24 November, 2014
REPORT ON SANDA FILM SCREENING
“Sanda” (Surviving) Screening and Discussion Big Success
by Sanda Toronto Committee
A diverse group of more than 60 attended a unique film screening and discussion event at the North York Civic Centre last Saturday. The event started with Korean folk drumming which revved up the crowd, continued with an 83-minute film called Sanda (Surviving), and carried on a well-participated discussion which extended the program for 20 extra minutes. More than 40 people from the Civic Centre walked together in the rainy evening to a Korean restaurant a few blocks away.
Filmmaker Mi-re Kim is a Korean activist who made Sanda, about middle aged workers at South Korea’s information and communications giant Korea Telecom, KT. Hae-gwan Lee is a labour activist who worked at KT for many years. Both came to Toronto for ten days for this film screening and meeting with Toronto-based activists, scholars, concerned citizens and students.
Many people who watched the film stayed at the Council Chambers and engaged in discussions with Kim, Lee, commentators from Toronto, and with MC Min Sook Lee, the award winning Toronto-based filmmaker. Mingling over Korean popped rice that was made locally, with fair trade organic coffee and “ethically wild crafted herbal tea” also made a difference from many other public events. The facility was staffed by CUPE Local 79 staff who did an admirable job managing the technical requirements of the event.
Political economist Greg Albo (Social Science, York University) and feminist labour activist Naureen Rizvi (Telecommunications Sector Director of Unifor) delivered commentaries on the film and shared their theories and stories of social justice and labour situations and activism, especially those involving the information and communications sector. Amongst the audience were former KT workers who shared their own stories of victimization of the so-called “structural adjustment” by KT. One former worker was so upset watching the film that he had to exit the room, haunted by his own experiences as a KT worker.
“Sanda” Screening and Discussion
SANDA features a group of Korea Telecom (KT) workers, who have gone through hell and high water and are now in middle age. Forced into “voluntary” early retirement by KT, they refuse to take it and are transferred to branches far away from home. They travel the 3-4 hour daily commute, and are assigned to ridiculous tasks they can hardly cope with and are ostracized by coworkers. All these are part of the “weeding out” plan KT carries out, especially on workers who have been involved in the labour movement. Taking it as a challenge to their dignity, however, the workers rise to fight back!
“According to the recent OECD data, South Korea’s suicide rate has remained the highest among OECD countries for 10 consecutive years,” says the filmmaker Mi-re Kim. “Furthermore, for workers in their fifties, the annual rate of suicide has been soaring. I believe the major causes of these tragedies are tied to the oppression of labour rights in South Korea”, she said.
In terms of labour rights in Korean community, Kim says we should monitor the leading companies that insidiously target their unionised employees and threaten those who are active in their unions. “The stories in the film, SANDA, are not only about issues concerning Korean telecommunication workers, but for all of us who want to strengthen labour rights in today’s increasingly oppressive corporate world,” Kim concluded.
Professor Greg Albo who is with the Centre for Social Justice in Toronto and the online publication The Bullet emphasized how ‘information and communications technology (ICT) sector captures so vividly the contradictions of new technologies introduced under capitalism. If we can afford to access them as consumers, powerful means of communication, gathering information, of an expression of personal freedom and empowerment. But in the sphere of production and work introduced under the authority relations of capitalism, without input from workers, and under the competitive pressures for the valorization of capital to increase profits, ICT comes to be quite the opposite – technologies of social inequality, workplace tyranny and political oppression. Our unfreedom at work and our limited democracy.’
Unifor Director Naureen Rizvi, a former Bell worker, highlighted the importance of daily activism and recognizing everyone’s roles in making changes: “We need to have this discussion with the international community, we need to also remind ourselves how powerful we are in implementing change because we are not just workers ourselves that are exposed to these violations, but we are also consumers of these products and services, we are also investors that hold stock in some of these publicly traded companies – we have a lot more power than even we recognize sometimes and we need to use it to bring together change.”
The Saturday Sanda Toronto event was emceed and interpreted by three Korean women documentary filmmakers: Min Sook Lee, Heejoo Yoon and Khema Young-Hwa Cho, who also write, teach filmmaking and create multiple genres of art in the spirit of community and social justice.
Frank Saptel, the founder and a board member of the Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLiFF) that hosted this event was thrilled – not only with the attendance and the two local Korean folk drumming clubs Pichojuné (Faculty of Music, University of Toronto) and Sorimori, which energetically and loudly opened the event, but also with the depth of the discussion and meaningful connections made across people in Toronto from diverse cultural, political, organisational and national backgrounds, Canada, South Korea, Pakistan, Japan, India and beyond. “It was a rare opportunity to look at workers’ conditions in South Korea and engage in discussion about it in Toronto,” he said. Saptel is soon visiting South Korea for the sixth time and looks forward to reconnecting with activists there. He hopes to see CLiFF instituted in South Korea in connection with South Korean labour media activism. Many migrants and Koreans contribute to a vibrant media activism.
Hae-gwan Lee, the former president of KT New Union and current spokesperson, self-funded a good portion of his expenses for his ten-day visit to Toronto this time. “I realized again that the structural adjustment in the information and communications industry is the global issue. I hope the Sanda Toronto event helped many more people in more countries understand the serious social problem of laying off workers for the excuse of technical advancement,” said Lee. Sanda Director Kim said, “it was great to meet many labour activists and progressive scholars in Toronto and we will stay in touch and work together in the future.”
Kim and Lee are now on their way to return to their tireless activist and labour filmmaker life in South Korea, with many more faces in their mind from Canada.
Photos from Sanda screening and discussion, and meetings related:
Sanda Toronto was part of the 6th Annual Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLiFF) www.labourfilms.ca, co-sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Korea (CSK), University of Toronto, and the Collaborative Program in Workplace Learning and Social Change (WLSC), OISE/UT, Unifor (the largest private sector union in Canada), Hope21 (Korean progressive network in Canada) and the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF).
647 527 6848 (Yukyung Kim-Cho, Korean/English)
416 579 0481 (Frank Saptel, English) 416 528 4541 (Choongho Park, Korean)