South Korea’s hot spring
I was lucky enough to be in Seoul, South Korea, during some of the recent protests (» New mass protests shake South Korea, 14 June), which began over the new government’s decision to lift the ban on US beef – which carries a risk of mad cow disease.
I experienced the breadth and power of the new movement against the right wing government of Lee Myung-bak. I recognise the picture that CJ Park presented in his article from the two marches that I joined.
The sense of ordinary people realising their own power was tangible as the demonstrators got up from their sit-down candlelight protests and began marching on the evening of 29 May. We took over the streets of the capital while the ranks of riot police blockaded the area around the presidential palace, as they’ve been forced to do ever since.
There was a diversity and creative energy that made this protest feel different to others I’ve joined in South Korea. High school girls and boys marched alongside office workers still in their suits, trade unionists with their banners, university students and grandmothers.
Stallholders and shopkeepers cheered from the sides of the street and bus drivers honked their horns in support. Even army reservists donned their uniforms and joined the protests, volunteering to stand between the riot police and the demonstrators to prevent police violence.
Humour has also been a key weapon in the hands of the protesters as marchers drenched by police water cannons chanted, “We want dry cleaning expenses.” People swiftly labelled the shipping container barricade set up by the police to protect the presidential palace “MB Castle” after the initials of the now hated president.
While the right and the foreign press will no doubt accuse the South Korean people of “irrational nationalism” and a “failure to accept the realities of the global marketplace”, this is really a mass protest about democracy, just like the great uprising of June 1987 was.
The initial demands concerning the importation of US beef were quite narrow. But the movement has rapidly expanded to take in important issues of food sovereignty as well as the government’s privatisation offensive.
There will be many challenges for this new movement in the coming weeks, and currently no one knows where it will lead, but it looks like being a hot summer in South Korea.
Owen Miller , South London
South Korea’s right wing government has stirred the hornets’ nest and has struck a nerve with all Koreans.
It pains me so much to see my people in agony, especially over bare necessities.
But these selfish, corrupt politicians continue to exploit the people. That to me is enough. The only solution is time.
Time for these bastards with their crooked values to die off. There must be a new voice and that time will come, soon. In the meantime, my heart goes out to every struggling, decent person on this planet exploited by politicians.
Kisung, Tempe, Arizona, US
Using the N-word
I disagree with Adeola Johnson’s simplistic condemnation of The Roots’ use of the “N-word” on their Rising Down album (» Conscious hip-hop’s resurrection, 7 June).
She’s right to say that use of the “N-word” in hip-hop “echoes” its use in racist abuse. But she is wrong to say it “merely” echoes this.
It’s a complex phenomenon that needs analysis, not simple prohibition. Racism is a foul cancer that must be opposed by anyone who wants a better world.
I am not seeking to justify racist language but only to say that, in culture, terms and concepts are flipped and reversed all over the place according to who says what, how they say it, when they say it and why.
If we want to take culture seriously and understand it, rather than just check off our own political opinions against those expressed in the artwork, we need to be talking about the social and political context.
History is littered with terms of abuse that have been taken up by their targets and reused as a badge of honour. “Christian” was originally a term of abuse.
By simplistically condemning the use of the “N-word” in hip-hop, we are in danger of mirroring the “political correctness” of the liberal establishment – thinking that a change in language changes society, rather than the other way round.
Stuart Calton, Manchester
Big Phil insult
I am disgusted that Chelsea have appointed Luiz Felipe Scolari as their new manager. Big Phil, as he is known, has made clear his admiration of former Chilean dictator General Pinochet, and his dislike of gay people.
He said, “[Pinochet] tortured a lot but there is no illiteracy in Chile,” and that, “If I found out that one of my players was gay I would throw him off the team.” This is an insult to every Chilean exile and LGBT person in Britain.
Simone Murray, Carlisle
Bulletins can help give union activists a voice
United strike action by the public sector unions on pay and other issues will give confidence to our rank and file members that we can win.
This is the message of the first issue of Notts trades council’s Public Sector Voice bulletin, which has been distributed to large sectors of the trade union movement in the area.
It has articles from members of different unions from across the public sector and is aimed at ordinary members and local activists to show that we are all in it together.
It informs members about what is going on in other unions, something the official union machinery at the top is often failing to capitalise on.
It also has local stories and suggestions about how best to get the arguments across to ordinary members.
Following the teachers’, lecturers’ and civil service workers’ strike on 24 April, my own union branch sent round pictures and stories of the day from other unions.
It proved instrumental in persuading members in my own union branch to vote substantially to reject a pay deal in a ballot after an unconfident start.
The PCS union has distributed Public Sector Voice across Notts, and a neighbouring trades councils has also distributed copies locally.
We hope others will copy our ideas elsewhere.
Richard Buckwell, Secretary, Notts trades council
Download the bulletin » Public Sector Voice [382kb PDF]
How many US bases for Iraq?
In Socialist Worker’s report on the US’s plans for Iraq, it is said that the US wants to establish 400 bases (» New US plan for total control, 7 June).
Other reports, such as that in the Independent newspaper, says the number is 50.
Which one is correct?
Barkat Ullah, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Socialist Worker replies: The US and its Iraqi allies are attempting to keep the contents of the security accords secret.
But according to the Al-Hayat newspaper, the Iraqi ministers who saw some of the documents say it speaks of “400 US military sites and bases”.
There are currently around 251 US military bases in Iraq – which includes forward operating bases, small outposts, airfields and detention facilities.
The first base planned along the border with Iran will house 200 soldiers.
The suspicion is that the US is planning a string of these bases as part of the build up to a war on Iran.
We suspect that also included in the 400 figure will be the watchtowers that are sprouting along the “security barriers” criss-crossing Baghdad.
Democracy is lacking here
The government tells us the army is in Afghanistan and Iraq to establish democracy.
Yet here in the heart of London democracy is being deliberately diminished.
Island Homes, a housing association with four estates on the Isle of Dogs in the borough of Tower Hamlets, east London, has sacked its board.
It has appointed an “interim” board instead of allowing residents’ associations to elect representatives.
What’s more, the contract signed by Island Homes on transfer from Tower Hamlets council states that the board must have a majority of resident members.
The “interim” board has a minority of resident members.
Maybe we should get our own house in order before advocating democracy elsewhere.
Lynda Keen, East London
Take unions’ cash off MPs
The GMB union conference’s decision to withdraw its sponsorship from a third of the 108 Labour MPs it backs (» Union cuts Labour funding, 14 June) because they are not supporting the union’s policies is a major step forward.
Every union that backs Labour MPs should follow this lead. If MPs don’t vote for union’s policies then why should they get union money?
They could start with the three cabinet ministers – Ruth Kelly, Paul Murphy and Des Browne – who outrageously voted to cut women’s abortion rights recently.
They are all supported by unions, and have clearly voted against their policies.
They, and many others like them, should be cast to the sidelines.
Lucy Barton, East London
The GMB must reject Labour
The GMB union’s actions in cutting funding to some Labour MPs (» Union cuts Labour funding, 14 June) are one step short of being effective.
It needs to totally disassociate itself from the Labour Party.
I, like many others in the Remploy factories for disabled workers, suffered two years of humiliation, seeing our jobs taken away by the very party that our hard-earned union contributions were helping to fund.
Minister Peter Hain helped manipulate the facts, along with the rights, of the Remploy workforce.
The “party of the people”, has become the “party of the people who are not sick, disabled, elderly or poor”.
Finally, I am surprised that an ex-Remploy factory convenor is threatening to resign from the Labour Party.
He should be ashamed to still be a member.
His peers left over six months ago!
Harry, by email
Childcare and parliament
Caroline Spelman, the chair of the Conservative Party and an MP, is in trouble because of possibly using some of her financial allowance as an MP for childcare as opposed to office/secretarial back up.
This issue reveals a lot about attitudes to childcare and one that the media have failed to correct.
MPs need someone to answer letters, phone calls and arrange meetings.
But how can you operate as an effective representative in a national debating forum with a child under one arm?
The fact that working with children is not thought to be an impediment or worthy of financial support says it all about the parliamentary elite.
Who is doing all the caring for the offspring of the hordes of male MPs?
Without this unknown and unfinanced group, none of the MPs with dependent children would be able to be MPs.
Colin Frost-Herbert, Croydon