You’ve Got Something In Your Eye: The Korea US FTA and Electoral Politics in the Era of Occupy

by Erin

November 23, 2011

The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement was railroaded last night in the South Korean National Assembly by the right-wing ruling Grand National Party.

We have already covered the neoliberal, imperialist and anti-working class nature of the FTA. It is really a sweeping structural adjustment program that will challenge labor unions and social movements that have been disoriented for years by key defeats, splits in the labor movement and in left political parties, and the intransigence of the now lame-duck Lee Myung-bak government.

The Hope Bus movement takes on precarity.

The recent victory of Hanjin Heavy Industries worker Kim Jin-suk and the Hope Bus movement she inspired against layoffs indicates an upswing. Activists feel buoyed by the election of an independent progressive candidate for the mayor of Seoul. Park Won-soon, the founder of respected civic organization People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, was supported overwhelmingly by young voters—many of them likely veterans of 2008’s candlight movement. And the potential reaction from below to the Korea US FTA will be key to any process of renewal.

Candlelight protests: occupying before it was cool.

Around sundown, a rally was held and 4,000 activists took to the streets in Seoul, meeting with the usual scrum of riot police and water cannons.

But another instance of resistance made the world news, as the workday began in New York. MP Kim Sun-dong of the Democratic Labor Party gave members of the ruling party a face full of tear gas. In parliament. Fuck weapons of the weak: here’s a case of using the masters’ tools to memorable effect. He was dragged out shouting, “Let me go, you bastards. No FTA!”

This is probably the greatest thing I have seen a left-wing parliamentarian do in a long time.

It was wonderfully “unpragmatic.” This is the kind of thing that galvanizes people, not technocratic bouts of haggling in closed-door sessions that result in unpalatable compromise and disempowerment. What do you think?

It may have not been effective at stopping the vote. It halted proceedings in the NA for about 20 minutes (although something like this would have ended Congress for a day in the US). But this is the kind of defiance we need politicians who act in the name of socialism, labor and the oppressed to display par excellence. It will be the movements and a fighting independent radical left that get us out of the crisis, and not the political theater and patronage systems of bourgeois democracy. This is a moment worth a hundred congressional briefings and white papers.

That is the best of the spirit of Occupy moment—and this is a glimpse of the spirit of a workers’ movement that reintroduced the unlimited general strike to the political terrain during the turbulent late 1990s. The last time a major bill was railroaded in South Korea, that is exactly what happened.

As for us in the US? We will see…