Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Historic strikes in France, Korea

From LabourStart on Friday:
The last few days have seen extraordinary struggles taking place in Korea and in France.

Those struggles have also illustrated the need for the trade union movement to have its own independent media. Let me explain what I mean.

France saw a huge wave of strikes this week. This gigantic struggle is the long-awaited counter-attack by unions to a right-wing government with an explicitly anti-union agenda.

I've been able to follow the coverage a bit in the British media, and was not surprised to hear a discussion yesterday on the radio about whether French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be "tough enough" to resist the unions. As one reporter put it, would he be as strong a leader as Margaret Thatcher was back in the 1980s?

That's an extreme example, but the more common coverage has focussed entirely on the difficulties faced by commuters, with photos illustrating empty Metro stations in Paris to make the point.

In other words, the news story for most mainstream media has been about Sarkozy's toughness and the suffering of commuters -- and not about the actual workers on strike and what they are calling for.

Korea this week provided us with what I think was an even more extraordinary example of how mainstream media covers labour disputes.

Every November, tens of thousands of trade unionists rally in the capital, Seoul. I know because I was there ten years ago. This year's national workers' rally was used by Korean unions to focus attention on the free trade agreement between Korea and the USA, and thousands of farmers and students joined in the protest.

According to one eyewitness account, their protest was blocked by some 25,000 baton-wielding riot police, who proceeded to attack them with water cannon in an attempt to disperse the demonstration.

The main foreign news agencies such as Reuters and AFP reported this as an "anti-FTA" protest, without mentioning that it was actually an annual trade union event. Normally reliable news sources like the BBC didn't even bother to report the event at all. As a friend of mine in Paris put it, local coverage in France of the Korean rally described it as "a bunch of rebellious farmers going wild about a trade agreement with the USA which they mistakenly believe will deprive them of income."

What we have here are gigantic protests by national trade unions in two of the world's most important industrialized countries, which are either being under-reported or mis-reported.


Lee, Eric. LabourStart. 16-Nov-2007.

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