Because we had been joined by a second person able to speak Korean, we were able to do simultaneous translation. This would prove to be helpful because the time pressures made our allies in NPA speak with incredible speed. In fact, they were sometimes so fast that even translation couldn’t keep up. We managed to get notes but we were unsure of names of our speakers. I’ve included notes that reflect this and in future you’ll notice that we make attempts to identify people as we go, but we do not always succeed.
To summarize, they gave us a briefing on the present situation in South Korea in terms of the fight against THAAD and then allowed us to speak. When it was our turn to speak, I returned to my theme with the representative earlier:
First, US Labor Against the War stands firmly in opposition to THAAD. We believe it is bad for workers both here in South Korea and in the US.
Trade unions in the United States find themselves at a crossroads. Members and union leaders are far apart on what it means to move forward in the current political climate. The Building Trades unions have been working their way away from the rest of us in organized labor for a good while. Many union leaders and members with connections to industries experiencing losses or slow growth felt that Trump would be a “peace” leader, pulling us out of wars abroad to focus on Making America Great Again, as he said. Internally, we’d heard reports from members that Central Labor Councils (a mechanism for moving larger campaign work that is literally referred to as the heart of the American labor movement) cannot meet because Building Trade unions have withdrawn from active participation in many places. Without them, there is no quorum and votes can’t take place. This sabotage is intentional, time-consuming and hard to face.
Demilitarizing foreign policy then has, until recently, felt like issues in far away places that had no impact locally.
That, of course, is the opposite of what has happened. Those unions, up until the election, had little reason to be a part of USLAW. Post election they find themselves contending with a president who plans to drain public dollars from programs already hurting and put that money directly into the military-industrial complex. Union leaders are trying to find a way to talk about why this is happening and, even if they aren’t affiliated with us, are asking questions and trying to relate what is happening to their membership.
USLAW is working harder than ever to be a driving force in pulling the labor movement to the Left on issues of war. Union leaders are moving towards us slowly, but they are moving. THAAD is new for many, but it is truly not a new idea. Companies that are mentioned as constructing the equipment deployed are very familiar to us (Lockheed Martin for example.) The work we have ahead of us, the work that we want to do with you, is to connect the machinery of war abroad to the warmongers at home. USLAW has engaged in active campaign work around this and if we have time, I’d love to talk in more detail about it.
Thank you and we stand in solidarity with you.
The translation for this was apparently a little challenging, so I left extra time and paced myself while speaking. This was actually helpful as it meant I could take a breath and gather my thoughts.
From here, things got interesting.
The biggest point of interest for many of the people was the idea of war profiteering and its connection to the existence of THAAD and many of the questions I get are about how we are working on that connection. When I mentioned the campaign, there was visible interest and I was asked about it in some detail in just about every conversation. The assumption has always been that workers were very comfortable with making weapons because the jobs were good (decent pay and benefits.). The very idea that workers in the United States even care seemed to be anathema to those present. Hearing that people wanted to know more and do something about it was very exciting.
After some pictures and side conversations we parted as friends and comrades in struggle. The interactions were both long and deep, so by that point we were starving. Luckily, we had an informal dinner scheduled with Peace People’s Action. That group is a part of NPA but wanted some separate time with us. We ate, drank, and talked in particular about their experiences working with NK back when SK folks could actually travel there. I won’t lie – I was asked with some tenacity and persistence about whether I would go to NK and, after some soju was rather directly told that I needed to go and that they wanted an answer. I asked them to convince me why I should and why it makes sense for my organization to send people. They expressed the rather truthful observation that you can’t talk so forcefully about a place and its people without at least seeing them first.
I was eternally grateful that was our last appointment. Full of soju and some type of pork with ginger, I crashed. I had my first uninterrupted full night of sleep in Korea and I was really going to need it.
I’ll add the notes from the NPA meeting to the resource list. If you want more info or pictures, let me know. I might make a page for it.