Some 30,000 workers gathered in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, last Sunday to express their dissatisfaction with the government led by president Moon Jae-in.
It was the first mass rally hosted by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) since the new government took office this spring.
It is a significant development considering that Moon is enjoying a high approval rate of over 70 percent.
Moon’s popularity is because he is leading the bourgeois reformist, populist government after nine years of right wing governments. But his reforms so far have little actual content.
In the previous mass movement that removed the then right wing president, organised workers were at the forefront. A rail workers’ strike at that time provided a focus for the widespread anger toward the president.
Last November the KCTU mobilised trade unionists from all over the country and provided crucial momentum to the then fledgling anti-president movement. More than 1 million protesters gathered for the first time since 1987.
So it is quite natural for organised workers to feel they have a mandate to demand more significant change and to be the first social group to express their dissatisfaction with the current feeble reforms.
Metal workers, public sector workers and construction workers each participated in their thousands. The acting president of KCTU received loud applause when he said, “It has now been six months since the new government stepped in. We’ve seen change in the wrappings but the inner content has not changed properly.” After the rally, thousands of workers marched through the city, shouting their demands.
The protesters who had filled the streets of Seoul during the previous government desired to change not only the President but society as a whole. Protesting workers now reflect the ongoing desire for social change.
But the moderate NGOs and the supporters of Democratic Party (the current ruling party) put the Moon government ahead of social change. They argue that workers’ protests only strengthen the right wing forces.
When Moon invited Donald Trump and honoured him as a State Guest, they didn’t criticise Moon and it was up to the lefts to lead the anti-Trump protest.
What is now needed is to turn workers’ dissatisfaction into more collective actions.
KCTU leaders at the rally criticised the Moon government many times but fell short of presenting a political plan or actions designed to push forward.
The argument that the KCTU should seek dialogue with the new government is also quite widespread within the unions.
So it is still very important to raise arguments about the attitude toward the Moon government and to raise political questions. It is also important to lead the various ongoing workers’ struggles to victory.
The rally also showed a glimpse of how collective workers’ action can help to overcome bigotry. Migrant workers approached the construction workers one by one and handed them flyers containing arguments against racism and demanding proper wages and working conditions.
This was a brave action considering that construction workers from time to time accuse them of stealing jobs. Leaders of the Migrant Trade Union said 90 percent of workers accepted the flyer and many read it very carefully.
We in Workers Solidarity are doing our best to make a strong political intervention. All available members went out to sell our paper to workers, and on average each member sold about a dozen copies, and 1,000 copies in total.
This is a time when political argument is much needed and such intervention by the organised left is very important.