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South Korea: First-hand report -- Day 1 of the anti-G20 Seoul International People's Conference -- Army of cops prevent march

Roddy Quines is a Socialist Alliance of Australia member living in South Korea. This is his first-hand account of the first day of anti-G20 actions on November 7, 2010, in Seoul.

* * *

On the afternoon of November 7 I attended an event called the Seoul International People's Conference. It was organised by trade unions, NGOs and church leaders as an alternative to the G20 conference. The People's Conference is taking place from November 7 to 10. Topics to be discussed include, among others, “Alternatives for the global economy”, “Climate change and civil societies” and “Structural adjustment and labour's strategies for resistance”. November 11 is reserved as a day for direct action with a planned rally and march, and on the morning of November 12 a press conference and strategy meeting are planned. 

There were representatives from many well-known NGOs such as Focus on the Global South and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). The event is hosted at the Jesuit Apostolic Center at the Sogang Catholic Jesuit University. This is a fitting place to hold a progressive conference, as large sections of the Korean Catholic Church have a long history of supporting liberation theology and progressive struggles.

November 7 was the first day of the conference and I got to meet many interesting people from around the world. The People's Conference aims to provide working alternatives to the neoliberal polices that are being undemocratically pushed through by the G20. The People’s Conference’s aim is to put people first and profits last.

As KCTU president Kim Yeong-hun stated during the opening of the conference, "There are 192 member states of the United Nations. The G20 only includes 20 of them. The decision to include these 20 countries had no basis in standards of fairness. In fact, the G20 excludes the majority of the countries of the world, in particular underdeveloped countries and the countries of the Southern Hemisphere, which have suffered the most from the International Monetary Fund's neoliberal policies. The G20 is fundamentally illegitimate and unrepresentative. We need to develop a new, more universal framework for discussion that can represent the interests of underdeveloped countries and include the voices of workers and common people."

There were many guest speakers who unfortunately were not able to attend the conference because the South Korean government turned them away at the border without any explanation. Most notable of these were trade union activists from the Philippines who were planning to attend and tell people about the terrible crimes committed by the Filipino state against organised labour. Others who were denied visas included three activists from Nepal, three from India and one from Pakistan. As Kim Yeong-hun stated at the opening: "It appears that the Lee Myung-bak government believes that it is necessary to shut out all critical voices by preventing union and civil society representatives from entering South Korea in order to assure the success of the G20 Summit."

Riot police attempt to prevent protesters from marching.

After the conference I made my way to City Hall for the workers’ rally against the G20. The KCTU provided a free bus service for all those who attended the conference. The gathering at City Hall was a legal gathering, however the government would not give permission for us to march downtown. Our plan therefore was to confront the police head-on and march anyway, however we could not go ahead with it because the police numbers were too great.

On the bus to City Hall I sat next to a union organiser from Indonesia, and we had an interesting talk about our respective countries. I told him that organising direct industrial action in Australia is starting to get difficult for some sectors because of the industrial laws that were passed by the previous Liberal Party-National Party government and are yet to be fully rolled back by the Labor Party government. I also told him about South Korean president Lee Myung Bak and his aggressive stance towards organised labour.

On the way to City Hall I literally saw an army of police, there were kilometres of police buses parked in the streets and big bands of cops putting on riot gear. The swarms of police were neverending; I swear that there were enough police for a full-scale military battle with the North Korean army! The Indonesian seated next to me told me that he read in the Korean Times newspaper that 70,000 police were to be mobilised for the rally. This morning I read on the ABC website that the actual numbers were 50,000; however on Yahoo news I read that the numbers of police guarding the actual City Hall area was 8000. Despite this, the police presence was simply huge and terrifying; I had never seen so many police in all my life. Mainstream reports and pictures of the incident overlook the huge police presence.

When I arrived at the City Hall the rally had started, there were tens of thousands of unionists in the public square with their union flags and red headbands. There were union delegates screaming on stage and a sea of flags representing the various trade unions across South Korea. It was a nice sight to see so many workers out on the streets and I have always liked the unique uniforms and headbands of Korean trade union members. As I made my way around I got to take a look at all the different groups, there were so many of them and they represented a vast array of causes with everything from protecting the environment to labour issues. I saw quite a few socialist organisations around and I managed to meet up with some of the people from the Trotskyist group "All Together". I told them that I am from Socialist Alliance in Australia and I would like it if our party could develop closer ties with their party.

Another interesting organisation had a petition to free jailed workers, among these included the leaders of the Ssangyong Motors strike. The woman could not speak English well, however with my limited Korean I manage to tell here that I support her cause.

As time passed I began to notice the sheer numbers of people who were being mobilised, it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I also began to notice that the police were slowly tightening things up and surrounding us into a small area, it was as if they were ready to choke us at any moment. It was rather frightening because I knew that if things were to get heated there was the possibility of being crushed and injured due to so many people being slowly confined into a small area. As the rally went on I also noticed the police preparing themselves for a full-scale clash with the people. They were getting into formation and shouting chants! The protesters also became louder and began preparing to face-off with the police for the march downtown. As this was happening full riot police began to surround the area in order to block the planned march through downtown. A scuffle broke out with the police and some workers were beaten and pepper sprayed, but unfortunately we were not able to get past the police blockade and the proposed march was kept back.

I think we should have been more militant and pushed forward with our march, as it is completely insane that in a so-called democracy citizens are not allowed to hold a peaceful march through the city. It seems as though the government wanted to contain all protests into a small and easily controllable area.

Overall the first day of protests has proven that working people are willing to mobilise on mass against the undemocratic and unrepresentative body known as the G20. It shows the power of working people to take to the streets and voice our grievances against those who monopolise wealth and power in society.

Anyone interested in reading more on the South Korean anti-G20 movement and the Seoul International People’s Conference can visit the official site at http://en.putpeoplefirst.kr/.

Comments

Ahead of the G20 Summit: Civil society not welcomed in G20 Seoul

Seoul, 08 November 2010

Ahead of the G20 Summit: Civil society not welcomed in G20 Seoul

International civil society organisations, members of Our World is not for Sale [1], trade unions and the international peasant movement La Via Campesina [2] condemn the deportation by the Korean government of seven activists from the Philippines [3] who had been granted visas. Furthermore, other progressive activists from Asian and African countries were unjustifiably denied visas.

The list of individuals, mostly civil society leaders from developing countries, prohibited from entry, was based not on concrete evidence of actual threat or histories of dangerous acts, but instead on the goal of preventing their participation in civil society events critical of the G20, particularly the International Conference organized by Put People First!-Korean People’s G20 Response Action.

Member of Parliament from Malaysia, Charles Santiago, expressed “While activists, critical to the G20 and neoliberal economic policies have encountered an antagonistic reception by the Korean government, 100 global business executives, gathering for the G20 Business Summit, will be welcomed with a red carpet.”

Deported labour representative from the Philippines Josua Mata added “Nothing demonstrates better the true nature of the G20 than the fact that while it is detaining and deporting activists from the global south, it is busy preparing to have an intimate dialogue with the world’s top corporate leaders. This only confirms what we have been saying all along – the G20 is undemocratic and not interested in improving ordinary people’s lives.”

“The G20 which is a non-elected and non-representative body and excludes majority of developing and poor countries has no legitimacy to be deciding on the economic and political directions of the world.” declared Yoon Geum Soon, representative of the international movement of small farmers La Vía Campesina.

Tyotyo James from the Confederation of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) concluded “Since 2008, the G20 has been nothing but a talk show and has failed to deliver any coordinated response to the economic and financial crisis. The future of global economic governance should be discussed, instead, at the United Nations”.

More information:

Mr. Lee Changgeun : +82 (0) 10 94 43 92 34
Tom Kucharz +82 (0) 10 86 59 13 49
Karen Lang +82 (0) 68 84 20 92
E-mail : peoplesg20action.Seoul@gmail.com Website: http://en.putpeoplefirst.kr/


People’s G20 Response
Notes

[1] The “Our World is not for Sale” (OWINFS) network is a loose grouping of organizations, activists and social movements worldwide fighting the current model of corporate globalization embodied in global trading system. OWINFS is committed to a sustainable, socially just, democratic and accountable multilateral trading system (www.ourworldisnotforsale.org).

[2] La Via Campesina is an international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers with 148 members from 69 countries from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. It promotes gender parity and social justice in fair economic relations; the preservation of land, water, seeds and other natural resources; food sovereignty; sustainable agricultural production based on small and medium-sized producers (www.viacampesina.org).

[3] Maria Lorena Macabuag (Migrant Forum Asia), Josua Mata and Joanna Bernice “Nice” Coronacion (Trade Union Group Alliance of Progressive Labor), Joseph Purugganan (Development policy group Focus on the Global South), Jess Santiago (artist), Rogelio Soluta (Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno), Paul Quintos (Research group Ibon).

KCTU President Kim Yeong-hun's opening speech to conference

The G20 does not have the ability or the political will to solve the economic crisis!

The Seoul G20 Summit will go down in history as the international meeting with the worse record on human rights!

Seoul International People’s Conference, Opening Speech

Overseas comrades, Korean people’s movement and civil society activists and fellow union members who have gathered here today to participate in the Seoul International People’s Conference, I give my warmest greetings. I am KCTU President Kim Yeong-hun.

Yesterday I heard some news which inspired in me a great sense of shame and range. 6 union and civil society representatives of Filipino nationality invited to participate in events sponsored by Korean labor, social movement and civil society organizations were turned away at the border without out explanation. Even worse, 5 of them were forced by airport security onto a plane headed for the Philippines and expelled. In this process, they were also the victims of verbal and physical abuse. I cannot hide my extreme shame and anger at these irrational and anti-human rights measures taken by the South Korea government. I am forced to ask if the Lee Myung-bak administration has any right whatsoever to take about improving South Korea’s international image or to speak of ’global standards.’ I believe that real international standing and global standards derive from respect for and adherence to basic human rights. The South Korean government seems not to agree, and has instead shown no hesitation whatsoever in denying entrance to 6 representatives of international civil society. One person among these 6 even participated in the government-sponsored Civil G20 Dialogue in October. Not only this, but the Lee Myung-bak government has, giving no special reason, denied visas to 3 activists fro Nepal, 3 from India and 1 from Pakistan, all of whom had submitted all the required invitation letters and other documents. The Pakistani activist even had to suffer the absurd offense of having his passport defaced.

It appears that the Lee Myung-bak government believes that it is necessary to shut out all critical voices by preventing union and civil society representatives from entering South Korea in order to assure the success of the G20 Summit. The government needs to give up its illusion. It has already completely ruined public perception of the Summit. The Seoul Summit will go down in history as the international meeting with the worst record on human rights. As if the repression of the movement criticizing the G20 in South Korea was not enough, the government is going even further in a ridiculous attempt to completely block out all criticisms from the international community. No international meetings are above human rights. The Lee Myung-bak government will have to apologize to the international community for this violation. Korean labor and civil society forces will not let this act go overlooked.

Comrades!

The G20 Summit is going in the wrong direction. At first the heads of state participating in the G20 seemed to show good intentions, but now they are showing their true face. The calls we heard for strengthening financial regulation are growing weaker and weaker, while instead orders for austerity measures are being revived. It did not take long to find out what the “fiscal health” agreed to at the Toronto Summit last June means. It means the reduction of public spending and social protections such as the weakening of pensions and constriction of the public sector, as can be seen in the austerity measures implemented in France and England.

But, I will ask you, comrades, what is the reason real reason for the fiscal crises governments are facing? Is it because of workers and common people? Is it because of spending on social protections? No. It is because of the massive funds spent to bailout large banks during the financial crisis. Fiscal problems must be solved by imposing a steep tax on banks, other elements of capital and the rich. The G20, however, is not prepared to impose such a tax. It has not come to an agreement about or taking even the slightest steps to make large-scale banks and speculative capital take responsibility. Proposals for a bank tax and financial transaction tax have been left up to each country to deal with as they please—in other words, they have been discarded. As this has happened, yet another cost has been put on the shoulders of workers and common people who are not the ones at fault. How can we be asked to accept the legitimacy of the G20 when it continues to make workers and common people pay for the crisis.

Comrades!

There are 192 member states of the United Nations. The G20 only includes 20 of them. The decision to include these 20 countries had no basis in standards of fairness. In fact, the G20 excludes the majority of the countries of the world, in particular underdeveloped countries and the countries of the Southern Hemisphere, which have suffered the most from the IMF’s neoliberal policies. The G20 is fundamentally illegitimate and unrepresentative. We need to develop a new more universal framework for discussion that can represent the interests of underdeveloped countries and include the voices of workers and common people.

Comrades!

Far from its supposed purpose, the G20 is becoming the political stage of advanced countries. G20 leaders have already shoved aside the question of financial regulation and are instead pouring their hearts and souls into a currency war in order to steal others’ territory. Moreover, the G20 is being approached as a card to play in the South Korean political game. While it looks as if the global economy is making a weak recovery, the crisis is not over. As we can see in Southern Europe, insolvency in the private financial sector has led to public fiscal insolvency, deepening and expanding the crisis. In addition, we cannot forget that the ’weak recovery’ of the global economy has been paid for out of the pockets, not of those who brought it about, but of workers and common people. The only way to truly overcome the crisis is to thoroughly restrict financial capital, create good jobs, protect basic labor rights and strengthen social protections. The G20 has already strayed widely from this path, however. It is time for us to start out on a new path. I hope the next 3 days of the Seoul International People’s Summit will be a chance to share important ideas about how such a path might be forged. The real alternative lies with us!

Thank you.

Kim Yeong-hun, KCTU President

MESSAGE OF SUPPORT FROM NUMSA TO KMWU

9 November 2010, Seoul, South Korea

 MESSAGE OF SUPPORT FROM NUMSA TO KMWU

 Greetings

On behalf of the 255 000 National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) membership and Numsa National Office Bearers, we bring revolutionary greetings to the membership of the Korean Metalworkers Union (KMWU).

As always, NUMSA is inspired by the militancy and steadfast conviction of the KMWU leadership with its members to confront the logic, exploitation and brutality of Capital on a daily basis.

We want to salute the courageous efforts of KMWU to bring a better life for metalworkers in South Korea. We want to specifically congratulate KMWU in its victory to secure an agreement with Kiryung Electronics on 1 November 2010 whereby precarious workers were permanently employed. This is a victory not only for Korean workers but an important triumph for all casualized and temporary workers across the world.

In our country COSATU with all its affiliates are in a serious engagement with government and business to ban the use of labour brokers. Labour brokers represent modern slavery whereby the unemployed in our society are brought into employment as temporary workers, underpaid, with no benefits and very easily dismissed.

Whilst we are negotiating with our government to ban labour brokers, NUMSA has been able use the 2010 annual wage negotiations with car manufacturing companies to achieve an agreement with industry bosses remove Labour brokers from the car manufacturing industry.

In the battle for improved wages and conditions of employment NUMSA took a conscious decision in our 2010 collective bargaining with employers to demand increases above the country’s inflation rate. Our opening demand was an increase of 20% which employers regarded as unreasonable given the global action in the car manufacturing, tyre industry and motor retail industry which resulted in NUMSA members settling for an average wage increase of 10% in the context of our country’s inflation being at 4.3%.

Capitalist crises:

We are meeting at a time when the G20 are convening in your country to deliberate on how to deal with their own manufactured capitalist crises.

We must salute the South Korean trade union movement under the leadership of KCTU for having brought unions from across the world to act in solidarity to protest and campaign against the exploitation of the working class and the deepening levels of unemployment inequalities and poverty across the world.

Capitalism is inherently a system that produces and re-produces crises. In defining the characteristics of the recent capitalist financial crises, the South African Communist Party analyzed capitalist crises as follows;

The cyclical pattern of booms and busts are systemically linked to the fact that capitalism – unlike socialism or earlier forms of production – is essentially production for exchange (and therefore private profit) and not for social use. In other forms of production (not least socialism)– over-production of goods would, in principle, usually be a cause for celebration, but under capitalism "over-production" (i.e. more than the market demands – i.e. more than can profitably be sold) triggers a break-down in the system – a crisis of over-accumulation. This, in turn, requires a massive wave of destruction of productive capacity (in the form of retrenchments, factory closures, liquidations, and stock exchange collapses), in order to "clear the ground" for the next round of capital accumulation through growth. It must be stressed that under capitalism "over-production" is not the over-production of products that the mass of the world's population often desperately needs. It is "over-production" relative to "market demand", i.e. relative to what can profitably be sold. Capitalism, for all its dynamism and robustness, is a profoundly irrational system.”

It is in this regard that we join progressive and revolutionary formations of the working class and the poor all over the world to struggle for another world that is possible and that represents an alternative to Capitalism. In NUMSA and COSATU we firmly believe that a Socialist alternative is the answer to the suffering and misery that humanity finds itself in today.

In conclusion:

As NUMSA and COSATU representatives here present we wish you well in your struggles for decent work and a living wage. We shall in solidarity support all your struggles for the emancipation of the working class.

We concur with the demands of the campaign that "Our World is Not for Sale" (OWINFS) which demands;

- a change in the economic model, which implies putting an end to neo-liberalism and moving towards a new model based on systemic change and for the benefit and well-being of all peoples in the world (rather than corporate profits), including the adoption of bold economic strategies to create decent jobs, as well as a new international financial architecture;

- a halt to market based “solutions” for  climate change and the anti-democratic Copenhagen Accord (a clear step backwards from the positive aspects of the Kyoto Protocol), and the immediate adoption of profound changes to our current system of production, distribution and consumption;

- an end to a global food system based on price speculation by agribusiness corporations  and its replacement by a system of food production and distribution that supports  small farmers and promotes  food sovereignty;

- a suspension of trade negotiations at the WTO and of bi-regional or bilateral free trade and investment regimes until a new international agreement has been reached on trade and investment rules based on truly just and sustainable development for all.

Please receive our best wishes in the battle ahead of us.

Loving Live the Spirit of No Surrender

Long Live the Metalworkers of Korea

Contact:

Castro Ngobese, Numsa National Spokesperson

Protesting is illegal within 2km of the G20 summit

It appears that restrictions on protests are getting even tougher. The South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh has reported that all demonstrations will be banned within 1.1 to 2.2km of the G20 site. It appears that the Lee Myung Bak government wants to completelty silence any opposition to this crazy circus known as the G20.

Here is part of the report from Hankyoreh:

"Assemblies and demonstrations will be totally banned in the Coex area starting on Nov. 8. The ban applies to an area designated as a G-20 body guarding and safety zone, which stretches from 1.1 to 2.2km outwards from Coex and includes Cheongdam Bridge, parts of the Han River itself, the Jamsil Olympic Complex, Cheongdam neighborhood and Samseong neighborhood."

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/447644.html

Activists, laborers stage anti-G20 protests in Seoul

November 11, 2010 -- South Korean labor and civic groups joined with international activists Thursday to stage protests to raise their voice against this week's G-20 summit in Seoul.

The rally ended without anyone being arrested or taken into custody, despite scuffles with the police as the protesters marched through downtown.

Organized by a confederation of 83 civic groups calling itself "Put People First! Korean People's G-20 Response Action," the rally began in front of the Seoul Station. Organizers claimed some 10,000 people showed up, but the police said it counted about 3,500.

The protest, also backed by political campaigners, college students, human rights activists and interest groups, was one of several planned in the city to coincide with the gathering of world leaders for the G-20 summit on Thursday and Friday. Heads of governments and financial chiefs along with leaders from non-G-20 nations have come to Seoul to attend the global economic forum.

Over 3,000 riot police stood guard with water cannons and other protest-quelling equipment.

The protesters scuffled their way past the police to march through downtown, arriving an hour later at a city intersection where they burned a coffin marked as symbolizing G-20 and free trade agreements, causing another physical clash.

Protesters' demands varied from job stability, fair distribution of wealth and scrapping of free trade agreements to the withdrawal of South Korean troops from Afghanistan. Placards read, "G20, Stop making people pay for the crisis," "STOP G20," "Withdraw troops from Afghanistan" and "No FTA."

A South Korean college student, waving a picket that said "G20 chairman = Labor repression champion," told Yonhap that he was protesting against the government's excessive crackdown on migrant workers and labor unions under the guise of the G-20.

Organizers said some 100 international activists also joined Thursday's rally.

Toshsiko Sogame, 64, from Japan, was among those who flew to Seoul to join the anti-20 events.

"I'm here to raise the voice for revision of immigration laws that discriminate against foreigners," Sogame said, flying flags written in Japanese...


http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2010/11/11/8/0302000000AEN20101111011600315F.HTML

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