Tide begins to turn on strikers in South Korea
Seoul stand-off: Government talks of Communist infiltration and places restriction on visiting trade unionists
Thursday 16 January 1997
On the second day of a nationwide general stoppage, the tide appeared to be turning against the strikers who have been staging intermittent actions for three weeks in protest against legislation which removes job security and denies the freedom to form unions.
A march by tens of thousands of pro-union demonstrators was broken up by police firing tear-gas canisters, but many workers ignored the strike call, and government officials hinted that union organisers were Communists inspired by the Stalinist regime of North Korea.
"North Korea is agitating workers to topple the government," Choi Byung Kook, a public prosecutor, said at a televised news conference. "If the unrest drags on it will give North Korea an opportunity for revolutionary struggle. If the workers do not stop their illegal strikes immediately, the government will act in a firm and resolute way to protect the national security."
The first of the union leaders was arrested late on Tuesday night, and police had warrants for 19 others, including seven who were camping in the grounds of Myongdong cathedral in Seoul. Thousands of riot police have sealed off the area every evening this week and there have been frequent and sometimes violent standoffs with demonstrators, including students, housewives and white-collar workers, as well as striking union members.
The strike leaders have promised to continue their action until the government withdraws revisions to the labour laws, passed in secret at a dawn session of the National Assembly on Boxing Day. Their cluster of tents, at the rear of the brick cathedral, is guarded by followers armed with iron bars, and police have so far refrained from enforcing arrest warrants. Yesterday, however, at a cabinet meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, Lee Soo Sung, the government indicated that enough was enough. "The government's position [is] that the arrest of the leaders of illegal strikes cannot be delayed," a statement by the Cabinet Office announced, "even with some negative effects and repercussions."
This hard-line approach has been extended to delegates from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, who are in Seoul in support of their Korean counterparts. The four-man delegation, including two British trade unionists, was visited by police last Monday night and warned that their activities were illegal.
The government estimates that production losses during the three-week strike have cost the country $2.4bn (pounds 1.5bn), principally in heavy industries such as shipbuilding where the unions are strongest.
Yesterday, the Korean won sank to its lowest point for six years, at less than 850 to the dollar. But in service industries and in public transport, the strikes have been largely symbolic, partly in order to avoid alienating the public, and partly due to a poor turnout.
Last Tuesday, the officially approved Federation of Korean Trade Unions began a 36-hour stoppage, and was joined yesterday by its former rival, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, an illegal and more militant body. The strike leaders had been predicting a turnout of 1 million, and troops had been mobilised to drive subway trains and man telecommunications equipment. But, apart from a slight shortage of taxis, the two-day strike has made virtually no difference to daily life in Seoul.
In the south-east city of Ulsan, non-union workers bulldozed through barricades to enter the Hyundai motor factory. But only three of Seoul's 88 bus companies came out and the government put the number of strikers nationwide at 110,000, compared with a union estimate of 630,000.
Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity
- 1 Sean Abbott: Messages of support flood in for bowler following death of batsman Phil Hughes
- 2 Exodus Gods and Kings: Ridley Scott never considered casting 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 3 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 4 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 5 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, GAME, PC World and Argos
Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado's stylist Luis Alfredo Garcia is found stabbed to death
Sean Abbott: Messages of support flood in for bowler following death of batsman Phil Hughes
Dr Lam Hoe Yeoh: Voyeur doctor jailed for eight years after using network of hidden cameras to film patients, colleagues and friends on the toilet
'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...