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South Korea: IndustriALL builds solidarity in fight back against government crackdown

31 March, 2016A high-level IndustriALL Global Union delegation conducted a solidarity mission to South Korea, to show support for the union struggle, and to publicly mobilize to ensure the Park administration respects workers’ fundamental rights.

The mission, composed of trade union leaders from IndustriALL headquarters, IG Metall of Germany, USW of North America and IF Metall of Sweden, took place as the South Korean government intensifies its attacks on fundamental human rights, which include freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

The IndustriALL delegation visited Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) president Han Sang-Gyun at the Seoul Detention Center and delivered a solidarity message from the global union movement.

In line with the latest executive committee resolution, IndustriALL reiterated its firm demand for the release of president Han and other detained union officials, including two GM local union leaders, and the dropping of all the charges against them.

The union leaders were detained immediately after a police raid at the offices of the KCTU and its affiliates on 21 November, following the unions' participation in a rally on 14 November to protest so-called labour law reforms.

The global union movement remains concerned about the state of South Korea’s overall democracy, democratic institutions and basic human rights.

In addition, Park Geun-hye’s government recently issued new administrative guidelines, under which companies can dismiss “underperforming” workers and arbitrarily change the rules of employment without the consent of employees.

The Korean union movement is united in its fight against this recent attack, and two national centres, the KCTU and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), joined forces together with their affiliated organizations.

The KCTU considers that “It is a criminal act to apply the administrative guidelines", while the FKTU declared the guidelines "null and void". Both organizations are taking legal action and organizing rallies against the government. In a joint statement, the two groups said, "We declare that the guidelines are against the Constitution and illegal, thus are invalid."

It is also a joint demand of the unions that “Korean conglomerates (“chaebols”) must fulfill their social responsibilities for just growth and fair distribution for workers in the supply chains of principal companies and suppliers, for the regularization of precarious workers, for job creation for the young generation, and for securing a living wage for vulnerable working people.”

IndustriALL’s four South Korean affiliates from both national centres, KCTU and FKTU, formed a manufacturing alliance. This includes the Korean Metal Workers' Union, the Federation of Korean Metalworkers' Trade Unions, the Federation of Korean Chemical Workers Union and the Korea Chemical and Textile Workers’ Federation.

The manufacturing alliance, together with the IndustriALL mission, has issued a Joint Declaration for Fundamental Labor Rights, Chaebol Reform and Sustainable Industrial Policy, and organized a demonstration in front of the government building.

“The government must withdraw the regressive labour reforms and instead commit to consultations in good faith with trade unions over reforms to the labour laws,”

said Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union in his address to the crowd.

“IndustriALL continues to support your great struggle. You are not alone here. Our whole global union family is and will be with you.”

As part of series of activities, IndustriALL’s mission visited the KCTU and FKTU national centres, as well as all South Korean affiliates.