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South Korean state takes revenge after strike and mass protests

This article is over 8 years, 6 months old
Trade union activists facing a brutal crackdown urgently need solidarity, writes Jong-hwan Kim
Issue 2482
Riot police in South Korea
Riot police in South Korea (Pic: Voice of America via Wikimedia Commons)

Protesters were demanding the scrapping of proposed labour reforms that would bring down wages and terms and conditions for all workers.

Many were also angered by plans to impose government-mandated history text books and healthcare privatisation.

The authorities responded with naked violence.

They deployed 20,000 police who fired over 180,000 litres of water from canons in a single day—into ambulances and onto reporters filming the scene.

This water contained 651 litres of dissolved chemical agents.

An elderly farmer activist was knocked unconscious after being shot in the head by a water cannon. He may “never wake up again, barring a miracle”, according to his family.

The farmer had begun his 20s protesting against

Park Jung-hee’s military dictatorship. He was tragically put into a coma in the twilight of his life by the very same dictator’s daughter.

The police chief must be dismissed for this and the commanders responsible for the use of water canons should face criminal charges.


Park is hypocritically talking about uprooting violent protests. But these are calculated remarks aimed at deflecting public outrage over the government’s murderous tactics.

Police have already arrested seven protesters and summoned the representatives of 46 organisations—including the KCTU and revolutionary socialist party Workers’ Solidarity.

A large task force has been formed to hunt down KCTU chair Han Sang-gyun, who had to seek sanctuary in a historic Buddhist temple.

Under the pretext of finding evidence of illegal acts, the government searched eight KCTU offices.

Then on Monday of last week police raided and shut down the Mapo branch office of the Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU).

Mapo branch is headed by a Workers’ Solidarity member. It was the only KGEU branch fighting to keep its office open. The government had ordered all KGEU offices inside government buildings to be shut down.

It has concentrated its fire on public sector unions, as a prelude to attacking the whole trade union movement.

So it revoked the legal status of the KGEU and the Teachers’ and Education Workers’ Union.

The raid on the Mapo branch was meant to signal further attacks against public service workers by eliminating the KGEU’s last remaining symbol of resistance.

In the face of such attacks, KCTU is preparing another national day of protest this Saturday.

Workers’ Solidarity supports such initiatives, while arguing that they must be combined with industrial action. Many trade union leaders and left wing politicians across Europe have also signed a solidarity statement—and the list of signatories keeps on growing.

That sort of solidarity will give us great confidence in our struggle.

Jong-hwan Kim is a member of Workers’ Solidarity

To sign the statement send your name and union position to [email protected]

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