[Newsmaker]Tension adds to labor group unity
Published : Dec 23, 2013 - 19:51
Updated : Dec 23, 2013 - 19:51
Leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, including its chairman Shin Seung-cheol (center), denounce the police raid on the umbrella union’s office at a press conference on Monday. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

Escalating labor strife is giving new momentum to Korea’s major labor group crippled by internal splits and its links with alleged pro-North Korea politicians.

On Sunday, police stormed the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in Seoul for the first time since its launch in 1995.

The raid was conducted to arrest railway strike leaders believed to be holed up inside the building. None of them were caught in the nearly nine-hour search that triggered a violent clash between police and union members. More than 120 resisting activists were put into custody.

The KCTU leadership immediately declared a full-fledged fight against the government, ordering its key members to stage a general strike on Saturday in protest against the police crackdown and in support of railway workers.

The union of Korea Railroad Corp. has been on a walkout since Dec. 9, protesting the state-run company’s plan to set up a subsidiary to run a new high-speed train route. The union suspects the move is a scheme to privatize KORAIL and will lead to mass layoffs.

“The government’s act of raiding the office of KCTU, the symbol and the heart of the democratic trade union movement, is tantamount to an attempt to annihilate the labor movement and create a dictatorship to trample down the just demands of workers,” said Shin Seung-cheol, chairman of the KCTU, in a statement Sunday.

The KCTU is considered more radical and militant than the two other nationwide labor federations.

The organization had more than 604,700 members in 380 workplaces as of 2012, according the Ministry of Employment and Labor. Some of Korea’s largest and most powerful trade unions ― including automobile, railway and educational unions ― belong to the group.

The rising tension with the government is expected to serve as an opportunity for the KCTU to unite its members. Factional strife and differences in political positions left the group without leadership for eight months before the current chief, Shin Seung-cheol, was elected in July.

His predecessor had resigned after his push to reform its in-house election rules collapsed.

The group has also suffered from its close ties with the progressive Unified Progressive Party, whose senior members were charged with pro-North Korea activities and conspiring a revolt against the government.

The party’s roots began in the early 2000s as the KCTU’s political arm.

(From news reports )