Stop the repression of South Korean trade unionists
On 14 November 2015, about 100,000 people, most of them trade unionists, took to the streets of Seoul in response to a call by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) for a national day of protest (N14). The main focus of the protest was opposition to proposed labour “reforms” by the Park Geun-hye government, which includes measures that would reduce wages and make it easier for employers to fire workers. Many of those on the protest were also enraged by a recent policy to force schools to adopt Korean history textbooks produced by the government.
Despite the just and democratic causes of the protest, the government responded with harsh police brutality. More than 20,000 police clashed with the protesters, firing over 180,000 litres of water in a single day and leaving dozens injured, including one protester who is in a critical condition. Shamelessly, the government blames the KCTU and other groups that organised the N14 protest for the violence and is demanding the leaders present themselves to the authorities.
The KCTU’s president, Han Sang-gyun, is now on the police’s wanted list and had to seek sanctuary at a historic Buddhist temple. On 21 November the government raided the main headquarters of the KCTU and seven affiliated trade unions. More than 2,000 police were mobilised for the raids. If all this wasn’t enough, the government also physically shut down the Mapo branch office of Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU) on 23 November.
For the past three years President Park Geun-hye has been attacking KGEU, along with the Korean Teachers’ and Education Workers’ Union (KTU), and has revoked their legal status as trade unions. The attack on these two unions by the government has spearheaded a larger assault on the whole trade union movement.
The latest attack against KGEU was to forcefully shutdown their branch offices within governmental buildings. Mapo branch was the most militant within the KGEU and had previously blocked the government from shutting down its office by staging two-week sit-down occupation. As the only KGEU branch office left open, Mapo branch office and its leader Park Cheon-seok had become beacon of struggle for trade unionists. The government could not withstand such militancy any longer and physically dragged trade unionists out of the Mapo office in order to close it.
We condemn the conduct of the government as an unjustifiable attack against workers’ rights in South Korea. We demand the following of the Park Geun-hye government:
· Immediately withdraw the arrest warrant issued for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) president, Han Sang-gyun.
· Stop repression of the KCTU and its component trade unions.
· Reinstate the trade union status for the Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU) and Korean Teachers’ and Education Workers’ Union (KTU).
· Restore KGEU Mapo branch office and return all the property forcefully taken from it.
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