Press Statement of KCTU President Han Sang-gyun

December 14, 2015

While I may leave your side briefly, I will continue to fight with you until we have stopped the government’s regressive labour policies!

First, let me express my gratitude to the Joggye Order and the Joggye monks and followers who have experienced great inconvenience and difficulty over the past 25 days while the fate of South Korea’s 20 million workers rested in the embrace of Buddha’s mercy. I particularly thank the Joggye Order and Joggye Temple for their commitment to work with us to stop the government’s regressive labour policies upon which the survival of 20 million workers rests.

Yesterday polices forces penetrated the pure space, the sanctuary of the temple grounds without hesitation despite the expression and concern of the Joggye leadership. This is an act we cannot tolerate.  December 9 will be remembered as a day of shame on which the insanity of the ROK authorities was demonstrated beyond refute.

The Park Geun-hye administration mobilised thousands of police forces to arrest me. I am not a murderer, nor have I committed a serious crime. I have not robbed or incited a riot.

I am a dismissed worker. I have lived for the last several years knowing deep in my soul how frightening dismissal is to a common worker. My children have had to give up their dreams. My once happy family has been left in ruins.

We dismissed workers are like moths forced to wander about, drawn towards our deaths. Have not many of my colleagues already been forced to give their lives? Whose fault is this?

The government says we must keep wages low and make it easy to fire workers in order to revitalise businesses and the economy. Is a government plan by which workers must die in order for businesses to live a fair policy and law?

I am fighting to stop the government’s regressive labour policies, which will make it easy to fire workers. This is the real crime of the class 1 fugitive Han Sang-gyun who the whole country is talking about. Is this really a normal state of affairs?

I am the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Many of the press here today, impatient to get their hands on us, have been spinning out article after article over the last several days. They say the KCTU is made up of a labour aristocracy and does not represent low-wage precarious workers.

Is this really true? The 9.8 million precarious workers in this country are fighting to survive in a jungle of a world. They spend their days without hope just trying to get by. But the legislation on precarious workers proposed by the administration and New Frontier Party will wipe out the change precarious workers now have to become permanently employed after two years and with it the only simple dream these workers have.

The administration and ruling party are also seeking to wipe out good jobs through unregulated expansion of temporary agency employment, the legalisation of a trade in people. They are also proposing legislation that would make it a fact of life that one has to work through a temp agency after reaching the age of 50.

It should be asked, if the KCTU is only the union of a labour aristocracy, why would we be organising mass mobilisations and general strikes and enduring the severe damages and repression we are now facing in order to stop these evil bills on precarious employment?

They say that we carried out a violent protest on November 14. Why do they not talk about the use of state force in violent suppression of this protest. The farmer Baek Nam-gi lies in a hospital hanging between life and death as a result of a murderous water cannon used on that day. Why is no one talking about this? Did this man wield an iron pipe? Did he act violently towards the police? Why is no one taking responsibility? Why have we not heard one word of apology?

What is the real reason for labeling the KCTU a violent organisation and Han Sang-gyun the ringleader, of threatening us with charges of sedition and summoning, arresting and imprisoning hundreds of individuals in relation to one single protest? Might it not be an attempt to cover up the administration’s murderous violence?

The biggest criminal of our times is the Park Geun-hye administration, which is responsible for ruining the lives of common people. This fact was affirmed during the first and second mass mobilisations, when tens of thousands poured into the streets crying, ‘We will live like this no longer!’

It is not possible to hide the sky with the palm of one’s hand. Even the formalistic democracy we had is now being put to death. Why is it that none of the press are talking about it?

Following this press conference I will voluntarily turn myself over to the police. Warrants for my arrest and pre-trial detention have been issued in relation to violations of the Road Traffic Act and the Assembly and Demonstration Act. According to the scenario written out by the government, I cannot avoid imprisonment. No, I will not avoid imprisonment. But, I will clearly demonstrate the madness of the government’s repression and illegal acts in court. I will remove the flowered mask and expose the true face of this unjust government, which has only brought upon itself confusion and ridicule by threaten us with references to IS, illegal protests and sedition.

I warn the government! Even if you carry out heretofore unheard of repression against the KCTU and imprison its president, your regressive labour policies cannot succeed.

At the formal request of the chaebols (conglomerate corporations), the administration and New Frontier Party are seeking the expansion of low-wage and precarious work, removal of restrictions on firing and the weakening of trade unions. And they are deceiving the public by packaging these measures as a plan to revive the economy. Even if this gift given to the chaebols is wrapped in the wrapping paper of ‘reform’, the government’s policies will never be real reform in the positive sense of the word.

In the upcoming general and presidential elections the whole Korean people will deliver a verdict on the anti-labour, anti-people New Frontier administration, which has declared itself clearly on the side of the chaebols and is ruining the lives of workers and common people.

In order to stop the regressive labour policies, which are a disaster not only for workers but the entire Korean people, the KCTU will take the action most feared by the government and go on general strike. This is the wish of the 20 million Korean workers and the historical duty given to us. We will proceed with our general strike with the support of the public and as part of collective struggle carried out by all common Korean people.

To the opposition party, I ask the following. With the president acting as commander to drive forward her regressive policies, how longer are you going to keep sitting at the negotiating table weighing the situation? Is it so difficult to decide if you are going to side with the chaebols and capital or side with the workers?

The party chairman and National Assembly speaker have announced several times the party’s official opposition, but the public are still asking what your real position is. It time for you to declare that you will stop deliberation on the labour reform bills during the upcoming provisional session of the National Assembly.

The Korean people will not forgive you if you play party politics and again try to reach a deal with the administration and ruling party.

Beloved KCTU members!
I apologise. As a result of state repression, I am forced to leave you briefly without having finished the general strike action to stop the government’s labour polices, the duty which you have bestowed on me. But, even if I am imprisoned today, I will continue to struggle until we have stopped these policies. I will continue to fight in prison and in court.

There is not much time left before the December 16 general strike. On that day let us begin powerful general strike action and a mass movement to stop the regressive labour policies. I am determined that even though I may be in prison I will hear news of the success of our general strike in stopping the government’s policies.

This is a historic struggle, which we can and we must win.  More than anyone else, I believe in you!

Valiant members fighting on the ground to defend the KCTU! I send you my love! Let us defend the livelihoods of Korea’s 20 million workers! Struggle!

Han Sang-gyun
President, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions