Socialist Worker

Presidential crisis focuses resistance in South Korea

by Workers’ Solidarity (South Korean sister organisation of the SWP)
Issue No. 2528

Protest in Seoul on Saturday

Protest in Seoul on Saturday (Pic: Workers' Solidarity)


Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of South Korea’s capital Seoul last Saturday to demand the resignation of President Park Geun-hye.

There is widespread public backing for the call. One poll showed more than 60 percent of people think Park must go. Park’s approval rating has recently plummeted to 10 percent, and among 20 year olds it is just 2 percent.

The most recent protest were triggered by the revelation that Park has long kept a secret, unelected, superstitious “adviser”—Choi Soon-sil—who has meddled with all aspects of government from university admissions to key government appointments.

This was apparently based on a complex corruption network including big businesses and top government figures.

Park apologised on television, but insisted that it was not a serious issue. This made many people think that hard-won democratic rights (even if only capitalist ones) were being mocked.

These scandals are the straw that broke the camel’s back.

During the December 2012 presidential election, the ruling class almost unanimously backed Park. She is the daughter of the former military dictator Park Chung-hee. Bosses hoped Park would be the “Korean Thatcher” at a time when Korean capitalism was becoming increasingly unstable.

Park has attacked democratic rights as well as launching market-oriented assaults on wages, job security, public spending and safety regulations. Her government is also trying to build yet more military ties with the US and Japan.

Strikes

In response, the KCTU trade union movement has been at the forefront of the struggle. Within a year of Park’s election there was a rail workers’ strike which lasted for 23 days and broke the atmosphere of fear towards the government.

In 2014 a ferry disaster resulting from deregulation led to the loss of more than 300 young lives. Victim’s families, mostly from working class districts, have been leading the struggle against the government’s cover-up.

Park’s attacks on wages and workers’ rights last year were met by fierce national protests called by the KCTU which mobilized some 100,000 trade unionists in central Seoul.

Although such struggles did not win immediate victories, they put some brake on Park’s drive toward market-oriented reforms and her approval rate steadily decreased.

Increasing cooperation with the US military also cultivated widespread dissatisfaction. Eventually, in April, her party suffered a gigantic defeat in the general election.

With the next presidential election scheduled for December 2017, the ruling class is nervous.

However, the current movement needs proper political leadership. Many opportunistic leaders within the movement argue that a presidential resignation would bring chaos.

They essentially want to ally with bourgeois opposition parties who want to rein in the movement. Moreover, those parties share Park’s roadmap of attacking the working class.

We in Workers’ Solidarity are pushing hard for organised workers to play a central role within the movement.

We are also trying to support the continuing rail strike and to build pressure on the KCTU leadership to call for strikes in advance of a national day of protest scheduled for 12 November.


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