12 June, 2023On 31 May, over 50,000 members of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) downed tools, calling on the government to stop union repression and for President Yoon Suk-yeol to step down.
Since January, the Korean government has launched serious attacks against Korean trade unions and violent police interventions in labour disputes have increased. Police have forcibly dispersed assemblies and arrested participants, curtailing democratic rights to demonstrate.
KMWU and its national center Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) have protested against the stonewalling of labour law reform in ensuing the ratification of ILO Convention 87 and 98 by the previous Korean president Moon Jae-In. Both unions demand that the provisions on criminalization of strike action and enabling precarious work must be amended.
Even though the Labour Ministry Anyang Office visited plants on 26 May to threaten unionists that they would face criminal charges if they went on strike, on 31 May, KMWU staged demonstrations in twelve cities and provinces.
In Seoul, KMWU members demonstrated in front of the National Police Agency then marched to Gwanghwamun to join a cross-sectoral KCTU national struggle as construction workers marched up from Yongsan district and Seoul labour office. Some 13,500 unionists in Seoul shouted the slogan “Smash through retrogressive revision of labour laws and union repression! Down with the Yoon Suk-yeol government!”.
In solidarity with the warning strikes, IndustriALL Global Union affiliates across the world have taken solidarity actions. On 30 May, the Malaysian Labour Law Reform Coalition (LLRC), consisting of IndustriALL and BWI Malaysia affiliates and NGOs, submitted a protest letter to the Embassy of Korea in Kuala Lumpur, calling on the Korean government to immediately stop the attacks on Korean unions.
In a solidarity letter, the Cambodian Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) says:
“CUMW condemn in the strongest possible terms the government's unjust intervention into unions, the abusive use of coercive power of the state against unions, using police, public prosecutors, and invoking national security to attack unions, push for retrogressive legal changes to undermine unions and their independence from the state.”
said Pav Sina, the CUMW president.
UAW’s solidarity letter noted the violent raid of the KWB factory owned by Denso and the large numbers of trade unionists summoned by the police for questioning, including KMWU President YOON Jang hyeok, KMWU VP for Auto SON, Deok Heon and KMWU Ulsan Branch Chair.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:
“Union activity is a right and not a crime. We urge the Korean government to stop criminalization against trade union leaders and members and ensure a stable environment exists so workers can enjoy their fundamental rights. We stand in solidarity with our South Korean comrades in their rightful fight for their rights.”