The Korean Metal Worker's Union (KMWU), the nation's largest single labor union claiming some 143,000 members, has vowed to hold a five-day strike beginning Monday to oppose the trade pact.
The union claims the deal with the U.S. would undermine the job security of all South Korean workers.
The government yesterday threatened the workers if they go on with the strike. "The union leadership as well as other forces leading the illegal strike will suffer consequences if they go ahead with the plan."
Labor Minister Lee Sang-soo hinted yesterday that the government could use the police to block "illegal" labor strikes against the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.
"Although (the government) tended to refrain from mobilizing law enforcement authorities in the past, this time, we will strictly deal with the strike from the beginning stage," Lee said at a press conference.
Jointing the government in the threat were a variety of business and industry organizations and the Hyundai Corporation.
A Hyundai union member said that union members have become the targets of threats and criticism, even though union leaders say the planned strike against the trade deal is in the interest of workers, farmers and ordinary people. "It is time for us to protect our workplace by ourselves," he added.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) plans to launch the anti-FTA strike on June 29, while the KMWU plans a week-long partial strike starting this coming Monday.
Last month a joint statement from KMWU and the UAW read:
1. The Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), representing over 150,000 automotive, shipbuilding, steel, and other metal industry workers in South Korea, and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), representing over one million active and retired workers in the United States, stand together in strong opposition to the proposed Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA).
2. KMWU and UAW firmly call on the Korean National Assembly and the U.S. Congress to reject the KORUS FTA. With the conclusion of the FTA negotiations, many commentators have framed the discussion largely in terms of a worker “zero sum game,” by focusing on how much and how quickly each nation’s tariffs would be reduced. More importantly, the FTA will lead to an acceleration of capital mobility and financial speculation, thereby pitting American workers against Korean workers in unlimited restructuring and driving down wages, employment stability and working conditions.
3. KMWU and UAW have no illusions about the impact of the KORUS FTA on our respective memberships. In Korea, the IMF conditionality regime imposed on our country after the Asian Economic Crisis has demonstrated to us that such policies have acted to destroy jobs through restructuring instead of creating new employment. Neoliberal policies have given corporations free rein to disinvest and cemented the rights of speculative capital while flexibilizing work. At the same time, these policies have created a permanent “irregular” or “temporary” workforce and commercialization or privatization of public goods, thereby deepening social inequality and poverty.
4. In the United States, our experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has shown us the disastrous consequences of a free trade agreement lacking in strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards. When NAFTA was implemented, U.S. tariffs on cars and most auto parts were eliminated immediately. As a result, auto companies dramatically reduced their production of vehicles and parts in the United States and Canada. At the same time, wages and working conditions for Mexican workers were severely undermined. KMWU and UAW are deeply concerned that this same destructive scenario would occur if the KORUS FTA is adopted.
5. Yet, our respective governments failed to carry out a full evaluation of the likely economic and social impact that the proposed KORUS FTA would have on workers—no assessment was made as to its probable impact on worker rights, employment, wages
and working conditions, public services, including health care and education, and/or cultural diversity. The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work was once again ignored in this hastily negotiated deal.
6. KMWU and UAW have agreed to coordinate our opposition to the proposed KORUS FTA. We are committed to working together to ensure that this agreement is not adopted or implemented. On this May Day, KMWU and UAW reaffirm our will to succeed and to build upon the gains achieved in the past. Autoworkers have conviction that an alternative world is possible and we will continue to fight together to ensure a better future for all generations to come.
The following is from China's People's Daily.
S. Korean government warns of tough actions on strikers
South Korean government will take tough actions on an auto and metal industry workers' strike against a free trade agreement with the United States scheduled for next week, the daily Korean Herald reported on Thursday.
The ministries of Labor, Justice and Commerce, Industry, and Energy will issue a joint statement to convey the government's firm stance on illegal protests involving a political issue unrelated to interest with union members, calling on the metal workers' union (KMWU) to withdraw the walkout plan, the report said.
The 143,000-member KMWU and its key member, Hyundai Motor Co.'s labor union, on Tuesday announced to conduct a vote to decide whether to stage a partial walkout from next Monday to Friday. South Korean leading business organizations said the strike might seriously damage the auto industry and the national economy.
South Korean unionized workers have been voicing concerns over the recent FTA deal with the United States, saying it could threaten their job security and weaken the Korean auto industry.
They also urged the management at four major automakers to accept the workers' demand for the legalization of industry-level negotiations, which will increase their bargaining power as a group.
Civic organizations and business groups are also calling for the withdrawal of anti-FTA strikes, expressing concerns that the strikes will put a damper on the momentum for economic recovery.