A GENERAL strike takes place in South Korea today, Wednesday 30th November, with President Park Guen-hye receiving dozens of letters from trade unions all over the world demanding her resignation.
The strike is being organised by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).
KCTU’s president, Han Sang-Gyun, is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for his role in organising a people’s protest of 100,000 in 2015.
For the last two years, trade unionists have been engaged in a bitter struggle against South Korea President Park Geun-hye’s government reforms, designed to lower wages and make work more insecure.
In retaliation, scores of trade unionists have been arrested, trade union offices have been ransacked and unions stripped of their legal status. Last Saturday saw the biggest of the recent spate of mass protests against Park which began in late October, accusing her of corruption.
Braving the wet snow and cold wind, 1.9 million protesters gathered across South Korea to demand Park’s resignation, with 1.5 million at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul alone. Parliament is in the process of impeaching the president after prosecutors determined that she is an accomplice in the influence-peddling and corruption scandal involving her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Opposition parties are planning to put the impeachment motion up for a vote in early December. Police said around 1,500 civic groups organised the massive rally in Gwanghwamun Square last Saturday, with the protesters marching just 200 metres from the presidential palace, holding banners that said ‘Arrest President Park’ and ‘Surrender Now’.
‘I have always taught kids about the importance of honesty and democracy but now I cannot do it,’ said Kwon In-taek, a middle school teacher from South Chungcheong Province. One of my students made a video of the President riding a swing named Soon-sil for his video-making homework. So I praised him. I hope the President resigns today. My school no longer prevents students from going to protests.’
Saturday’s protests erupted all over South Korea. In Daegu, the birthplace of the President, 20,000 gathered from 6pm to demand Park’s resignation, a crowd larger by 5,000 than those who attended the last demonstration on 19th November. In Busan, 100,000 anti-Park protesters gathered at Seomyeon where a massive rally began at 7.30pm.
Police dispatched 1,000 officers to the site, which saw 50,000 demonstrate the previous week. The protesters began a parade at 9.30pm. The Gwanghwamun rally marks the fifth massive anti-Park demonstration in Seoul after the outbreak of the scandal in which the dealings of Choi, who is suspected of meddling in state affairs in business, cultural and sports activities, was brought to light.
Gallup Korea reported that Park’s approval rating fell to a record-low level of four per cent this week. Global unions representing tens of millions of workers will rally in support of the general strike in South Korea, starting at Place des Nations, Geneva today. Global unions BWI, IndustriALL, IUF, PSI and UNI will rally then hand deliver a letter to the South Korean mission in Geneva supporting the general strike and condemning the persecution of trade unionists in the country.
IndustriALL Global Union’s General Secretary, Valter Sanches, said on Monday: ‘IndustriALL members around the world are mobilising in support of the general strike.
‘Workers in Korea are not only under attack from the government but also from the all-powerful chaebol conglomerates that do everything in their means to crush trade unions and labour rights. Korean unions together with the global trade union movement are fighting back.’
Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of BWI, said: ‘The time has come for President Park to step down. The current corruption scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. Our brothers and sisters in the KCTU have been locked the last two years in a bitter struggle to resist the Park government’s neoliberal labour reforms. The attack which the Park Government has unleashed on the trade union movement for simply pursuing their democratic rights is a throwback to the military dictatorship era.’
Hundreds of trade unionists have been arrested and many subjected to arbitrary political prosecutions including Han Sang Gyun, President of the KCTU. IUF General Secretary, Ron Oswald, said: ‘The IUF is here to show our active solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Korea demanding the President resign and fighting the government’s escalating attacks on trade union rights and basic civil liberties. Trade unionists are being condemned to prison for opposing casualisation, defending the right to strike and opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.’
South Korean teachers, demanding the government scrap publishing a state-authored history textbook, took strike action last Friday, demanding that Education Minister Lee Joon-sik resign over the issue. The Korea Teachers & Education Workers’ Union (KTU) denounced the Park Geun-hye administration for pushing ahead with the textbook plan despite growing opposition, especially amid the influence-peddling scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Their action came three days before the ministry is set to disclose the draft of the textbook. Regardless of content of the book, the idea of teaching children state-authored history is improper,’ KTU head Byun Seong-ho said in a press briefing in front of the Government Complex in central Seoul.
‘The whole process lacked legitimacy: history is the only subject undergoing revision while other subjects are to be revised a year from now. Also, the writers and writing criteria have remained secret.’
Byun said it is highly likely that the textbook plan was designed by Choi, who allegedly meddled in state affairs. He said the union defined the textbook plan as ‘a political invasion into education,’ saying its members would take every measure to prevent it. The KTU collected online signatures from 97,061 people opposed to the textbook between Monday and Thursday last week. 11,114 teachers, 4,545 students, 45,822 parents and 35,580 citizens. It submitted the petition to the ministry.
Meanwhile, heads of the 17 regional education offices nationwide also expressed similar demands in a statement last Thursday. They said unless the government immediately scraps issuing the textbook, they would not cooperate with it, indicating they would not use the state textbook in schools.
The ministry plans for it to be in use starting the first semester next year. They said their students can use existing history textbooks which are published by multiple private publishers. In a ruling Thursday, the Seoul Administrative Court ordered the ministry to disclose information on writers and writing criteria for the textbook, citing the need to help guarantee transparency as well as the public’s right to know.
Meanwhile, the union at Hyundai Heavy Industries Co has threatened to launch a full-scale strike calling on the company to scrap its plan to spin off non-shipbuilding units, which it claims will lead to a sell-off. Hyundai Heavy, one of the country’s big three shipyards, has announced a scheme to reorganise its businesses into six separate companies next year, claiming this is required to regain competitiveness and financial health.
The decision comes in the form of part of the shipyard’s self-rescue plans announced early this year in which it said it will seek to sell noncore assets and cut jobs. The company’s withdrawal of the spin-off plan is a precondition for the completion of this year’s wage deal,’ the union said. ‘If the management pushes ahead with it, we cannot help launching a full-fledged strike.’
• South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has now said that she will resign and has asked parliament to ‘help her find a way to stand down.’ She said she would ‘leave to parliament everything about my future including shortening of my term,’ but did not want to ‘leave a power vacuum.’
Parliament was due to discuss on Friday whether she should face impeachment.
Opposition parties have said the president should stand down ‘honourably’ before it reached that point. Yesterday’s televised address, her third since reports of the scandal began, Park said she would step down ‘once lawmakers come up with measures to transfer power in a way that minimises any power vacuum and chaos in governance.’