For the Unity and Solidarity of Asian Workers

November 5, 2003
Dan Byungho(KCTU President)

Comrades, leaders of labor movements from as far as South Africa and Asia! Thank you for coming such a long way. I extend to you greetings of solidarity on behalf of the 700,000 KCTU members and the 1.4 million workers of Korea, and express our warm welcome to you, our friends.  

That one should welcome guests with a happy and pleased frame of mind is probably a tradition that is not solely Korean.  However, standing here, I am not wholeheartedly happy nor pleased. This is because the reality the Korean workers face is so severe. 

The Korean government and capital have severely oppressed the just exercise of basic labor rights guaranteed in the Constitution and from the ILO such as the right to organize and to collective bargaining, by means of arrests, suing for damages, and seizure of property. Furthermore, instead of keeping its promise to abolish discrimination against irregular workers, it has pursued law revisions which will increase the number of irregular workers. The labor policies of the Korean government is collectively incorporated in the recently released 'Roadmap of Industrial Relations', the core content of which is to tie up the hands of the workers and to strengthen the retaliatory power of the users. Such anti-worker policies of the government have heartbreakingly led to 5 workers taking their lives this year, and one worker currently remains in critical condition as we speak. The death of these comrades is in the end, a tragedy caused by anti-labor neo-liberal policies, and a murder by the Roh Moo Hyun government which has instigated oppression of the workers. 

The Roh Moo Hyun government has also decided to dispatch troops to Iraq in subordination to U.S. pressure, against public opinion which is opposed to the deployment of military forces. In short, the Roh government, not satisfied with killing the workers and the people by destroying their livelihood, has shamelessly decided to participate in the unjust invasion of Iraq, and to force the Korean people to kill Iraqi workes and people. 

In response to such a severe juncture the KCTU has decided to commence on a all-out general strike struggle, demanding △A stop to lawsuits for damages, seizuere of property, and oppression of workers △ Abolishment of discrimination against irregular workers △ Arrest of owners guilty of unjust labor practices and △ Opposition to deployment of troops. We will put a stop to the neo-liberal oppression of workers through the 1st general strike on November 6th, a National Worker's Rally with 100,000 participants on the 9th, and a second general strike on the 12th.   
Gathered here today are the progressive and independent trade union leaders of Asia. I wholeheartedly welcome you again. I believe that the very fact that we have assembled at one place today is in itself very significant. Workers' internatinalism embodied in the phrase 'Workes of the World Unite!' has not been realized for a long time, being limited to labor movements at the national level. It has remained solely in ideology and in books, a mere remnant of the past. But in the age of neo-liberal globalization, workers internationalism must be realized concretely in our struggles, not just as slogans. If we cannot put this into practice, then we will not be able to defend even the historic products attained by the struggles of those before us. Under the system of global capitalism, workers' internationalism must be included as an essential part of the workers' struggles, and only then will we be able to defend our livelihood and basic labor rights, and move forward. 

Then how, and where are we to start? I believe that the comrades gathered here are the start, and that Asian regional workers' solidarity is embodied in us, here. Some people say that because the Asian region is separated geographically and so diverse culturally and ethnically, solidarity will not be easy to achieve. They also say that because regional integration is not as advanced in this region as Europe or South America, it will be difficult to find common interests and demands.

Such comments can be said to have some truth to them. But such comments are based solely on superficial observations. Historically, we share the experiene of anti-colonial liberation struggles against imperialist powers, and we also share the valuable experience of struggling against the disaster of the economic crsis of 97-98. I think that the 'Asian economic crisis' of 1997-98 clearly demonstrated why solidarity of the Asian workers is so urgently needed. 

The economic crisis of 1997 clearly showed that trade and the movement of capital within the region is deepening, and that the economies are closely interconnected. Trade levels within East Asia increased from 37% in 1985 to 51% in 1995. Interstate direct investment between East Asian countries has also increased, due to the combination of an active strategy on the part of ASEAN countries to attract FDI, the open market strategy of China, and the foreign expansion of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan in the 1980s. Thus, as the perentage of interstate capital investments increased, and the financial relationship between East Asian countries intensified, the economic crisis shook not just one country, but the region and the world as a whole. Such expansion of capital mobility, and the alignment of crisis has presented a challenge to both capitalists and workers.  

Facing such a situation, the response on the part of capital is already in process. The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement has already been concluded, and attempts to pursue Japan•ASEAN / China•ASEAN / Korea•China•Japan Free Trade Agreements are more examples of such reponses. They are responding with various regional strategies to trade and capital mobility increasing in the region, and the phenomenon of financial crisis becoming contagious. Such regional strategies, regardless of their chances for success, will cause the deterioration of working conditions, drop in wages, and the violation of basic labor rights. As a result, the lives of workers will fall to the endless depths of darkness. 

Then, we must prepare our own organized response. The 1997-98 Asian economic crisis dramatically showed that their exists an inseparable relationship between Asian workers. Regardless of whether we were aware of such tendencies, our fates are already deeply connected. While the low wage labor of Thailand directly affects the wage conditions of Malaysian workers, the long working hours of Indonesian laborers directly affects working conditions of Korean workers. Conversely, if the Japanese and Korean workers can abolish discrimination against irregular worker, and the irregular worker system, it could be of great assistance to the struggle for better working conditions and employment Southeast Asia. If the workers of one country falter than the workers in other countries falter with them, and if the workers in one country prevail, than the others can prevail also. We must understand that the labor•social•economic conditions of other countries have a strong affect on the domestic situation, and this is the first step toward solidarity. 

In Korea and most of Asia, the governments of each country, who should be protecting and advocating the rights of the workers, have taken the lead in accepting neo-liberal principles and rules, and have ignored the interests of the majority of the working masses. We must attain our rights and demands through our own strength and solidarity. But, the obstacles in front of us on the road to realizing Asian workers' solidarity do seem formidable.   

In the first place, because of the lack of experiences of solidarity, our level of understanding about each other is low. We must put in the effort to find common ground, while at the same time opening our minds and recognizing each other's uniqueness and special characteristics. Next, there are many differences in the conditions and backgrounds. There are especially many differences between East Asia, where Korea and Japan are located, Southeast Asia with Thailand, Indonesia among others, and South Asia of Nepal and India. We will need to discuss how to overcome the differences in working conditions and transform the workers' 'race toward the bottom' to a higher level of equality. I also think that deep discussions and debates on how to form a network to stregthen progressive trade union movments in the region, and also how to form relationships with international labor movements is needed. In this process I hope that the plan to strenghten the role of the Southern Initiative on Globalization and Trade Union Rights(SIGTUR), in which many progressice trade unions of the South are participating in, can be positively considered. 
I truly hope that the Asian Regional Trade Union Conference can be an arena where open debates and exchanges on such issues can take place. I also hope that this conference can be a valuable opportunity for many outstanding ideas to be set forth by progressive trade unions in Asia on how to further the solidarity and unity of workers, going beyond race, borders, gender, and working conditions.

Lastly, I would like to make just one more point today. I am fully aware that Korean companies have been culprits of serious labor rights oppression in many coutries, including those of Southeast Asia. I also recognize that the explotaation of women workers is especially serious, and that even physical and sexual violence is being perpetrated. I frankly acknowledge that the KCTU has thus far not responded actively to such realities. I also fully understand that if we do not actively seek solutions to the problems of labor oppression that Korean multi-nationals are causing abroad, the KCTU's proposals for Asian workers' solidarity is nothing but an empty promise. The KCTU will prepare a reponse to the problem of Korean companies abroad. We will deal with this problem not only from the human rights perspective, but from an approach that deals directly with the oppression of workers' rights, and as a important medium for Asian workers' solidarity. 

Because the Korean workers are organizing an all-out general strike against the oppression of workers by the government and capital, many could not be with us here today. But the hearts of KCTU members are here with you now, even as they are preparing for the strike. It is a difficult time for us, but we will do our best to be with you. We wish you a successful conference and hope for the best results.

I wish you the best.

Thank you.

Total 99
No. Subject Name Regdate Hits
99 Three Years of President Kim Dae Jung: the impact of neoliberal Nobel Peace Laureate [27] KCTU 2003.06.24 191526
98 What is the National Education Information System and its problems? [13] KCTU 2003.06.25 193251
97 The KCTU Movement's 5 year Plan [23] KCTU 2003.08.14 190392
96 Report on Women Workers in Korea [22] KCTU 2003.10.07 189059
95 Flexibilization of Labor and the Future of the Trade Union Movement [14] KCTU 2003.10.09 187389
94 Statement on the government's "Roadmap for Industrial Relations Reform" [13] KCTU 2003.10.18 191233
93 [ARTUSC] Struggles of KCTU against Neoliberal Restructuring after Economic Crisis, and Perspectives [17] KCTU 2003.11.12 180280
92 [ARTUSC] Final Statement and Action Plan of the Asian Regional Trade Union Solidarity Conference [13] KCTU 2003.11.12 194822
» [ARTUSC] Opening Address : For the Unity and Solidarity of Asian Worekrs [13] KCTU 2003.11.12 179122
90 [ARTUSC] Challenges of the Southeast Asian Trade Unions against the Regionalisation of Capital [12] KCTU 2003.11.12 176602
89 [ARTUSC]Trade Unions and Solidarity with People/Social movement Sectors [15] KCTU 2003.11.12 179472
88 [ARTUSC]The Role of Asian Trade Unions in Developing a Democratic and Progressive International Trad [26] KCTU 2003.11.12 190228
87 [ARTUSC] Asian Labour Movement and its perspective:Obstacles to Unity and how to overcome [14] KCTU 2003.11.13 178511
86 [ARTUSC] Pax Americana under US military domination and the tasks before the Peace Movement in Asia [14] KCTU 2003.11.13 176629
85 [ARTUSC] Japanese Militarization Trends and the Korean Peninsula Crisis, Trade Unions Response [14] KCTU 2003.11.13 176946
84 [ARTUSC] Anti-War Struggle and the Trade Union Movement [13] KCTU 2003.11.13 177264
83 [ARTUSC] The All Japan Dockworkers Union Anti-War and Anti-Deregulations Movements [14] KCTU 2003.11.13 182922
82 [ARTUSC] The Reality of Women Migrant Workers in South Korea and Recommendations to Improve.. [15] KCTU 2003.11.13 182170
81 [ARTUSC] The HKCTUs Strategy in Response to the Neoliberal Globalisation [29] KCTU 2003.11.13 213855
80 [ARTUSC] The Case of TNCs in Korea [20] KCTU 2003.11.13 221803
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