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Jun. 20  2018
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Christian's Photo Column 

History in the Making: the Second Day of the Strike and Solidarity General Strike

At 1 p.m., February 26, 2002, more than 130,000 members of the KCTU struck in solidarity with the striking railway and electricity workers.



At 1 p.m., February 26, 2002, more than 130,000 members of the KCTU struck in solidarity with the striking railway and electricity workers.

The KCTU Solidarity General Strike resulted from the decision of the extraordinary central executive committee meeting on February 25. At the meeting, it was decided that the KCTU will undertake a solidarity (sympathy) strike if the government fails to present proposals acceptable to the striking unions over the main issues raised of privatisation and workplace reorganisation.

On the first day of the joint strike by workers at three public utilities, the Korea Gas Corporation Workers Union reached an agreement, on the basis of the commitment by the management to review the entire restructuring plan. However, the government and management have failed to present any proposal or undertake any effort to address the demands raised by railway and electricity workers.

President Kim Dae Jung Sets the Tone of the "Negotiations"

Instead, the government, from President Kim Dae Jung to the Prosecutors Office, was busy declaring the intention to crush the strike, vilifying the striking workers, and preparing an assault operation

Negotiations only resumed in late morning of the second day of the strike. But, there were little progress as the government and the management refused to consider the central issue of privatisation raised by the government.

President Kim Dae Jung set the tone of the negotiation by his statement at the State Council meeting in the morning. In his remarks to the State Council meeting, President Kim Dae Jung betrayed his unique understanding of trade union activities: "While the trade union struggles for workers' interests and rights through demanding improvement in working conditions should be guaranteed, trade union intervention in management cannot be permitted." In laying out that "management matters are not legitimate concerns of trade unions," President Kim Dae Jung ruled out the possibility of any dialogue, consultation, or consensus-making efforts, let alone co-determination over the issues of workplace reorganising and structural adjustment, including the issues of privatisation.

President Kim Dae Jung, then went on to warn against non-existent "illegal" or "violent" actions of the unions or workers. His comments on "illegality" or "violence" are regarded as totally unwarranted - or even provocative - as the striking workers are not at their workplaces, but camping out in the grounds of various universities, and they have not made any attempts to march out into the streets.

Violence could, however, break out, if - when - the government decides, instead of locking horns with union leaders in a process of genuine negotiation in good faith to bring about a mutually acceptable conclusion, to clampdown on the strike by forcibly dispersing the striking workers.

Stalled Negotiations and Countdown to Violent Crackdown

By noon February 26, it became clear that the negotiations would not end in any time near. The government and railway management representatives began by stating that it cannot sit down for a negotiation session with the union leaders who are subject to arrest warrant.

The KCTU leaders deemed the government attitude as bidding for time to pave the way for sending in the troops to disperse the camped out workers to bring strike to a violent end.

[This would be in accord with the government's behaviour over the last four years. The primary concern of the government has been to demonstrate, without any letup or lapse, its resoluteness to walk the line set out by the global capital authority of the IMF-WB and all-powerful "international confidence" of international investors. It meant that the government had no "room" to negotiate with the unions; and the government's only possible recourse of action in response to the demands of the trade union movement was to try to silence it. This led to the imprisonment of nearly 700 unionists in the last years.]

The Solidarity General Strike

Having determined that there would be no progress in the negotiations, the KCTU leadership called the members to strike in solidarity with the railway and electricity workers.

Prior to the final decision by the KCTU leadership, the various enterprise-level unions, led by the Hyundai Motors Workers Union, held extraordinary session of Delegates Congress to adopt the strike decision.

At 1 p.m., the KCTU was able to announce to the public and media that a total of over 130,000 workers of 18 unions from 101 enterprises - mainly from the metal manufacturing sector - downed their tools in response to the strike call. Striking workers held strike rallies in 22 major cities throughout the country.

The sympathy strikers gathered for Seoul strike rally will join the striking railway and electricity workers gathered at the Konkuk University and the Seoul National University. The bolstering of the ranks of workers camping out at the two universities is aimed at preventing a rash decision of the government to send in the troops of the riot police. KCTU members in Seoul metropolitan area will daily gather at the two universities to hold joint strike rallies until the unions declare the conclusion of the strike.

[The concern about the violent crackdown on the strike is rising as the deployment of the troops of the riot police is reinforced, and the deployment of helicopters over the striking workers at the Seoul National University. Police helicopter is reported to fly over the gathered workers once every ten minutes.]

Some details of the solidarity general strike

The Demands

The KCTU put forward the following demands for its solidarity general strike:

* withdrawal of the plans for privatisation of the strategic public utilities
* working hour reduction which does not discriminate against workers in small- to-medium enterprises and in various atypical employment
* the release of imprisoned trade unionists, including the KCTU President Dan
Byung-ho.

It announcing the solidarity general strike, the KCTU declared that it will step the campaign if riot police is let loose on striking workers camping out at the universities, or if police move to forcibly arrest the leaders of the striking unions.

At the same time, the KCTU declared its preparedness to launch a greater general strike at the moment the government tables its bill for revision of the labour law that introduces

* variable working hour system (annualisation)
* a reduction in the total number of rest days
* an eight-year implementation for working hours (rejecting the trade union
demand for immediate and across-the-board implementation).

The Numbers

18 unions in 101 enterprises with a total of 132,000 members, including

Korea Social Insurance Workers Union (5,000)
Hyundai Motors Workers Union (38,000)
Kia Motors Workers Union (22,000)
Ssangyong Motors Workers Union (4,200)
25,000 members of the Korean Metal Workers Union from 84 workplaces, including
Korea Heavy Industry Workers Union (4,000)
Samho Heavy Industry Workers Union (1,700)

[The Ministry of Labour announced that a total of 50,000 workers took part in the KCTU's solidarity general strike from 94 workplaces.]

2002 / -0 / 2-
 
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