Korean union mobilizes members to impeach S. Korea’s president

A massive social movement in South Korea is calling for the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, president of South Korea.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has played an important role in this movement leading and helping to lead a number of actions designed to increase pressure for President Park’s impeachment.

The KCTU and allied civic and social movement groups on December 5 staged a sit-in at the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), the national trade association of manufacturers.

KCTU accuses the federation of paying bribes to President Park and for lobbying the Park regime to take actions that violate worker rights and diminish union power.

On November 30, KCTU, the second largest labor federation in Korea, also conducted a general strike involving 220,000 of its members, university students, and small business owners. The strikers demanded that the National Assembly impeach Park.

On Saturday, December 3, more than 2 million people in South Korea took part in 60 demonstrations across the nation calling for Park’s impeachment. KCTU played a role in helping to organize these massive demonstrations.

The popular calls for Park’s impeachment have come as more details about Park’s alleged corruption have come to light.

Those corruption charges center around Park’s relationship to a close confidant of Park’s named Choi Soon-sil, who leads two foundations that have reportedly received $70 million in donations from businesses and individuals seeking favors from Park.

During the November 30 general strike, workers marched through the city center of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, stopping along the way at the headquarters of Samsung and Hyundai to call out the conglomerates for making bribes disguised as contributions to the foundations headed by Choi.

During its December 5 sit-in at the FKI office, KCTU charged the federation with encouraging its members to make contributions to the foundations.

“(FKI) . . . offered bribes and lobbied the government for union busting, deregulation, and regressive labor reform. Samsung, Hyundai, POSCO, Lotte and LG should be charged for bribery and the FKI should be dissolved!” said KCTU in a post about the sit-in on its Facebook page.

Last year, Park announced that her government would try to change labor laws to make them more employer friendly.

Her attempts to change the laws bogged down in the National Assembly, but in December 2015, her government issued guidelines making it easier for companies to fire workers.

At the time that the guidelines were issued, Lee Jeong-sik, president of South Korea’s largest labor federation, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, told the Financial Times that, “President Park Geun-hye is very friendly with (the country’s leading corporations). I see her government trying to give favors to Samsung and Hyundai.”

President Park has also cracked down on unions. Her government has imprisoned more than 20 labor leaders and activists including the Han Sang-gyun, president of the KCTU.

Han received a five-year prison sentence for leading demonstrations for workers rights, farmers rights, LGBT rights, and a demonstration to demand justice for victims of the Sewol Ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people, most of whom were secondary school students.

Han and other demonstrators claimed that the government was partially to blame for the disaster because of its lax enforcement of safety regulations.

The demonstrations for which Han was arrested have been dwarfed by the most recent demonstrations that have called for Park’s impeachment.

On December 3, 2.3 million people–1.7 million in Seoul alone–took part in nationwide demonstrations calling for Park’s ouster. According the conservative Korea Herald, the December 3 action was the largest mass demonstration in country’s history.

At one time it looked as if Park might ride out the growing scandal, but the mass demonstrations that KCTU has helped organize have made it impossible for her to do so.

Recently, she offered to resign but said that her resignation wouldn’t become final until April.

When that offer did little to appease the public, she said that she would leave her fate up to the National Assembly.

Her supporters in the Assembly have tried to stall for time before impeachment proceedings could begin, but the massive turnout for the December 3 demonstrations made these stalling tactics untenable, and the impeachment proceedings have been set to begin on Friday, December 9.

As the impeachment process approaches, KCTU and other opponents of Park have been holding around-the-clock vigils in front of the National Assembly.

Civic groups and social movements demanding the resignation of Park also have stepped up their activities. Among other things, activists are calling on people to surround the National Assembly on December 8 and stay there until the impeachment vote is taken.

“Lawmakers don’t impeach the president. All they do is vote on the impeachment. The president is impeached not by lawmakers but by the people,” said Han In-seop, a professor at Seoul National University, on his Facebook page.

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