Faced with a new anti-labour law, trade unions in South Korea have gone on an all-out offensive, staging a general strike which is enterring its third week as we go to press.
The Korean bosses want more 'flexibility' from the workforce, and are looking to introduce greater casual labour while making it easier to lay workers off. The same fight that the Liverpool Dockers, the Hillingdon Hospital workers and many others here are facing.
It will have come as a shock to many workers in Britain to see the degree of militancy of their South Korean brothers and sisters. But the biggest shock will have been to find out that South Korean workers, prior to the introduction of the new law, enjoyed better legal protection than their counterparts here.
Indeed, it is a feature of the New World Order that certain monopolies have been looking to set up production inSouth Wales and Scotland in preference to Korea. Weaker unions and a strong anti-union legal framework (which the Labour Party is to keep intact should they get into office) have led to a situation where labour costs here can undercut those in Korea.
This edited report is from the KCTU, the Korean TUC, in Seoul. The KCTU is outlawed, but unbowed. The articles reflect their political line, not necessarily that of The Communist.
The full textx of all KCTU reports to dat eare available from Communist Action.
FIRST day of the General Strike in THE THIRD WAVE
The KCTU, however, said on the same day that the overall and indefinite strikes of public sectors including subway, hospital, and cargo workers would go on until the 15th and 16th, and be converted into partial strikes after that. They decided to control the level of strikes with the consideration of public opinion, the confrontation of the government, and others. They also warned that "in case that the government authorities commit police forces to the Myongdong Cathedral, we'll again launch overall general strikes".
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) held a great rally of laborers at Yoido Plaza in Seoul. At that rally, Park In-Sang, president of the FKTU, said "the FKTU will fight to the day that the evil laws are nullified", insisting that "we will go on struggling until the Presidential election". The FKTU finished the general strike of the second phase and plans to start political struggles that can be aided by popular support.
During the meeting presided over by Prime Minister Lee Soo-Sung in the morning, the ministers agreed that the situation has now reached an intolerable level. As the collective actions of union members have been prolonged and are spreading to the public sector, they are inconveniencing the public and damaging the national economy, they said.
The ministers also shared the view that "stern and swift legal actions are necessary to bring the current labor unrest to an end," said the Prime Minister's Office after the meeting. The office added that the ministers said the ongoing labor strikes have been turning from political struggles to ideological ones and have decided to seek measures to cope with the situation. The participants reaffirmed the government's position that the arrest of union leaders who are leading the illegal strikes should not be delayed further, even considering the repercussions.
After the cabinet meeting, the prosecution sent a tough warning to unions that the use of police force is imminent to arrest leaders of the labor strikes. Prosecutor Choi Byong-Kuk, head of the Public Security Department warned unless union leaders stop the "illegal" strikes immediately, they will be dealt with in a "stern and resolute" manner. Though he didn't detail when and how legal actions will be taken, the senior prosecutor strongly implied that his warning was the ultimatum before the use of force.
In the statement read in a press conference, senior prosecutor Choi said the strike has become a "serious threat" to the nation's security. "In recent days, North Korea has increasingly made an ill use of the labor crisis by instigating workers to enter even longer strikes," he said.
SECOND Day Of The General Strike In THE THIRD WAVE
The trial will be delayed until the Constitutional Court delivers a final judgement on whether or not the Assembly action violated the Constitution.
The Supreme Court will convey the district court's request to the Constitutional Court, which is expected to act on it early next month at the earliest.
The civil panel, led by Senior Judge Mun Hung-Su, raised questions about the legality of opening the plenary session during which the labor bills were passed at 6 a.m. instead of the legally set 2 p.m. An amendment to the Law on the Establishment of the Agency for National Security Planning was also passed by the New Korea Party (NKP) during the session.
It suspected it might violate Paragraph Two, Article 7 of the National Assembly Law, which stipulates that plenary sessions shall open at 2 p.m.
The panel said that the starting time may be changed through agreements by floor negotiating groups, but that there was no prior consultation for that time. The National Assembly Speaker notified the changed opening time only to ruling party lawmakers.
The civil panel said, "Since the country is in crisis with national opinion split and the economy heading toward catastrophe due to the workers' waves of strikes, the Constitutionaly Court has the grave duty to make a decision as soon as possible. If the Constitutional Court rules that the passage of the laws is unconstitutional, unionized workers will end their strikes for they will have attained their goal. If it is judged constitutional, the workers will have to seek change of the laws through legal means such as elections, not by means of strikes." (From The Korea Times, January 17, 1997)
Kim Chul, spokeman of New Korea Party (NKP), in reference to the subversive printed materials, said that prosecution, police and the National Security Planning Agency must ferret out the entity and wirepullers of the impure factors", denouncing that "the powers that are distributing the fliers carrying slogans such as 'Down with capitalist government!' tries to overturn the nation by switching the strikes from a struggle against labor laws to one against the system".
Those signs that the government intends to connect the strikes with a left-wing force, seem to be followed by the designs of separating ordinary citizens from laborers.
An official said "burdens imposed with the authorities are the resistances of people in general, rather than the strikes of labors' side. So, if ordinary citizens and laborers are separated, it will not be so difficult to suppress the strikes." He hinted that the in-secret damage of McCarthyism was one of the strategies for putting down strikes, adding that "it is important to disjoin the middle classes from the workers', political authority from labor powers, the FKTU from the KCTU, and the KCTU's leader groups from workplaces."
This kind of maneuvering is the same timeworn trick that the past military dictatorship regimes took advantage of. Those governments had oppressed anti-government activities by imputing them with the accusation of being pro-communist.
The main opposition party dismissed the NKP's statement as a throwback to Cold War rhetoric. "These practices of the government are in an chain of dirty political maneuverings and too, the evidences that Kim's government loses the ability to cope with the existing situations rationally", a response from the National Congress for New Politics (NCNP) says.