“You are not alone in your struggle. You have more than 200 million workers supporting you”, BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson told a crowd of over 20,000 workers in Seoul. The protest was the fourth mass mobilisation that South Korean trade unions have held against proposed labour reforms in recent months, and the South Korean government has responded with brutal political repression.
On Saturday 27 February 2016 Yuson arrived in Seoul to highlight the crackdown on trade union rights taking place in South Korea at the moment. The Park Government is trying to actively remove obstacles to implement their labour reform package, which seeks to cut wages and make work less secure.
The government’s unrelenting crackdown has seen the incarceration of many trade union leaders involved in organising the large-scale street protests, including members of BWI affiliate KFCITU. Some of these union members have received politically-motivated charges that undermine the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association.
Yuson also met with Korean Construction Workers’ Union organizing director, Jang Hyeong Chang, who recently received a suspended sentence of eighteen months for violating the Assembly and Demonstration Act in organising last year’s 14 November rally. That Act requires forward notification of protests, allowing police to ban protests.
Nine KFCITU members are still in prison awaiting trial, and unions from around the world have shown solidarity to their South Korean brothers and sisters. Unions from Sweden (Bygnnads and SEF), Pakistan (PFBWW), Cambodia (BWTUC), Malaysia (STIEU), Nepal (ANCWU), Australia (CFMEU) and New Zealand (FIRST Union) all sent letters to President Park, as well as their local South Korean embassies, demanding an end to political targeting of union members and the release of the remaining imprisoned members. UNIA of Switzerland and Profbund of Ukraine also sent solidarity postcards to imprisoned KFCITU members.
Despite draconian restriction on their rights, activists have found creative ways to protest the government’s actions. On Wednesday evening Amnesty International Korea staged a ‘ghost rally’ using holographic projected images on a screen at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, while opposition parliamentarians have so far slowed the passage of a new digital surveillance bill by over 115 hours (and counting), a new world filibuster record.
Today BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson will meet with KCTU President Han Sang-gyun in prison to extend international solidarity and discuss his case. After the 14 November demonstration Han took sanctuary in a Buddhist temple, however when police dispatched 2,000 officers to surround the temple Han gave himself up.