time and make only a faction of the wages the directly employed workers who work alongside them make. South Korean law currently prohibits dispatch work in the manufacturing sectors, precisely because of these problems. In-house subcontracting has been away to get around this prohibition, and it is widely practiced.
In South Korean there are now two opposing tendencies with respect to dispatch work. On the one hand, the Lee Myung-bak administration is attempting to modify the law to make it formally legal in manufacturing, while at the same time making plans to completely revise the Employment Security Law to "strengthening employment services" or, in other words, to promote the proliferation of dispatch and temp agencies. These and other measures aimed at expanding precarious work are central to South Korea's "2020 National Employment Strategy," through which the government seeks to provide a flexible labor force for capital under the guise of job creation.
On the other hand, on July 22 the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that a worker employed by an in-house subcontractor at Hyundai Motors was, in fact, an illegal dispatch worker. The Supreme Court also ruled that, as a general principle, comparable cases of illegal dispatch work should be treated as "assumed direct employment." While the case has been sent back to the High Court to be retried based on the Supreme Court decision, the ruling has wide implications for workers employed by in-house subcontractors at Hyundai and, indeed, all manufacturing companies in South Korea. Under South Korean law, employers must give directly employed irregular workers regular status after 2 years of employment. The Supreme Court has told Hyundai that this is what it must do: take responsibility for in-house subcontract workers, employ them directly and granting them the same job security, wages and benefits as other directly employed regular workers.
The July 22 Supreme Court ruling provides important background for the demands made by the workers who carried out the initial occupation on November 15 and the central demand of the Hyundai Irregular Workers Chapter's strike that has unfolded since. In essence, these workers are demanding Hyundai do only what the country's highest authority of justice has told it do, an order which Hyundai is, of course, ignoring. But their fight is about much more than simply their employment status or one Supreme Court decision. It is a fight against the system of illegal dispatch work and all indirect employment. In the end, it is a fight against the government and capital's efforts to expand these employment forms as a means to increase labor flexibilization and secure labor power and profits at the expense of the wages, work conditions and job security of all Korean workers.

Regular-Irregular Worker Solidarity and the Role of Social Movement ForcesThe message and demands of the Hyundai workers' struggle concern the entire Korean workforce. The battle must, therefore, be waged with the strength of irregular-regular worker unity. In many instances, regular workers, who are the colleagues, friends, and relatives of irregular workers, are already showing their support. They have staged solidarity work stoppages and other actions and are channeling food and water to those occupying the factory in Ulsan. And while this response is not even (the leadership of the KMWU Hyundai Branch has been tepid at best), there are strong signs that the solidarity is growing. On November 22 the KMWU Delegates Assembly voted to hold a mass protest in front of the Hyundai Ulsan plant on November 23, to coordinate with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) to hold another on November 27 and to stage a general strike in the beginning of December, immediately in the event that riot police or company-hired thugs raid the occupied factory. This plan offers Korean metal workers the chance to make the Hyundai irregular workers struggle a struggle for the rights of all workers against the designs of the government and capital&--- and a successful one at that.
Social movement organizations, left political parties and all progressive elements in South Korean society also have an important role to play. The Ulsan factory occupation has brought to light Hyundai's exploitative and repressive character, which is representative of the attitude of South Korean conglomerates in general. Social movement forces can use this opportunity to organize mass resistance against conglomerates' abuse of irregular and subcontracted workers and the government's support for them by publicizing Hyundai's defiance of the July Supreme Court decision and the administration's efforts to expand dispatch and other forms of precarious work. They can and must also give mental, spiritual and material support to the striking workers. As the struggle unfolds in the upcoming weeks it is up to the South Korean left as a whole to recognize its wider significance and come out in force.

Solidarity from abroad means a lot to the workers occupying the factory in Ulsan, who have gone days without rest or adequate food. If you wish to send messages of support please email them to the Research Institute for Alternative Workers at and we will deliver them. You may also send messages directly to the Hyundai Irregular Workers Chapter of the Korean Metal Workers Union at:

Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements Workshop, Nov. 8

Posted in activities on November 1st, 2010 by pssp – Be the first to comment

On November 8, the Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements will host a workshop on union responses to transnational corporations as part of the International People's conference, held in Seoul in timing with the G20 Summit. If you are coming to Seoul, please attend!

International Responses: TNC Structural Adjustment during the Economic Crisis and Labour's Strategies for Resistance

Workshop No. 3 of the International People's Conference, Seoul, November 7 ~ 10, 2010

Workers around the world have been facing massive layoffs and wage cuts since the start of the global economic crisis in 2008. According to ILO statistics, the global unemployment growth rate increased 18% between May 2008 and May 2009.

Layoffs and relocation of production by transnational corporations have played an important role in the deterioration of working conditions around the world. In response to the economic crisis, transnational corporations have closed factories and enforced layoffs in countries were consumption levels have stagnated, such as the U.S. and European countries, and moved to countries that might serve as new sources of consumption, such as China and India. Transnational automobile producers, such as GM and Toyota, who have close their plants in the U.S. and Europe and expanded investment in China, are typical of this trend. Because these types of structural adjustment are carried out through the transnational movement of capital, it is highly difficult for nationally-based unions to respond effectively. What is more, the activities of TNCs have great impact on the structural adjustment and worsening of labor-management relations in other companies in effected regions. This can be seen in South Korea where, over the last two years, labour repression by the Valeo and Parker Corporations has significantly influenced other companies and led to the general deterioration of labour-management relations. Needless to say, it is extremely important that unions develop an effective strategy for resistance.

The proposed workshop is meant as a space in which unions from various countries can share their experiences in responding to transnational corporations, and discuss mid to long-terms strategies for collective resistance. Leaders from around the world will gather in Seoul for the G20 Summit from November 11-12. To response to the Summit, labour unions and social movement forces are preparing a People's Week of Collective Actions (November 6 ~ 12), during which time an International People's Conference will be held from November 7 ~ 10. These events offer an important opportunity for unions and social movement forces from around the world to build a collective vision, develop strategies for responding to various aspects of the economic crisis, and begin to discuss alternative solutions. The proposed workshop will be an important part of this process.

Venue: Kim Dae Gon Hall, Sogang University
Date and Time: November 8, 16:30 ~18:30

Moderator: Wol-san Liem, Researcher, Research Institute for Alternative Workers

16:30 ~ 16:40 Welcome Hasoon Park, Executive Director, Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements
16:40 ~ 17:00 Korean experiences in fighting transnational corporations Jiwon Han, Research Director, Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements
17:00 ~ 17:40 Brazilian experience in fighting transnational corporations Quintino Marques Severo, General Secretary, CUT Brazil
17:40 ~ 17:55 break
17:55 ~ 18:05 Summary of presentations and proposal from the Research Institute for Alternative Workers Movements Moderator
18:05 ~ 18:30 Q and A and Discussion Moderator

Translation: Consecutive translation Portuguese-Korean, Simultaneous translation Korean-English