[Report on a May 2018 delegation of US trade unionists, Black
Lives Matter, and other social movement activists to trade unions in
Korea, sponsored by US Labor Against the War and the Korean Trade
Union Confederation.] [https://portside.org/] 

 KOREA REFLECTIONS  
[https://portside.org/2018-07-23/korea-reflections] 

 

 Michael Leon Guerrero 
 June 29, 2018
US Labor Against the War (USLAW)
[https://uslaboragainstwar.org/Article/79981/korea-reflections?can_id=46b5b7df047b9c10d893d10978767bb4&email_referrer=email_379911___subject_471671&email_subject=uslaw-headline-news-123-fbi-is-using-unvetted-right-wing-blacklists-to-question-activists-about-their-support-for-palestine&link_id=5&source=email-uslaw-headline-news-123-fbi-is-using-unvetted-right-wing-blacklists-to-question-activists-about-their-support-for-palestine]


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 _ Report on a May 2018 delegation of US trade unionists, Black Lives
Matter, and other social movement activists to trade unions in Korea,
sponsored by US Labor Against the War and the Korean Trade Union
Confederation. _ 

 , 

 

_Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) executive director Michael
Leon Guererro reports on a delegation of US trade unionists, Black
Lives Matter, and other social movement activists to trade unions in
Korea, sponsored by US Labor Against the War and the Korean Trade
Union Confederation. Michael reports that the Korean labor movement
played a key role in the peace process:_ 
_ _ 
_The road to the peace process was paved by the Candlelight Revolution
- a popular movement uprising that lasted for months - ending in
December 2016 with the impeachment of Korean President Park Gun-hye.
Anchored by the KCTU, the movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of
people to take to the streets in a series of protests against the
corruption of the Park government and political domination by the
family-owned conglomerates known as chaebols. On May 9, 2017, Moon
Jae-in, a human rights attorney, was elected as the new President._ 
_ _ 
_The delegation learned the history of the KCTU, which has grown to be
a powerful organized voice of workers and changed the political
landscape of Korea since being established just 30 years ago. Some of
them met with former KCTU Chairman Han Sang-gyun and former
vice-president Lee Young-Joo, both imprisoned by the Park
administration on trumped up charges while protesting labor law
reforms that would further limit workers' rights._ 
_ _ 
_Michael writes that many questions remain in the transition to
peace._ 
_ _ 
_How will the process of denuclearization take place? What will be the
timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops? How will the U.S. transition
and clean up its military bases and the legacy of heavy toxic
pollution that these bases invariably create? And will Trump
ultimately derail a peace process that the Koreans themselves have
taken into their own hands? _ 
Glass cases filled with gas masks is not a common site in any metro
station except in South Korea. Metro lines are buried deeper
underground than most systems. Transit riders walk through long
tunnels to make connections between stations. This has become a
cultural legacy in a country more than 3 generations into the Cold
War. Over the years there have been hopeful moments that the
politicalmilitary tension would come to an end - only to end in
disappointment and frustration. But in this moment, there is cautious
optimism that a transition to peace is really on the horizon. 

From May 1 through 8 I had the honor to be invited on a delegation
organized by US Labor Against the War (USLAW) to South Korea. It was a
peace mission sponsored by USLAW and the Korean Trade Union
Confederation (KCTU). Our group was a mix of trade unionists, Black
Lives Matter and other social movement activists and a team of interns
from Tougaloo College. Our purpose was to strengthen solidarity with
the Korean labor and social movements. We couldn’t have arrived at a
better time. Just a week earlier President Moon Jae-in of South Korea
and Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea met in an historic summit at
the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries. Both
leaders agreed to a peace process that will ultimately end the Korean
War and eventually reunify the Korean peninsula. 

The road to the peace process was paved by the Candlelight Revolution
- a popular movement uprising that lasted for months - ending in
December 2016 with the impeachment of Korean President Park Gunhye.
Anchored by the KCTU, the movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of
people to take to the streets in a series of protests against the
corruption of the Park government and political domination by the
family-owned conglomerates known as chaebols that control major
sectors of the South Korean economy. On May 9, 2017, Moon Jae-in, a
human rights attorney, was elected as the new President. 

After a very informative orientation session at the Maritime Center in
Baltimore led by Juyeon Rhee, Executive Director of Nodutdol and Reece
Chenault, USLAW Executive Director, the delegation had to quickly
troubleshoot as the first leg of our flight to Toronto was canceled.
The team got most of us on alternate flights so that we arrived early
in the morning of May 1. 

A few hours later we were in the midst of tens of thousands of Korean
trade unionists at the May Day rally. It was a powerful and visually
striking event - with a parade of large flags representing hundreds of
unions and expressions of solidarity with workers and communities in
the midst of strikes or protests across the country. The #metoo
movement has also had a strong influence in Korea and women workers
throughout Korea were waging a nation-wide campaign to confront sexual
harassment and assault in the workplace. 

The next day we visited the small farming village of Seong Ju where a
small army of 80-year old women is leading a protest movement against
the THAAD missile defense system that the U.S. imposed on the region
despite the objections of the surrounding villages. We were able to
participate in a weekly Wednesday rally. We had great chants that a
crew of our young delegates put together and the villagers loved the
lively show of solidarity. 

On May 3 we did a press conference in front of the U.S. embassy with
leaders of KCTU. We recognized that the peace process is an important
opportunity for workers and communities in the U.S. as well. We need
to think about our own transition to a peacetime economy and to
support the process forged by the Korean leaders. 

The rest of the day was spent with leaders of KCTU, including
Vice-President _______, who is also the chair of the KCTU
reunification committee and the Railway Workers Union (RWU) which has
played an important role in building KCTU. The current chair of the
confederation, Kim Myeong-hwan was the former chair of the RWU. We
learned more about the history of the KCTU, which has grown to be a
powerful organized voice of workers and changed the political
landscape of Korea since being established just 30 years ago. 

Small teams from our delegation were also able to meet with former
KCTU Chairman Han Sang-gyun and former vice-president Lee Young-Joo,
both imprisoned by the Park administration on trumped up charges while
protesting labor law reforms that would further limit workers’
rights. Other members of the delegation met with representatives of
the Korean Teachers Union which was decertified by the Park
administration by allowing unemployed teachers to maintain their
membership in the union. The team from Tougaloo college also met with
a student organization and shared experiences of organizing and
political education of students in their respective communities. 

As a representative of the Labor Network for Sustainability I was of
course interested in the position of the Korean government and the
trade unions on climate change and a just transition from a
fossil-fuelbased to a sustainable economy. In 2017 the Korean Power
Plant Industry Union actually applauded the decision by the Moon
administration to phase out older coal-fired power plants stating
“Although our hearts are heavy, we welcome the shutdown of worn out
coal power plants because we are clear about what kind of country we
want to leave for our descendants.” Unfortunately I couldn’t find
out more about other Korean union positions on these questions during
the visit, but it is definitely an area where there is much
opportunity for dialogue and exchange. 

Our last visit was to the DMZ. We were met by representatives of the
village of _____ and they hosted us for lunch. Our last stop was the
Dorasan train station - a newly built station that was supposed to
connect to the North Korean rail system when the last promising peace
negotiations faltered a few years ago. The station is now a tourist
spot with hopes of one day realizing its true mission. 

Many questions remain in the transition to peace - how will the
process of denuclearization take place? What will be the timetable for
withdrawal of U.S. troops? How will the U.S. transition and clean up
its military bases and the legacy of heavy toxic pollution that these
bases invariably create? And will Trump ultimately derail a peace
process that the Koreans themselves have taken into their own hands? 

A promising proposal for the DMZ is that it be converted to a wildlife
refuge. Apparently this fourkilometer wide stretch of land that spans
the peninsula has developed into a de-facto, protected ecosystem where
wildlife has flourished for nearly 7 decades - an unexpected legacy of
the Cold War that hopefully has the chance to continue and expand
across a united Korea. 

Special thanks to Wol San Liem and Mikyung Ryu of the KCTU
International Department for the hospitality, education and logistics
coordination. Looking forward to more U.S.-Korea exchange and
solidarity in the years to come.

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