(Eng) Labor strikes expand in S. Korea

Curtis Price (cansv@igc.apc.org)
Wed, 8 Jan 1997 09:13:22 +0100 (MET)

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Labor strikes expand in S. Korea -- Standing firm: President insists new law is vital.

New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea -- Labor strikes widened again today in an indication that the widespread walkouts here did not lose all their momentum over the New Year's holiday.

However, there were signs that the strikes may be weakening and that industry and the government seem willing to take a harder line to bring them to an end.

President Kim Young Sam, in his first extensive remarks on the strikes, prepared to issue an appeal today for cooperation from labor unions so that the strikes would not hurt the nation's faltering economy.

But his remarks, prepared for delivery in a speech this morning, contained no obvious concessions and are thus unlikely to mollify the strikers. The strike began Dec. 26 after Kim's governing New Korea Party enacted legislation that would make it easier for companies to dismiss workers.

In the speech, Kim said that the government would try to ensure job security for workers, but he insisted that the new labor law is necessary to improve South Korea's competitiveness.

Prosecutors have issued summonses for about 20 union leaders to appear for questioning, a possible first step toward their arrest. But the labor officials said they refused to accept the summonses.

In another sign of hardening labor attitudes, a spokesman for industrial groups threatened to file complaints against the union leaders for disrupting business, a move that also could lead to arrests.

Prosecutors have threatened to arrest the union leaders, a tactic the government has used in the past to crush strikes. But this time, the government seems to be proceeding cautiously, in part because the strikers are thought to enjoy some support from the general public.

About 190,000 workers representing 150 companies took part in the strikes Monday, according to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a group that is not legally recognized by the government.

The strikers for the first time included a few thousand representatives of insurance and other financial services companies, according to Kim You Sun, chief of policy for the labor federation.

He said that the walkout is expected to grow to 230,000 workers today, similar to levels before the holiday, as some hospital and broadcasting company workers join. However, Seoul subway workers and public telephone workers will not strike, as they did late last month. The union fears that disruption of the subway and phone system would turn the general public against the strikers.

Another labor umbrella group, the Korean Federation of Trade Unions, which is authorized by the government and whose 1.2 million members are regarded as more moderate, has not sent its workers back on strike.

The Labor Ministry, meanwhile, disputed the extent of the walkout and put the number of strikers Monday at 65,000 workers from 59 companies. The ministry said that the strike is starting to die down, and some corporate officials agreed.

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