Union defies ministry warning to go ahead with general strike

By Suk Gee-hyun
  • Published : Feb 24, 2014 - 20:02
  • Updated : Feb 25, 2014 - 13:51
South Korea’s militant umbrella labor union, boasting a membership of 700,000, said on Monday it would hold a one-day strike as planned to protest the government’s oppression of workers and its plan to privatize public firms.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said its members will stage the nationwide walkout on Tuesday, timed with the first anniversary of the Park Geun-hye administration.

“This is just the beginning of our fight against the government’s plot to privatize the public sector. We will keep fighting against the government until laborers can have a good life,” KCTU chairman Shin Seung-cheol said in a press conference on Monday.

According to the umbrella union, about 200,000 members will attend the rallies to be held simultaneously in Seoul, Busan and 10 other major cities across the country.

In Seoul, about 5,000 laborers will stage a walkout starting 4 p.m. in Seoul Plaza. The event will be turned into a candlelight vigil in the evening, KCTU officials said.

The move will be joined by the union of Korea Railroad Corp., which led the nation’s longest railway strike last December to protest a government plan to create a subsidiary to run some high-speed train services, which they claimed was a precursor to privatization.

The government earlier called the planned walkout illegal and issued stern warnings against those taking part in the general strike. “The public wants the issue to be solved through talks,” Labor Minister Phang Ha-nam said, asking union members to cancel the strike.

Business organizations also demanded that unionists cancel the event, which they said would hamper the economic recovery.

The walkout comes after a series of dust-ups over labor unions, including the prolonged KORAIL strike and the unprecedented police raid in December on the offices of the KCTU to detain the striking union leaders of the railway operator.

The umbrella union has fiercely attacked on the government’s spinoff plan for the new KTX service departing from Suseo, southern Seoul, claiming it to be a step toward privatization. They believe it would eventually lead to fare hikes, market competition and job insecurity.

The government, for its part, has tried to placate the laborers by reiterating that it would not pursue the privatization of railway and medical services.

The umbrella union’s protest is expected to continue throughout major political events, including April’s regular session of the National Assembly and the local elections in early June.

By Suk Gee-hyun (