In 2006 in South Korea, women railway workers went on strike. 4526 days later … they won!

KTX women workers on strike

In 2004, South Korea launched its national bullet train, the KTX. KTX advertised to hire women train attendants. Close to 5000 women applied. KTX hired 351, all in their 20’s. The women were hired on a two year contract. The women were told they would become `regular’ employees at the end of the two years. These jobs were considered dream jobs. The women were highly educated; the jobs were secure, well paying, government jobs. What could go wrong? Everything, and predictably so. After a year, the government launched a privatization program. Women were told they were to be permanently outsource. They would be permanently irregular workers. They could still be called “the Flowers of KTX”, however. In 2006, male and female workers walked off the job. Four days later, the men returned. Twelve years later, on July 21, the women won their victory! On July 21, the Korean Railroad Corporation, KORAIL, said it would reinstate all the workers. One of the strikers, Oh Mi-seon, commented, “The ‘time of struggle’ isn’t over yet.”

The story of the South Korean railway workers’ organizing has at least three major strands. First, there’s the ongoing, intense women workers’ organizing campaigns, lasting twelve years. Women workers organized rallies, sit-ins, occupations, tent cities, and more. Since January 2007, KTX union leaders have conducted a sit-in at Seoul’s central train station. The women workers knew that they were right. They knew that, despite the numbers actually working on the trains, women made up only 5% of KORAIL’s regular employees. They knew that no one can be a permanent `irregular’ employee, and they knew that that particular destiny was slotted for women workers.

Second, the women workers went to court. IN 2008, the women filed a lawsuit. They won in 2009. KORAIL appealed. In 2011, at the appeals level, the women workers won again. KORAIL appealed again. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of KORAIL. But it didn’t end there. Since 2015, the women workers, while continuing their demonstrations and other actions, argued that something was fishy about the Supreme Court decision. At the end of May, they were proven right, when documents revealed that former Supreme Court Justice Yang Sung-tae had colluded with former president Park Geun-hye and twisted the law to benefit KORAIL. With that, the women threatened to storm the Supreme Court. Two months later, KORAIL caved.

There is a third strand. When the Supreme Court issued its ruling, in 2015, KORAIL attacked the women workers. KORAIL went to court, insisting that each of the women had to “repay” the company the equivalent of $76,000. In March 2016, a 36-year-old woman worker, only identified as Ms. Park, committed suicide. In every demonstration, press conference, action, Ms. Park is remembered, invoked, conjured. Ms. Park left a note for her 3-year-old daughter: “I am sorry, my baby. All I can leave with you is debt.” When Kim Seung-ha, head of the Korean Railway Workers Union, heard of the agreement with KORAIL, she responded, “I want to tell the friend who couldn’t be here with us for this joyous moment that we were right, we were justified.” Oh Mi-seon added, “I plan to keep battling until the truth comes to light – if only to restore the reputation of the friend I lost.”

Militant women made this happen. Militant women rejected being rendered irregular, precarious, inferior, vulnerable, weak. They withstood and transformed, and today, they are taking the struggle forward, inside the spaces of work and labor, and onto the trains. After twelve years, Korean women workers plan to keep battling until the truth comes to light. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Minplus)

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 


Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 

(Photo Credit: BeBlogerra)