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South Korea: Strikes, raids and mass arresting

17. September 2002

by: Base21, 16.9.2002

Last Tuesday September 11th 2002, over 3000 anti-riot cops attacked the striking unionists at the Catholic Medical Center (CMC) and the Kyeonghee University Hospital in the early morning hours, beat present striking staff, usually female personnel, out of the buildings and arrested in each case more than 200 persons. One week ago the management of the hospitals closed by strike and the government had already threatened the deployment of the notorious anti-riot units to terminate the strikes.

By now the strikes of the employees of several hospitals in Seoul and some other parts of South Korea last 118 days. The striking staff members demanded the payment of the legal minimum wage of about 770 U.S.$ for female workers, better social security and a wage increase of 12%. The personnel employed by CMC in Seoul demand furthermore a more humane treatment of staff and patients by the management – especially by the religious dignitaries who run the facility.

Some time before, the holidays island Jeju saw the first violent action of the current wave of strikes. After two weeks ago 108 of the 115 people who took part in the strike at Jeju`s largest hospital were fired by the management, they went back to their former workplace to demonstrate and occupy the facility. The situation soon escalated. The hospital management assigned a private security company to remove the occupying unionists from the facility – by force if necessary. Under the eyes of the watching police scuffles between unionists and security forces erupted during which at least 20 former staff members, almost exclusively women, were – in several cases severely – hurt.

Saturday`s large demonstration was the provisional high light of this week – quite eventful even for South Korean conditions. About 10,000 people protested with full determination against the excessive use by employers and government. With sit-ins in the Jung-no, one of the most important main streets of Seoul, a total traffic collapse was created. The chief of Seoul`s Metropolitan Police reacted very quickly. In contrast to the demonstrators and most of pedestrian and drivers, he was not amused with the situation and threatened to deploy anti-riot police units, a threat that made no special impression on the demonstrators.
In the days before various protest actions had already occured. On Thursday, in direct view of the national assembly, the South Korean parliament, a powerful demonstration was held. There, the KCTU assured its absolute solidarity with the strikers and announced for October a support strike. On Friday, there was a kind of open-air party in Myeong-dong, with which the released prisoners were welcomed. Most of them had been in jail since Tuesday.
Activists fired from hospitals on Tuesday protested with a sit-in strike on the area around Myeong-dong cathedral against the repressive measures and made clear that they will continue their strike and other actions, until a satisfying solution of the crisis is found.