The police on Thursday forcibly disbanded about 200 unionized lorry owner-drivers who were blocking the only road to the Gangwon factory of HiteJinro, the country’s largest maker of soju and beer, in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province.
The police arrested some of the illegal demonstrators for disobeying the dispersal order.
It was the first time for the Yoon Suk-yeol administration to disperse a labor union’s illegal demonstration by force.
The lorry owner-drivers, belonging to the HiteJinro chapter of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity that is affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, began demonstrations on the two-lane bridge, which is the only access road to the beer factory, on Tuesday. They parked about 20 vehicles illegally on one lane and demonstrated on the other.
Among them were those who staged a strike blocking roads to HiteJinro’s soju factories in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, and Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, in June, demanding a 30 percent increase in freight charges. As the court issued an injunction banning their obstruction of business, they shifted their demonstration to the Gangwon factory. They blocked the release of beer products which are not their transportation items.
Under the previous administration, union members affiliated with the militant labor group were able to act illegally at industrial sites without being punished properly, because the administration responded submissively to illegal labor demonstrations. The group had played a leading role in the candlelight vigil that led to Moon Jae-in being elected as president. The Moon regime became labor-friendly and did little to stop the group from habitually ignoring law and order to get what it wanted.
The Yoon administration vowed to establish the rule of law at industrial sites, but its responses to illegal union activities were lukewarm. In a rush to end their general strike, it accepted most of the group’s demands for the extension of the Safe Trucking Freight Rates System. The government effectively raised a white flag.
This precedent apparently emboldened other unions, including the Cargo Truckers Solidarity’s lorry owner-drivers who deliver HiteJinro liquor.
About 10 members of the Hyundai Steel union affiliated with the confederation have been illegally occupying the office of the company president at Dangjin Works in South Chungcheong Province for more than three months from May 2, demanding a special bonus. Hyundai Steel filed complaints to the police, accusing them of trespassing and obstructing its business, but the police has been dawdling.
Union members of subcontractors illegally occupied a dock of their contractor, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, for 50 days, demanding a sharp rise in their wages. The administration did little while an economic loss caused by the occupation was accumulating astronomically to more than 800 billion won ($613 million). They reached a deal to end the occupation, but the government took no clear position on labor-management disagreement on critical issues such as a damage compensation suit and criminal responsibility related to the strike.
The government’s halfhearted response only emboldens labor to test the law enforcement power’s limits.
The administration must make its principled response to illegal demonstrations. Companies should not give up on holding their unions and their umbrella labor group legally responsible for damage due to illegal strikes or demonstrations.
The majority opposition Democratic Party of Korea is pushing a so-called “Yellow Envelope Bill,” which strictly restricts filing damage lawsuits and provisional seizures against workers on strike. It bans companies from suing unions or their members for damages and temporary seizure even though illegal strikes and occupations cause enormous economic loss, except for loss incurred by violence and destruction.
Union members have habitually stopped their production facilities, occupied them, made self-injury threats, causing an enormous loss. The bill legally protects such behaviors. Workers would have no reason to end their strike if they had nothing to lose. The Democratic Party, which has tried to curry favor with the confederation, has churned out pro-labor policies. With the bill, however, the party has gone too far.
The administration should keep dealing sternly with unions’ illegal demonstrations. The party should scrap the bill.
By Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org