International news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 19 November, 2009 - 1:29

Korean workers defend their rights

Following a demonstration of over 100,000 workers at South Korea’s National Assembly building in early November, one of the country’s main trade union federation has begun balloting for a nationwide strike which could take place in mid December.

Both the KCTU and FKTU have been involved in a series of protests against President Lee Myung-Bak’s new proposed labour law, which workers see as a direct attack on trade unions. The law would effectively illegalise closed shops, as well as forbid employers from paying full-time union activists (those on what is referred to in Britain as “facility time”).

Korea’s labour movement has a proud recent history of extremely inspiring militancy and is not afraid to wield its power to beat back the government when it attacks workers’ interests. Kang Choong-ho, a FKTU official, said "We will thwart the government’s policy by mobilising every means possible. If necessary, we will stage a general strike.”

Despite the ballot results not yet being in, and despite negotiations with government continuing until November 25, unions have already begun levying strike funds to support members. This perspective — of negotiating from a position of strength and a commitment to militant action — is a far cry from the situation in Britain, where strikes are called off at the merest sign of concessions from management, and where successive TUC Congresses have rejected calls for industrial action to defeat our own anti-trade union laws.

Ford workers’ “No" heard round the world

By November 1, United Auto Workers members had overwhelmingly rejected contract modifications, in voting that concluded —not coincidentally — the day before Ford announced new profits. An earlier set of concessions were voted up in March, but the members saw these as a giveback too far.

The concessions voted down were to last until 2015. They included severe limitations on the right to strike and a six-year freeze on new-hire pay that had already been cut in half. The argument of the company and the union leadership was that these measures were needed to “match” the labour cost savings at bankrupt Chrysler and General Motors.

The result was a 72% No vote.

• Full report from the US socialist group Solidarity:

New Zealand students fight ban

In October 2009 two socialist student activists were “trespassed” or banned from Victoria Unversity in Wellington, New Zealand, after a fees protest.

Joel Cosgrove, a former Students Association president, and Heleyni Pratley, a former Student Executive member, were “trespassed” for taking part in a protest against fee increases by the University Council. At the protest Cosgrove threw one egg, which he later cleaned up, and Pratley held a sign calling for free education.

The pair were then arrested and charged with trespass when they tried to deliver a petition signed by academics and trade union figures calling for the trespass order to be lifted.

• More on the campaign at:

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