Korea – One million candlelight vigil calling for democracy
This weekend, over a million took part in a candlelight vigil calling for President Park to stand down and return the country to democracy. For video click here.
UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings has called on Korea’s President Park Guen-hye to demonstrate she is willing to return her country to the path of democracy by freeing imprisoned union leaders, including KCTU President Han.
After weeks of protests against the President, prosecutors in Korea have stated their belief that President Park Geun-hye played a “considerable role” in the corruption scandal.
On Saturday, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined the 4th people’s rally for the resignation of President Park alongside over 1,36million in Seoul and 300,000 in other provinces.
Another huge, peaceful rally by FKTU(Federation of Korean Trade Unions) and other organisations was held, with 1 million in Seoul and 500,000 in 16 cities around the country on November 19.
On November 20 the Korean prosecutors office released the interim report of the investigation of the President's confidante and her assistants on the corruption case. President Park was cited as a "criminal suspect" and an accomplice. However, her lawyer denied her involvement and rejected the investigation request. Opposition parties are preparing for the impeachment process as well as the people's movement for the resignation of President Park. The minimum number of votes to pass the impeachment motion at the National Assembly is 200 votes out of 300 total votes so at least 29 more votes from the Ruling Party are necessary .
Jennings’ call in a letter to President Park comes as a high-level delegation of global union leaders, supported by members of the UNI Korea Liaison Council is poised to join demonstrations taking place tomorrow in Korea.
More than a million people took to the streets to protest against the brutal crackdown on democratic rights and the criminalisation of trade union activity by the government of President Park Geun-hye. The GUFs are also backing calls for the resignation of President Park, who is enmeshed in a huge corruption scandal.
In his most recent message to President Park, Jennings said the Korean leader was failing democracy by her actions, “I note that you have apologized for what you describe as ‘the heartbreaking scandal’ surrounding your aide, Choi Soon-sil. May I suggest that in your next apology you include the 20 or more imprisoned union leaders who are facing long prison sentences for simply taking to the streets to protest at anti-union legislation. At the time of writing many thousands of your citizens are similarly on the streets to protest against you and your leadership. I doubt you are in a position to imprison all of them."
“It would be a move in the direction of a return to democratic rule in Korea if you were to release the jailed union leaders, including President Han forthwith,” Jennings added.
President Han will be honoured with a ‘Freedom from Fear’ award at the UNI World Executive Board meeting in Geneva next week. The award presented in absentia is in recognition of his spirit of defiance and leadership against a government which is being firmly rejected by the Korean people. Tens of thousands took to the streets of Seoul last weekend and on Saturday 12 November, more than a million are set to make their voices heard.
The GUF delegation, supported on the ground by the UNI Korea Liaison Council, includes the general secretary of the Building and Wood Workers’ International Ambet Yuson, and Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL, as well as ITF’s assistant general secretary Rob Johnston and leaders from the International Trade Union Confederation, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, and the International Union of Foodworkers together with US and European trade union representatives. UNI Global Union regional staff also took part.
The Park government launched a brutal assault on trade unions, democratic protest and basic civil liberties last November. Since then, six trade unionists have been sentenced to prison and two are still awaiting trial. The Korean unions are fighting government plans to accelerate privatisation, further casualise the workforce and introduce a performance pay system that is discriminatory and divisive.
Sanches stated, “Trade unions across the world strongly believe that the attack on South Korea’s unions is symptomatic of a deeper crisis of democracy, which is characterised by the collusion between the government, corporations and the rich, in the pursuit of private profit.”
Yuson added, “This scandal that has revealed decades of corruption and cronyism calls into question Park Geun-hye’s right to rule and vindicates the Korean workers’ fight against regressive labour reforms and trade union imprisonments.”
As well as attending rallies and meeting parliamentarians, the delegation met with imprisoned trade unionists including President Han of the KCTU, Lee Jong-hwa of the KFCITU, and Cho Sung-deok of the KPTU to express solidarity and the commitment of the global trade union movement to aggressively campaign for their immediate release.
Earlier in this year in September as part of an international labour movement mission, UNI’s GS Philip Jennings and UNI Apro Regional Secretary Chris Ng also met with President Han in prison and urged him not to give up his leadership position in this most difficult of times.
ITF assistant General Secretary Rob Johnston commented, “This is the second international union mission to Korea that I've been privileged to be part of in recent months. Etched on my mind from the last visit is the unjust sentencing of union leaders, including KCTU President Han and KPTU Vice-President Cho; now Park Won-ho of KPTU Trucksol is also in jail. When these sentences happened we told the world about them - and we will continue to expose what is happening here. We will challenge the Korean government’s continuing and failed attempts to crush the union movement here. The fantastic fight back by Korean trade unionists has galvanised opinion. We are here this week to ensure that the world trade union movement both witnesses and resists the government’s desire to break the spirit of Korean workers."
IUF Regional Secretary for Asia/Pacific Hidayat Greenfield said, “The IUF is here to show our active solidarity with trade unions fighting the government’s escalating attacks on trade union rights and basic civil liberties. Trade unionists are being condemned to prison for opposing casualisation, defending the right to strike and opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Together with our members in Korea, the Asia/Pacific region and around the world we demand that the government be held accountable for these ongoing human rights violations”
UNI’s regional coordinator in Korea Jay Choi who attended the GUF’s delegation with the KCTU reminded us that today is both the birthday of President Han and the annivesary of the founding of the KCTU which has fought tooth and nail for working people. And those people were now out on the street calling for Park to go.
“The people have the right to be angry, the Chaebol Korean conglomerates are getting richer while the people are getting poorer. President Park’s government is deeply corrupt, neo-liberal and in league with big business. One million Koreans will take to the streets tomorrow and say no more!”, Choi said.
Follow this story on Twitter using the hashtag #UnionRightsKorea, #KoreanStrike4Justice, and #StopAttacksonKoreanUnions
For more information on how to support democracy in Korea and the petition calling for the release of President Han and all imprisoned union leaders, please go click here