Unionists occupy Seoul, march on president’s office
Tensions between one of Korea’s largest labor unions and the Yoon Suk Yeol government continued to escalate with the former marching to the president’s office in Yongsan after spending the night in downtown Seoul.
Some 40,000 labor union members, including members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), marched to Yongsan on Wednesday in protest of a government crackdown that led one of its members to commit suicide by setting himself on fire in front of Gangneung District Court on May 1.
Korean Construction Workers’ Union official Yang Hee-dong was being investigated by the prosecutors’ office on allegation of extorting 80 million won ($59,800) from several construction projects between April last year and February this year through blackmail, including obstructing businesses.
Yang joined the construction labor union in October 2019.
“The Yoon Suk Yeol government since taking office has done nothing but destroy labor, the daily livelihoods of people, democracy and peace,” the KCTU said in a statement released Wednesday. “It has accused justified labor union activities as being illegal, and oppression from all sides led to the death of Yang Hee-dong.”
Wednesday was the second day of the rally, with many occupying downtown Seoul overnight.
The previous day, an estimated 24,000 to 25,000 members of the Korean Construction Workers’ Union disrupted downtown Seoul from Gwanghwamun, where government complexes are located, to Seoul City Hall and the Namdaemun neighborhood.
Rally participants not only created traffic congestion until late at night, but even gathered outside to eat and drink after dark.
Many slept along Gwanghwamun next to the Donghwa Dutyfree building, as well as on the lawn in front of Seoul City Hall and at Cheonggye Plaza.
Some even smoked in front of the entrance of Seoul City Hall subway station and on the city hall’s lawn, as well as in front of the wall along Deoksu Palace.
The police demanded that the union members end their protest at 5 p.m. as promised. However, the labor union warned the police not to agitate them by labeling them illegal. They argued that they were mourning the death of their colleague.
Several lawmakers and politicians took part as well, including Democratic Party lawmaker Park Ju-min and Justice Party leader Lee Jeong-mi.
The first day of the rally was held on the same day when local newspaper Chosun Ilbo raised questions regarding Yang’s suicide. According to the report, Yang called the local YTN news crew, telling them that he has a story to tell.
Video footage shows two YTN reporters arriving at the parking lot. Yang poured two liters of flammable paint thinner onto himself and set himself on fire, which took less than 30 seconds.
However, only a few feet away from Yang was a higher-ranking union official who stood by when the fire happened, according to the Chosun Ilbo.
The person placed a call after stepping back, but it wasn’t to emergency responders.
The construction and media labor union on Tuesday held a press conference arguing that the report was false and that the higher-ranking union member tried to stop Yang from setting himself on fire.
Union representatives accused Chosun Ilbo of harming the bereaved family and the construction labor union and said it plans to sue the media company for defamation and psychological harm.
Yoon has taken a hardline stance against illegal union activities, including strikes, since last year. The government has also demanded that unions that receive government subsidies submit their spending records, while several key union members are currently being investigated for spying for North Korea.
BY LEE HO-JEONG, LEE CHAN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]