special issue 2.

Grandly and delicately
- Meeting with Ms. Sang Rim Choi, the president of the KWTU -

Young Mi Choi
Chief executive of Puchon WWA

I had to try hard to find the opportunity to meet the President Sang Rim Choi, who was extremely busy with the preparations for the opening ceremony of the KWTU. I finally met her on August 23. She had just come back from her visit to Pusan and Kwangju for the roundtable discussions. Wearing a white yam jacket with beige pants, she looked young and elegant.

You've probably been asked this question many times. Could you tell me the background of the KWTU?

Since 1995, when the business restructuring and flexibilization policy started, the status of women workers has become more insecure and the organized rate of women workers has dropped. Therefore we were faced with the urgent task of securing a mass base of women workers, and we took long considerations on the possible ways to organize women workers.

The IMF Relief Fund happened to escalate our efforts. The increasingly desperate situation confronting women workers, whereby 70% of women workers are irregular and only 5% of them are organized, led us to hasten our efforts to establish the women's trade union

Some people criticize the KWTU as being too inclusive.

Yes. We are open to all kinds of occupations, from manufacturing workers to nursing care helpers, house work helpers, and so on. At the moment, unions already exist in workplaces with more than 300 workers, and our main targets will be workplaces with less than 300 workers.

We may need to concentrate our efforts towards irregular workers in small workplaces for a better effect and appeal to people who already have a social conscience. We are now making the preparations for the publicization of our movement. Watch this space!

You are faced with many tasks, from improving the social status of women workers to maternity protection. Which will be the first to be tackled?

We shall start with campaigning for the realization of legal rights which exist only on paper. We will work for the full application of the Labor Standard Law and four main insurances. We plan to see their application in every occupation and workplace.

explanation>Staff members in inaugural ceremony of KTWU.
The 4th of left is president Choi.

There are concerns that the KWTU could instigate the breakup of the solidarity of workers as a whole.

It's possible to think that way. However, we should remind ourselves that the women's movement has been one of the forces shaping our society. We should also look at the facts of the situation clearly: the present organized rate of women workers is very low.

In order to create a powerful force, we should increase the organized rate based on the principle that "workers are one". We can establish a strong unity through respecting each other and promoting mutual collaboration.

At the moment, there are nine women's trade unions in Seoul, in the southern part of Kyonggi, in Seongnam, and so on. We shall collaborate with them in the light of mutual respect and mutual solidarity. It is the same with the two National Unions.

We already have experience of working in close collaboration with the departments for women in the two national Unions. The rise of the women workers' movement will prove a turning point for the unity of the labor sector no matter what the political stand.

It seems that the married women workers are also included in your targeted groups. Isn't it difficult to organize married women workers?

We should acknowledge the fact that the activity capacity of married women is lower due to social conditions. The problem is how to approach them. The KWTU will act as a Chinjeong which listens to their difficulties and the problems related to their children and families.

We will also invest effort in establishing countermeasures for problems like lack of child care as an important part of the work of the KWTU.

Finally, do you have anything more to tell people?

This is the most difficult question, I guess (laughs). We have been so exploited and faced with very hard living conditions. Therefore it is very difficult to have faith in others.

After overcoming all else, feelings of internal inferiority and defeatism can persist. In fact, we are talented and capable in many ways. However, we used to say, "I can't do it."

Now, I want us opening day was 380. She added that this number disappointed reporters as the number was so small for a national organization. She laughed loudly telling me that.

I have felt a sincere and profound interest in the KWTU, which is a large organization but yet which wishes to hear the concerns of the individual, an organization which listens to the difficulties and pains of women workers who are looking to regain their lost confidence.


President Sang Rime Choi

1957 Born in Taegu
1977-79 Committed herself to student movement
1980-83 Committed herself to the Labor movement in Guro and Inchon
1984 Worked in the Labor Resource Center at the Inchon Urban and Industrial Mission Church
1988 Established Korea Labor Movement Institute
1990 Chief Executive of the Education Dept. of the Inchon WWA
1992 Main author of "Awaken woman, Grand worker"
1994-98 Chairwoman of Inchon WWA

Korea Working Women's Network 1999
Posted by KWWA