Another shocking thing about September 11

Hans Engelberts

Korean heroes of workers' rights

The Public Services International (PSI) Executive Board meeting and Asian and Pacific Regional Conference were held in Korea last November to show support for the struggle of Korean workers and, in particular, public service workers for basic trade union rights.

In PSI we are proud to be associated from the beginning with the long struggle of the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the affiliates of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) for proper trade union rights. Many are the letters of protest we have sent to the governments over the years, and numerous the appeals we have had to make in order to release people from prison for what, in other countries, is considered a normal trade union job. We pay tribute to the many trade union leaders and activists who are willing to sacrifice so much, some of them up to ten years in prison, just to obtain normal worker rights, such as freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The workers in Korea are a shining example for their colleagues in many other countries in Asia, where authoritarian governments still refuse the most basic trade union rights. They are an example, not only in fighting for basic trade union rights, but also in fighting the market-friendly, neo-liberal policies of the government.

The Kim Dae-Jung regime has created an ideological climate in which "restructuring" is accepted as an "absolute good". The struggles and efforts of workers and trade unions in response to issues of restructuring are branded as sabotaging the "national effort to overcome the economic crisis". In the last three years, the public sector has been the direct target of the government's policy of structural adjustment. Some 131,000 public sector workers lost their jobs as a result. On top of this, an even greater number of trade unionists have been imprisoned under the government of Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Kim Dae-Jung, in his three and a half years in office, than was the case during the five years of the previous government.

The PSI participants in the meetings in Seoul were full of admiration for these heroes of workers' rights.


Meanwhile, in the US ...

The whole world now also recognises the heroic efforts of public safety officers in New York on September 11. Two days after the disaster, a bill giving police officers and fire fighters employed by states and municipalities the right to form and join unions was introduced in the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In addition to the right to collective bargaining over wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment, the measure would require employers to recognise their public safety workers' unions and set up a system for arbitration and mediation. While many states give public safety workers the right to organise, 18 states do not and some limit bargaining authority.

On 6 November, Republic