By Pablo Velasco
- Workers will stand in Korean election
- Appeal by Korean migrant workers union
- Crackdown in West Papua
Workers will stand in Korean election
South Korean workers are braced for another year of conflict with employers and the government - fighting on many fronts: for a five-day working week, higher wages, against anti-union laws and in support of migrant workers' rights. All of these struggles are set to escalate.
In April elections to the National Assembly (parliament) will see workers' candidates hoping to make a breakthrough. At present, there are no workers' representatives in the 273-seat National Assembly.
This year, the Democratic Labor Party, which is supported by the 685,000-strong Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, is standing its own candidates. The party expects at least one or two representatives to be elected in the southern manufacturing cities of Changwon and Ulsan.
Appeal by Korean migrant workers union
Since November 2003, more than 90 members and supporters of the Equality Trade Union Migrants Branch (ETU-MB) have been calling for an end to the crackdown on undocumented foreign workers, a stop to deportations and the legalisation of all migrant workers in Korea. They have been camped out in the Myongdong Cathedral compound in Seoul, historically a refuge for labour and political activists. On 7 January around 200 police surrounded the migrant workers, enabling immigration officers to pick off two of their number, who were later deported. The ETU-MB has issued the following appeal:
"The ETU-MB is... committed to bottom-up organizing and worker empowerment. We have struggled hard for the workers rights of migrants in South Korea since our inception in 2001. As both the South Korean and migrant exporting countries profit greatly from the trade in cheap, docile migrant labour, our fledgling union has been under constant attack.
"The South Korean government is currently engaged in a wholesale deportation crackdown, aiming to deport 120,000 undocumented migrant workers by August 2004 (two-thirds of the migrant workforce)...
"On two occasions in [January] legal ETU-MB demonstrations have been viciously attacked by units of immigration officers and riot police, resulting in two migrants being seized and multiple injuries. We are fighting for our lives. We desperately need your support. International support is of the utmost importance in the next two weeks: without it the union will surely be destroyed."
- Protest letters can be sent from the website: www.laborstart.org.
Crackdown in West Papua
In December, Indonesian security forces arrested four West Papuan students for releasing flags - known as the Morning Star - attached to balloons in the central Java town of Semarang.
The students were commemorating West Papua's "independence day". In 1961, the West New Guinea Council - a democratically elected body - adopted a national anthem, agreed upon the name West Papua for their country, and unveiled the flag. However West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1963.
The arrests are part of a crackdown on students and workers who are fighting for democratic solutions to the national question in Indonesia. The pro-independence Free Papua Movement (OPM) is the main target.
According to Jason MacLeod, an activist with the Australian West Papua Association writing in Green Left Weekly (14 January), police in Semarang have been conducting house-to-house searches for banners, posters, books and other material considered "subversive" by the state.
Security forces routinely harass West Papuan students studying in Java and many have gone into hiding. In November, unknown men wielding samurai swords and carrying Molotov cocktails attacked a West Papuan student dormitory in Yogyakarta in the early hours of the morning.
The Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri has publicly stated that "separatism" will not be tolerated and has ruled out the possibility of dialogue over West Papua's status. Sukarnoputri has appointed Timbul Silaen as the new police chief of the "Papua province". Silaen is an infamous former East Timor police chief and an indicted human rights violator. At the same time, notorious East Timor militia leader Eurico Guterres has arrived in West Papua, near the giant Freeport-Rio Tinto gold and copper mine, to form a militia group.
Since April 2003 hundreds of people have been displaced and others raped, assaulted, tortured and killed. Scores of health clinics, schools and villages have been burnt to the ground. Many believe it only a matter of time before martial law is declared in West Papua. The crackdown has coincided with the assault on Aceh, another "province" of Indonesia that has suffered years of oppression and exploitation.