Those Koreanists who looked at the timing of the talk by Loren Goldner and decided to give it a miss were probably well advised. 6pm on a Saturday night is not the best time to pull in the punters. But inside the rather pokey Kings Cross bookshop it was standing room only. Those who turned up early and got one of the rickety seats were wondering whether it was safer and more comfortable to join the latecomers standing. The audience was made up of the alternative clientele which I assume frequents this alternative bookshop. Shaggy beards and unkempt pony-tails predominated among the men, while strangely the women were much better turned out. Judging by the questions afterwards, the interests of the audience lay in finding out more about the class struggle and opportunities to further it wherever it might be, rather than in Korean trade unions in particular. And that’s the level at which the talk was pitched. Anyone who has read Troubled Tiger and Bruce Cumings’s Korea’s place in the Sun could have stood in for the speaker for 95% of the talk (provided that they were to put appropriately leftist spin on the narrative – so, for example, any changes to the law shifting power in favour of employers had to be described as “a concerted attack on the working classes”).
The remaining 5% was interesting for a few snippets about the E-Land strikes and for the statistic which I have since found on the World Socialist Web Site but nowhere more authoritative, that almost 60% of the south Korean workforce is casual and able to be dismissed at will, while (so my notes say) only 10% are in normal full-time employment. Having checked the detailed notes which are on the metamute website, that 10% represents full-time employees who are card-carrying union members. Presumably the remaining 30% are your average employees and salarymen who don’t belong to unions.
In fact, having now browsed the detailed notes, this talk was one of the few I’ve been to1 where people would have been better off reading the associated paper in their own time rather than listening to the rather rambling delivery style of the author. The advantage of being there in person is that you had the added excitement of wondering whether the drunken youths in the street outside, which later resulted in a substantial police presence, were going to break into the bookshop and cause mayhem (the people inside, myself included, were more suited to ideological than physical struggle), or of wondering whether someone who utters such statements as “I’d like to see the unification of the Korean peninsula by workers’ revolution in East Asia” can be both sincere and sane.
But do read the interesting paper at libcom.org.
- Notice of the talk at Metamute
- I obviously exclude those where a non-English speaker is simply reading the English translation of a paper written in another language