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

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Progressive Mobilization in South Korea Expanding


Workers marched in Seoul, South Korea yesterday wearing masks after the right-wing government had declared that anyone wearing face coverings at their protest would be arrested.

The corporate dominated administration of President Park (daughter of former brutal dictator and US puppet) is trying to destroy progressive labor unions in South Korea in order to essentially get rid of the idea of full-time work.  The Park regime also wants to re-write the nation's school books in order to whitewash the period of time her father terrorized South Korea.  Labor, farmers, and other sectors of the growing progressive coalition in South Korea are stepping up their national mobilization to defend social progress.

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has announced that the labor group will organize a general strike on Dec. 16 and hold a similar rally again on Dec. 19.

Just days ago I posted on this blog an article printed in The Nation by Tim Shorrock about the attempted crackdown by the Park regime on the progressive movement in South Korea.  Apparently the government was not happy about the story and complained to editors at The Nation.  One of the editors sent the following note to Shorrock.

You'll be pleased, I'm sure, to find out that the Korean government is very upset about your article. I received an e-mail, followed up by an phone call--actually, a spate of phone calls--from the Korean Consulate General here in New York wanting to have a meeting, in our office, with me "to discuss" your article. Of course I said no, even as I welcomed a letter to the editor addressing any points in the piece they take exception to. And I urged them to tell me as soon as possible if there were any factual mistakes. The man I talked to on the phone did not go into any details, nor did he point out--or even claim--that there were factual errors. Just vague words along the lines of the "remarkable progress Korea has made over the past four decades."

As I see it, you're doing one of the primary jobs of journalism--afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Power on.

 Today our Veterans For Peace delegation will travel to Jeju City for a visit to the April 3 (4-3) massacre museum and then we have two meetings - the first with a key organizer from Seoul who will brief us on the current progressive mobilization throughout South Korea opposing the Park regime's crackdown and then a meeting with Catholic Bishop Kang who has been a strong supporter of the Gangjeong village Navy base struggle.  More later.

Sunday Song

 
 

More Photos from Jeju Island

Sitting next to Mike Hanes at the Navy base gate

Snow-capped Mt. Halla in the distance

Graffiti along the sea wall next to Navy base that recounts all the lies the government has told the villagers
Tiger Island just offshore from Gangjeong village

Photos by Dan Shea and Ellen Davidson

Tough Questions to Secretary of War

 
House Democrat warned Tuesday that the military action President Barack Obama has ordered in the Middle East could lead to “devastating nuclear war” with Russia. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) delivered the warning during a House Armed Services Committee hearing with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Gabbard said she was worried that Obama’s deployment of F-15s near the Turkey-Syria border — which are meant to “ensure the safety” of NATO allies — could result in a conflict with Russia that could quickly escalate.

Friday, December 04, 2015

South Korea Completely Subordinated to U.S.


Our Veterans For Peace (VFP) delegation had a busy day in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, South Korea yesterday as we helped block the Navy base gate for a couple hours throughout the day and had two briefings from activist and village leaders.

In the photo above our delegation (minus Col. Ann Wright who arrives today) is joined by Brother Song (front row left) and village international team members Sung-Hee Cho and MiYoung (center).

Brother Song is a leader of the international peace group called The Frontiers and has been working in the village for several years.  When the sacred Gureombi rocky coastline was first closed off to the villagers by the Navy and Samsung (the lead base construction contractor), Br. Song would swim each day and attempt to enter Gureombi.  He was often stopped and beaten by South Korean Coast Guard divers while he was in the water.

Br. Song thanked VFP for sending our solidarity delegation and said, "This is a crucial time to visit us.  Your visit could give us some encouragement and hope to keep fighting as we enter the second round."

Br. Song went on to detail the struggle ahead as there are signs that the "peace island", as it has been officially named by the Seoul government, will be even further militarized in the years ahead.  He showed us a spot on the map of the island where activists believe it is likely that an air base will next be built.  The announced 'pivot' of 60% of Pentagon forces into the Asia-Pacific necessitates more airfields and ports-of-call for US warplanes and warships.  He also pointed out another place on Jeju Island where an artillery unit will soon be added - not aimed at North Korea but due to the location of Jeju the target will clearly be China.

Brother Song from the activist group The Frontiers now working to demilitarize Jeju Island

Br. Song outlined a plan underway to link up demilitarization movements on Jeju with those in Okinawa and Taiwan thus creating a unified campaign for a demilitarized zone in this part of the Pacific.  The long-term goal is to 'Sail for Peace' between the various islands to spread word about an alternative non-violent vision for the region.  Song expressed much interest in working with VFP which has recently restored its own peace sail boat called the 'Golden Rule'.

Later in the evening we had a briefing from Gangjeong village Vice-Mayor Mr. Go who did a quick welcome and then suggested he just take questions from our delegation.  One of the first questions was about Samsung requesting that the right-wing government in Seoul fine the village $20 million in penalties for "obstruction of business" due to the eight-year campaign to oppose the Navy base.  He reported that lawyers have said that the village might have a chance to beat this absurd and cruel move by Samsung but the track record of South Korean courts on the Jeju Navy base issue has not been kind to Gangjeong village.

As the completion of the Navy base nears (the Navy had hoped to have the official opening of the base in early December) Mr. Go stated, "We are just trying to enjoy every moment of the protests and will take the next steps when we come to that moment".  Mr. Go said that the South Korean military and government is "completely subordinated to the US."

Gangjeong village Vice-Mayor Mr. Go

He said that their biggest concern at this time is the environmental degradation that has already come from the construction of the base on sacred Gureombi rock and the dredging of the offshore area near UNESCO recognized endangered soft coral forests.  Mr. Go said that squid eggs just offshore are now diminishing and that fishing has already been reduced by one-third from past years.

Today we will take a tour of the east and west sides of the Navy base construction area.

Photos by Ellen Davidson.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

First Night at Jeju Navy Base Gate


Fr. Mun encircled by police at Navy base gate

Tarak Kauff being carried away from blocking gate

VFP member and Iraq war vet Mike Hanes


Photos by Ellen Davidson(See her first article here)

VFP Delegation Arrives on Jeju Island

Sacred Gureombi rock on Jeju Island before the Navy base destruction began


I arrived on Jeju Island, South Korea at noon today as part of a Veterans For Peace (VFP) delegation I helped organize along with national board member Tarak Kauff.  All together 12 VFP members from around the US have come on this delegation in order to stand in unity with the Gangjeong village struggle to oppose the Navy base being built here for US warships that will provocatively encircle China's coastline.  After six days here our group will then head to Okinawa where we again will stand with people there opposing US bases and their expansion on that beleaguered island.

We had some concern that some VFP members might be turned away so we did not mention the Jeju trip publicly until we all safely arrived.  Only one of our group had any difficulty but in the end everyone made it into the country.

Immediately upon arriving in the village we discovered that there were extended protests going on at the Navy base gate due to the fact that yesterday a woman got hit by a construction vehicle and had to be rushed to the hospital for an operation on her foot that was severed to the bone.  In addition the police arrested two activists so Catholic priest Fr. Mun decided to go on a hunger strike until they were released from jail and stayed at the Navy base gate all through last night and all day today.

Upon arrival I quickly dumped my gear at the traditional Korean-style house where most of us are staying and made my way to the protest.  Luckily I had the good sense to bring along my long underwear because it is very cold here and the wind was driving a very hard rain.

We will have a busy schedule while here that will include briefings from various activists and leaders of the Jeju protest.  I'll try to report as best I can on what is happening and thankfully we have professional photographer Ellen Davidson with us to ensure that we get lots of visuals to share with people around the world.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

In South Korea, a Dictator’s Daughter Cracks Down on Labor

 
South Korean police officers spray water cannons to try to break up protesters who tried to march to the Presidential House after a rally against government policy in Seoul, November 14, 2015. (AP Photo / Ahn Young-joon)

 

The Nation

The government has banned a massive rally scheduled for this weekend, but activists are vowing to defy the order.

By Tim Shorrock

 Following in the footsteps of her dictator father, South Korea’s President, Park Geun-hye, is cracking down on labor and citizens groups opposed to the increasingly authoritarian policies of her ruling “New Frontier” party known as Saenuri.

The situation could reach a critical point this weekend, when tens of thousands of workers organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) join forces with farmers, students, and other civic organizations in a national action in Seoul to protest Park’s conservative labor, education, and trade policies.

On Saturday, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency banned the march, with Park’s Justice Minister Kim Hyun-Woong vowing to “uproot illegal and violent demonstration…no matter how much sacrifice is required.” Meanwhile, the president herself equated the protesters—some of whom wear masks as protection from riot police—to terrorists.

“Given that the extremists of the Islamic State group hide their faces, we should ban demonstrators from wearing masks in the future,” Park said, before flying off to Paris for this week’s Climate Change Conference. She last visited Washington in October, when President Obama, her country’s strongest ally, promised that the United States “will never waver” in its commitment to South Korea.

But inside Korea, her actions have brought back memories of her father, General Park Chung Hee, who seized power in 1961 and ruled with an iron hand until he was assassinated in 1979 by the director of the country’s equivalent of the CIA.

In 1979, Park’s government was in the midst of a savage repression of workers and students who were trying to organize for improved conditions and livable wages during a time of rapid, export-led economic growth. After his death, conditions worsened when another general, Chun Doo Hwan, took over in a bloody coup that culminated in the Kwangju citizens’ uprising, which was put down with assistance from the United States. Chun continued Park’s draconian treatment of unions and dissidents for nearly a decade.

A democratic system was finally established in 1987 after millions of Koreans filled Seoul’s streets for weeks, demanding an end to military rule and for direct elections of their president. It was out of that tumult, and a series of famous industrial strikes, that the KCTU was born. It is now the country’s second-largest union group and by far the most militant.

For the past six months, it has been organizing resistance to a raft of labor reforms pushed by President Park that will make it easier for the country’s family-run conglomerates (called chaebol) to fire workers and provide “flexibility” to Korean and foreign corporations. The law’s primary aim is to increase the huge number of part-time “irregular” workers in Korean industry (20 percent of the workforce, one of the highest rates in the industrialized world) and allow public and private employers to make unilateral changes in working conditions without consulting unions.

The reform “essentially implements a wish list of measures long advocated by corporate leaders, who hope to see their profits soar as a result,” Korea watcher Gregory Elich reports in a detailed article in Counterpunch. To increase pressure on the government, the KCTU says it will launch a general strike of its 680,000 members if the National Assembly moves to pass the reforms. That could happen shortly before Christmas.

“We have staked everything in this fight,” KCTU president Han Sang-gyun said in an interview with New York journalist Hyun Lee. “We’re talking about workers stopping production, freight trucks stopping in their tracks, railroad and subway workers on illegal strikes, and paralyzing the country so that the government will feel the outrage of the workers.” He says the labor reforms will “turn the entire country into a pool of irregular/precarious workers who can be dismissed at any time without cause.”

Over the weekend, the KCTU accused the government of “regressing to the dictatorial era” and called Park’s denial of its constitutional right to assembly “tantamount to the self-acknowledgement that the current government is a dictatorship.”

In recent weeks, police have conducted raids on union offices throughout South Korea. In one action, police invaded the national offices of the Korean Federation of Public Services and Transport Workers Union, seizing documents and computer hard-drives from the cargo workers. Many of its actions have been directed at public employee unions. Last spring, the government stripped the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, with 60,000 members, of its representational rights.

Park’s crackdown has angered labor activists around the world, who claim that South Korea’s actions violate commitments it has made to respect worker rights in international trade and financial agreements signed over the past two decades. “South Korea is well on the way to becoming a pariah state in terms of trade union rights,” Owen Tudor, a top official with the British Trade Union Congress said last week.

In 2014, the International Trade Union Confederation ranked South Korea as among the world’s worst countries for worker rights. It was listed alongside China, Cambodia, Nigeria, and Bangladesh as a place where workers “are systematically exposed to unfair dismissals, intimidation, arrests and violence often leading to serious injuries and death,” The Wall Street Journal reported reported. LabourStart, an international solidarity group, has launched an online petition calling on South Korea to “Stop attacks on trade unions now.”

KCTU’s Han, who was elected president of the confederation last year, is currently taking refuge in a Buddhist temple in Seoul to avoid arrest by government security forces. The police ordered his arrest last spring after he refused to appear before prosecutors investigating the KCTU for allegedly violating traffic and assembly laws during large Labor Day demonstrations on May 1. Since then, the temple has been surrounded by dozens of officers waiting for him to emerge.

The government holds KCTU and its member unions responsible for the massive demonstrations calling for President Park’s resignation that disrupted Seoul on November 14. On that day, scores of protesters and police were injured in street battles that erupted after security forces tried to disperse protesters with tear gas and water cannons loaded with pepper spray.

During the confrontation, Baek Nam Ki, a 69-year-old leader of the Korean Peasant League, suffered a brain injury after being knocked down by a water cannon. He remains unconscious at a Seoul hospital and has since become a rallying point for the peoples’ movement. On Saturday, his daughter Minjuhwa released a plaintive message to supporters, saying “My father is not a terrorist; he has led a good, honorable, respectful, and decent life. We sincerely wish for justice.”

Many Korean activists were further shocked when a senior official in Park’s ruling Saenuri Party pointed to the routine use of force by police in America to justify Seoul’s crackdown on dissent. “In the United States, the police use their firearms to kill people, and in 80 percent to 90 percent of these cases, they’re ruled as justified,” said National Assemblyman Lee Wan-yeong, according to Korean press reports. “Isn’t that how government authority works in advanced countries?”

“Everything the government and the ruling party are doing is very shocking and goes beyond our imagination,” Mikyung Ryu, the KCTU’s international director, said in an e-mail to supporters on Sunday. The public appears to be fed up too. After President Park’s veiled attack against masked protesters, netizens took to social media “to lampoon her remarks,” with “graffiti satirizing the president popping up across the nation,” The Korea Herald reported.

The People Power Coordinating Body behind the protests was organized by the KCTU and the Peasant League principally to fight the labor reforms, which are seen as hurting all workers as well as the urban poor. KCTU’s rival organization, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions backs the reforms. In total, South Korea’s unionization rate is 10.3 percent—higher than that of the United States.

The “people power” coalition is also focused on the impact South Korea’s free trade agreements with the United States and China will have on the country’s rice farmers, whose numbers have drastically dwindled during the period of export-led manufacturing.

Another pressing issue is the Park government’s determination to take control of the writing and publication of the nation’s history textbooks. Many Koreans see this as Ms. Park’s attempt to cleanse the dictatorial legacy of her father and his supporters still in government and the military. Equally sensitive is the large number of government officials, past and present, who collaborated with Japan during its colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Park’s own father, for example, was trained by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

Park’s move on history books has drawn sharp criticism abroad, including from The New York Times, which uncharacteristically ripped into Park in a November 19 editorial. “Rehabilitating her father’s image appears to be one motivation for making sure South Korea’s students learn a whitewashed version of their country’s history—especially the period when democratic freedoms were seen as an impediment to industrialization,” the Times wrote.

The KCTU’s Han compared Park’s attempt to rewrite history to Japan’s refusal to acknowledge its crimes during World War II. “South Koreans have always been critical of Japan’s distortion of history, but now the Japanese media is pointing its finger back at us for doing the same thing,” he told Lee, the New York journalist. “This is an embarrassment.”

On Monday, the police announced a new plan to disrupt the December 5 demonstrations, saying it would spray paint into the crowd to “better distinguish protesters committing violence and arrest them on the spot.” But the KCTU and its coalition partners have vowed to press on with the protests. 

Help Make Maine Signature Advert Happen


Signature advert above to run in Maine newspaper. 

Please read and send your signature by email to: karenwainberg@gmail.com 

If you can, send a few $$$ to help pay for the page in the newspaper. 

Send check via snail mail to Karen Wainberg at 212 Centre Street Bath, Maine 04530. Make check payable to Karen Wainberg (put PeaceWorks in the memo line).

Monday, November 30, 2015

Hedges: "The Game is Fixed"

 
Bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges sits down with Ben Makuch at the Toronto VICE office to discuss what it takes to be a rebel in modern times. Hedges discusses his new book Wages of Rebellion, an investigation of the social and psychological factors that cause revolution, rebellion and resistance. From Wall Street corruption to why the elites in corporate media have eviscerated traditional investigative journalism, Hedges tries to make sense of the world we live in.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Wilkerson: "Assad is the Legitimate Government of Syria"




Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and Paul Jay discuss the U.S./Saudi unholy alliance in Syria and a relationship that has distorted development throughout the region.
 
Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled "National Security Decision Making."

Endless War & Not Enough Peace



  • Yesterday was the first of the annual Saturday Advent vigils at Bath Iron Works here in Maine.  Sponsored by the Smilin' Trees Disarmament Farm the vigils are held during the noon shift change and will continue through December 19. There were 18 of us yesterday.
  • I am spending quite a bit of time reading articles about the Turkey-Russia conflict.  I've not found any of the media in the US mentioning the now well established fact that Turkey has been stealing oil from Syria and hauling it into Turkey in long truck convoys.  France and Russia began to bomb them cutting into profits for President Erdogan and his son who runs a company that exports the oil to Japan and Israel.  His daughter runs a hospital that treats ISIS fighters inside Turkey.  How could the American media miss that story?  Find it here and here.  You can tell the Russians have had it with Washington, London and Brussels.  They are now publicly revealing loads of intelligence information in order to pull the mask off the face of the US-NATO war in Syria.  It's about time.....
  • Zero Hedge reports: Last month, US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) went on CNN and laid bare Washington’s Syria strategy. In a remarkably candid interview with Wolf Blitzer, Gabbard calls Washington’s effort to oust Assad “counterproductive” and “illegal” before taking it a step further and accusing the CIA of arming the very same terrorists who The White House insists are "sworn enemies.” In short, Gabbard all but tells the American public that the government is lying to them and may end up inadvertently starting “World War III.” Gabbard has apparently had just about enough of Washington vacillating in the fight against terror just so the US can ensure that ISIS continues to destabilize Assad and now, with bi-partisan support, the brazen Hawaii Democrat has introduced legislation to end the "illegal war" to overthrow Assad.  Gabbard, who fought in Iraq - twice - has partnered with Republican Adam Scott on the bill.Watch her CNN interview here.

Sunday Song