On October 20, as a minimal half 1,000,000 workers in South Korea — from for the duration of the enchancment, transportation, service, and other sectors — are strolling off their jobs in a one-day general strike. The strike will be followed by mass demonstrations in urban centers and rural farmlands, culminating in a nationwide all-of us’s mobilization in January 2022. The Korean Confederation of Alternate Unions (KCTU), the country’s greatest labor union umbrella with 1.1 million participants, is organizing these mobilizations in a mountainous-essentially essentially essentially based front with South Korea’s urban depressed and farmers.
The 15 detailed demands of the strike can even be summarized as becoming internal three fashionable areas:
- Abolish “irregular work” (section-time, temporary or contract labor with minute or no benefits) and lengthen labor protections to all workers;
- Give workers energy in economic restructuring choices for the duration of times of disaster;
- Nationalize key industries and socialize fashionable services and products relish training and housing.
South Korea Today: Overworked and Job-Horrified
Today, South Korea ranks third in highest annual working hours and as of 2015 it changed into third in place of work deaths among member countries of the Group for Financial Cooperation and Construction (OECD). Over 40 p.c of all workers are regarded as “irregular workers.” As in the U.S., many of those irregular workers labor in the gig economy, beholden to tech giants’ apps.
With an economy and society dominated by corporate conglomerates is called chaebol, South Korean of us face more and more bleak prospects. The tip 10 p.c of earners claimed 45 p.c of entire earnings in 2016, real estate speculation has ended in a housing disaster, and privatization in training and health care are expanding disparities. As South Korea undergoes blowback from the effects of COVID-19 on the worldwide economy, these crises contain handiest sharpened.
On the reduction of the gleaming electronics and vehicles that chaebol relish Samsung, Hyundai or LG are known for lie limitless reviews of exploitation. Earlier this year, cleansing workers for LG Twin Towers (the corporate’s skyscraper headquarters) camped open air the corporate constructing for 136 days in the coldest winter months to snarl layoffs and exploitative place of work instances. LG hired goons to pour water into the staff’ tents as they slept. One worker exclaimed, “What did we cease unsuitable? Bear in mind this huge conglomerate comes and floods your bed room. Are you able to sleep?!”
Exploitation and awful instances are consistent for the duration of industries. Coal miners at Korea Coal, a authorities-owned coal mining corporation, are suffering health instances from respiratory in coal mud and overwork. One coal miner recounted the dilemma of irregular workers:“The authorities reduced the labor force by half, so our unit now has to cease the job of two gadgets. So everyone is sick. There’s nobody here who’s no longer sick. Our wages want to amplify but contain stayed the identical. We work the identical as unprecedented workers, but we don’t even salvage half the pay.”
How We Purchased Right here: Demystifying South Korea’s Upward push
Typically hailed as a “miracle on the Han river,” the narrative of enterprise vogue in South Korea has repeatedly had its winners and losers. Forty years of U.S.-backed moral-fly dictatorships map the political instances for the growth of South Korean industry. That narrative is for yet again, but a general description mute paints a chilling image: participation in the Vietnam Battle, the separation of families and sale of kids thru the trans-nationwide adoption machine, express management of a sex industry catered to occupying U.S. troops, and a long time of martial legislation and anti-communist express dread all performed their section in the upward thrust of the chaebol. The disagreement between labor and capital brewing in South Korea this day is any other chapter in this bloody ancient previous.
Since the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship in the 1980s, neoliberal reforms contain progressively stripped away South Korea’s protectionist policies, opening its markets and resources to foreign investors on the expense of workers. By the mid-1990s, South Korea bought a speed of $100 billion in foreign loans. When the 1997 Asian Monetary Disaster hit, the economy rapid deflated as foreign capital withdrew. With nationwide economic extinguish looming, South Korea changed into compelled to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance.
Nevertheless the IMF mortgage came with strings connected: Structural adjustment policies dismantled onerous-obtained worker protections, public companies contain been privatized, and domestic markets contain been pried open for foreign capital, which returned to relish low-rate Korean resources. By 2004, up to 44 p.c of South Korea’s entire stock market capitalization changed into owned by foreigners, mostly from the U.S., the E.U. and Japan.
The 1997 disaster and its aftermath ultimately ended in mass layoffs, the “irregularization” of South Korean workers and the doubling of poverty charges in a single decade. Despite an ostensible democratic transition in the late 1980s, the South Korean of us build no longer contain any possession of South Korea’s economy. The fashionable family’s debts amount to almost double their annual earnings. Sixty-four chaebols claim 84 p.c of the GDP, yet present handiest 10 p.c of jobs. In truth, the moderate South Korean has less command in authorities than U.S. companies, which contain energy beneath the 2007 U.S.-Korea Free Alternate Agreement to legally contest felony guidelines they fetch sinful.
Taking Support the Future: South Koreans on Strike
The half 1,000,000 South Korean workers who’re strolling off their jobs are stressful the abolition of all kinds of “irregular” work. Besides they inquire an finish to loopholes in labor felony guidelines that enable employers to cheat their workers out of fashionable rights, such because the moral to organize, entry to benefits and compensation for work accidents.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate disaster and a brand recent authorities effort to create a “digital” economy, workers are also stressful that future economic restructuring choices be collectively definite by labor and management. Workers aren’t moral stressful the authorities salvage changes for them; they’re combating for more energy to search out out these changes themselves.
They’re also stressful their dazzling allotment. Presumably the most eyebrow-raising inquire by a ways is the frenzy to nationalize timid industries which contain been laying off workers en masse — in conjunction with the airline, car manufacturing and shipbuilding industries. After a long time of austerity, the KCTU is no longer easy the express to pick out accountability and guarantee housing, health care, elder care, child care and training for all. Its demands for social reforms encompass increasing public housing gadgets from 5 p.c to 50 p.c of all on hand housing, making college-preparatory lessons free for all, and for the express to rent as a minimal 1,000,000 care workers to make certain that free elder care and child admire all families. “The authorities uses taxpayer money to bail out timid companies,” says Lee Jeong-hee, the director of protection for KCTU. “It is going to play a elevated feature to make sure equity and offer protection to the final of us.”
South Korean workers seek COVID-19 as a turning point. This ongoing pandemic almost halted the motion of of us and created bottlenecks in the worldwide offer chain — and workers nervousness how the economic effects of the climate disaster and digital transformation of industries could leave them on the shedding finish of a brand recent economy.
“In times of disaster, the forces that successfully acknowledge to the demands of the times will lead the recent abilities,” says Lee. The KCTU’s demands exceed bettering the instances of its participants — they are combating for workers’ energy as a category and stressful their allotment of the wealth they create. And for this, the staff demand to pay a heavy rate. The South Korean express has already spoke back with preemptive repression, jailing KCTU President Yang Kyung-soo and as a minimal 30 other union organizers, in accordance to Lee. As strikers trot out of their jobs, Lee expects the authorities and companies to respond, as they’ve in the previous, by jailing other union leaders and fining and suing workers for their actions.
South Korean workers contain thrown down the gauntlet, and we need to all pay conclude attention. Whereas the dynamics at play in the KCTU strike are explicit to Korea, the dilemma of precarious workers beneath the burden of neoliberalism is a world fight. As labor struggles rock Korea and the field this “Striketober,” opportunities come up to create in direction of a world class fight to confront the international exploitation of workers. In every single place, the working masses are making ancient previous, stressful a undeniable future.
U.S. observers need to no longer treat the fight in South Korea as a much-off ache. The instances South Korean workers face this day are the break result of better than 70 years of capitalist vogue in the shadow of U.S. militia and financial hegemony. Given the united states’ imperialist situation on this planet economy, and its long and violent ancient previous in Korea, solidarity from U.S. workers is seriously well-known. After we requested strategies to enhance KCTU from in any other country, Lee requested us to spread the be aware. The international spotlight could merely offer protection to some workers in opposition to retaliation by employers and the authorities and push the staff’ demands ahead.