Biggest umbrella labor group goes on 2-week general strike

July 3, 2023

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), South Korea’s largest umbrella labor group, launched a two-week general strike Monday to protest the Yoon Suk Yeol government’s labor policies.

Yang Kyung-soo, the chairman of the KCTU, declared the start of the walkout under the slogan, “Down with the Yoon Suk Yeol government,” in a press conference in front of the presidential office.

The strike, which will run through July 15, is aimed at rallying public support for its call for the ouster of the Yoon government, demanding a hike in the minimum wage and stopping what it calls the government’s “pro-chaebol and anti-labor” policies, KCTU officials said.

Chaebol are family-run conglomerates.

Also on the agenda are stopping Japan’s plan to release contaminated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and guaranteeing the freedom of assembly and demonstration.

The union estimates more than 400,000 of its 1.2 million members would join the strike but said the collective action is not expected to cause much inconvenience to the public as each industry’s participation will be limited to one or two days.

According to the KCTU, the labor union of Hyundai Motor will stage a strike on July 12, along with the Korean Metal Workers’ Union. The parcel service workers’ union was to go on strike Monday.

The medical workers’ union has vowed an indefinite general strike, beginning July 13.

During the two-week strike, the umbrella union also plans to hold evening candlelight rallies nationwide, demanding the resignation of the Yoon government.

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions declare the start of a two-week general strike in a press conference in Seoul on July 3, 2023. (Yonhap)
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions declare the start of a two-week general strike in a press conference in Seoul on July 3, 2023. (Yonhap)

Yang accused the Yoon government of “devastating” people’s livelihoods, democracy and the labor sector.

“The president is using the authority given by the people to oppress workers and destroy the livelihood, democracy and peace,” a KCTU official said, calling for the ouster of the Yoon government.

Police plan to mobilize some 9,300 police personnel to deal with the labor group’s four large-scale rallies in central Seoul scheduled for the walkout period.

“Any illegal acts, such as violence, occupation of roads or malicious noise, will be dealt with in a stern manner,” an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said.

Industry Minister Lee Chang-yang held an emergency meeting with six major economic associations, including the Federation of Korean Industries and the Korea International Trade Association, to discuss ways to minimize potential impacts on businesses and the broader economy.

Lee voiced deep concerns over the collective action, saying it is “clearly an illegal strike” that ignores due negotiation procedures, and called on companies to take a “stern stance regarding the labor circle’s undue and unreasonable demand.”

“Cooperation between the management and labor is the most necessary and crucial basis for our economy, particularly in the auto and shipbuilding industries, which are expected to lead the upturn of the country’s overall exports in the second half,” Lee said.

The six associations also issued a joint statement and urged the KTCU to stop staging “the illegal, politically motivated strike” and to join efforts for an economic recovery and job creation.

Lee also asked for the National Assembly’s prudent approach to the so-called yellow envelope bill, claiming that the pro-labor bill would encourage illegal strikes and cause confusion in the industry circle.

The bill, pushed by the main opposition Democratic Party, guarantees the bargaining rights of indirectly employed workers and prohibits litigation for damages and provisional seizures against unionized workers with the aim of suppressing their strikes.