In November 2005, George W. Bush embarked on an eight-day trip to Asia. He visited Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia. Bush gave speeches about the Iraq war, U.S. economic policy and more, trying to repair his severely damaged image at home and around the world.
30,000 protest against Bush and APEC in Pusan, Korea, Nov. 18, 2005.
Photo: EPA/How Hwee Young
In South Korea, he took part in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting held in Pusan. He was met by a sea of well-organized protesters who battled water cannons, riot police and huge barricades to protest U.S. imperialism and the APEC summit.
On Nov. 18, more than 30,000 demonstrators marched against the economic summit in the face of government threats and severe police repression. To protect Bush and the summit from the people, Pusan was heavily militarized. Hundreds of checkpoints were set up all over the city, and 50,000 police were mobilized. The main chant at the demonstration was “No Bush! No APEC!” Placards and banners read: “Bush go home,” “U.S. out of Korea,” and “Down with U.S. imperialism.”
Stacks of huge metal shipping containers were used as barricades to block the marchers from reaching the summit. Protestors assaulted the barricades and repelled police for hours until they broke through the barricades. Riot police attacked the march with powerful water cannons and clubs. Protestors used rocks, metal pipes and thick bamboo poles to fight off the police. The tens of thousands of riot police on hand were the only obstacle that prevented the protestors from assaulting the APEC summit itself.
While a street battle was raging outside, inside the summit Bush and other world leaders were treated to an extravagant dinner in a festival-like atmosphere.
The demonstration capped off four days of anti-globalization and anti-imperialist activities that included an International People’s Forum, a large cultural protest and two days of demonstrations.
Korean workers’ and farmers’ organizations, including the radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Peasants League, were at the forefront of the militant struggle against the U.S.-backed APEC summit. Students, immigrants, women and progressive groups in South Korea mobilized for the protest.
U.S. imperialism: main enemy of the Korean people
Anger against the Bush administration and the U.S. ruling class is widespread in South Korea. Bush’s warmongering ways and his continuing diplomatic, military and economic threats against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are deeply unpopular. There is a huge movement in both the North and South to reunify Korea, which was artificially divided by the U.S. intervention after World War II. There is also a growing movement to kick U.S. military bases and the 32,000-strong U.S. occupation force out of the country.
Song Yu-Jung/Afp/Getty Images
South Korea’s 2004 decision to send 3,000 troops to join the occupation forces in Iraq provoked large demonstrations and a deepening resistance to the government of President Roh Moh-hyun.
The people of South Korea are also struggling against political and economic policies demanded by the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund and instituted by the government. They aspire to stop the United States, Japan and other imperialist countries from using the World Trade Organization to further attack and impoverish workers and farmers.
In 1997, during a devastating economic crisis in Asia, the South Korean economy was on the edge of total collapse. The IMF and U.S. banks used the crisis to their advantage, hammering concessions out of the South Korean government before bailing out the country. Under immense pressure from the United States, successive South Korean governments have continued to pursue privatization policies and opened the economy to foreign investments and takeovers.
The government is also rolling back import quotas, leading to a rise of cheaper foreign goods. As a result of these measures, misery has intensified for South Korean workers and farmers. Labor unions are under attack and peasants are being displaced and impoverished.
Out of a population of nearly 50 million, there are roughly 7 million peasants in South Korea. Under pressure from the U.S. imperialists through the WTO, South Korea agreed to open its rice market in 2004. Despite protests in Seoul as large as 150,000 people, the South Korean National Assembly passed a law in November 2005 that doubled the amount of rice imports allowed into the country to 8 percent of the market. Fifty percent of all farm income comes from rice production at mostly small farms.
The U.S. government has also demanded a broad offensive on workers’ wages and on labor laws won over decades of class struggle. On Dec. 8, 2005, the National Assembly planned to pass a bill weakening rights for the growing number of unionized and non-unionized temporary workers in South Korea.
Immigrant workers are also under attack by the government of President Roh. Under South Korean law, immigrants are not allowed to form or join unions.
People’s movement fights back
In the face of mounting U.S. threats against the DPRK, and as attacks on the South Korean people intensify, workers, farmers, immigrants and their allies are struggling at home and also building solidarity with the worldwide struggle against imperialist war and economic domination.
Three days before the anti-Bush demonstrations in Pusan, farmers staged a protest in Seoul to denounce the South Korean government’s decision to expand rice imports. The protest was viciously attacked by the police. Farmer Jeon Yong-cheol died from injuries sustained from a police blow to the head. But the farmers fought back for hours, burning seven police buses.
Later, to protest the new temporary workers bill, the KCTU called an eight-day general strike on Dec. 1. The KCTU and others are fighting for the rights of temporary workers to organize and strike. More than 60,000 workers refused to work.
Militant demonstrations were held each day of the general strike. All week protestors battled with the police on the streets of Seoul. Farmers joined a Dec. 4 protest of over 20,000 workers that marched on the National Assembly. The general strike actions forced the National Assembly to put off passage of the temporary workers bill.
On Dec. 5, members of the Migrant Workers Trade Union took over the offices of the South Korean National Human Rights Commission to demand the release of their union president, Anwar Hossain. Hossain was arrested by South Korean immigration authorities on May 14, two weeks after the formation of the MTU. He is being threatened with deportation. The MTU has over 40,000 members and is part of the KCTU.
The anti-imperialist movement is also on the offensive. On Dec. 11, tens of thousands demonstrated in Pyeongtaek against the U.S. military base located there. The South Korean government recently unveiled plans to spend $19 billion to expand and update the base for U.S. occupation troops.
The people’s movement in Korea sent 3,000 activists to join the international protests against the WTO in Hong Kong, Dec. 13-19. The Korean Peasants League sent 1,500 farmers, and the KCTU also sent hundreds of workers.
Tens of thousands of workers, farmers and immigrants in South Korea are uniting in militant street struggle against U.S. imperialism and the anti-people policies of the South Korean capitalist government. They are building solidarity in Asia and around the world against U.S. imperialist domination.
The author represented the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition in South Korea at the International People’s Forum against APEC and Bush on Nov. 16 and 17, 2005. He also participated in the mass demonstration against the APEC summit and spoke at the main rally.