Public Sector Union Kicks Off Mass Relay Strikes
South Korean trade unions launched the first of a series of coordinated strikes to protest the government’s implementation of a performance-based salary and termination system as well as its plans for privatization of public industries and services. On September 22, 5,000 people, including members of the Federation of Korean Public Industry Trade Unions, held a strike rally in front of Seoul Station to make the following demands to the government:
- Rescind the introduction of coercive performance-based salary and termination systems.
- Cease opening up the energy market to private entities; cease “adjustment of functions” that will grant more power to conglomerates and private companies in shaping the public sector.
- Offer subcontracted “precarious/irregular” workers public sector jobs as full-time regular employees and improve labor conditions.
- Increase youth employment by creating quality jobs in the public sector.
The strikes are largely in response to the government’s tendency to make unilateral decisions for the public sector, such as imposing a performance-based salary system. The Park administration is justifying such policy decisions by claiming that they will increase “management efficiency” and competition among the workforce in the public sector. The president of the Federation of Korean Public Industry Trade Unions stated during the strike rally, “The government and the public institutions should rescind their illegally-formed decision… to implement a slave wage system and erase the guidelines for forced termination; in order to properly reform public institutions, they need to initiate dialogue with the labor force.”
Representatives from the two major trade union federations – the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) – also shared messages of solidarity with each other. Public and financial sector labor unions of both federations are driving the strike series in September.
50,000 members of the FKTU-affiliated Korean Financial Industry Union started their strike on September 23 at the Seoul World Cup stadium. The union had originally called for all 100,000 of its members from 34 regional chapters to engage in the strike. However, the government took measures against workers to prevent the union from mobilizing in full force.
Since September 20, the government has threatened to put a stop to the strike actions. On September 21, the Ministry of Employment and Labor ordered Financial Services Commissioner Lim Jong-ryong to direct bank CEOs to prevent their workers from participating in the strike. On September 22, Park Geun-hye herself declared the planned strikes “illegal actions.”
FKTU released a statement in response to the government’s repressive tactics. “These strikes meant to improve wage systems and labor conditions are clearly legal strikes.” In its statement, FKTU criticized the government for ignoring the Korean people’s constitutional right to public assembly. The financial workers of the FKTU-affiliated union committed to waging second and third rounds of strikes in October.
Starting September 27, workers of the KCTU-affiliated Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers Unions (KPTU) will hold their strike for an indefinite period of time.
Farmers Demand Government Action on Plummeting Rice Prices
On September 22, farmers from different parts of South Korea gathered in Seoul to demand the government address the plummeting price and increasing surplus of rice. The Korean Peasants League and the Korean Rice Production Association organized the rally to demand the government solve the issue of dropping rice prices by:
- Ceasing rice imports
- Purchasing 1 million tons of rice
- Supporting the flood victims in North Korea by sending portions of the rice surplus
The government under the Park Geun-hye administration has been claiming that Korean farmers are responsible for creating the conditions of plummeting prices by producing excessive amounts of rice. However, the government refuses to recognize that its own policy of allowing imported rice is contributing greatly to the low rice prices.
As the government continues to force the blame on the farmers, the farmers demand an end to the Park regime. During the September 22 rally, the farmers resolved to continue fighting and build momentum toward the mass people’s demonstration planned for November. Leaders of the farmers’ organizations shaved their heads in protest of the Park administration and its attack on the livelihood of working farmers. Approximately 5,000 people gathered for the rally. They marched through the streets of Seoul and appealed to the public about the plight of the country’s rice farmers.
Labor and Civic Groups Announce People Power Mass Mobe in November
Representatives of labor unions and civil society groups held a press conference on September 20 to announce plans for another “People Power Mass Mobilization” in November. Among those at the press conference were the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Korean Peasants League (Junnong), Korean Women Peasants Association (KWPA), and the Korean Urban Poor Association. During the press conference, the representatives of these organizations talked about action steps leading up to the nationwide mobilization on November 12.
Much like the mass demonstration in November 2015, workers, farmers, urban poor, youth, women and peace activists are joining forces to hold the Park Geun-hye regime accountable for threatening the livelihood of anyone it considers in the way of its undemocratic, anti-people and hawkish policies.
In 2016, the goals of the mass people’s demonstration include:
- Intensifying calls for the Park administration’s resignation
- Putting pressure on the National Assembly to legislate for the people.
- Building the progressive people’s movement as a beacon of hope for South Korean citizens.
- Joining together and empowering the struggles of workers fighting against comprehensive labor market reform, farmers struggling against rice imports, people opposing THAAD deployment, people demanding justice for farmer Baek Nam-gi, and those struggling to uncover the truth of the Sewol Ferry disaster.
In 2015, the organizing groups of the mass protest came out with a list of 11 demands directed at the Park administration. The 11 demands included: stop the labor market reform; abolish irregular/precarious employment; stop rice imports; stop crackdowns on street vendors; and hold the chaebols (corporate conglomerates) responsible. An additional demand has been added this year. The new 12th demand calls for the deal made between the Japanese and South Korean governments concerning the “comfort women” issue to be invalidated. Last December, the two governments settled on an agreement that “resolved” the issue without acknowledging the voices of the survivors of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.
In addition to the 12 main demands, the people’s demonstration will call for the government to hold accountable those who were involved in carrying out the acts of state violence that led to critically injuring farmer Baek Nam-gi (who is still in a coma after being struck with a high-pressure water cannon by the riot police last November). KCTU and supporters call for the release of their president, Han Sang-gyun, who was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison this past July for his involvement in organizing last year’s mass people’s demonstration.
The leadership body of the mass people’s demonstration called for South Korean people to join the action and urges, “Let us put an end to the authoritarian regime with more fury and strength, and lift the hopes of the people.”
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