By Marya Salamat
MANILA – The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) reiterated its struggle against trade union repression by adding its voice in calls for the immediate release of Han Sang-gyun and other trade union activists arrested last December 2015 in South Korea.
Filipino workers led by KMU protested in front of the South Korean Embassy on Wednesday, July 20, in support of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) President Sang-gyun Han and other trade union activists.
Wearing red headbands, the Filipino workers said it is their symbol of support to their Korean counterparts. The Korean labor leader was wearing a black headband when he was arrested by the Korean police on December 10, 2015 at the Jogye Temple in central Seoul, following a prolonged standoff. The labor leader had taken shelter at the temple as the South Korean government tried to arrest him after a mammoth rally on November 14 last year. The protesters were calling for ouster of the South Korean president.
In South Korea, temples and churches had sheltered protesters during decades of dictatorship. The police traditionally stopped pursuing protesters at the temple’s gates. But in recent labor leaders such as Han, hundreds of police entered the temple complex after weeks of barricading it. They reportedly swept aside monks and temple officials who tried to defend Han by forming a human chain around where he was staying.
Last July 4, seven months since he was thrown in jail, Han was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of obstruction (technical traffic violation), and a 500,000 KRW (about €400). Both the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Trade Union Confederation noted that it was the first time such a harsh sentence was handed down in South Korea for participation in an ‘illegal rally’.
Seoul Central District Court dismissed Han and his defense team’s argument that it was the police who violated the rights of protesters to peacefully assemble. The police had ordered bus barricades and fired water cannons at the workers.
The Koreans were protesting the Park government’s labor reforms that they said undermine the rights of workers and their trade unions.
Their November 2015 protests also condemned the government for its repression of labor and farmers’ rights, the Sewol Ferry disaster, LGBT rights, and the broader struggle for democracy.
“Fighting for workers’ rights is not a crime. No worker should be jailed for exercising his rights. We believe that the actions against Han and other trade unionists clearly show the trade union repression in South Korea,” Jerome Adonis, KMU secretary general, said in a statement.
Twenty Korean labor leaders have been arrested since December, of whom 13 were released on bail or suspended sentence this July. Of the seven still in jail, three are facing trials.
Prosecutors are seeking five to six year jail terms for woman labor leader Tae-sun Bae, Executive Director of the Organization Department of the KCTU; for Hyun-dae Lee, the Director of the Organisation Department of the KCTU and Sung-deok Cho, the Vice President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU).
Adonis explained during their solidarity picket that the Korean government is wrongly criminalizing unionists when they are just leading and supporting peaceful workers’ assemblies.
“We enjoin workers and peoples of different countries to show their support for Korean workers and to link their own struggles against anti-worker and anti-people laws and measures. Long live international solidarity!” Adonis of KMU ended.