Socialist Worker

How can the movement win in South Korea?

by Workers Solidarity
Issue No. 2536

Families of the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster led last Saturdays march

Families of the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster led last Saturday's march (Pic: Workers Solidarity)


Around 600,000 people took to the streets of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, last Saturday to demand the immediate resignation of President Park Geun-hye. Protests have been rocking the country for 11 consecutive weeks—including the five weeks since parliament voted for Park’s impeachment.

The latest protest was co-hosted by the families of the victims of a 2014 ferry disaster that saw 300 lives lost. The protest date nearly coincided with 1,000th day since the disaster took place.

The protest was filled with yellow ribbon and banners that supported the families in their struggle against the government’s cover-up.

The families were very encouraged to see so many protesters supporting them, despite years of slanders from the government and the right-wing press. One of them told the rally, “We had such a hard time for the last 1,000 days. But I now have hope for the 1,000 days that lie ahead.”

Around 600,000 people took to the streets

Around 600,000 people took to the streets (Pic: Workers Solidarity)


Park and her gang deny every charge against them in the hope that the situation may change over time. But the majority of the ruling class wants to ditch Park to regain political stability.

Because of such divisions within the ruling class, many scandalous facts are being exposed and they feed the anger behind the movement.

Along with the increasing expectation that Park will be eventually removed, the question emerges of how to change society. The trade union movement is powerful but does not have hegemony over the movement.

As a result, there is wide belief that change is up to bourgeois politicians. Many protesters doubt that such politicians will provide genuine change but feel they are left without any alternatives.

So the main bourgeois opposition, the Democratic Party, became the main political beneficiary of the current situation—despite it having little presence in the protests.

Organised

Some people are arguing that it is sectarian to emphasise the role of organised workers within the movement, and accuse the radical lefts for looking down on "the spontaneity of the people".

One article circulating in Britain depicts organised workers as being just one of many forces behind the movement. It says little about the fact that organised workers’ struggle provided the main thrust for the movement.

But the anger against the government, which was no doubt abundant before the onset of the current resignation movement, did not translate into action automatically. It was the organised workers’ struggle that provided the much-needed social force.

In 2015 alone, the KCTU union federation has organised a national strike (April) and another mass demonstration (November) and gathered many other forces against the government around it including the families of the ferry disaster.

Even the very first demonstration of the current movement was hosted by KCTU and the lefts. The movement was able to reach a new level and achieved its first million-strong protest by taking advantage of the KCTU annual workers’ rally in mid-November. The current umbrella organisation leading the movement was set up after the annual workers’ rally, with the KCTU taking a central role in it.

Such developments show that the organised workers’ movement is indeed powerful. But the workers are relying on bourgeois parties at the moment rather than taking the matter of changing society into their own hands and pulling other forces behind them.

To change such situation, it is important to encourage organised workers’ activity from below by combining the bitterness at workplaces with the current political developments.

Radical lefts are working hard to cooperate on this task and to defeat the arguments put forward by the moderate and opportunistic forces within the movement.

Workers’ Solidarity is Socialist Worker’s sister publication in South Korea

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