Koreans are used to scenes of protesters staging sit-ins, whatever their causes and demands might be, but the latest one labor activists are holding in the ruling Democratic Party should raise some serious questions.
First of all, it is a flagrant challenge to the rule of law. One of the four protesters who have been occupying an office of the ruling party in Seoul since Monday has been on a police wanted list for about two years.
In other words, a person who had been sought by the police for two years sneaked into the ruling party building in broad daylight and took over one of its offices. Besides her past offence, this evidently constitutes illegal intrusion and unlawful occupation that should be punished by law.
Nevertheless, neither the police nor the ruling party has taken action. This offers a stark contrast to the harsh investigation and strict law-enforcement on cases involving the past conservative governments of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.
What’s funny is that Lee Young-joo, secretary general of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions who is on the police wanted list for her role in violent street demonstrations in 2015, is demanding that she be removed from the list. Where has the justice system gone?
Another question should be addressed to the KCTU, a major umbrella organization of unions, and the labor community as a whole. As seen by the brazen sit-in protest at the ruling party, union activists seem to believe that the liberal, pro-labor government is their pawn, and they can do whatever they want with it.
The four activists occupying the ruling party office did not hide that they held this view. The Democratic Party of President Moon Jae-in could take power “because the KCTU fought on the frontline,” they said in a statement.
It is true that the KCTU and other unionists had been allies of the liberal party and that they were one of the driving forces behind the candlelight rallies that helped oust Park Geun-hye and elect Moon as president.
But the KCTU is mistaken if it thinks that everyone agrees with its belief that the Moon government is as indebted to it as it believes. The KCTU, which represents less than 5 percent of the workforce, and other unionists were only a small part of the immense number of people that helped kick Park out of office and voted Moon into office.
Dismissing the role of “ordinary citizens” is an insult to the millions of people from all ages and all walks of life and the tens of hundreds of civic groups and organizations that participated in the candlelight revolution that protected democracy and restored justice in the country.
Nevertheless, the KCTU insists that the Moon administration owes it a lot and the president should accept whatever demand it makes. One such key demand is pardoning the jailed KCTU president, Han Sang-gyun, who the unionists call a “prisoner of conscience.”
This argument is another blatant affront to the justice system. Han was convicted by the court not for promoting labor rights but for masterminding violent street demonstrations in 2015.
By nature, the Moon administration, the first liberal government in nine years, is friendly toward labor. It has been recruiting former union leaders into key government offices like the Labor and Employment Ministry and the tripartite committee of labor, management and government.
The Moon government has also put forward one pro-labor policy after, including those on contingent workers, merit-based pay system, minimum wage, layoffs and working hours.
All these pro-labor policies further emboldened the KCTU protesters to go as far as ignoring the law, with the ruling party and police simply overlooking their actions. A bigger cause for concern is that we might see similar scenes as the June 13 local election draws nearer.