Unionists and North Korea

by Eric Lee

Behind the propaganda, the reality is bleak for North Korean workers.

It’s “North Korea Freedom Week” – I’ll be you didn’t know that – and I was able to hear first hand from three North Korean refugees at a meeting at the House of Commons in London on Wednesday just what life is like in that country.   (There were also speakers from other groups, including Amnesty International.)  One of the points made at the meeting was that considering that the human rights situation in North Korea is so poor, perhaps the worst in the world, it is extraordinary how few people raise this issue.  The North Korean regime clearly benefits from the fact that so little attention is paid to violations of human rights there.

LabourStart is not alone in the international trade union movement in having very little information about what goes on in North Korea.  If you read the annual report on violations of trade union rights published by the ITUC, the section on ‘violations’ in North Korea is empty.  (It’s about 500 words long when it comes to, for example, Israel.)  The ILO’s committee on free association mentions Korea 38 times in its March 2012 report – but all 38 are references to South Korea, where unions enjoy a degree of independence some of us have witnessed first-hand.

Trade unionists around the world need to be made aware of the actual situation of workers in North Korea. Which is where we come in — we have look for information and get the information out there.  For that reason, as of this afternoon [April 27] we have three countries called Korea in our list of countries where previously there was only one.  Stories specifically focused on South or North Korea can now be separated out.  The first story about North Korea appeared on April 27 on our front page — and I hope there will be many more.

Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart, the international labour news and campaigning site.

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