Korean Union Leader May be Sentenced to Eight years for Blocking Traffic

by Yi San

Han Sang Gyun

Last week South Korean prosecutors called for an eight-year jail term for Han Sang-gyun, leader of the country’s 800,000-strong independent union federation. The request is outlandish even in a country that was once moving toward democracy but is now rapidly eroding back to authoritarianism.

All eight charges against Han center on traffic and public-safety violations in connection with unauthorized rallies the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU) called between April and November 2015. The government was forced to use a technicality—traffic violations—to interfere with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly.

Nevertheless, the prosecution is seeking a heavy jail term. It claims Han attempted to incite violence at a November 14 rally in central Seoul when he yelled, “Let’s advance towards the Presidential Palace.”

The rally indeed turned violent, not because of the tens of thousands of workers and citizens who were protesting two-tier-wage legislation and government austerity measures, but because riot police cordoned off the streets and water-cannoned the otherwise peaceful protesters.

A high-pressure streak of capsaicin solution from a water cannon felled Baek Nam-ki, a 69-year-old farmer activist. Baek remains comatose with irreversible brain damage.

After the rally Han, already wanted on an arrest warrant, took sanctuary at Jogye Buddhist temple, in central Seoul, where he stayed for 24 days before turning himself in to the police. The government summoned about 1,500 other rally participants for investigation.

Elected on a Pledge to Fight

In December 2014 Han was elected KCTU president in the first-ever non-delegate, direct vote in the federation’s 19-year history. He was also the first president elected on a pledge to organize a general strike. “They [the government and business owners] were aiming to annihilate the KCTU, and we had little option but to fight back,” Han said in court June 13, explaining why he had run.

Under Han’s leadership, the KCTU twice called for a general strike. But both calls ended in only symbolic stoppages, adding to a grim picture for South Korean labor.

The country’s unions, once one of the best organized and militant segments of the global labor movement, have suffered a series of setbacks since the late 1990s, when the government made it easier for employers to lay off workers and hire casuals. Fewer than one in 10 workers is now unionized, the country’s lowest level ever, including in the 1970-80s when Korea was under a harsh military dictatorship.

One in seven workers in effect takes home less than the legal minimum wage of about $5.15 an hour, because they are casual workers and thus not fully protected by law.

These defeats, coupled with the ongoing economic recession, have divided union leaders and demoralized members.

Much of the religious establishment, once shelter for political dissidents, has turned a blind eye to labor’s agony. Han initially planned to organize a general strike while in sanctuary at Jogye temple, home to the Buddhist sect that is the country’s largest.

But from day one of Han’s sanctuary, the leadership of the sect, implicated in a series of corruption scandals, quietly mobilized a group of loyalists to evict him. During his 24-day sanctuary, Han often scuffled with these henchmen who, on one occasion, stripped him almost naked.

Continue reading

Sanders delegates and supporters meet in Boston to make plans for Democratic convention and beyond

by Rand Wilson

Rand and zakiyyah

Sanders delegates from MA CD 7 Zakiyyah Sutton and Rand Wilson
photo by Sandy Eaton

Over 100 Bernie Sanders’ supporters attended a meeting on June 28 at the Ironworkers Local 7 union hall in South Boston to make plans for activities at the national Democratic convention and begin a discussion about continuing the political revolution in Massachusetts.  A few photos from the meeting are posted here and many others are on Facebook.

The meeting was attended by 23 of the 45 Congressional District and At-Large delegates from Massachusetts who were elected this year to support Bernie Sanders at the 2016 National Democratic Convention in Philadelphia from July 25 to 28.  Nearly everyone in attendance had door knocked, phone banked and rallied for Bernie over the last year.

Jared Hicks, a delegate from Congressional District 7 who lives in Dorchester said that he hoped to win a Democratic platform that reflected Bernie’s values and change the party’s rules so that participation in the primaries is easier for voters.

“We need a progressive platform that includes Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage, expanded Social Security and a tax on Wall Street,” said Hicks. “And if Democrats want to defeat Trump, we must have strong language in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.”

A number of participants expressed concern over the failure of the Sanders campaign to capture significant support in communities of color. They challenged the group to make overcoming racism a top priority if it seeks to build a broader movement.

Michael Gilbreath, a District 5 delegate from Wayland, highlighted some of the many activities that groups like Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America and many others were planning in support of the Sanders’ platform outside of the convention.

More than half of the meeting’s attendees indicated they planned to travel to Philadelphia during the convention to participate in activities there.

The most passionate part of the evening’s discussion regarded continuing the political revolution in Massachusetts and support for several down ballot “Bernie-crat” candidates.  Jed Hresko, who coordinated many successful volunteer phone banks for Bernie in Boston, suggested that similar efforts could be mobilized for local candidates.

With the strong possibility of a Clinton candidacy, some participants voiced support for the Green Party, while others cautioned that the priority should be on defeating the presumptive Republican nominee. There is clearly no consensus among Sanders’ supporters about whom to support for President!

All too often, incipient “political revolutions” fall prey to self-appointed leaders who lack either a following and/or the necessary skills to hold a group together.  Looking to the future, the diverse, statewide group of 45 elected representatives tested in the campaign and committed to the Sanders’ platform could provide a powerful foundation dedicated to continuing our revolution in Massachusetts.

Rand Wilson is an elected Sanders delegate from the 7th Congressional District.  He works for SEIU Local 888 and has volunteered with the Labor for Bernie network.

Verizon Workers Win Strike

verizon victory cwa

Friday, May 27, 2016

CWA Press Release

Striking Verizon Workers Win Big Gains

UNION TO TAKE DOWN PICKETS; COMPANY AGREES TO ADD GOOD UNION JOBS ON THE EAST COAST; FIRST CONTRACT FOR RETAIL WIRELESS WORKERS; IMPROVES WORKERS’ OVERALL STANDARD OF LIVING

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers who have been on strike since April 13 are celebrating big gains after coming to an agreement in principle with the company. After 44 days of the largest strike in recent history, striking CWA members have achieved our major goals of improving working families’ standard of living, creating good union jobs in our communities and achieving a first contract for wireless retail store workers.

“CWA appreciates the persistence and dedication of Secretary Perez, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Allison Beck and their entire teams. The addition of new, middle-class jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and our country as a whole. The agreement in principle at Verizon is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people,” said Chris Shelton, President of the Communications Workers of America. “This proves that when we stand together we can raise up working families, improve our communities and protect the American middle class.”

 

US Labor Against the War

by USLAW

US Labor Against the War (USLAW) held its 2016 National Assembly at ATU’s Tommy Douglas Center in Silver Spring, MD from April 15-17. Unlike the labor movements of most countries in the world, with the exception of trade and immigration, most of the American labor leadership still is uncomfortable or has yet to see the importance of talking about foreign policy and the need for international labor solidarity in practice rather than just in rhetoric.

Organizations present included OPEIU Local 2, DC Young Trade Unionists, Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice, UFCW 1776, AFT 2121, Philadelphia Labor Council, USW Local 3657, AFSCME DC47, Philadelphia CLUW, UE, AFSCME Council 32 WI, CWA-UPTE 9119, UAW-National Writers Union, UAW Local 2320, CWA-PHEW, Coalition to End the Saudi Alliance, Professional Staff Congress, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, ATU, AAUP-AFT, Iraq Veterans Against the War, #blacklivesmatterdmv, and the Washington Peace Center.

In addition to being gathered at a time of large scale protest against big money in our political system (Democracy Spring), April 17 was the anniversary of the day in 1965 when the student activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held its first anti-Vietnam War protest rally in Washington, DC. It was co-sponsored by Women’s Strike for Peace. 25,000 attended, including Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Phil Ochs.

History brought us together in more ways than one. USLAW led the campaign to get the AFL-CIO to take a stand against the Iraq war in 2005 (renewed in 2009). It sent the first labor delegation to Iraq and brought Iraqi union leaders to the U.S. in 2005, 2007 and 2009, when it also sent another delegation to Iraq to participate in the first international labor conference ever held there.

The labor movement may have shed its Cold War policies but it has not yet shed the organizational and political culture that accompanied those policies. Unlike the labor movements of most countries in the world, with the exception of trade and immigration, most of the American labor leadership still is uncomfortable or has yet to see the importance of talking about foreign policy and the need for international labor solidarity in practice rather than just in rhetoric. This shift in thinking remained a major theme of the weekend and played out in each of the speakers and workshops arranged.

Continue reading

20 Years of Cross Border Solidarity

A History in Photographs
By David Bacon
NACLA Report on the Americas, May 2016
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714839.2016.1170301

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1993 - Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal.  Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they're voting for the company union or their own independent union.  Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he's voting for.  Company  and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union.  The election was called off halfway through.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1993 – Workers vote in a union election outside the Tijuana maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal. Voting is public, and workers have to declare aloud whether they’re voting for the company union or their own independent union. Sr. Mandujano, head of the labor board in Tijuana and an ally of the companies and the company unions, points to a worker and demands that he say which union he’s voting for. Company and company union officials look on, along with Carmen Valadez, representative of the independent union. The election was called off halfway through.

Unions and social movements face a basic question on both sides of the Mexico/U.S. border – can they win the battles they face today, especially political ones, without joining their efforts together? Fortunately, this is not an abstract question. Struggles have taken place in maquiladoras for two decades all along the border. Many centers and collectives of workers have come together over those years. Walkouts over unpaid wages, or indemnización, as well as terrible working conditions are still common.

What’s more, local activists still find ways to support these actions through groups like the Collective Ollin Calli in Tijuana and its network of allies across the border in Tijuana, the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network. Other forms of solidarity have been developed through groups the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. And long-term relations have been created between unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Authentic Labor Front, and the United Steel Workers and the Mexican Mineros. More recently, binational support networks have formed for farm workers in Baja California, and workers are actively forming new networks of resistance and solidarity in the plantons outside factories in Ciudad Juárez.

Over the years, support from many U.S. unions and churches, and from unions and labor institutions in Mexico City, has often been critical in helping these collectives survive, especially during the pitched battles to win legal status for independent unions. At other moments, however, the worker groups in the maquiladoras and the cities of the border have had to survive on their own, or with extremely limited resources.

These photographs show both the conditions people on the border are trying to change, and some of the efforts they’ve made to change them, in cooperation with groups in the U.S. There have been many such efforts – this is just a look at some.

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO - 1995 - Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women's rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana.  Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workrers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer in courts in Tijuana and Los Angeles.Copyright David Bacon

TIJUANA BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE, MEXICO – 1995 – Women workers from the National O-Ring maquiladora demonstrate for women’s rights during the May Day parade in Tijuana. Their factory was closed, and the women were laid off and blacklisted, after they filed charges of sexual harassment against their employer. The plant manager had organized a “beauty contest” at a company picnic, and ordered women workers to parade in bikinis. Supported by the San Diego Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers, women filed suit in a U.S. Federal court, which surprisingly accepted jurisdiction. The company then gave women severance pay for the loss of their jobs.
See the entire essay and the impressive photos. http://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2016/05/twenty-years-of-cross-border-solidarity.html

Fatal Employment?

By SETH SANDRONSKY
Go to work and die in the US? The answer is yes for 4,821 workers who
lost their lives on the job in 2014 versus 4,582 in 2013, a 5.1% jump,
according to a new report, “Preventable Deaths 2016,” from the
National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH), a
20-group federation, citing federal Labor Dept. data.

One-third of workplace fatalities in 2014 occurred among folks 55
years and older. Further, 802 contract, or temporary workers, died on
the job in 2014, 16.7% of the overall total, and a 7% increase versus
the 749 contracted workers who lost their lives while employed in
2013.

“Contract and temporary workers are frequently assigned to the most
hazardous jobs on many worksites,” according to the NCOSH report.
Jamie Hoyt was a 58-year-old contract worker who died on a day labor
job in Hackensack, New Jersey on Nov. 30, 2012. Continue reading

Stand Up To Verizon

standuptoverizon_email-headerWe’re heading into month two of the Verizon Strike and we need your help. Please join us for a National Mobilization Call on Tuesday, May 10 at 1pm to find out more about what you and your organization can do in the coming weeks to help.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, CWA President Chris Shelton, and Martha Pultar, Director of the Telecommunications Department at IBEW will join us to give an update and tell you how you can join the fight.

The Details:

WHAT: National Verizon Strike Mobilization Call
WHEN: May 10th at 1pm ET
CALL IN NUMBER: 888-636-3807
CODE: 9555514

Please let us know if you can join us. RSVP here.

This fight is about protecting good, union jobs and your help is essential if we want to win. Please join us on Tuesday.

In solidarity,
Bob Master
Communications Workers of America

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