The Days After

A few weeks after the trip and I’m just at the end of recovery from a huge, life-altering trip.  It was a Monday at about 12 noon.  I had a lunch scheduled with a friend named Richard at a favorite spot known to have breakfast food available at lunch on a weekday.  The room is tight with lunchgoers, squeezing politely past each other on dark hardwood floors.  The taps are gleaming in the noonday light and I can already smell the cold cider.  I really like this place, which is good because at 12 noon I’m still groggy.  Jet-lag from a 15 hour trip around the world takes a long time to wear off.

We embrace as friends and sit down.  Conversation naturally starts with “So… uh, why were you in Korea… specifically?”  I tell the story, going through the salient details, and then we’re a little quiet as the food comes because I was hungry and it was delicious.

Fighting through a forkful of my favorite dish, I pause and he says

“So what do you do next?”

Upon my return, I was asked to report back to the Steering Committee of US Labor Against the War about the experience and what I think is next for us.

Politically, we’d been fairly clear prior to our visit what needed to happen.  Resolutions had been authored (available here) and statements had been made.  But for USLAW, we needed to figure out what we’d say and what we’d do next.

Let’s start with the short term.

Recognizing our role in the conversation as trade unionists concerned with confronting militarism, we know that the question of Korea is one that directly relates to the American addiction to militaristic foreign and economic policy.  Answers to that question won’t come easily, so we agreed to develop a Korea Task Force within USLAW to figure out what we want to say about our role in the Peninsula.

Medium-term was pretty clear, though definitely not easy.

By the second day, I was fairly certain that US Labor Against the War would be returning to South Korea.  What that looked like wouldn’t be clear until the end, when I was meeting with the Reunification committee.  There, I’d see that the delegation would need to be similar to the one that I had participated in.  I was in SK to do real work and so would whomever we’d bring along for a second delegation.  We’d need to center our work around three areas:  just transition that deals with both militarism and climate change, freeing SK labor political prisoners, and connecting NK, SK, and US workers in a way that allows everyone to be safe and valued.  This means that we’ll need a diverse group but also a fairly large one.  Because I’m an organizer that can only think in terms of organizer math, the plan is to find a group of 15-30 (leaders, staff, and rank-and-file) to go along for what stands to be an important mission across the ocean.  As it stands, the plan will likely be to organize the trip to coincide with May Day somehow as it provides an important opportunity for us to be in the same place as many union leaders from across the Peninsula. 

Long-term is less plan and more vision.  So much of it, at this moment, is dependent upon what is open and closed diplomatically that really all we can do is think of it as a dream we work toward.

That third area of work for the delegation (NK, SK, and US workers in the same place) won’t be the typical meeting in a board room.  I’d been asked specifically by the reunification committee in KCTU if meeting when NK and SK trade unionists were going to meet for a soccer game was a sound way to get us together, responding yes despite not knowing when or how this would take place.  So, our long-term plan is to help facilitate an American presence at a Korean trade unionist soccer game.  Again, this really isn’t about soccer or games.  Peace isn’t negotiated by governments, it is merely recognized by photographers capturing momentary displays of honor by those governments.  Politicians smile and take credit out front… while we, the people, do the work in the back rooms.

This is our work moving forward.  The controversy surrounding it will be tenacious.  People will continue to have a hard time understanding why and how we’re going to get it done.  This is an arena full of risk and the fight will be, at times, a slog.  But when we fight?  We win.

Richard and I continue to work through the last of our meals.  He’s a local labor organizer so we talk shop for a bit.  I ask him if he has ever traveled out of the country and he looks at me puzzled.  “Why?”

I take a deep breath and say:

“Well, there’s a soccer game I need help putting together.  It’s in Korea.  You interested?”

I’m going to continue this blog, talking about recruitment and what the conversations are like as I move around the country.  If our Korea Task Force comes out with anything in the form of a resolution or statement, I’ll be sure to put it up on the Resource List.

One thought on “The Days After

  1. This is a wonderful blog about a very important effort for our organization. Helena Worthen and I (US LAW members since the beginning) are presently in Viet Nam teaching labor studies here in a university sponsored by the trade union, Ton Duc Thang University. Much of what you write sounds familiar in many ways. The Korean (S) capitalists doing business in VN are among the most resented because they are the worst (along with the Taiwanese) to work for. Thanks for your work. You are obviously a worthy successor to Michael Eisenscher. However, we fear for your health. You need to pay more attention to that. We can say that because we are a lot older than you and have survived.

    In solidarity,

    Joe Berry


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