Send to

Largest umbrella labor union turns back on government after bloody crackdown

June 4, 2023 - 14:54 By Lee Jung-youn
Unionized workers of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions chant during a rally criticizing the police crackdown on the union's protest, held in front of the National Police Agency in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions is considering whether to pull out of negotiations with the government following what it calls excessive use of force by police on one of its members.

At around 5:31 a.m. last Wednesday, Kim Joon-young, an executive of the Federation of Korean Metalworkers' Trade Unions, sustained injuries from a police baton wielded by an officer while resisting a crackdown. Kim has been staging a sit-in rally since May 29 on a 7-meter-high steel structure installed on the road in front of Gwangyang Steelworks, South Jeolla Province, urging steelmaker Posco to stop unfair labor practices and guarantee labor rights for subcontractors at Gwangyang Steelworks.

The FKTU is reportedly discussing whether or not to leave the Economic, Social and Labor Council -- an organization under the president’s direct control for dialogue among labor, management and government – in protest after Kim’s injury and arrest.

As a relatively moderate umbrella labor union, the FKTU has maintained dialogue with the government. The hard-line Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has never rejoined the council since its withdrawal in 1999 and is severely confronting the Yoon Suk Yeol government, holding a series of large-scale rallies after a construction union official burned himself to death on May 1 in protest to the prosecution investigation.

If the FKTU decides to leave the Economic, Social and Labor Council under the current circumstances, the official dialogue channel between the government and the labor community will cease to exist.

The government's first meeting with representatives of labor and management, which was scheduled for Thursday, has been canceled after Kim's arrest. Kim Dong-myung, chairman of the FKTU, declared that the union will not attend the meeting at a press conference on Wednesday, saying, "We have confirmed that the Yoon Suk Yeol administration has no intention of communicating with the labor community."

The FKTU will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss whether to withdraw from the council. A press conference is scheduled to be held in front of the presidential office in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on the following day.