South Korean riot police storm peaceful press conference

Activists protest U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement
South Korean riot police storm peaceful press conference

By Brian Becker, Seoul

The author is the National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism - He filed this report from outside the site of the U.S.-Korea FTA negotiations in Seoul, South Korea.

South Korea FTA2On July 10, nearly 600 helmet-clad riot police repeatedly stormed the site of an outdoor press conference called by the Korean labor movement in opposition to the proposed U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Representatives from the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Coalition and the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition were present as the riot police stormed the area in front of the flatbed truck that was being used as a stage for the well-attended press conference.

Scuffles broke out between riot police and activists who were steadfastly trying to maintain the stage and press conference area. When the riot police pulled in a huge tow truck to remove the stage that had been set up earlier in the morning, a number of workers, who were protesting their status as “irregular workers”—workers who have lost their health care and other job benefits—laid down in front of the wheels of the flatbed truck to prevent its removal. “Irregular workers” are known commonly in the United States as “temps.”

South Korea FTA1Ultimately, the police stormed the stage on the flatbed truck, roughing up and then arresting four organizers including a leader of the Korean Congress of Trade Unions (KCTU) and a steering committee member of the KORUS FTA (the umbrella group opposing the FTA in Korea). The KCTU leader was hospitalized as a result of his injuries.

At the request of the Korean movement, I attempted to take a message of opposition toward the site of the negotiations. Walking with a small group of other activists from the Korean anti-FTA movement, we were surrounded by scores of riot police and forcibly removed from the site of the negotiations.

Today's press conference was the kick-off of what will be several days of protests. The fact that the South Korean government sent five hundred riot police to storm a peaceful press conference of 50 activists was a clear sign that it fears the widening opposition to the proposed agreement by a growing number of Korean workers and farmers. It was also a “good faith” sign to the Bush administration by the Korean government, which is under pressure to sign an agreement that not only sacrifices the interests of Korean workers and farmers to U.S. transnationals, but also lays bare the essential neo-colonial character of U.S.-South Korean relations.

Say no to neoliberal globalization
‘Down with the U.S.-South Korea FTA!’ 

Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition (, delivered the following statement at a July 10 press conference in Seoul, South Korea.

South Korea FTA3We are here to express our opposition to the proposed U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

The events of the past days show that the governments of both countries cannot be trusted. The negotiations take place behind closed doors and when the people come out to be heard, to have a simple press conference, they are confronted by hundreds of riot police who overwhelm the action with brute force. Don't pretend this is democracy.

We must ask this question: if the FTA is so good for the working people and farmers of Korea, if it is a treaty based on equality and not an expression of economic colonialism, why is the Korean government trying to suppress the right of its own people to freely express their viewpoint? This violation of free speech rights may be appreciated by the U.S. government and U.S. agribusiness corporations as they fast track FTA's implementation, but it is proof that the FTA is actually harmful to the Korean people. 

Americans workers will also suffer from the FTA, just as they lost rights and jobs under NAFTA. The United States has witnessed tremendous job losses under NAFTA.

Meanwhile, farmers in Mexico were wiped out by the dumping of U.S. corn and other U.S. agricultural products into their country’s economy. Faced with literal starvation, 8 to 10 million Mexicans have immigrated to the United States where they are super-exploited and treated as criminals. They are subjected to mass arrests and deportations if they dare organize unions. U.S. corporations moved into Mexico, sold products at very low prices, forced Mexican farmers and industries into bankruptcy because they could not sell their products, and then turned around and raised prices after the Mexican “competition” was destroyed. The Korean people cannot truly desire this outcome since it benefits only U.S. transnational corporations and banks. 

The Korean government seems to assert that the Korean situation is different from that of NAFTA countries and it is ignoring the lessons of NAFTA.

South Korea FTA4We, however, believe that the on-going FTA is on exactly the same track with the NAFTA. Perhaps it will be even more destructive. Can anyone imagine a sovereign government agreeing before the opening of negotiations that it will end programs to help low income and elderly sick people receive low cost medicines? Yet, in the face of pressure from the U.S. government, representing the interests of large pharmaceutical companies, this is precisely what the Korean government did. That is shameful.

No one should listen to the U.S. government when it comes to health care policy since 46 million Americans cannot go to the doctor when they are sick because they are workers who have no health care insurance. Forty six million is three million more than when Bush took office in 2001. It is also larger than the entire population of South Korea. The U.S. has a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. We urge you to reject their economic model.

The United States has a $12 trillion economy, the largest in the history of the world. Yet workers are losing their jobs, their health care benefits and their pensions. Poverty is growing rapidly and the U.S. now has more than 2.1 million people in prison—the highest rate in the world. Just imagine how destructive this “corporation first” model will be for the Korean people if the U.S. imposes the FTA—a new form of economic colonialism.

We, in the ANSWER Coalition and all those in the U.S. peace movement and the U.S. labor movement, are here to show solidarity with Korean people. Organizing a truly global workers solidarity movement is the only hope, the only real solution to the government and corporate plan to have us compete with each other in a race to the bottom. In unity there is strength and in unity we can fight back and win!

Down with the KorUS FTA and Neoliberal globalization!

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