The Stand

Partners in trade: South Korea declares war on labor unions

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(Dec. 3, 2015) — This week, the United States’ most-favored trading partners in South Korea are quashing that nation’s labor unions.

ap-skorea-protestsIn order to block a public rally by labor supporters, the daughter of South Korea’s dictator has launched an authoritarian crackdown against unions. Dozens of labor leaders have been arrested, their offices have been raided and computers seized, and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions president Han Sang-gyun has been forced to seek sanctuary in a Buddhist temple, where he faces arrest at any moment.

Just as President Barack Obama now touts the great labor protections included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), when he signed the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 2010, the president said:

“I’m especially pleased that this agreement includes groundbreaking protections for workers’ rights and for the environment.  In this sense, it’s an example of the kind of fair trade agreement that I will continue to work for as President, in Asia and around the world.”

“Nice words about labor rights do not add up to enforcement of those standards and never have,” wrote Lynne Dodson, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, in a guest column earlier this week. “So don’t believe those familiar promises that this trade deal — the TPP — is different. It’s just more of the same trickle-down promises and false assurances for working people.”

Here is what is happening in South Korea and what you can do to support the unions there.


The following is from Eric Lee of LabourStart:

The South Korean government has declared war on the country’s trade unions.

Those unions were engaged in peaceful protest against a proposed reform to the country’s labour laws when police blocked their march, attacked them with water cannon, and arrested 51 union activists.  One of the protestors hit by the water cannon remains in a coma.

Four days ago, the police raided eight offices of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and its affiliates and regional branches.  They confiscated computers, external hard drives, and meeting documents.

hank-SKorea-Han-Sang-gyunAnd they issued an arrest warrant for Han Sang-gyun, the KCTU president. He is now under the protection of the Jogyesa Temple, a Buddhist order. (At right, Han Sang-gyun speaks to reporters through a window of that temple on Dec. 1.)

TAKE A STAND — The international labour movement, including the International Trade Union Confederation and global union federations have issued a call for a massive online protest campaign. It is very important that we quickly mobilize thousands of trade unionists around the world to condemn this savage repression.

Please take a moment to send off your message to the South Korean government.

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