-----Original Message----- From: David Smith [SMTP:•••@••.•••] Sent: Wednesday, June 03, 1998 2:17 AM To: WORLD SYSTEMS NETWORK Subject: (korea) Korea Letter Wed Jun 3 (fwd) Thought the following article, excerpted from a thing called KOREA LETTER (it takes reports from Seoul newspapers, the one that follows is from the English-language daily, THE KOREA HERALD), might be of interest. It illustrates the "wonders" of "globalization"! David A. Smith Sociology, UC-Irvine ---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Tue, 02 Jun 1998 06:38:32 -0600 From: The Korea Letter <•••@••.•••> Reply-To: •••@••.••• To: •••@••.••• Subject: (korea) Korea Letter Wed Jun 3 THE KOREA LETTER Thursday, Jun 3, 1998 KST ---------------------------- Reports copyrighted by publishing organizations. ENGLISH PRESS REPORTS .... KOREA HERALD .... Average Koreans Sympathize with Trade Union Struggling for More Equality By John Sullivan Staff reporter The Korean government may have good reasons for castigating its labor unions. While trying to improve Korea's image through social stability and flexibility in its labor market, the government has been continuously hounded by KCTU-led strikes that have caused foreign ratings agencies to downgrade credit levels, and caused millions of won in lost foreign investment. But what the government may fail to recognize is the point of view of the KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions). ``I never thought about joining a trade union, but now I am considering it,'' says an architect who asked to be identified by only his last name, Kim. In his company, all the employees were told to sign new contracts that allowed the company to make laying them off easier. Twenty-three employees were then asked to resign. Though the new labor laws stipulate businesses set up proper standards for layoffs, as well as taking ``every possible means'' to avoid them, social inequalities in the Korean workplace and society often make it difficult to resort to legal means in the case of abuse. Employers often demand resignations from their workers, and offer them severance payments much less than what they were expecting. If the employee chooses to challenge the resignation, then he must wait two months before an arbitration board decides whether or not the layoff is illegal. Because Korea has a much less legalistic culture than western countries, many workers shun legal remedies as the first method of resolving a conflict. Instead, the two parties involved settle on a remedy through negotiations among themselves. In most cases, the terms of resignation are usually negotiated and departure from the firm relatively nonproblematic, but abuses do exist. In one securities company, workers informed they would be laid off were forced to remain in a separate room away from other workers. The regular employees were then assigned to monitor them on a regular basis. ``If you got laid off,'' says Kim, ``they would take your I.D. away so you can't use the computers. And if the employee chooses to take the case to court, there is the fear that the process will be long and costly.'' Corporate culture in Korea is sometimes rigidly hierarchical with workers in lower positions having very little power. An employee at a securities firm in Yoido said that when his company tried to start up a trade union 10 years ago, the company put up strong resistance. When new people were hired the company would warn them that joining the unions would be unbeneficial. ``Eventually the union disappeared,'' he said. These undocumented but very real social realities are behind KCTU's resistance to unilateral economic reforms by the government. Addressing social inequalities during the process of economic restructuring, they argue, are as vital to maintaining a stable society as labor restraint. The divide in perception between business and government on one side and the KCTU on the other is marked by the government's breach of promises to protect worker's rights. ``There is a big problem with confidence in the government,'' says Yoon Young-mo, international secretary for the KCTU. Apart from stalling on many of the corporate reforms government promised, many businesses are abusing the layoff laws, he says. The organization already claims to have an expansive list of abuses in which severance payments were denied and companies unilaterally laid off hundreds of thousands of employees without worker consultation guaranteed by the law. The trade unions also point to consistent government waffling on the issue of mass layoffs. Despite President Kim Dae-jung's promise to the KCTU that he would ensure POSCO fulfill its obligation to protect workers when it took over Sammi Steel, 300 to 400 Sammi workers were laid off, Yoon points out. Social statistics also show that human suffering caused by economic restructuring is increasingly dramatic. In a recent report by a daily newspaper, the Hankyoreh Shinmun, suicides were reported to be almost twice that of traffic accident deaths between last December and March. About 43.1 percent of all the suicide victims, it said, were people who lost jobs, failed businesses, or suffered from psychological duress caused by Korea's economic crisis. When the unquantifiable effects of social inequalities and mass layoffs become countable, they argue, it may be too late. Though the public generally supports the KCTU's fight for equality in the workplace, many feel that their demands must wait. Scaring off foreign investors by creating social instability through labor strikes is unrealistic, say most observers. It may also destroy the very goals the trade unions seek: job security. Inequalities will have to be addressed, but only after the economy has been stabilized, they say.