Behind the Winter Olympics

At the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, when the athletes of both North and South Korea paraded together under the flag of a reunited Korea, a wave of enthusiasm swept through the population of Korea, both in the North and the South. We are publishing below a letter from a trade union activist in the automobile industry.

At the opening of the Olympics, an official delegation from North Korea participated in the opening ceremony. It was the first time in fifteen years that representatives of the two governments met. That is significant for the Korean people, who have never given up their hope for a reunification of the country. Yet very few are optimistic about the future of relations between the two countries once the Olympics are over, given the United States’ pressure on the peninsula.”

The “fire and fury” promised by Trump

We labour activists perfectly understand that the real objective of U.S. policy is not only the “de-nuclearisation” of North Korea; the “fire and fury” promised by Trump is also aimed at pressuring China. These threats have provoked extensive hostility among the population toward U.S. imperialism, hostility that has been deeply seated ever since the Korean War (1950-1953) and the massacres of the civilian population by the U.S. troops.

Today, Trump’s threats seem, to many activists, to be aimed at pushing the North Korean regime to exhaust itself in increased military spending, in the same way as Ronald Reagan had done in the 1980s to the regime in power in the Soviet Union.”

A slight rise in minimum wage

In South Korea, the Moon government introduced a slight increase in the minimum wage at the beginning of the year, triggering an offensive by the Conservative Party, using the discontent of the owners of the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The bosses of the big corporations, for their part, have reacted to this increase by taking various measures, including laying off their workers.

“The teachers’ union and the union of civil servants, affiliated with our confederation, the KCTU, have multiplied initiatives to demand their re-legalisation*. The government has sent out signals that it intends to move in this direction, but it would have to amend labour legislation to make this happen, knowing full well that the parties of the right in Parliament have enough power to oppose this.”

Labour mobilisation and “social dialogue”

Strikes have broken out in diverse sectors, particularly involving workers who have no permanent status in the automobile and cleaning industries, and in the schools. These workers, in spite of their precarious position, are fighting to win a collective bargaining agreement. This is particularly the case in Hyundai, where efforts have been made recently by the trade union organisers to organise precarious workers.

At the annual convention of the KCTU on February 6th, the national leadership proposed a resolution on “social dialogue”, on the grounds that “this would not be the same kind of ‘social dialogue’ that we have known up to now”. This is not my point of view, nor is it the point of view of many comrades in the union, even if this resolution was finally adopted. This was due in part to the fact that Moon’s new “progressive” cabinet has brought in several former heads of the KCTU (including a former president, who has become president of the tripartite committee, another who is sitting at the Labour ministry, etc.)

We will continue to inform you on the developments of the situation on the Korean peninsula.”

An activist from the automobile industry

* The former South Korean government unleashed a massive anti-trade union repression, throwing the chief leader of the KCTU in jail, and challenging the legal status of some trade unions (- editor’s note).

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