Liberal union at heart of dispute

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Liberal union at heart of dispute

A group of conservative parents and civic activists clashed with Korea’s newly elected liberal superintendents over the nation’s largest association of liberal teachers ahead of a ruling over whether to classify the organization as illegal.

The Parent’s Alliance for the Revival of Public Education yesterday submitted a joint petition to the Seoul Administrative Court with other conservative civic groups to demand the judges give “a fair ruling” on the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), the liberal association of teachers. The trial is scheduled for tomorrow.

Their action followed a separate petition submitted by the 13 liberal superintendents who swept the June 4 local elections that called for a ruling in favor of the teachers’ group.

“We know the superintendents are left-leaning,” Lee Gyeong-ja, the head of the conservative parent’s alliance, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “They should be leading overall education policies, but instead they are trying to influence the judges’ decision.”

On Monday, the 13 incoming superintendents - who hail from Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Gyeonggi, South Chungcheong, North Chungcheong, Sejong, South Gyeongsang and Jeju - sent their joint petition to the same court calling for the withdrawal of the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s designation of the union as an illegal entity. The same day, the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association, a group of conservative teachers, issued a press release stating that “as a head of education policy, the superintendents should be careful with their actions as it could affect the ruling of the court.”

The Employment Ministry handed down that classification last October, sending a notice to KTU’s members mandating that they vacate their offices and cease all negotiations with the government. It also stated that the government would stop paying all subsidies to the group as a labor union.

The decision to strip KTU of its legal status was made after the union accepted nine fired teachers as members. By law, groups cannot accept fired workers as members. KTU has about 600,000 members.

According to association, two of the nine fired teachers were dismissed after protesting school corruption or overall policy. Six were fired for illegal campaigning, accruing donations for a liberal candidate for the 2008 Seoul superintendent race.

Another was fired after preparing material for a seminar with other teachers using a North Korean textbook. All nine teachers lost in their legal bids to return to their schools.

“I have made a living by donations from the union since I was fired,” Lee Cheong-yeon, one of the nine fired teachers, said in the joint petition by the liberal superintendents. “It was the union’s decision to embrace fired teachers as members.”

Liberal Superintendent Kim Byung-woo, of North Chungcheong, added in the petition that the fact that eight former members of KTU were elected as superintendents meant that the public wanted to correct the current education system.

Even if the court rules against KTU, the liberal superintendents could technically ignore the notice from the Employment Ministry, a move that could potentially result in more conflict between the new education chiefs and the central government.


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