Yang Kyeung-soo, the president of the umbrella KCTU, speaks at a press conference outside the War Memorial in Seoul’s Yongsan District on July 3, where he announces a general strike. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) on Monday announced it will be holding a two-week general strike.
In the face of attacks from the administration, the ruling People Power Party (PPP), and the business world describing the action as a “political strike,” the KCTU emphasized its intent to take the battle to the administration. Its reasoning is that the attitude and policies that President Yoon Suk-yeol and his administration have adopted toward labor are having a direct impact on working conditions and worker lives in general.
In a press conference in front of Yoon’s presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan District on Monday, the KCTU presented a “declaration of a KCTU general strike to demand the resignation of Yoon Suk-yeol administration, which has been destructive to labor, livelihoods, the masses, and peace.”
During the press conference, the confederation said it would be launching a two-week general strike on July 15.
KCTU chief Yang Kyeung-soo explained that the strike was “to protect our lives, which are being devastated by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration,” adding that “over 400,000 workers will be taking part.”
In remarks on June 28, Yang stressed the point that the general strike was a battle specifically against the administration.
“While strikes have traditionally been a way for workers to make their own gains by reducing gains for employees [in labor-management relations], this strike is directed at the Yoon Suk-yeol administration,” he said at the time.
By way of explaining the context behind the battle, KCTU secretary-general Jeon Jong-deok said, “This is a disastrous era in which the president needs only say something and it becomes institutionalized as law.”
This situation was behind the core agenda of the strike, which includes calls for livelihood protections, amendments of legislation, and demands for changes in the administration’s stance such as stopping suppressions of unions, amending Articles 2 and 3 of the Trade Union Act, raising the minimum wage, and reversing privatization and hikes in public utility charges.
The KCTU general strike is not expected to have an enormous impact on industrial operations, as the format involves dividing up dates during the two-week period for individual industry unions to go on strike.
But a general strike by the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU) that starts on July 13 could have some impact on those visiting healthcare institutions. The KHMU is launching its first general strike in 19 years since 2004 to demand, among other things, the honoring of 2021 labor-government negotiations in which an agreement was reached to increase the public medicine and healthcare workforce.
The administration and employer groups have demanded a stop to what they have characterized as an “illegal political strike” by the KCTU.
Six major business groups, including the Korea Enterprises Federation, issued a joint statement Monday insisting that the “objectives of the strike are unfeasible political demands” and the KCTU general strike itself was an “illegal political strike that forfeits any legitimacy.”
Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Jung-sik declared that the KCTU general strike “cannot be called a legitimate strike.”
“We have responded sternly to illegal actions based on law and principles in the past, and this strike will not be an exception,” he stressed.
By Kim Hae-jeong, staff reporter; Jang Hyeon-eun, staff reporter
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