Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

With a new administration in Washington it will be a challenge to get the 'liberals' to hold Biden-Harris to the few 'progressive promises' they made during their campaign. Biden is bringing back many of Bush & Obama's neo-cons to head his foreign policy. I'll be on this case without hesitation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CHANGE MUST COME

Cheong Wooksik (on left) brought together a group for me to speak with last night
Young-Je Kim (left) directs the Reunification program at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, (translator on right)

I learned alot yesterday in my meeting with folks from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). In addition to Young-Je Kim, who is the Director of the Reunification Unit, the meeting also included the editor of the KCTU newspaper, a reporter, and a translator to help Sung-Hee with that task.

The union bi-weekly paper, called "Work in World," which has a circulation of 30,000 is planning to do a full-page story about my visit.

The KCTU is the largest "democratic" union in the country and represents more than 525,000 workers in 1,144 unions. Most impressive of all the KCTU is an integral part of the progressive movement in South Korea and sees its success by being a part of the larger movement for peace, justice, democracy, and reunification.

I was first asked to brief them on the space issue and after I finished I asked for them to tell me more about the aerospace industry in South Korea.

Kim told me that their aerospace industry plays a subordinate role to the US military industrial complex. The big South Korean corporations have set up "component shops" in the southern part of the country where workers get "special treatment" such as being exempt from the military draft. In return the workers are not allowed to strike. They build low-tech component parts for US space technology systems. The South Korean government gives tax incentives to these huge conglomerates.

Kim told me a story to illustrate how the US twists arms in South Korea to keep control of the military sales market. When South Korea was preparing to scrap some older American-made fighter planes, a Korean Air Force study found that French jets would be a better deal for them, both in price and technology. The Korean Air Force officer who made this recommendation was fired, under US pressure, and the government agreed to buy the US-made jets. The former Air Force officer is now working in the peace movement.

Kim asked me to explain what the US peace movement was doing to better understand the North Korea perspective. I told him that little is being done, largely because of the "anti-Communist" climate that still exists in our country. He said that North Korea feels they need "insurance for survival". His union began cultural interactions with North Korea ten years ago. They send South Korean union workers to the north to play soccer games against workers there. North Koreans were considered "demons" by South Koreans, but these trips have helped KCTU members to see the humanity of the workers in the north and contributed to lessening of tensions.

Kim suggested that the Global Network pursue organizing trips to North Korea. He said that the North Koreans are very interested in having discussions with peace movement people and suggested that the KCTU could help the Global Network organize such trips. I told him I was eager to work with him on this idea.

Following our meeting Kim took me for a tour of the ten-story KCTU building. The biggest KCTU member union is the metal workers and they are the ones that recently settled the 77-day strike at Ssangyong Motor factory. One of the issues in the strike settlement agreement was that leaders would not be arrested after the strike ended. Key leadership of the union though were arrested immediately after the union concluded the strike and the president of the union is now on a hunger strike inside prison in protest of the corporation and government rescinding of the agreement.

In the evening I spoke at an event put together by Global Network board member Cheong Wooksik from the Peace Network. A good group of young people listened to my presentation and then had many good questions afterwards. I told them that the founders of the Global Network were getting grey in the hair and we needed a younger generation to come along and help us prevent an arms race in space.

Just yesterday South Korea was to launch its very first space rocket but it had to be scrubbed when problems arose during the final minutes of the countdown. I am told that very few are paying attention to the space issue in South Korea but I think that after this trip that is going to begin to change.

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