RMT activists outside the South Korean embassy in London – By Karlson Lingwood The Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU) has been on strike since 9 December 2013, in response to the government’s unilateral imposition of privatisation on Korea’s national …

Walton Pantland
RMT activists outside the South Korean embassy in London

RMT activists outside the South Korean embassy in London

– By Karlson Lingwood

The Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU) has been on strike since 9 December 2013, in response to the government’s unilateral imposition of privatisation on Korea’s national rail network – despite an election promise from President Park Geun-hye that any rail reform would only happen in consultation with the public and workers. The last time workers went on strike in 2009, the government filed charges against and imprisoned many of those out on strike. There are reports this time around that almost 6,000 workers will be stripped of their company rank as a result of their participation in the strike, and charges have already been filed against almost 200 KRWU officials.

The ITF wrote to the Korean president on 22 November, 6 December and again on 9 December to express its extreme concern for the rights of striking workers. ITF affiliates also took action at Korean embassies across the world to show solidarity with the workers, with activists in countries from Argentina to Turkey telling the government to respect workers’ rights.

I arrived safely in Seoul as an RMT delegate on the ITF solidarity delegation, and following my transfer from the airport immediately joined a candlelight vigil, with rousing speeches at Seoul station. It is considerably colder than UK and forecast for -10 degrees Celsius today. However, the spirits and determination of the Korean railway workers is solid. Reference is been made widely to the 4th Rail Package, and the parallel with the decimation of our own railway network in the UK over the last 20 years.

The Korean government and Korail have already declared the KRWU strike illegal, despite the fact that the union is complying with the minimum services requirement prescribed by national legislation (up to 80% service requirement I believe). The union reports that the workers taking part in the strike have met with severe repression. Nearly 6,000 striking workers have been stripped of their railway company rank in the first step towards disciplinary actions. The Korail has pressed charges against nearly 200 KRWU officials. But the strike is going strong and the morale of the workers is high, thanks to the global mobilisation of trade union solidarity. Mass rallies bringing together 14,000 participants to demand that rail privatisation be stopped were held in five locations nationwide yesterday, 9 December.

I would like to urge all Branches and Regional Councils to highlight the strike and urge members to show their solidarity by signing the online petition via LabourStart.

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– Karlson Lingwood is an Executive Committee member for the RMT union in the UK, who is in South Korea as part of an ITF solidarity delegation.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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