OPPONENTS of US President Donald Trump’s visit to South Korea this week gathered behind the Kyobo Building in Gwanghwamun, near the US embassy in Seoul last Saturday, chanting ‘No Trump, No War’.
The demonstrators – a coalition of 222 civic groups – followed the rally by marching through the Jongno District Government Buildings with banners and placards reading ‘Shut Up Trump’, with one depicting Trump as a Nazi and declaring ‘War Maniac’.
Chanting: ‘No Trump, No War,’ the demonstrators called for an end to joint US-South Korea military exercises and the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula. There’s no way that we can talk about peace with Donald Trump, the leader of a country that has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places all over the world,’ said Han Choong-mok, the co-director of the group People’s Action Against War and for the Realisation of Peace.
The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has expressed nervousness that Trump’s address to the National Assembly, scheduled for this morning, Wednesday, 8th November, could send shockwaves across the Korean Peninsula.
Trumpeting the visit earlier this year, the Moon Jae-in administration declared that ‘this will be President Trump’s only opportunity to deliver a major policy address while he is visiting South Korea, China and Japan.’
But government officials have since then increasingly expressed anxiety about the tenor of the message Trump will deliver today. The White House has announced that he is planning to urge the international community to help maximise pressure against North Korea and the mood among figures both inside and outside the South Korean government is one of increasing concern.
‘The “war of words” between North Korea and the US has reached the critical point,’ said one government official, who warned that more of Trump’s belligerence could provoke North Korea and worsen the situation on the Korean Peninsula. I’m worried that Trump will continue to send a hardline message against North Korea and that the South Korean government’s response will come across as breaking up a fight,’ said another.
A third expressed concern that Trump might ‘appear as if he’s aggressively threatening the South Korean public by bringing up the issue of the KORUS FTA (Korea-US Free Trade Agreement).’ Over the past few days the South Korean government has reportedly been working with the US to ensure that Trump’s address to the UN General Assembly in September – when he spoke of ‘totally destroy(ing)’ North Korea and called Kim Jong-un ‘Rocket Man’ – will not be repeated in the National Assembly today.
Meanwhile, between Monday 6th and Wednesday 8th November, all members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) of South Korea have been voting on launching a ‘full-scale action against the government’.
The KTU is demanding that the government recognise it as a legal union and abolish performance bonuses and the instructor assessment system. ‘Over the past six months, the Moon Jae-in administration has not taken any steps to reverse the government’s decision to strip the KTU of its legal status as a union, which was one of the serious problems with the Park Geun-hye administration,’ the KTU said on Sunday. ‘Following a vote of all union members, we will be carrying out a walkout on November 24th,’ the KTU added.
A walkout, in which teachers use their yearly vacation leave to go home early, is the toughest legal form of protest available to the KTU, and it means the union is effectively planning to go on strike. Even when it was a legally recognised union, the KTU only exercised two of the fundamental labour rights (not the right to go on strike) in line with legislation governing the establishment and operation of teachers unions.
Since Moon indicated while running for president that he would restore the KTU’s legal status if elected, the KTU insists that he must keep this campaign pledge. The union is demanding the abolition of the instructor assessment system and performance bonuses, which were introduced by the administrations of Lee Myung-bak and Roh Moo-hyun, respectively.
If the motion for full-scale action passes, the KTU will become the first public sector union to take action against the government in the form of a strike under the Moon administration. On November 1st, 25 members of the KTU’s central executive committee shaved their hair in a ceremony in front of the Blue House, President Moon’s official residence, while KTU Chairman Cho Chang-ik launched a hunger strike.
If the KTU becomes the first public sector union to take action against the government during the Moon presidency, it is likely to face a considerable political backlash. The decision to nevertheless hold a union-wide vote is an expression of the anger of union members concerned that, if they fail to get a restoration of the union’s legal status six months into the Moon administration and one year after the candlelit rallies, they will miss their best shot to resolve the issue.
The KTU has been without legal recognition for four years now, since October 2013, during the Park administration. At the time, the Ministry of Employment and Labor stripped the KTU of its legal standing, taking issue with a union rule that recognised nine terminated teachers as union members.
The KTU immediately sued the Ministry to restore its legal standing, but its arguments were rejected in district court and on appeal. Since then, the case has been pending at the Supreme Court for more than 500 days. But while power has changed hands, this issue has yet to be resolved, and the KTU doubts the government’s commitment to restoring its legal status.
During a meeting with KTU executives in July, the Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Education, Kim Sang-gon, said that ‘once the Minister of Employment and Labour takes office, they will lead deliberations between government ministries’ to resolve the KTU’s legal status’ – but there has been no movement since then.
• The Ministry of Employment and Labour announced on November 3rd that it has issued a certificate of completion for the establishment of the National Delivery Workers Union. The issuance of the certificate is the first since the Moon administration promised to uphold the ‘three rights of workers with a special type of employment.’
As a result, the union will now be able to exercise collective bargaining rights and collective actions in accordance with the Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act. The move follows a campaign by employees of CJ Logistics Corporation against a suspected company blacklist.