South Korean leaders mobilise army in face of national strike

The government of President Kim Young Sam yesterday showed signs of stepping back in a three-week-old labour dispute, but soldiers were being mobilised to run public services as South Korean workers prepared themselves for the first day of their biggest ever national strike.

Ceremonies marking the beginning of the strike were held at midnight last night in 900 firms nationwide. From 4am today, members of the officially recognised Federation of Korean Trade Unions were to embark on a range of stoppages from full strikes to work to rule.

Tomorrow they will be joined by the unauthorised Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, and union leaders anticipate a turn-out of one million workers in hospitals, hotels, shipyards, television companies, public transport, taxis, telecommunications and banks. It will be the first time since 1987 that both blue- and white-collar workers have united, when widespread civil unrest forced the then military dictatorship to call democratic elections.

Two and a half thousand soldiers were being prepared to run trains and telecom offices yesterday, and there were further confrontations between trade unionists and police outside Myongdong Roman Catholic cathedral in Seoul, where seven strike leaders are seeking sanctuary against arrest warrants. A few dozen banking and shipyard workers shouted anti-government slogans at riot police blocking their route to the cathedral. But the demonstration lacked the ferocity of previous encounters, and the strikers eventually dispersed of their own accord.

Twenty-thousand workers in the Hyundai motor plant rallied in the city of Ulsan. Speaking in Seoul, the strike leader, Kwon Young-gil said: "President Kim must decide what is more important: saving his face or the national economy."

A senior figure in the New Korea Party (NKP), Lee Hong-koo, made a highly symbolic visit to the cathedral yesterday morning, and met the Cardinal of Seoul, Stephen Kim, in an apparent attempt to soften the uncompromising image which the government has so far projected during the dispute.

The argument is about two legislative revisions - to a labour act and to a national security law, which were railroaded through the National Assembly in a secret session of NKP representatives on Boxing Day. The former gives new freedom to companies to lay off workers; the latter expands the powers of the Agency for National Security Planning, the former Korean CIA.

The unions are refusing to talk to the government until the bills are scrapped, along with the warrants for the arrest of their leaders. The visit of Mr Lee, the chairman of the NKP and in the running to succeed President Kim in elections in December, may represent a first attempt by the government to find an elegant way of stepping down.

Much now depends on the effectiveness of this week's general strike. Much of the action taken so far appears to be more symbolic than damaging, and while the unions put the numbers of strikers yesterday at 195,000, the government estimate was 65,000. A large turn-out today and tomorrow will put renewed pressure on President Kim, but also risks alienating the public which so far appears moderately sympathetic to the strikers.

Significantly, the Seoul stock exchange has been virtually unaffected by the disturbances, and the share price of the beleaguered Hyundai Motor Corporation actually rose by 1.79 per cent yesterday.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam