Refusing to compromise
Han Sang-gyun, leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), surrendered to police on Thursday after 24 days taking refuge in Seoul’s Jogye Temple to avoid being arrested for orchestrating a violent antigovernment rally last month. In a press conference yesterday, he said the militant umbrella union will kick off a general strike next Wednesday across the nation in a bid to thwart the conservative government’s proposed bills on labor reforms. The five bills are stuck at the National Assembly due to opposition from the liberal New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
Han spoke as if he were handcuffed and hauled away thanks to a government-concocted script. But it was Han who planned - and orchestrated - the violent protest that led to his arrest. When he ran for chairman of the KCTU in 2014, Han made a campaign promise to launch a general strike to oppose the government.
He refused to participate in tripartite negotiations over the labor reforms participated in by labor, management and the government for over a year. He cried out for unconditional struggle and general strikes irrespective of the results of the dialogue among the three parties. From the start, Han was ready to nullify the agreement reached among the government, corporate sector and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions - the rival umbrella union.
The KCTU’s planned general strike is illegal because it aims to oppose the very polices agreed to by the tripartite representatives through a legitimate procedure. Han also speaks as if he represents the nation’s 20 million employees, including part-time workers. In fact, he’s the leader of only 3 percent of the entire workforce - mostly consisting of unions of conglomerates and civil servants.
The KCTU has threatened a campaign to prevent lawmakers who vote for the labor reforms from being re-elected in the April 13 general election. Han has pressured the opposition to reject those bills in a special session of the National Assembly, warning that the public will get revenge against those who collude with the ruling party. Opposition leader Moon Jae-in promised to do his utmost to avert the passing of the labor bills.
Does that mean Moon prioritizes the union’s position over the tripartite consensus? Such a populist approach only helps the KCTU solidify its hard-line stance. Core members of the union even attacked former President Roh Moo-hyun, an icon of labor-friendly politics. The government must not allow the opposition and the union to jettison the tripartite agreement.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 11, Page 34