With a description of the economic and organizing conditions of the Korean
workers in the South, this book is a great reminder of what the international
proletariat really is.
To be sure, the author is a Christian missionary with a Ph.D. in sociology, who wishes for bourgeois democracy for workers in Korea. Yet, compared with innumerable imperialist "Left" analyses of organizing white labor, South Korea comes much closer to achieving an internationalist analysis. From experience living in Korea over 14 years and from organizing Korean workers, Ogle is aware of the real exploitation and superexploitation of the Korean workers. Amerikan labor organizers can get something to compare their experience with by reading South Korea.
The conditions of Korean workers largely stem from the international situation. In 1905, the U.S. Secretary of War, William Howard Taft made a deal with Japan to allow the Japanese occupation of Korea in exchange for Japanese non-interference in U.S. rule in the Philippines. (p. 2) During the Japanese occupation, Korea developed so that by 1944 20% of its formerly agricultural labor force had become involved in industrial undertakings. (p. 8)
With the ouster of the Japanese imperialists in 1945, the Soviet-backed forces moved into what is now referred to as North Korea and refrained from occupying southern Korea. Instead, in the South, Koreans rose up to govern themselves, establishing "people's committees" and a "People's Republic." (p. 7)
This republic lasted only a few days because the Amerikans landed and established their own rule of law-- the definition of colonialism. Among the laws the United States implemented were laws concerning recognition of unions. Chun Pyung, the country's largest union federation possibly representing a majority of Korean workers did not recognize the Amerikan law, but employers and their puppet unions did. More importantly, the law unleashed employer thugs on the Chun Pyung and destroyed it. (pp. 8-10) >From that time onward phony unions represented the workers in Korea until the late 1980s. Attempts to form independent unions have always met violence from the state and capitalist-hired thugs in Korea.
With 30,000 troops in Korea to this day, the United States helps to maintain a regime oppressing workers for the benefit of South Korean capitalists and Amerikans. For example, on May 17, 1980, General Chun Doo Hwan declared martial law. The next day, paramilitary forces massacred dozens of students staging demonstrations against martial law. When citizens rallied to the students' side, paratroops killed hundreds more, leaving at least 500 dead in the Kwangju massacre. In response, the masses rose up and drove the army out of the city and took control for five days. In those five days, the United States turned down Kwangju's request for help. Instead, the U.S. military command supported and possibly directed the military massacre of hundreds of people in the Kwangju uprising. Scores more were killed when the army retook Kwangju. (pp. 95-7)
Dealing with Japanese imperialism before World War II and after World War II when it traded places with Japanese occupiers, establishing their own colonial laws, and aiding in the violent suppression of Korean workers and students in 1945 and 1980, the U.S. imperialists have many blood debts to the Korean people without counting the Korean War.
Corrupt Amerikan union
The Korean case also demonstrates the basic unity between U.S. imperialists and the white working class. Korean garment workers organizing a real union in the 1970s gave up a martyr in the struggle and gained national support in Korea, but failed to move the AFL-CIO. When police moved to close down the garment union in 1971, the AFL-CIO failed to back the workers. As a result, twenty-one Korean workers took over the AFL-CIO office and held its director hostage while issuing demands for independent unions. (p. 103)
Ogle points out that this is not an isolated occurrence. Throughout their struggles, the Korean people have received little to no solidarity from workers or other forces in the United States.
The AFL-CIO only stands out in this lack of solidarity because it is the largest labor organization in the United States. Ogle sums up the AFL-CIO role this way: "The AFL-CIO established its Asia-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) in Seoul in 1971. For the next sixteen years it cooperated actively with the KCIA-appointed leaders of the FKTU [the federation of phony unions in southern Korea-- MC5]. It provided thousands of United States AID dollars to the FKTU. Never was it recorded, however, that the ICFTU or AAFLI stood with the workers or unions against oppression. In the 1970Us when the women workers at Dongil Textile were being beaten and humiliated, they were silent. In the early 1980's when the male unionists were being thrown in prison or beaten by the kusadae, not a word was heard from international unions. Workers in Korea know little about ICFTU, and have come to believe that AAFLI is an agent of the American government, not a legitimate union operation at all." (p. 175) How right those Korean workers are! The AFL-CIO is allied with the U.S. imperialists and abroad they are interchangeable in representing the interests of U.S. empire. To have a successful movement, the Korean workers would be right not to count on the AFL-CIO or other white worker organizations for support.
In the United States, some "Leftists" would say that the AFL-CIO position is simply that of its corrupt leadership and not that of Amerikan workers. However, MIM notes that the Amerikan workers never oust their leaders despite various outrages commited around the world. This leaves the "Leftists" in the position of saying the Amerikan workers lack class consciousness which will come about under the correct leadership. Meanwhile, in Korea, despite having four different kinds of paramilitary and military forces to oppose, despite the regime's torture and killings of activists, labor activists rise up not just to replace their union leaders but to organize entirely new unions to replace the corrupt and phony unions. The reason for the different response of the Korean and Amerikan workers in the class struggle must be sought in material conditions, not union leadership.
Use of violence
In the United States, one sign of the alliance between the Amerikan workers and the U.S. imperialists is that rarely do labor organizers face violence from the state or end up in jail. Such conflict is the exception not the rule.
Instead, Amerikan labor and the U.S. imperialists negotiate their positions like the true partners they are. Of course, just as when capitalists negotiate with capitalists, there will be tiffs. Capitalists may end purchase and supply contracts with each other; they may stipulate conditions necessary for doing business at all. They may play rough in a million ways, but they will not generally torture, kill or imprison each other.
Unlike the situation of white workers in the United States, the state and employers in Korea regularly deploy violence against workers. In addition to the use of thugs by employers to break unions, protests and strikes, there is also the government's Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), which carries off suspected organizers for torture, blackmail and sometimes bribery. Local police also work closely with employers to physically break the back of the labor movement, not to mention the army when the oppressorsU control breaks down more completely.
Conditions of work
The main reason the Amerikan state does not come down much on white workers is that the white workers are neither superexploited nor exploited in general. The white workers don't have many complaints and see themselves in essential unity with their employers. In contrast, the state in Korea is constantly called on to back the exploitation and superexploitation of Korean workers.
The Korean workers of today face long hours for low pay. While Amerikan workers were averaging 35 or 36 hours of work a week, Korean workers were organizing for the privilege of having a 44 hour work week. Under Japanese occupation, the Korean workers existed in virtual slavery with Japanese police backing up Japanese employers in the workplace. (p. 3)
Today there is perhaps more choice, but the conditions are often still reminiscent of what Karl Marx knew of workers in the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
An example is the Pico Products, Inc., which is a U.S. company that operated in Korea. It paid workers $6.20 a day. When a union formed, it simply left the country without informing any Koreans, even in management.
Since Pico did not pay any of its debts including its last month's pay to workers, Korean workers are now struggling to have this issue settled in court (p. 173) and there is a small solidarity movement in the United States on behalf of the Pico workers.
Mired in give-me-a-piece-of-the-pie imperialist white chauvinism, the Amerikan pro-"labor" "Left" would do well to read this book. Information in South Korea on the U.S. foreign policy role, U.S. multinational corporations, the pathbreaking role of women labor organizers, the strikes and independent union movements, the student movement, the established dissident movement, the history of work conditions, the continued existence of fascism after the supposed arrival of democracy in 1987 and the rapid industrial development of the Korean economy all make possible a knowledge of the Korean segment of the international proletariat. MIM should distribute this book to fill a large hole in MIM's repertoire. -MC5