Protestors without a cause

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Protestors without a cause

The protesters who arrived last weekend at Hanjin Heavy Industries’ shipyard in Busan on “hope” buses to protest the layoffs that have been going on there since January have started calling it a “fall field trip.” In the end, the field trip turned out to be a wild one. The buses occupied 12-lane roads and braved water cannons fired by the police.

Some of the protestors extended their rally to Seoul and teamed up with other groups protesting the ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in the downtown area. These demonstrators - who also took part in the rallies against a naval base on Jeju Island - are reportedly professionals, who are recruited to civilian and labor protests across the nation. In other words they protest for a living instead of for a purpose.

They can almost always be found rallying against large public infrastructure projects and corporate labor issues. They were behind the organized protests against a project to reclaim the tidal flat of Samangeum, and the violent rallies that sprang up when the U.S. Army decided to relocate from Yongsan to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi. Add to this list a redevelopment project in Yongsan District, the four-rivers restoration project, American beef imports and Ssayongyong Motor labor disputes. These people are without cause or conviction. They simply protest for the sake of protesting.

Korea’s legal system provides for group protests under the umbrella of freedom of expression, but the scenes that took place at Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island against the plan to build a naval base there strayed way beyond what is acceptable and within the limits of the law.

Demonstrators ignored a court order to disperse and continued to block the construction site. Some even attacked soldiers and police with batons and other tools.

The hope bus rally against layoffs at Hanjin is barely justifiable, yet demonstrators have at least partly succeeded in achieving their goals as a result of their persistent and sometimes violent protests.

A National Assembly labor committee finally came up with an arbitration proposal for a rehiring program to end the months-long strike, and Hanjin executives have agreed to the compromise.

These professional activists should not be tolerated. Law enforcement agencies must crack down on illegal and violent protests, and demonstrators should be punished and fined for any damage they cause.

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