Teachers outed online in ongoing union tussle

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Teachers outed online in ongoing union tussle

A pitched battle between a left-wing teachers’ union and the ruling party reached a climax on Monday when Grand National Party lawmaker Cho Jeon-hyeok disclosed the names of more than 60,000 of its members on the Internet.

On Monday afternoon, Cho posted the identities of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union members on his home page (www.educho.com). The teachers’ names, schools, the subjects they teach and the unions they are members of, were disclosed.

Teachers and civil servants in Korea aren’t allowed to participate in collective political activities, but the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union has been accused of holding anti-government protests and been found by the police to have been involved in activities with the opposition Democratic Labor Party. These actions angered the ruling party.

Parents of schoolchildren have also become alarmed at what they perceive as leftist politics in the school system.

Cho also posted the names of 160,000 members of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, the largest group in the country, which is considered to have little political leaning. Cho’s action defies a court ruling last week in which the Seoul Southern District Court ruled in favor of a union injunction requesting their identities be kept private.

That ruling contradicted an earlier verdict last month by the Seoul Central District Court, which dismissed a request by Education Minister Ahn Byong-man to protect the union members’ privacy. After the ruling, the Education Ministry sent a list of the members’ names to the National Assembly.

After posting the teachers’ names, Cho, who is also a member of the National Assembly’s Education, Science and Technology Committee, said at a press conference: “After numerous consultations with legal experts, I concluded there is no problem in revealing [the union members’] identities. For proper education reform, parents’ participation is crucial, and to achieve this, all information must be revealed in a transparent, correct way.”

Parents and students nationwide tried viewing the lists online. Cho’s home page crashed most of yesterday because of the surge in page views. Cho said during a radio interview yesterday that even though he changed the server to accommodate more people, it was still down.

Lee, 41, a mother of a third-year middle school student said, “I will continue to look out for any teachers who are involved in progressive unions, including the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union.”

Kim, 49, the mother of a freshman in high school said, “I was always curious about whether my child’s teachers are involved in teachers’ unions because I think the political views of teachers influence children greatly.”

The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union expressed rage, saying Cho’s posting was an “illegal act that ignored the court’s decision full-on.”

The union held a press conference yesterday in Seoul and released a statement saying, “The GNP has violated the individual rights of our members for their political goals upon revealing the list.”

“Even if teachers are civil servants,” it said, “our basic human rights have to be protected by law.”

The union said it is looking into criminal charges against Cho and asking for compensation.

Teachers who were revealed as union members were also outraged.

“I have no clue why we are being treated as members of an anti-government group when we are only members of a teachers’ union,” said Choi, a teacher who said that he was a member of the union.

“My right to personal privacy has been severely violated. There has to be a lawful countermeasure [for Cho],” said Jang, a teacher at a high school in Yangcheon District, Seoul, and a member of the union.

Last year, the teachers’ union held an anti-government protest. In February, police said that 120 union members and Korean Government Employees’ Union members registered as members on the Democratic Labor Party’s Web site. This month, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office summoned three high-level executives from the teachers’ union for questioning on alleged illegal contributions to the DLP. Police alleged that 286 members from both unions transferred 58 million won ($52,000) to an unregistered DLP bank account. Um Min-yong, spokesman for the union, said the money was to be used for members’ lawsuits.

By Cho Jae-eun, Park Su-ryon [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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