Myungkyo Hong’s Year in Reflection

In our latest Year in Review series, we asked the questions to Myungkyo Hong, an activist and writer at Platform C in South Korea.

In 2022, what is one case of workers’ struggle in Asia that has impressed you?

The recent strike by cargo truck workers in Korea was impressive.

The cargo truckers solidarity union demanded an extension to the Safe Trucking Freight Rates System. The Safe Trucking Freight Rates System is a three-year program introduced in 2020 to prevent dangerous driving and guarantee minimum cargo rates for truck drivers, and it is set to expire at the end of 2022

The union pointed the finger at the South Korean government and the ruling People Power Party (a traditional conservative party in South Korea) for attempting to remove the Safe Trucking Freight Fee guarantee from a shipping fee system under discussion.

The strike lasted 16 days from Nov. 24 to Dec. 9 amid the participation of union members and also non-union members. This strike almost paralyzed the nation’s industrial logistics system. Yoon Suk-Yeol government ignored even the ILO Conventions and put all-out pressure on the union. Pro-capital media also strongly criticized workers’ struggle.

The union voted to end their strike Dec. 9. Of the 26,144 union members, only 3,574 participated in the vote. A majority of 61.82% voted in favor of ending the strike while 37.55% were against. The majority of workers did not participate in the vote because they did not agree with the union leadership’s decision to vote.

Liberal intellectuals and newspapers are saying that this struggle has been completely defeated.

However, the union’s organizational power has not been weakened, and no one left the union. Workers still believed the strike was justified, and they are prepared for the next fight. And, very importantly, both union members and non-union members fought together. There will certainly be a next fight.

What is one labor issue that you have focused on this year?

I am interested in the struggle of East Asian food delivery platform workers. This year there have been several strikes by food delivery platform workers in Myanmar, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Japan and South Korea.

At a time when companies owned by Delivery Hero are gaining influence in markets throughout East Asian countries, connection and solidarity between workers in each country should be strengthened.

Is there any interesting insight you would like to share?

Roh Joong-ki’s recent book, The Neoliberal Labor Regime and the Democratic Trade Union Movement (신자유주의 노동체제와 민주 노조 운동) analyzes problems of labor in South Korea today through a framework of analysis called Subordinate Neoliberal Labor System (종속 신자유주의 노동체제). I think this view helps to recognize the internal divisions within the working class, both contemporary and historical. When this issue is well recognized, workers’ movement can better organize the mostly exploited and marginalized workers.

What is one book you have read this year that stuck in your mind?

Automation and the Future of Work by Aaron Benanav

In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony by Darren Byler

What should we be paying attention to in 2023?

The challenge of organizing delivery platform workers is a topic that we should continue to pay attention to next year, as well as migrant workers’ movements in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and beyond.