Strike Momentum Grows as Government Gears Up for Repression
Police and Prosecutors Try to Apprehend Strike Leaders at the Myongdong Cathedral
Tell the Korean Government to Refrain from Sending in Troops to Crush the Strike
Urgent Action Appeal
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions calls on all trade unions to urgently write to the Korean Government to refrain from sending it riot police troops against the striking workers.
5,000 railway workers in Konkuk University, 2,000 in Pusan University, 1,500 workers in Choongnam University (Daejon), 2,000 workers in Youngjoo Railway Stadium (Youngjoo), 5,000 power plant workers and 4,000 social insurance workers in Seoul National University are being surrounded by tens of thousands of riot police.
Tension is rising as the government build up the deployment of the riot police troops at the various sites of striking workers camps midst shrill declarations by the President and Prime Minister to punish the striking workers.
KCTU appeals for urgent international intervention to prevent the government's launch of violent campaign against striking workers in its attempt to disperse and crush the strike.
Government Rushing to Crush the Strike - President Kim Dae Jung Leads the Way
Soon after the 4 unions began the strike on February 25, 2002, the government moved swiftly to spell out its plans for repression.
In an early morning statement broadcast live on television, the Prime Minister Lee Han-dong declared, "I warn the striking workers that their strike is illegal". He went on to kick-start the government's prosecutorial machinery. "The government will punish all the leaders of the illegal strike in accordance with the principle of 'crime must be punished'".
President Kim Dae Jung, at a special lunch to celebrate the 4th anniversary of his inauguration as the President of Republic of Korea, declared, the government "completely guarantee of the labour rights in full", snubbing, or in ignorance of, all the criticism and recommendations made by International Labour Organisation or the OECD.
In reference to the strike by public utility workers, including railway workers, he chastened "the unions should not use violence, and should abide by the law". While there has not been any cause to be concerned about "violence" as the striking workers have gathered at universities to maintain their ranks, the media interpreted the President Kim comments as a declaration of the government's will to punish all the leaders of the unions involved in the current strike.
The government's repeated public statement of its will to punish the striking workers and the stepped up deployment of riot police to disperse the striking workers gathered at the universities (and to apprehend the "wanted" union leaders at the Myongdong Cathedral) give rise to the fear that the strike may be brought to a violent end.
Union Leaders Wanted for Arrest
Following the whip-reaction by the two top heads of the government, the Prosecutor's Office moved swiftly to issue warrants of arrest against the leaders of the striking unions.
37 leaders of the three unions are included in the prosecutors' list. Railway workers top the list with the inclusion of 15 leaders, including Kim Jae-ghil, the president of the Korea Railway Workers Union. Korea Power Plant Industry Union, which has members in 32 (coal-powered) electricity generation plants of the 5 subsidiaries of the Korea Electricity Corporation, came second, with 12 of its leaders on the wanted list. Warrants of arrest have been issued against 10 leaders Korea Gas Corporation Workers Union.
On the other hand, within the first two hours of the strike, the management have undertaken their own legal action against the union leaders. The KoRail filed criminal complaint against 16 union leaders for "obstruction of business". On the other hand, the management of the 5 subsidiary of the Korea Electricity filed legal action against 49 leaders and activists of the Korea Power Plant Industry Union for various charges, including the violation of Trade Union and Labour Relations Adjustment Act.
The management of the public utilities also issued ultimatum to striking workers that they may suffer disciplinary actions if they fail to return to work.
Riot Police Set Siege Against Striking Workers
The government began to bolster the deployment of riot police at the various universities across the country where the striking workers are camping out. At 6 p.m., prosecutors aided by police tried to enter the grounds of the Myongdong Cathedral to serve subpoena against the leaders of the three unions camping out at the Myongdong Cathedral.
The KCTU expects the second day of the strike (February 26, Korean time) to be most critical. To offset the government's repressive actions against the striking workers, the KCTU has decided to call for a general strike in support of the striking public utilities workers.
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