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Union to push ahead with strike despite mounting concerns

Organizers will be punished if rally violates quarantine rules, prime minister warns


Participants shout slogans at a Korean Confederation of Trade Unions press conference, calling for the freedom to stage a general strike and for the release of union leader Yang Kyung-soo, in Seocho-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Participants shout slogans at a Korean Confederation of Trade Unions press conference, calling for the freedom to stage a general strike and for the release of union leader Yang Kyung-soo, in Seocho-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum on Tuesday urged the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to call off the general strike planned for Wednesday, warning that the organizer will be punished if the rally violates quarantine rules.

Despite concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more militant of the country’s two umbrella labor organizations, has decided to go ahead with a rally involving 550,000 people. Less than two months have passed since the organization’s leader, Yang Kyung-soo, was arrested in connection with several illegal protests between May and July.

“Many people are concerned about the simultaneous rallies and demonstrations nationwide announced by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions,” Kim said at a meeting Tuesday.

“In the final step toward a phased recovery of daily life, this general strike is by no means helpful to the safety of the community and is just irresponsible.”

Kim urged the union leaders to call off the strike “in consideration of the people’s earnest desire and expectations for daily recovery.”

“If rallies or demonstrations are held to neutralize quarantine in any form, the government will hold responsible anyone without exception until the end,” he said.

A day earlier, President Moon Jae-in said, “As it is a critical time for the entire nation to prepare for daily recovery in November with one mind, I hope the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions will refrain from strikes as much as possible.”

But the KCTU plans to push ahead with the strike as scheduled. Behind it are three major goals: the abolition of nonregular workers, a full revision of the Labor Standards Act; job security for workers in industries in transition; and increased government support for housing, education, medical care and transportation.

About 20,000 nonregular school workers nationwide, such as cafeteria cooks and caregivers, will participate in the strike. Unions representing public officials, teachers, metal industry workers, public transportation workers and construction workers have also declared they intend to take part.

Considering the number of nonregular workers in schools who are expected to go on strike, school meals and student care are likely to be affected.

The planned strike drew pushback from students, small-business owners and businesses.

On Monday, a college union comprising 100 universities nationwide put up posters on campuses criticizing the general strike. An association of small-business owners said it would accuse the union of violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act. A business association has called on the government to deal strictly with the union in accordance with the law.

The police intend to prevent the rally by deploying police forces to the protest location. They plan to arrest protesters if their numbers exceed what is allowed under the quarantine rules, or if the rally is unexpectedly held anywhere but the reported venue.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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