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Korean workers down tools in national strike for Chaebol reform

Today, 21 November 2018, some 128,277 workers at 109 KMWU workplaces joined a strike against government failure to challenge the dominance of industrial conglomerates know as chaebols, and for labour law reform to guarantee fundamental trade union rights. 

The striking workers call for the chaebol-controlled economic system to be dismantled and replaced with economic democracy, and for a reform to labour law that guarantees all workers internationally-recognized, fundamental trade union rights: to join a union; to bargain collectively; and to take collective action.

Auto workers at Hyundai Motors, Kia Motor, General Motors (GM), shipyard workers at Hyundai Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine, and auto parts workers at Hyundai Mobis and other major components workers went on strike for four hours or more. 

At workplaces where it was difficult to strike, shopstewards went on a union officers’ strike or locals called a general assembly of rank-and-file members in support of the struggle. After downing tools, the workers gathered at regional rallies throughout the country.

Although President Moon promised to create 500,000 new jobs by reducing working hours, the government instead plans to introduce a flexible working time system that would allow companies to make their employees work 80-hour weeks without overtime rates.

The KMWU reports that strike participation exceeded that at earlier actions this year, saying that workers were forced to strike due to the continued dominance of chaebols. For example, GM took government subsidies and then failed to meet its commitments, instead spinning off part of the company into a separate corporate entity. In the shipbuilding industry, restructuring shifted the responsibility for botched management onto workers.

The government not only failed to resolve the problem of precarious jobs in the industrial sector, but also put existing jobs at risk. Outrage spread like wildfire through workplaces at the government and opposition party joining up to make working time flexible.

“This national strike is the result of workers’ disappointment in, and plummeting confidence in the government”, said the statement.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said:

“President Moon has failed to challenge the dominance of chaebols like Samsung and Hyundai. These conglomerates dominate the economy through deals that lack transparency.

“We are also very disappointed in the changes to working time, and the governments’ failure to ensure fundamental union rights in law. We stand in full solidarity with the workers of South Korea.”


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