Mar 1, 2015

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Movement to Oust Park Geun-hye Begins

Movement to Oust Park Geun-hye Begins

On February 28, 5000 people, including ordinary citizens, trade unionists, youth and students, gathered at Seoul Station Plaza for the “National demonstration to denounce the Park Geun-hye government for destroying livelihoods, killing democracy, and threatening peace,” organized by the newly-formed and tentatively-called National Action for Democracy. Demonstrators accused Park Geun-hye of being illegally elected through the involvement of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in the last election and denounced her administration for increasing poverty, ratifying the China-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), intending to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and abusing its power to silence opposition.  “Park Geun-hye – take responsibility for soaring rents, increasing poverty, and deteriorating livelihoods, and step down,” they demanded, and pledged to “launch a second democracy movement.”  They raised picket signs that read, “Park Geun-hye, step down” and “Can’t live like this; Let us come together,” and unfurled a banner that read, “Illegally elected dictatorship – step down.” Addressing the crowd, Father Ham Se-woong, a senior figure in South Korea’s struggle for democracy, said, “On February 9, the court sentenced former NIS Director Won Sei-hoon to 3 years in prison for violating the Election Law and the National Intelligence Service Act.  This is a declaration that the presidential election that took place on December 19, 2012 was invalid and that the current government is an illegal government installed through government fraud.” He added, “This administration is scheming to cut taxes for the wealthy, squeeze the working poor of its blood and sweat, and create a national textbook that glorifies pro-Japanese collaborators.  A president elected through illegitimate means should be the target of impeachment.  We must deliver a judgment against this administration.” Park Rae-gun, co-chair of the Sewol Tragedy National Task Force, stressed the urgency of uncovering the truth behind the Sewol tragedy and punishing those responsible.  He said, “In April, which marks the one-year anniversary of the Sewol tragedy, let us cover the entire nation in yellow. From every corner of this land, let us put our voices together to call for exposing the truth behind the Sewol tragedy and recovering the ferry from the bottom of the sea.  If Park Geun-hye doesn’t step down of her own will, then let us, the people, bring her down.” Jo Heon-jeong, representative of National Action to Oppose War and Realize...

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Feb 12, 2015

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KCTU Vows General Strike in April 2015

KCTU Vows General Strike in April 2015

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), at its annual representative assembly today, resolved to enter full preparations for a general strike of 800,000 workers in April 2015. Under the banner of “Safeguard workers and the urban poor in a face-off against chaebol-fattening policies,” the general strike has four overarching goals- 1) “Smash Park Geun-hye’s worker-killing policies” that facilitate lay-offs, lower wages and increase irregularization of the labor force; 2) Strengthen public pensions and stop the deterioration of government employee pension plans; 3) Secure a minimum hourly wage of 10,000 won; and 4) Ensure full enforcement of basic labor laws and secure basic labor rights for all workers. At today’s assembly, newly elected KCTU Chair Han Sang-kyun proposed to establish a strike fund and raise $8 million by April by collecting $10 from each KCTU member.  Such large-scale fundraising for a strike fund is unprecedented in the union’s history and is an “expression of our resolve to stand up against the Park Geun-hye government,” said KCTU spokesperson Park Seong-sik.  Raising funds for the general strike itself will be an essential part of the process of organizing union members in preparation for the show-down in April, he said. Historic KCTU Election Produces New Leadership Han Sang-kyun, the former chair of the Ssangyong Auto Branch of the Metal Workers Union, became chair of the KCTU in December 2014 through the first direct election in KCTU history – where officers are directly elected by its membership rather than through a delegation voting system.  Han received 182,249 votes (51.62%) in a final run-off that capped the historic election with 670,000 workers participating. Han, who led the historic 77-day worker occupation of the Ssangyong Auto plant in 2009 to protest mass layoff’s, is joined by newly-elected Chief Vice Chair Choi Jong-jin, the former director of the Seoul Subway Labor Union, and Executive Director Lee Young-ju, the former Chief Vice Chair of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union. Immediately after the election, the new KCTU leadership announced, “We will stop the Park Geun-hye government’s schemes to worsen conditions for irregular workers through a general strike,” and pledged to “make KCTU Park Geun-hye’s greatest fear.” The government’s proposed “Comprehensive Measures for Non-regular Workers,” announced on December 29, would extend the contract period for contract and dispatched workers over the age...

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Jan 27, 2015

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[Interview] Shin Eun-mi: Deported for Preaching Peace...

[Interview] Shin Eun-mi: Deported for Preaching Peace

How one Korean-American woman got tangled up with the South Korean security state after a life-changing visit to the North. This article first appeared at Foreign Policy in Focus and the Asia Pacific Journal on January 26, 2015. On January 10, after detaining her for questioning on charges of violating the National Security Law (NSL), South Korea deported U.S. citizen Shin Eun-mi and barred her from returning to the country for the next five years. For the past two...

Jan 22, 2015

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Laid-off Ssangyong Workers Atop a Chimney...

Laid-off Ssangyong Workers Atop a Chimney

More than a month after they climbed on top of a factory chimney on December 13, 2014, Director Kim Jeong-wook and Policy Director Lee Chang-geun of the Ssangyong Motors branch of the Metal Workers Union still remain 70 meters above the Ssangyong auto plant to wage protest. The reason why the two laid-off workers decided to withstand gale-force winds in the dead of winter to wage protest on top of a factory chimney is because it’s the last...

Dec 31, 2014

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Today Is the Day Democracy Is Murdered: Wave of Repression Sweeps South Korea...

Today Is the Day Democracy Is Murdered:  Wave of Repression Sweeps South Korea

On December 19, the South Korean Constitutional Court delivered a devastating blow against the progressive movement when it disbanded the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) with immediate effect.  That act came as the culmination of a long campaign by South Korean President Park Geun-hye to shackle the labor movement and smash political opposition. (This article was originally published by the Monthly Review at MRZine on December 29, 2014.) The Constitutional Court case was initiated over a year ago when the...

Dec 30, 2014

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The Erosion of Democracy in South Korea: The Dissolution of the Unified Progressive Party and the Incarceration of Lee Seok-ki...

The Erosion of Democracy in South Korea: The Dissolution of the Unified Progressive Party and the Incarceration of Lee Seok-ki

On December 19, 2014, South Korea’s Constitutional Court delivered an unprecedented ruling to dissolve the opposition Unified Progressive Party and disqualify all five of its representatives from the National Assembly. (This article originally appeared in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 12, Issue 52, No. 5, and the Korea Policy Institute blog on December 29, 2014.) The ruling was in response to a petition filed by the Park Geun-hye government in November 2013 to dissolve the party based on allegations...

Dec 23, 2014

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UPP Chair Lee Jung-hee – Progress of Democracy will Not Stop...

UPP Chair Lee Jung-hee – Progress of Democracy will Not Stop

South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled on December 19, 2014 to dissolve the Unified Progressive Party.  This is the first time that the Constitutional Court has ordered the breakup of a political party since it was founded in 1988. The following is the final testimony of Unified Progressive Party Chair Lee Jung-hee in the Constitutional Court on November 25, 2014....

Dec 11, 2014

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Ashton Carter Nomination: Dangerous for the People of Korea...

Ashton Carter Nomination: Dangerous for the People of Korea

The recent nomination of Ashton Carter for U.S. Secretary of Defense raises the prospect of a more hawkish foreign policy. In particular, Carter’s past positions on North Korea may portend policy choices that could put the lives of Koreans on both sides of the border at risk. (This article was first published at Global Research) In 1993, Ashton Carter was placed in charge of the task force on North Korea that issued a position paper for the National...

Dec 3, 2014

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North Korea and Russia Poised for Summit...

North Korea and Russia Poised for Summit

North Korea-Russian relations have recently become cozy.  Many project a summit between North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in early 2015. With a series of visits by high-level North Korean officials to Russia in 2014, the two countries seem noticeably chummy.   Chair of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong-nam visited Russia back in February, followed by Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong’s visit in October, and Minister of the People’s Armed Forces...

Nov 20, 2014

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North Korea’s Release of U.S. Detainees – Another Look...

North Korea’s Release of U.S. Detainees – Another Look

North Korea’s unexpected release of its U.S. detainees has sparked debate about the circumstances behind their release and what it might mean for U.S.-North Korea relations moving forward. North Korea’s release of Jeffrey Fowle on October 21 was followed by the release of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller on November 8.  All U.S. citizens who had been in North Korea custody have now been freed. Their release was the result of direct negotiations between North Korea and...