Stop the sympathy strike

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Stop the sympathy strike

The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, the country’s largest liberal teachers’ union, announced it will go on a sympathy walkout and street rally in April. It will be the first street rally by teachers following a nationwide protest of the teachers’ evaluation system in 2006. Participants will submit their leave of absence to school heads or take the day off without permission en masse.

But the move is not legal and has little cause. Teaching is a public post, and teachers cannot freely leave school. They would be breaking the Public Employees’ Law that requires dutiful obligation to public service and bans collective action. Moreover, this collective leave would violate students’ education rights. The courts have ruled several times that unlicensed protests by teachers are illegal.

The union will rally to protest a plan to reform the government employees’ pension scheme and a court ruling that stripped the union of its legal status, as well as to demand a just investigation into the Sewol ferry crisis. None of the issues are related to education and students. The rights of students will be sacrificed for teachers’ political purposes.

It doesn’t make sense for the union to take collective action against a court ruling on the legality of the group. The union lost the first trial but won an appeal to stop the administrative change in its status. It is now up to the higher courts to make a final determination on the legality of the group. It is not right for the union to stage a rally when a final decision has yet to be made. It would be an abuse of teachers’ power over students to pressure the court.

The union has staged street protests more than 10 times since it was recognized as a legitimate group in 1999. Members were let off mostly lightly with warnings. They received a moral boost after pro-union figures were elected as education superintendents.

Cho Hi-yeon, Seoul’s education chief, advocated for the protesting teachers by saying that their early leave would not disturb the rights of students. The government must put its foot down on illegal protests by teachers. How do teachers expect their students to learn from them if they do not respect law and order?

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