[Newsmaker] Jogye back in spotlight over rail strike
Published : Dec 26, 2013 - 21:14
Updated : Dec 26, 2013 - 21:33
People loiter around Jogyesa Temple’s main hall as railway unionists continued to take refuge in the Seoul temple for the third day on Thursday.  (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

The country’s largest Buddhist order Jogye on Thursday took the side of railway workers in their ongoing strike, putting the government in a dilemma after last week’s botched police raid on the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

“(The Jogye Order) cannot look away when laborers have come in to the folds of the Buddha in desperation,” the order said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement also said that helping and protecting those who are seeking refuge was the only right thing to do.

“(The order) hopes that the social discord can be resolved through conversation as they (railway unionists) desire, and our order will work to resolve the issue through communication.”

The statement came two days after a number of railway union members including deputy union chief Park Tae-man took refuge at Jogyesa Temple, the order’s headquarters. Park has also publicly called for the support of religious organizations saying that the government was turning a deaf ear to the union’s demands for negotiations.

While the temple has not played as active a part in protecting activists as the Myeong-dong Cathedral, religious facilities have by and large avoided direct interference by the authorities. A notable exception was the Oct. 27, 1980, raids on Buddhist temples, conducted following the Jogye Order’s decision to oppose former President Chun Doo-hwan.

The mass raid, which resulted in large numbers of monks being arrested and tortured, is commemorated by Buddhists as one of the most tragic days in Korea’s modern Buddhist history.

The strike, which began on Dec. 9 as a protest against the Korea Railroad Corp.’s plans to set up a subsidiary to run its new bullet train route, has since become an all-out confrontation between the government and unionists.

Following the Dec. 22 police raid on its office, the KCTU has declared that it will go on a general strike and campaign against the Park Geun-hye administration.

The move is to be joined by the more moderate Federation of Korean Trade Unions, while the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union has been riled by the arrest of its chief Kim Jeong-hoon.

By Choi He-suk