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Koreans Stand Up

by Sun Lee |
December 2, 2002
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Anti-War demonstrators at Youngsan airbase in Korea.
Anti-War demonstrators at Youngsan airbase in Korea. (Fight Back! News/Sun Lee)

(This article is based on observations and conversations with Korean movement activists during a one-month trip back to the homeland this past November.)

The people's movement in Korea is on the rise, building for genuine democracy, human dignity and against national and economic exploitation.

There is a growing anti-war movement against the U.S. led "war on terrorism." Almost 600 organizations have formed a national coalition against the war, made up of women's, student, youth, civic, worker's and religious groups.

On Nov. 10, student organizations that are part of the anti-war coalition held one of many rallies and demonstrations in Seoul. Speakers denounced the war. They also spoke out against the Korean government's economic and military support for the U.S. led war. The Korean government committed $500 million from an already weakened economy to the U.S., while cutting funds for social welfare and education. An activist from Japan criticized Japan's violation of its own Peace Constitution by deploying foreign combat troops for the first time since World War II. The Korean people are only too familiar with the effects of both Japanese and U.S. militarism, due to the long history of foreign intervention and the continued presence of U.S. military forces in Korea.

U.S. Occupation

Weekly Friday rallies are held in front of the Yongsan U.S. Main Army Base to demand an end to the 56 years of U.S. occupation. The presence of over 37,000 troops in South Korea to is a roadblock to reunification with North Korea, and has also led to countless violations of the Korean people's rights.

Over 100,000 Koreans have been victims of crimes committed by the U.S. military, but less than 1% of these crimes ever being tried in a Korean court of law. At least 800 crimes continue to be committed yearly. Yet, at a November meeting between South Korean officials and U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, there was a renewed commitment to keeping U.S. troops in Korea. As the U.S. views North Korea as a "terrorist state" for not falling in line with U.S. demands, South Korea becomes a strategic place for U.S. military interests.

Workers Movement

Workers are the backbone of the Korean people's movement. Since 1988, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has been holding the November National Workers Rally in commemoration of Chun Tae-Il. Chun Tae-Il, a garment worker, burned himself to death in the early 1970's to protest the conditions faced by Korean workers. His self-immolation forced many people to open their eyes the fate of workers, who are in a deplorable situation shaped by the industrial development drive of the government. Along with May Day, the November National Workers Rally is one of the two most important days of action for workers in Korea.

This year, over 30,000 workers from all over Korea gathered to demonstrate and demand change. Included were demands for an end to the discriminatory practice of using temporary workers and a stop to privatization of public industries. There is also a growing migrant workers' movement to demand legal status, equality and an end to the dehumanizing trainee system, which creates slave-like conditions for migrant workers.

Out of Korea

Many of the struggles faced by the Korean people are similar to the conditions faced by oppressed communities and workers in the U.S. The situation in Korea is made worse by the unequal relationship between Korea and the U.S., highlighted by the military occupation and the economic stronghold of U.S. run financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

We can support the Korean people's movement by upholding self-determination for the Korean people and other oppressed nations all over the world. By struggling here against U.S. dominance all over the world, U.S. activists can truly stand in international solidarity.

Power to the Korean people's movement! Tu-jeng!