South Korea - Working class militancy and the myths of the "economic miracle"

Apr/May 1997

December 26, 1996 saw the outbreak of what was to develop into a 24- day long general strike involving several hundred thousand workers in South Korea's major heavy industries. This was effectively the first time a general strike had been called in the country since 1948. On January 18, the initiators of the strike - the illegal Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) - called for its suspension. By that time, the government had pledged to review its position and the KCTU leaders had decided to give them another month to meet their demands.

At the time of going to print, the deadline set by the KCTU has long expired without the union leadership implementing its threat to call for a resumption of the general strike. However, after much wheeling and dealing, the government's promise of a review did materialise on March 10th, when the South Korean Parliament agreed almost unanimously to grant a few of the strikers' demands, although not all of them by far. Among the concessions made was the recognition of the KCTU as a legitimate trade union body, both on a national and industry-wide level.

Seen from Britain, it is of course difficult to assess the actual gains made by this general strike, not to mention the consequences it might have for the morale and fighting capacity of Korean workers. What can be said, however, is that it dealt a spectacular blow to the myths and lies which British politicians and commentators have repeated over and over again about South Korea.

This strike revealed the so-called Korean "economic miracle" for what it really is - something totally different from the image usually presented by the advocates of "globalisation" and all-out economic liberalism. Such people have used and abused the Korean "example", and particularly the rapid economic growth of this country over the past two decades, as proof of the dynamism of the capitalist market. According to their arguments, ultra-liberalism was to be credited for the industrial development of South Korea.

But what was it that led to the general strike last winter? An anti-working class law brought out on the sly, and in fact quite illegally, by the ruling party, with the aim of enabling the Korean bourgeoisie, together with its customers and lenders in the major imperialist countries, to increase their profits at the expense of the jobs and working conditions of the working class. How? By imposing the very same "flexible" employment and working practices which employers have already largely implemented in Britain. This is proof, if any were needed, that, contrary to what British workers are repeatedly told, it is neither the flexibility of the workforce nor deregulation of labour which has enabled the Korean economy to develop as it has.

In this respect, the pretexts invoked by the South Korean president Kim Young Sam to justify this law are particularly significant. This is what he said, for example, at a press conference held on January 7, in the middle of the general strike: "There is a great misunderstanding on labour-management relations. The revision of labour laws was aimed at upgrading them to the level of advanced countries. Although the nation's economy has grown hundredfold, labour laws have not changed at all during the past 43 years. Labour laws should be improved to the level of advanced countries. Under the current economic downturn, workers and entrepreneurs should be patient, although the laws might infringe on their interests. Our country faces labour disputes everyday, while there is no advanced country in the world that is suffering from labour strife".

This sounds just like Thatcher in the 80s, attacking the "British disease", or Major - or Blair for that matter - warning against its possible return. The excuses are the same: "the national interest" against the threat of foreign competition, i.e. the interest of the capitalists, of course; the need to "modernise" the economy by trimming down the regulations which guarantee workers a minimum level of social protection, under the pretext of adapting to a "rapidly changing" world. Whether they speak Korean or English, the language of bourgeois politicians sounds strikingly similar. It is made up of the same clichés and the same lies. The only difference is that whereas Kim Young Sam talks about competition from the "advanced" countries, Thatcher and Major talk about competition from Korea!

As for the Korean working class, which politicians have so often cited for its "docility" and "discipline" in the face of all-powerful bosses, the pictures and reports seen on television during the general strike showed what the reality was - that of a powerful, dynamic, militant working class which was determined to fight for its interests, and ready, if need be, to confront a heavily-armed riot police in street battles.

Born in the shadow of imperialism

South Korea shares with the other countries referred to in journalistic jargon as the "Asian tigers" (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and to a lesser extent Malaysia) a common feature which has been decisive in its industrial development - the fact that it has benefited from a set of exceptional circumstances, particularly its privileged status with respect to imperialism.

An American-Japanese treaty signed in 1905 defined the respective areas of influence of Japan and the United States in South East Asia. In exchange for the opportunity to plunder the Philippines unhindered, the US left Japan free rein in Taiwan, (which Japan had annexed ten years earlier) Korea and the coastal areas of Siberia. Five years later, Japan also annexed Korea, using it first as a granary, then as a kind of all-purpose annexe of Japanese industry. So that when Japanese imperialism collapsed at the end of the Second World War, it left behind in Korea a modern transport and electrical infrastructure, a significant industrial sector, ranging from textiles to chemicals, mechanical construction and armaments, and a complete banking system. Having been built up to meet the needs of the Japanese economy, particularly those of its war economy, this industrial sector did not form a coherent whole, capable of making Korea into an industrial economy in its own right. Nevertheless, it provided the country with a significant industrial nucleus which was a rarity in the Third World.

Concerned about the advance of Soviet troops in northern Korea, it was American imperialism which unilaterally decreed, a month before the first American soldier set foot on Korean soil, that the country would be divided into two areas of occupation, American and Soviet, along the 38th parallel. Stalin bowed to American wishes. Under the terms of the surrender, the Japanese military administration remained in place, pending the arrival of the American troops.

In the meantime, the collapse of Japanese imperialism led to a wave of mobilisation of the population. Having emerged from their underground existence, the various nationalist tendencies, allied to the Communist Party within the Committees for Preparation of Korean Independence, immediately set about creating the embryo of a state apparatus in each locality. But when, on the strength of this de facto power, the nationalists went to the American army staff with an offer of collaboration, they were unceremoniously shown to the door. The Committees were banned and the American Army brought to power the Korean Democratic Party (KDP), an anti-communist party formed legally during the Japanese occupation to represent the interests of the wealthy Korean classes in Korea. However, the position of the KDP was so weak at that time that its leaders had thought it wiser to place their own provisional government under the protection of the anti-communist dictator Chiang Kai Shek, in China, out of fear of reprisals from the Korean population. Thus the Washington strategists placed at the head of the new regime a certain Syngman Rhee, one of the few anti-communist politicians who had chosen to emigrate to the USA, rather than take part in the war on the Japanese side. The KDP, for its part, underwent a hasty facelift to take power as the Liberal Party.

Kept out of power and brutally repressed by the American army and its Korean auxiliaries, the nationalist and communist tendencies counter-attacked, relying on the sympathy they enjoyed among the population. There followed a bloody civil war in the American occupied zone, which lasted until March 1950. Three months later, American imperialism went on the offensive against the People's Republic of Korea, the former Soviet occupied zone. This led to three years of fighting which left three million dead among the Korean population and a million dead among the Chinese, who intervened in the conflict against the imperialist troops. Quite symbolically, Syngman Rhee's regime never signed the armistice of July 27, 1953, which institutionalised the US- imposed division of Korea along the 38th parallel, and South Korea's privileged ties with the US.

An economy in which liberalism has never had any place

The following decades saw an almost continuous succession of anti- communist dictatorships, some more bloody than others, for which the existence of North Korea served as a scarecrow against communism for the South and a justification for maintaining virtually permanent emergency powers. These regimes survived, despite their unpopularity, mainly thanks to the constant support of American imperialism, which was keen to isolate the Soviet block by surrounding it with violently hostile regimes.

The American leaders spared no expense. It has been calculated that in the course of the thirty years which followed the end of the Second World War, American aid to South Korea amounted to a sum almost equivalent to the total amount of foreign aid to the whole African continent during the same period. Compared to the South Korean economy itself, this aid represented, for example, in the 1950s, the equivalent of more than 80% of the total amount of the country's imports. And throughout the Vietnam War, the windfall of American subsidies was complemented by a boon of orders from the American expeditionary corps in Vietnam (in the early Seventies, these orders alone accounted for 20% of South Korean exports).

It was from the end of the Korean War onward that the South Korean economy began to take on its present appearance. Left in control of an industrial base whose owners had disappeared with the defeated Japanese army, Syngman Rhee's regime used this to reward and reinforce the loyalty of the layer of wealthy people who formed its political support. The new "entrepreneurs" prospered, not thanks to their own investments, for they had hardly any capital of their own, but thanks to tax revenue and above all the subsidies of imperialism, which the dictatorship largely redistributed to them and with the additional help of a rigorous protectionist policy which shielded them against competition from the world market.

Syngman Rhee's corrupt dictatorship fell in 1960, after a wave of popular demonstrations. The following year, it was replaced by the military dictatorship of General Park Chung Hee which proceeded to step up state intervention. The new regime nationalised the whole of the financial system, from the biggest banks to the smallest insurance company, to use it as the main instrument of its intervention in the economy (in this respect, in fact, Park's dictatorship went much further than the most state-oriented western countries). The regime began to develop an economy geared toward exports, with the aim of attracting capital and orders from the imperialist powers through minimised production costs. In order to artificially lower export prices, the Korean currency was drastically devalued - by as much as 94% in 1964. This ruined a whole section of the population but made a fortune for the handful of companies selected by Park to spearhead the new export industry - companies known collectively as "chaebols".

It was precisely these "chaebols" which were to develop into the giant Korean conglomerates whose names are now famous all over the world - Samsung, Hyundai, Lucky Goldstar, Daewoo, Kia, etc. Some ten of these "chaebols" now account between themselves for nearly two-thirds of Korean exports, and share a comparable proportion of the profits made in the country.

These "chaebols" are family companies, with some fifteen or twenty families controlling the bulk of South Korean industry. But while the respectable press in Korea freely refers to the modest beginnings of Samsung in 1938, in the form of a small import-export company, the phenomenal growth of the chaebols owes little to the "entrepreneurial genius" of the people heading them.

From the early sixties up to the present day, the chaebols have benefited year after year from huge and practically free financial support. The loans obtained (at the market rate) by the regime or its banks, essentially from American banks at first, until Japan took over the leading role in the seventies, served to supply the chaebols with almost inexhaustible sources of fresh capital. Thus the "chaebols" developed on massive state loans at bargain interest rates - which, in addition, were often written off one way or another a few years later.

To all intents and purposes, the state in reality took control of the economy by way of the Economic Planning Bureau. And it directed all the development decisions made by the chaebols with an iron hand. In exchange for this, it distributed generous subsidies to them, often entirely paying for the building of new infrastructure. In this respect, ironically, the economic management methods of a raving anti- communist dictator like Park were after all not very different from those used in the same period in the People's Democracies.

The most striking example of this policy was the heavy industry development program between 1977 and 1979. Over a period of two years, 80% of all state investment was devoted to this. It was funded by a colossal increase in indebtedness, but also by the freezing of all pension funds and the enforced use of a proportion of all private savings. It was this programme which produced the shipyards, steelworks, car factories and refineries which are now presented as proof of South Korea's emergence as an industrialised country. And practically the only beneficiaries of this were the biggest chaebols.

This is how the "Korean economic miracle" developed: the product of a colossal misappropriation of the resources of a whole population, and no less colossal debts, to the benefit of a handful of big companies operating mainly as subcontractors of big western corporations.

The working class against the dictatorships

Whatever western politicians may have to say about workers' alleged "docility" in Korea, the Korean working class has a long tradition of class struggle. As early as 1945, it was at the forefront of the fight against American imperialism and the regime it had set up. At the time, the General Council of Korean Trade Unions (GCKTU), led by Communist Party activists, had up to 550 000 members in the South, a considerable number, given the numerical weakness of the working class at that time. On three occasions, between 1946 and 1948, this confederation organised powerful general strikes. And it was only at the cost of violent repression, which left tens of thousands dead in trade union ranks, that Syngman Rhee finally managed to defeat the GCKTU, which he eventually banned in 1948.

Nevertheless, Syngman Rhee knew that he had not finished with the working class, and he took advantage of the Korean War, in 1950, again to carry out a full-scale massacre of workers, under the benign gaze of the American leaders. The American authorities estimated for example, at the time, that in the Seoul area, the biggest industrial centre in the country, the wave of repression in September 1950 alone left 100 000 dead, a large proportion of this number in the poor areas.

This period saw the founding of the Korean Federation of Trade Unions (FKTU), which is still today the only legal confederation in South Korea. It was created in 1946 to counterbalance the GCKTU, and on the recommendation of advisers sent by the American confederation AFL-CIO. And the regime did not even try to maintain any semblance of independence: shortly after its creation, the FKTU became one of the five constituent parts of Syngman Rhee's Liberal Party.

However, despite the Korean War and the physical liquidation of communist and union activists, working class resistance continued to make its presence felt in the early fifties, through a series of hard-line strikes in the mines, the docks and the textile industry in particular. This is probably what drove the regime to seek to give the FKTU the appearance of a genuine union, in order to be able to use it as an instrument of control in the factories. The labour code, which was introduced in 1953, and is partly still in force today, established a paternalist regime in the biggest companies and gave a privileged position to representatives of the FKTU. Instead of being a mere appendage of the ruling party, the Federation became the appendage of a body of state functionaries, the main task of which was to see that order was maintained in the factories.

The role of the state, and that of the FKTU, were further reinforced in the sixties. Under the rule of Park Chung Hee, the labour administration developed into a heavy bureaucracy responsible for operating a complicated system of mandatory arbitration and conflict-resolution procedures and for ensuring that wage increases everywhere remained within the limits allowed by the government. He strengthened the position of the FKTU by providing it with a monopoly position (by obliging workers to "choose" a single union to represent them) and by instituting in each big company a joint management-union body responsible for discussing working methods and conditions. But as Park had few illusions as to the ability of the corrupt leaders of the FKTU to control what was going on in their local unions, he also incorporated in the law the possibility for the labour administration to invalidate any decision taken by a union body, while close control of the organisation and members of the FKTU was instituted under the authority of a kind of labour police.

However, this nightmarish bureaucracy proved incapable of containing working class discontent for very long. With time and economic growth, hundreds of thousands of young workers who had not experienced the defeats and the terror of the fifties joined the industrial workforce in the seventies. And the sudden end of the Park regime, after he was shot by the chief of his own political police in 1979, opened the floodgates of popular unrest. The country's towns were filled with demonstrators determined not to allow the army to remain in power. And when a new general, Chun Doo Hwan, took power in May 1980, he provoked a wave of indignant protest, the high point of which was the uprising in Kwangju, the country's second biggest town. There the population here went further than in other towns, arming itself by occupying police stations and barracks and drove the army out of the town. The insurgents appealed for United States arbitration. Far from being moved by these calls, however, the American authorities offered the new dictator the help of their troops. A week after the beginning of the uprising, the town was occupied by a division of Korean paratroopers backed up by a division of American marines. The result was a ruthless massacre: more than two thousand dead and fifteen thousand injured, after the majority of the town's inhabitants had allowed themselves to be persuaded by their leaders to hand over their weapons the day before the troops arrived.

The working class explosion of the eighties

It was in the turbulent context of the 1979-1981 period, marked by violent repression, that the regime began to fear a working class explosion, of which the uprising in Kwangju could be seen as a warning sign. There were several reasons for this. Local unions were springing up everywhere in the factories, in open opposition to the FKTU. Strikes broke out in many workplaces, resulting invariably in the formation of new "independent" unions openly defying the collaborationist policy of the FKTU leadership while at the same time being obliged to affiliate to it in compliance with the law.

In this independent union movement, the key role seems to have been played by young people, workers and students, organised in social action groups inspired by currents such as that of the "worker priests" in Europe or that of "liberation theology", which was very much in vogue at the time in certain Third World countries - in any event by currents of religious-based ideas. In the course of the eighties, many of these young activists - both workers and students who had got themselves jobs in the country's big factories - played an important role, in the absence of any more radical political tendency, no doubt, in the renewal of the union movement and in social struggles. But along with their enthusiasm and their dedication, they also brought to the independent union movement the limitations of their own political and social perspective.

In any event, however, the new dictator was not slow to respond to the development of the independent unions. One of his first measures was to strengthen the repressive nature of the labour legislation introduced under Park. Factories were occupied by hundreds of political police agents, who set about tracking down the "agitators". A "campaign of cleansing" was launched against the "rebels" of the FKTU, who were thrown into jail in their hundreds. And a specific provision of the law explicitly prohibited anyone who was not employed in a factory from joining a union and particularly from holding positions in one. Thousands of union activists who had been sacked for their militant activity were thus forced into illegality, together with the many students who offered their help to the "independent" unions.

Within a few years, the regime's repressive policy began to pay dividends. By the end of 1984, the "independent" unions had practically disappeared. And it was rank and file workers who went back on the offensive.

The first warning shot was fired at Daewoo Motors, a joint subsidiary of Daewoo and General Motors. In April 1985, for the first time in the history of the chaebols, which had up to then been largely spared large- scale industrial unrest, two thousand workers disowned their union representatives, designated their own representatives and occupied the factory for a wage increase of 18.7% (the FKTU union had only asked for 5%). In an even more unusual initiative, the chairman of Daewoo, frightened by a conflict which was happening at a bad time for the company, intervened personally in the negotiations (something he was not legally entitled to do) and granted the strikers an extra 10% (which was just as illegal, because it was above the government limits). Finally, to cap it all, 300 workers in the factory who had been among the most prominent in the movement decided, also illegally, to set up their own union outside the FKTU.

Then in June, a conflict in a small Daewoo factory, Daewoo Equipment, in the industrial complex of Kurodong in the suburbs of Seoul, set another precedent. This time, the hundred or so workers in the factory went on strike to obtain the release of three union activists sent to jail for two years after a 24-hour illegal strike. The strike was finally defeated, which was not at all unusual. But the remarkable fact was that this strike provoked a solidarity strike in nine other factories in the complex, with the result that around a thousand workers joined the initial one hundred strikers to stand up to the blows of the police during the ten days of their movement. This was the first time that a solidarity strike had been seen for decades, so effective had been the legal restrictions against them.

These events, which might have gone unnoticed if they had not taken place in factories belonging to a chaebol, and, what is more, for the first time, in a prestigious automobile plant, had considerable repercussions in the country. They heralded a strike wave which was to leave no chaebol intact and give rise to a new generation of unions, quickly labelled "democratic", which were set up in open opposition to the FKTU and the law.

The main factor which triggered off this movement was the promise made by Roh Tae Woo, the official candidate of the ruling dictatorship in the presidential elections, to abolish most of the repressive and emergency laws which had been in force for forty years. As subsequent events were to show, this was just pure demagogy. But the discontent was such that this declaration, broadcast simultaneously on all television and radio stations, had the effect of a thunderbolt. And the working class took the would-be president at his word.

Two weeks after the presidential candidate's declaration, the chain reaction began at Ulsan, Hyundai's company town. There the corporation, which had never tolerated any union, even ones as respectful as the FKTU unions, employed 80,000 workers in twelve factories, a quarter of them in the car industry and another quarter in naval construction. Practically the whole town belonged to Hyundai. And it was there that workers in an engine construction plant decided to create a union on July 6, 1987, a move which was soon copied in all the factories in the town. After a month, in the face of increasingly large demonstrations of up to 40,000 workers headed by a swarm of trucks, forklifts and other heavy equipment intended for confrontations with the police, the chaebol gave in, or rather pretended to. In fact it took twenty months, a 104-day all-out strike by the 80 000 workers of Ulsan, dozens of huge demonstrations, pitched battles with thousands of police, and a long guerrilla war against the Anti-Communist Youth League thugs recruited by the management, to force Hyundai to recognise the democratic unions throughout the Ulsan complex.

Practically at the same time, similar events were taking place at Kojedo (Samsung and Daewoo) and Changwon (Goldstar and Hyundai). Then the movement exploded in all directions. But that of Ulsan was the hardest and longest of all the important battles in this period. Elsewhere, the bosses opted to give in quickly, especially once the strength and depth of the movement had become clear. Four months after the start of the unionisation movement at Ulsan, there were already 3400 strikes going on in the country, over wages, union recognition, or both, affecting all sectors of the economy, including the most "respectable" sectors such as banks or hospitals. A year later, there were already 2799 democratic unions, a number which was to exceed 7000 by the end of 1989.

The democratic unions today

It was the explosion of the democratic unions between 1984 and 1989 which led in January 1990 to the creation of the Congress of Korean Unions, the predecessor of today's KCTU, the illegal confederation which led the general strike of December and January.

In 1990, however, there was no question of tolerating the existence of a second union confederation. Despite his election promises, President Roh Tae Woo quickly banned the new confederation, under the pretext that it "conducts a pernicious struggle based on an ideology which sees class struggle as a means of emancipating labour". But what the regime could not or would not tolerate was not the supposedly communist nature of the confederation but the fact that it did not control it while its organisations enjoyed strong majority support in the chaebols.

In any event, the "democratic" confederation quickly reconstituted itself under another name, grouping together even more unions, and finally took on its present form in November 1994. Over time, the legal guerilla warfare between the new unions and the regime took on other forms. In May 1992, the current president Kim Young Sam, a well-known opposition politician, came to power on a program of political and economic liberalisation, but after being nominated by the party of the outgoing dictator, the Liberal Democratic Party (which has now become the New Korea Party). There was no talk any more of forcing the democratic unions underground, but there was no prospect as yet of legalising the "democratic" KCTU confederation - even the new labour code passed on December 26 last year, postponed the legalisation of the KCTU at a national level to the year 2000 and to the year 2002 for company branches. At the same time, anti-union repression remained a daily reality: in April 1996, the leaders of the KCTU still listed more than a thousand members in prison, most of them for participation in or incitement to an illegal strike.

At face value, on the other hand, last winter's general strike would seem to have succeeded in imposing the legalisation of the KCTU. But for how long and within what limits? After all, the present relative political liberalisation may only be short-lived. The fact that, as a kind of appendix to the labour code reform of December 26, the government has passed a law reinforcing the already considerable powers of the political police, is an indication of this.

What is certain is that the Korean working class is under attack from the bourgeoisie, and first and foremost from the bosses of the all-powerful chaebols. While the leaders of the various employers' organisations grouping together the rest of the bosses tried to show during the general strike that they were striving to obtain compromises from the regime, the chaebol bosses tended to fan the flames and take provocative action, like at Hyundai Motors in Ulsan where a lock-out of workers was attempted.

In reality, many of the flexibility measures contained in the new labour code have already applied for a long time in the chaebols: there are already labour pools within these companies, to replace the absentees, which are made up from workers who have no guarantee of a minimum number of working hours; temporary workers are already widely used; so are strike breakers and subcontractors in the event of strikes; and the non-payment of bonuses for overtime is already current practice, at least for the growing proportion of those workers whose conditions of employment are precarious. But the chaebols would prefer to see these practices cease to be illegal, in view of the small fortune they spend each year on legal proceedings. They are no doubt keener, however, on the procedures of "mass" redundancies for economic reasons allowed for by this law, and the possibility of extending the flexibility of working hours to all workers, thereby in reality extending the normal working week from 44 to 56 hours. In fact, although the revised version of the labour law passed on March 10 postpones the deregulation of mass redundancies to 1999, it confirms the introduction of flexible working hours and the longer working week.

Behind the chaebols determination to attack workers' conditions is the fact that, after the much vaunted "miraculous" growth, there has been a slowing down of the economy for some years now. In itself, this is probably not surprising. After all, the lower the level you start from, the easier it is to have rapid growth. Above all, however, at least in certain areas, Korean industry has to face up to increasing competition... from its main imperialist partners. Thus the economic press reports that a considerable proportion of the fall in Korean exports in 1996 is due to the situation in the semi-conductor market, which represented 18% of its exports the previous year. The fact is that international semi-conductor prices fell by 70% in 1996, partly because of a decrease in world demand, and partly because of a more aggressive policy on the part of the American and Japanese giants. On the other hand, the same publications noted that the rise in Korean imports was due to the country's growing need to replace ageing machinery and its total dependence in this area on its main partners, particularly Japan, from which Korea has borrowed many of the manufacturing processes it uses.

These are difficulties which, it should be said in passing, are a good illustration of the fact that South Korea, despite all the myths concerning its economic growth, remains heavily dependent on its imperialist partners. If the trade policy of these partners becomes more aggressive, as is the case at present, Korea, as a subcontractor, can only be the first victim of this. But there are other elements which underline the fragility of the Korean economy. One of the big chaebols, Hanbo, which operates particularly in the steel and pharmaceutical industries, has just spectacularly collapsed under the weight of its debts. The scandal surrounding this concerned the considerable bribes which Hanbo is said to have paid to political personalities, including a minister and the president's own son, to obtain additional loans. Undoubtedly this is one aspect of the reality. But this aspect is no way a mere "accident". In fact, such practices have been the very basis on which the chaebols have been able to develop into what they are today. Since the 1970s, they have been living off huge debts, in a kind of constant rush forward, getting around government controls by resorting to corruption. Hanbo has collapsed, and others, including the biggest, might well follow if their profits were to fall, due to difficulties on the world market.

In other words, there is probably a lot at stake for the chaebols. And they can therefore be expected to put up fierce resistance, just as much as in the past, to any attempt at preventing them from making the working class pay the price for their survival.

It remains to be seen whether, with the KCTU, the Korean working class has a leadership which is at least prepared to fight and allow workers to gain as much as possible from their willingness to struggle. In this regard, however, there can only be serious doubts. While the leaders of this confederation, unlike those of the official FKTU confederation, have shown that they are prepared to build on working class militancy, their political perspective can only disarm workers. This is because, at least judging from what they write, the leaders of the KCTU support the aim of "democratisation" of the regime as proposed by the leader of the opposition, Kim Dae Jung, who shares the same social choices as his ruling rival. As for the appeals made by the KCTU to international bodies such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions or the International Labour Organisation, in others words, in the final analysis, to organisations which are certified representatives of imperialist interests, such moves will certainly do nothing to help Korean workers distinguish their potential allies from their genuine enemies.

The Korean working class has provided many examples of its capacity to fight, and this is what is has done once again during this last winter strike. But in the full-scale class war which its enemies are conducting against it, it will need a class leadership to lead its fights.