150,000 rally on May Day to oppose government’s labor reforms

Posted on : 2015-05-02 19:31 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Activists argue that proposed reforms will only exacerbate the polarization in South Korea’s two-tier labor market
 while spraying them with water and tear gas at Anguk intersection in Seoul
while spraying them with water and tear gas at Anguk intersection in Seoul

On May 1, 125th International Workers’ Day, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) organized the largest ever gathering for the holiday - with around 150,000 people attending - and expressed their opposition to government plans to restructure the labor market.

At 3 pm, about 50,000 members of the KCTU gathered for a demonstration at Seoul Plaza, with the city deploying an estimated 22,000 riot police. The KCTU members urged the government to stop its unilateral restructuring of the labor market that only asks workers to sacrifice without any sacrifices from the business world and called for the minimum wage, which is currently 5,580 won (US$5.17), to be increased to 10,000 won (US$9.26).

“We must move forward more forcefully to ensure basic labor rights for all workers, to prevent the public servants’ pension system from being changed for the worse, to crush fake normalization of public corporations, to get to the bottom of the Sewol tragedy, to repeal the worthless enforcement decree of the special Sewol Law, and to fix the political corruption brought to light by the Sung Wan-jong scandal,” KCTU President Han Sang-gyun said.

 May 1. Police also sprayed photographers on the roof of a bus with water. (by Lee Jeong-woo
May 1. Police also sprayed photographers on the roof of a bus with water. (by Lee Jeong-woo

A national labor rally organized by the FKTU to prevent the labor market from being changed for the worse and to defend the livelihood of workers brought around 100,000 union members (as well as an estimated 40,000 police) to Yeouido Park, Seoul, from 2 pm.

“Labor advocates have been tirelessly calling for the correction of the two-tier structure of the labor market in order to reverse the polarization of society, but the government is responding by trying to push through so-called reform that will only exacerbate this polarization,” said Kim Dong-man, FKTU president, announcing that the labor coalition is planning to go on a full strike if the government moves ahead with the current reorganization. The leaders of the ruling and opposition parties also attended the labor gatherings.

With the KCTU announcing a general strike on Apr. 24, the FKTU is also planning to have union members vote at the end of May about whether to go on strike. Some labor activists think the two labor coalitions could work together to organize a general strike in early or mid-May.

In related news, members of the KCTU carried out a march around Euljiro and Jongno in Seoul at 4 pm on Friday. Along the way, they clashed with police when they moved toward the Insa and Anguk neighborhoods, which was not the route they had reported before the march.

The police immediately blocked the road by setting up vehicle barricades held in readiness and fired capsaicin-based tear gas at the demonstrators. The police mobilized 190 companies, around 15,000 people strong. A struggle broke out when some of the union members tied ropes to the barricades in an attempt to clear them out of the way. As of 8 pm, around 12 people had been arrested.

About a hundred family members of the Sewol victims also joined the gatherings and demonstrations. Friday night, the Sewol families held an all-night event to commemorate the Sewol tragedy with union members and other citizens.

By Choi Woo-ri, Kim Kyu-nam, Jeon Jong-hwi and Hwang Joon-beom, staff reporters

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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