Korean laborers rally to condemn Yoon’s union-bashing, announce general strike for July

Posted on : 2023-05-02 16:54 KST Modified on : 2023-06-22 14:13 KST
The first large-scale International Workers' Day rally since the inauguration of the Yoon administration was marked by huge backlash against the prevailing pressure on unions
On May 1, International Workers Day, members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions held a May Day rally in the heart of Seoul. A participant is seen here holding a sign that reads “Out with Yoon Suk-yeol.” (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
On May 1, International Workers Day, members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions held a May Day rally in the heart of Seoul. A participant is seen here holding a sign that reads “Out with Yoon Suk-yeol.” (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

On Monday, the 133rd annual International Workers’ Day, Korean labor unions came together to criticize the “union bashing” by President Yoon Suk-yeol and his administration and announce plans for a general strike in July.

Workers gathered in Seoul, with organizers estimating 80,000 people at the event, while police estimated about 38,000.

The umbrella Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) held its “2023 World Labor Day Congress” in front of Donghwa Duty Free Shop in Seoul during the afternoon with 30,000 union officials and members, according to organizers. (Police estimated 25,000 were in attendance.)

The first large-scale May Day rally since the inauguration of the Yoon administration was marked by huge backlash against the prevailing pressure on unions.

“The Yoon administration has created a prosecutor’s republic and is practicing a politics of fear that is pushing democracy backwards,” said Yang Kyeung-soo, president of the KCTU, in a speech at the rally. “Raids have become routine, and there is a new story each day about construction workers being arrested.”

“Their aim is to dissolve democratic unions by attacking existing unions such as the KCTU by labeling them illegal, corrupt, violent, and accusing them of espionage,” he went on to say.

Yang admonished the government for continuously ratcheting up the pressure on unions in the name of strengthening union accounting transparency and eradicating second-generation hiring within union member families.

“Let us put the Yoon regime in the court of history with a general strike,” Yang declared, announcing the general strike in July.

Holding signs that read “Out with Yoon Suk-yeol,” and “General strike now,” participants filled six lanes of traffic from in front of Donghwa Duty Free, where the podium was set up, to Seoul City Hall Station.

News of the attempted self-immolation by an executive member of the KCTU who had been under investigation on charges of intimidation for coercion added to the rage that radiated from the crowd.

“The Yoon administration\'s brutal crackdown on construction unions has led many workers to their deaths,” Yang said, adding, “Let us crush this regime that’s killing all us workers.”

Regarding the news, a construction union member who attended the rally told the Hankyoreh, “The unthinkable has happened,” adding, “Everyone agrees that it must’ve taken a lot for him to do that. The country has killed us.”

On May 1, International Workers Day, members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions held a May Day rally in Seoul’s Jung District, where participants held pickets and chanted slogans aimed at President Yoon Suk-yeol and his administration’s labor policies. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
On May 1, International Workers Day, members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions held a May Day rally in Seoul’s Jung District, where participants held pickets and chanted slogans aimed at President Yoon Suk-yeol and his administration’s labor policies. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

The KCTU said 130,000 people attended International Workers’ Day rallies in 14 metropolitan cities across the country, including Seoul.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) also held a “2023 National Workers’ Congress” on Yeouido in Seoul on Monday afternoon, calling for “all-out struggle against the government.” The FKTU’s rally is the first in seven years since the 2016 workers’ congress, which protested the Park Geun-hye administration\'s guidelines for firing low-performers.

An estimated 50,000 rally participants (13,000 in the police’s estimations) occupied five lanes of traffic, calling on the government to “stop regressive labor reforms.”

“[The government’ is calling the rummaging through accounting books, the levying of 1.5 million won fines, and the stealing of labor welfare halls from unions a ‘labor reform,’” said Kim Dong-myung, chairperson of the FKTU, in his speech at the event. “We know that the reform of working hours, the reform of the wage system, and the nullification of the right to strike are gifts to employers and capital.”

“If the government does not give up its hatred of laborers and insists on its stubborn path forward without reflection or policy change, the flames of resistance from the working people will burn the entire regime,” Kim stressed.

Police deployed 170 units (more than 12,000 officers) across the country to respond to the rally, including 80 units of riot police in downtown Seoul alone. They also deployed three noise-measuring billboard vehicles, which were first introduced in March.

By Shim Wu-sam, staff reporter; Ko Byung-chan, staff reporter

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