Defying the recent court verdict revoking its legal status, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union has declared an “all-out struggle” against the government. Yet its resistance is unwarranted and will only do grave harm to students.
On Thursday, the 53,000-strong progressive teachers’ organization was deprived of its status as a union. The Seoul Administrative Court upheld the government’s decision last October to outlaw it, which was prompted by the union’s acceptance of fired teachers as members.
The relevant law stipulates that an organization is not regarded as a teachers’ union if it allows fired teachers to join it. The court said the law’s restrictions on union membership do not infringe upon the fundamental rights set out in the Constitution.
Following the court’s ruling, the Ministry of Education took action against the KTU. It told the education offices in metropolitan cities and provinces to stop holding collective bargaining negotiations with the KTU.
The ministry also told the education offices to arrange for the 72 teachers, who have been working full time for the KTU, to return to their teaching jobs.
Yet the KTU defied the ministry’s measures. On Sunday, its representatives declared that they would stage an “all-out struggle” against the government. They said the 72 teachers working for the organization full time would not go back to their school positions.
They also said its members would collectively take an early leave on June 27 and gather in Seoul to hold a protest rally. The next day, they will take part in another rally to be organized by the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions. The KTU plans another big rally in Seoul on July 12.
The KTU is playing hardball against the government as it can expect support from progressive education superintendents. Of the 17 winners in the June 4 elections for local education chiefs, 13 were progressive, with eight coming from the KTU.
The 13 liberal superintendents have already pledged to treat the KTU as a legitimate teachers’ organization and continue to provide it with support.
They are also unlikely to punish the 72 full-time KTU staff for refusing to return to teaching jobs. It is up to superintendents to punish disobeying teachers.
The progressive superintendents’ pro-KTU attitudes, however, have triggered a backlash. The Korea Federation of Teachers Association, an organization of conservative teachers, said its members would stage disobedience campaigns against liberal superintendents should they cause problems by challenging the government’s policy.
Groups of conservative parents are also moving to step up monitoring on progressive superintendents to prevent them from providing illegal support to the KTU.
All these moves will only deepen conflicts in educational circles and ultimately do harm to students. To prevent schools from turning into battlefields, all sides should exercise prudence. The KTU should scrap the partial walkout plan for Friday as it is an illegal collective action.
The problem stems from the KTU’s refusal to comply with the law. If it wants to retain its legal status, it should not accept fired workers as members. If it is not happy with the membership restrictions, it should push for revision of the law. To have the law rewritten, it needs to enlist support from political parties.
Progressive superintendents are also advised to respect the court’s verdict and act accordingly. Any attempt to provide illegal support to the KTU will get them in trouble.