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Police raid fuels labor strife

Police raid fuels labor strife

Unions threaten massive campaign against Park government in wake of police action

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Published : 2013-12-23 20:00
Updated : 2013-12-23 20:00

President Park Geun-hye speaks at a meeting with her senior secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. Park vowed in the meeting not to tolerate illegal activities by labor groups. (Yonhap News)

Labor unrest is fast escalating following the police’s bungled crackdown on railway strikers Sunday as a major labor confederation threatened a general strike while President Park Geun-hye pledged no tolerance against “illegal” actions.

Political parties and civic groups jumped in the fray, heightening political confrontation over government agencies’ alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.

Park expressed concerns about the strike by railway workers that has crippled the nation’s cargo train services for a 15th consecutive day.

“If we compromise without principle to tide impending difficulties over, we cannot have a promising future for our economy and society,” Park said during her meeting with senior secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions declared an all-out war against the government Monday, saying it will officially embark on a campaign to oust Park.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, another major labor organization, also declared later in the day that it will boycott the tripartite consultative body of labor, management and the government.

On Sunday, police failed to arrest key figures leading the strike at the headquarters of one of the two major umbrella groups in Seoul, at which 138 labor activists were whisked away by officers.

Union activists hold a rally in front of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in Seoul on Monday as labor strife spreads nationwide following a police raid on Sunday of the KCTU office. (Yonhap News)

Some 500 riot police forced their way into the KCTU’s office and fired tear gas to disrupt human barricades.

The KCTU officials, after hours of fierce standoff, announced that the Korean Railroad Corp.’s union leaders including its head Kim Myung-hwan escaped early in the morning before some 4,000 officers were deployed to the scene.

The KORAIL union has been on strike since Dec. 9 in opposition to a government plan to set up an affiliate under the new KTX service departing from Suseo, Gangnam.

The activists believe the spinoff project will eventually lead to the privatization of KORAIL, resulting in excessive fare hikes, market competition and job instability. The Park administration said the accusation is groundless and labeled it “fiction.”

The government and police drew intense criticism from opposition parties and railway workers for the brutal raid before trying to solve the issue peacefully.

“The government has added fuel to the fire after trying to take the union down by placing 500 officers in the building,” the main opposition Democratic Party chairman Kim Han-gil said in the meeting.

“If it (the government’s claim that the subsidiary’s establishment has no connection with privatization) is true, then the problem can surely be solved in talks.”

Stressing that the police justifiably executed their duties to those who ignored court warrants, the president and ruling party made clear it would abide by the law and rule without compromise.

“The opposition parties should stop ‘politicizing’ the rail strike that could deepen public anxiety. We suggest the DP sign a joint resolution on banning a push for the operator’s privatization,” the ruling Saenuri Party leader Rep. Hwang Woo-yea said.

The DP condemned the government’s latest crackdown, branding it the ultimate version of the president’s lack of communication.

President Park has earned the epithet “uncommunicative,” even before taking office, for her unyielding political stance.

Park is known for her “sealed-room personnel selection,” never having held a press conference and keeping silence until October about the raging controversy over the spy agency’s engagement in last year’s presidential election

In response, the railway union said it will launch a general strike on Saturday.

“The government’s raid of the KCTU office is a declaration of war against all democratic unions and laborers in the country,” KCTU deputy head Kim Gyeong-ja told the press after an emergency leadership meeting.

“We will show our outrage to the heart of the regime through a collective resistance in Saturday’s general strike.”

However, the opponents still expressed hope in finding a way to end the walkout through dialogue.

“What we want is solving the issue through reasonable talks, not by suppressing the union,” union official Kim Jae-gil said at a press conference on Monday.

District courts issued court warrants for the detainment of 25 strike leaders last week, including the union head Kim. They all refused to appear for questioning.

KORAIL also kept a strong stance against the striking workers, filing a lawsuit against its union. It claimed 7.7 trillion won ($7.3 billion) in losses from the ongoing rail strike.

The prosecution on Sunday issued an arrest warrant for a union member, surnamed Yoon, for interfering with the company’s operations. He is the first to be arrested among some 79,000 union members currently joining the strike, the longest in KORAIL history.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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