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We Need New leadership for the Korean-American Community – Dongsuk Kim

by kace

  • Posted on March 30, 2009

  • News

   AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor ? Congress of Industrial Organization) is the largest labor organization in the United States of America. Because of its size and influence, the chairman of the AFL-CIO also possesses enormous power and influence. For instance, usually new elected chairman of the organization presents new direction and strategy for the organization, and accordingly the US economy fluctuates.

   As the core of AFL-CIO is consisted of national government employees union, the AFL-CIO’s influence is not only limited to federal government, but also extended to state and county governments. In this respect, it can be said that the US economy is not only led by capitalists’ interest, but also labors’ interest as well.  More specifically, the direction and content of the US economy is shaped by interaction between capitalist and labor.

   Basically AFL-CIO is white labor’s organization. As such, the organization would not allow anything that infringes white labors’ interests. Although the organization is supposedly one of the most progressive ones in the US, race discrimination does exist; for a long time, the organization had ignored interest of immigrants’ workers.  

    However, this tradition changed in 1995 as the organization elected John Sweeney as the new chairman.  Incidentally, before he became the chairman of AFL-CIO, Mr. Sweeny served as number 2 man of the organization for 15 years. As soon as he became a chairman, he came up with new slogan. He declared, “Let us turn our attention to interest of immigrants’ workers!”

   Basically, what he meant by his slogan was that the AFL-CIO should now focus and represent the interest of urban Latino workers who were toiling in sweatshops. The major mass media sensed the change in the organization and also echoed Mr. Sweeney’s and complimented the new direction of the organization. Interestingly enough, media and newspaper act as bipartisan on this issue. Not only progressive media reported and supported Mr. Sweeney’s new direction, but also Wall street Journal who supposedly represents capitalist interest and conservative Fox news commented favorably to Mr. Sweeney’s new direction

   The Korean-American small scale shops and stores such as sewing shops of Los Angeles, and fruit and vegetable stores of New York became an accidental target of new direction of AFL-CIO. Incidentally, the Korean-American owned shops’ main employees were happened to be Latinos. The professional labor organizers were dispatched and tried to be contact with these Latino workers in order to investigate unfair and unjust labor practices.

   As a result of this, there were numerous labor disputes between Korean owners and Latino workers in Korea town all over the major cities in the U.S. The AFL-CIO pointed out weekly payment practice by Korean-American owned shops and stores as unfair labor practice that exploited powerless Latino workers. Basically, the labor organizers accused Korean owners that they did not observe basic labor law and regulation such as minimum wage and overtime payment


   The professional labor organizers threatened to sue Korean owners if they did not agree to pay and compensate back pay to Latino workers and allowing labor union in their shops and stores. Korean owners felt betrayed by these Latino workers since they were given jobs in the shop and the stores out of pity as they begged for jobs. Korean owners got together in order to solve this crisis together and Korean-American media also encouraged Korean owners to have one voice to put up with the crisis. It was sort of ‘eye to eye and teeth to teeth,’ confrontational strategy.

   When the disputes between Korean owners and Latino workers were brewing, the president of Korean-American Association in New York tried to resolve the disputes by visiting New York politicians. Basically, he asked these politicians to intervene in behave of Korean owners and crush down these trouble making Latino workers and labor organizers. Apparently, he did not understand the nature of the crisis and his tactic caused and brought backfires. As a result of his tactic, the mass media depicted all Korean-American shops and stores as blood sucking and greedy capitalists and the disputes between some Korean owners and Latino workers started to become confrontation between Korean community and Latino community.

   Fortunately, many of Korean owners did not take confrontational tactic, but instead, they tried to resolve the crisis by negotiation. As these Korean owners sought dispute resolutions assistances from local Department of Labor, the crisis was becoming manageable. However, another problem erupted as Korean-American Association called a prosecutor from Labor Department to intervene. Since Korean-American Association supposedly represents entire Korean community, the prosecutor considered and treated these disputes not only between some Korean-owners and Latino workers, but between entire Korean community and Latino community

   As such, it could become full-blown crisis and it was only went down under the surface as 9/11 happened; labor union’s hard line confrontational policy was severely checked by conservative Republican’s labor policy.

   Eight years of Bush administration’s priority was ‘security,’ but the current Obama’s priority is ‘economy.’ As oppose to the Bush administration’s ‘free market policy’, Obama is trying to save American economy by initiating strong ‘intervention policy’. It is apparent that the Obama administration’s economic policies will ones that support and favor labor union as the Obama received overwhelming support from AFL-CIO during his presidential election campaign. Consequently, it is expected that the AFL-CIO’s chairperson, Sweeney’s policy of ‘protecting immigrant workers’ interest’ will be continued as his leadership is also strengthened in the AFL-CIO; Mr. Sweeney has intimate and close relationship with many of Obama’s cabinet member including John Podesta who served as a head of the Obama’s transition team and now serves as a head of CIA.

   Currently, election of president of Korean-American Association is a top of the news in New York Korean community. As we consider the number of people who participate in the election, it is questionable whether the Association truly represents Korean community; however, the important reality is that the Association does represent the community. Therefore, it is natural for all Korean-Americans in New York to have interest in the election.


   The election will be a very important event for all of us because America itself is changing. Korean-American community possesses a lot of potentials and it is up to the leadership to utilize these potentials to make the Korean community better and competitive. In this perspective, the president of  the Korean-American Association assumes awesome responsibility.

   One of the most important criteria for the president of Korean-American Association is an ability to see and analyze the reality. The American society is changing rapidly and so is the Korean-American community. The leader of the Korean-American Association must see this and prepare for the change.


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