Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Update #2 Gov't arrests memorial rally participants for POSCO worker

Seems that the entire memorial rally/procession of Ha Joong Keun was arrested last week in Seoul. Here is the KCTU's action alert on the topic:


On August 16, over 1,000 members of the Pohang local union, an affiliate of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union (KFCITU), KCTU were participating in a legal and peaceful demonstration to protest the death of one of their colleague, Ha Jeung Keun who died as result of severe beating he suffered under the hands of the riot police in a demonstration to support the union’s strike that began on July 1. In the midst of a peaceful procession where some union members wore funeral dress and held photos of Ha Jeung Keun, the police blocked the union members from marching toward the National Police headquarters. Unable to proceed further, the union chose to conduct a sitdown demonstration on the streets of Seoul. The riot police responded by forcibly arresting the union members. In the end 736 union members were arrested including key leadership of the KCTU, the Korean Democratic Labor Party, and the KFCITU.

August 15 is a national holiday in South Korea, to celebrate the “Liberation” of Korea under Japanese colonialism. While the entire country was celebrating, 63 union members of the KFCITU still remain in jail for their participation in action supporting the strike launched by the Pohang local union. Although the vast majority of those imprisoned are leaders of the Pohang union, four members of the national and local branches of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the General Secretary of the KFCITU are also in jail. Despite the strike, which began on July 1, negotiations between the union and the sub contractors are still proceeding forward, albeit in a turtle’s pace. The union’s main demands are a 15% increase in wages, five-day work week, and better working conditions.

Throughout the strike, the government’s actions have been to violently stop the strike in order to protect the interests of POSCO, a major leading South Korean company, where over 90% of the Pohang members work through a series of sub contractors. The government at the urging of the POSCO has sent in thousands of riot police to not only stop the strike but also any demonstration the union coordinates even though it has gained legal permits to hold rallies and marches. The police violence has resulted in serious injuries to several members and tragically it has caused a death and a miscarriage.

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On August 1, 2006, Ha Jeung Keun, a 42 year old member of the Pohang local union died due to the beating by the riot police during a legal demonstration organized by the KFCITU on July 16. Witnesses have stated that the police repeatedly beat Ha Jeung Keun in the head with their metal shields. The police and the South Korean government have yet to take full responsibility for these actions. The union and the family of Ha Jeung Keun has asked the government to launch a full and impartial investigation on the circumstances leading to the death of Ha Jeung Keun, fully punish those responsible for his death, and sufficiently compensate the family of Ha Jeung Keun. The family has refused to proceed with any funeral ceremonies until the government agrees to their demands. However, the government has to take any responsibility. In fact, the media has questioned the union’s claims as to the true nature of Ha Jeung Keun’s death.

In addition, on August 10, the union announced at a press conference that Ji Hyun-Sook, wife of one of the union members who was participating in a sit-down demonstration at POSCO headquarters tragically miscarried as a result of violent confrontation with the riot police. On July 19 during a demonstration coordinated by the KCTU Kyonggido Branch, she along with close to 100 family members of the union marched towards POSCO headquarters in an attempt to see their husbands, fathers, and sons; however, the riot police forcibly stopped their peaceful march and a confrontation between the riot police and the family members took place. As a result of this confrontation XXX was hurt and immediately hospitalized. At the time the doctors raised concerns about the status of her unborn child and advised her to be careful. Unfortunately she lost her child as a result of the riot police’s actions. The union along with a number of women’s groups has launched a complaint against the Human Rights Committee.

In one of the most recent rallies organized by the KCTU, the police continued its violence as they attempted to forcibly stop the union members in their efforts to march towards POSCO headquarters. 186 union members were injured and some of them are still seeking medical attention. 16 members were detained---a key leader of the KFCTIU was forcibly pulled down from the union truck and immediately arrested. The violence became so bad that even the Pohang citizens who were witnessing the confrontation attempted to intervene on behalf of the union members. The police response was to beat the Pohang citizens as well.

Despite the repression by both the government and POSCO, the Pohang local union is committed to continue with their struggle until their demands are fully met. Currently, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has called for two national rallies to protest the police violence, the government repression against the KFCITU, and to call for the government to accept full responsibility for the death of Ha Jeung Keun. One of the rallies will be held on August 27 in Busan, prior to the ILO Asia Pacific Regional Meeting (ARM). It is ironical that the South Korean government is hosting the ILO ARM at a time when it is increasing the repression of trade union rights in South Korea. Your support is critical to put international pressure against the South Korean government.


Send a protest letter (sample enclosed) to President Roh Moo Hyun at the Blue House: 82-2-770-1690 (Fax) or e-mail at president@cwd.go.kr Copies should be sent to the Minister of Labor, Minister Kwon Ki-Hong at 82-2-503-9723 (Phone), 82-2-503-9772 (Fax) or e-mail at m_molab@molab.go.kr

Conduct a demonstration in front of the South Korean consulate or embassy in your country.

Please send copies to the KCTU and the KFCITU.

If you have any questions or need more information, please contact:

Lee Changgeun
International Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: inter@kctu.org Web-site : http://kctu.org
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

Lee Jin-sook
International Director
Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions
Tel : +82-2-843-1432, +82-11-326-7597 Fax : +82-2-843-1436
Email : jinsook66@gmail.com

Honorable Roh Moo Hyun
Republic of Korea
Blue House
Seoul, South Korea

Via fax: +82-2-2198-3151

Dear President Roh:

On behalf of the __________, I am writing to express our outrage at the violent repression faced by the members of the Pohang local union of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Union (KFCITU), KCTU.

According to the KFCITU, the Pohang local union launched a strike on July 1, 2006 for a 15% increase in wages, five-day work week, and better and safe working conditions. Throughout the strike the union has and continues to conduct a series actions including a nine-day sit-down demonstration at POSCO headquarters, candle light vigils, visits to the National Assembly, distributions of union strike literatures, and rallies. However, it is our understanding that rather than trying to objectively mediate to resolved the strike in an equitable fashion, your government has chosen to sent in thousands of riot police to violently stop the union from conducting legal and peaceful actions.

The police violence has resulted in tragic consequences. Over 200 have been injured. Some are still seeking medical attention. One union member, Ha Jeung Keun has died as a result of his injuries. According to witnesses the police repeatedly beat Ha Jeung Keun on the head with their metal shields. In addition, a wife of a union member miscarried due to a confrontation with the police when she and other family members conducted a peaceful march to see their husbands, fathers, and sons who were conducting a sit-down demonstration at POSCO headquarters. The police’s actions are unacceptable and we fully denounce the use of any violence used by the police to stop the union from attempting to exercise their fundamental labor rights. We strongly urge you to launch a full and impartial investigation into the series of violent acts conducted by the police. In addition, we urge your government to punish those responsible for the deaths of Ha Jeung Keun and fully compensate his family for their tragic loss.

We would like to point out that your government’s actions and the specific violent attacks by your government against the KFCITU contravene the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection o the Right to Organize Convention, 1948) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949). These instruments are considered fundamental human rights and although South Korea did not ratify them it has an obligation arising from its membership in the ILO to respect and enforce the principles, which are the subject of these conventions. We find it ironic that your government would engage in anti-union activities that contradict ILO conventions particularly since your government will be hosting the ILO Asia Pacific Regional Meeting later this month. These actions clearly show that your government has very little respect for the ILO conventions and thus, do disservice to dishonor “the spirit” of the ILO.

In order for your government qualify to hold the ILO ARM, we believe you should immediately release of those arrested as a result of the police’s brute force to end the strike. Your government should also call the police to rescind the arrest warrants of union members who are “in hiding” as a result of the strike. More importantly, we strongly urge you to stop all forms of violence against trade unionists when they exercise their fundamental right to organize, to strike, and to collective bargaining. We will continue to monitor the situation until this matter is resolved.

Your Union President

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