Longest railroad strike in south Korea ends, struggle continues

Thousands of south Korean railroad workers ended their strike Dec. 30 after three weeks of intense struggle against the right-wing, anti-labor regime of President Park Geun-hye. It was the longest railroad strike in the history of Korail, the national railroad company. This intense class conflict has now moved to parliament, where a committee made up of the government and opposition parties will make decisions.

The Korean Railroad Workers Union began its strike Dec. 9 with an 80 percent strike vote. The workers and their union saw the government’s restructuring plan as threatening privatization of the railroads, with loss of jobs, benefits and services. The strike quickly developed into one of the sharpest worker-government conflicts in the recent past, attracting support from the national union confederation, the KCTU.

Korail fired more than 4,000 workers on Dec. 9 and announced a plan to hire 660 strikebreakers.

Solidarity demonstrations, rallies and other actions were held in Australia, Japan, Indonesia and Brazil, and even one in San Francisco on Dec. 27 organized by the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee. (workers.org, Jan. 2)

President Park not only condemned the strikers for allegedly harming the economy, she ordered an attack on KRWU headquarters to arrest 10 union leaders on Dec. 16 by a SWAT team of hundreds of police. The SWAT team failed to find and arrest them, however, during the raid.

Park is the daughter of former south Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled for 18 years before being assassinated by his own secret police in 1979. The current president is known for her aggressive posture against north Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), for her anti-labor policies and for outlawing the most progressive of the opposition parties.

The KCTU called a general strike on Dec. 27 to protest these union-busting measures. Some 100,000 supporters marched that day in Seoul, the capital, demanding no privatization and the resignation of the Park government. Three days later an agreement among political parties ended the strike.

The government and Korail still maintain heavy disciplinary measures, criminal charges and a lawsuit for compensation for damages and provisional seizure against the KRWU and striking workers.

A Dec. 30 update on the KCTU Facebook page noted, “According to the demand of the KRWU, the standing committee on land infrastructure and transportation in the National Assembly decided to establish a Sub-committee on Railway Development which is composed of four members from ruling party and four members from opposition parties.

“The subcommittee will be advised by a Policy Advisory Committee, composed of the Ministry, Korail, KRWU and civil experts. It will prepare a plan to prevent privatization of Suseo-KTX in short-term and comprehensive railway development plan in mid and long term. The KRWU welcome the establishment of the sub-committee and continue its struggle to stop privatization and defend the union and its members from disciplinary measures and possible union busting.”

The KCTU page says the confederation will hold general strikes on Jan. 9 and Jan. 16 and mobilize other rallies to further this struggle.