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Global union leaders join Korea workers’ demonstrations

15 Nov 2016
A high-level delegation of global union leaders joined demonstrations in South Korea on 12 November to protest against the government’s brutal crackdown on democratic rights and criminalisation of trade union activity.

The delegates attended rallies, visited parliamentarians and met imprisoned trade unionists – including Han Sang-gyun of the KCTU, Lee Jong-hwa of the KFCITU, and Cho Sung-deok of the KPTU – to express the commitment of the global trade union movement to aggressively campaign for their immediate release.

They also backed calls for the resignation of president Park Geun-hye, who is enmeshed in a huge corruption scandal.

The delegation included ITF assistant general secretary Rob Johnston; the general secretary of the Building and Wood Workers’ International, Ambet Yuson; and Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL. They were joined by leaders from the International Trade Union Confederation, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, and the International Union of Foodworkers; and by US and European trade union representatives and UNI Global Union regional staff.  

The Park government launched a brutal assault on trade unions, democratic protest and basic civil liberties last November. Since then, six trade unionists have been sentenced to prison and two are still awaiting trial. The Korean unions are fighting government plans to accelerate privatisation, further casualise the workforce and introduce a performance pay system that is discriminatory and divisive.  

Rob Johnston said: “Our visit to the unjustly imprisoned trade unionists was emotional but very powerful. We took a clear message from them to the rally – stand up, speak out and fight back.

“We were in Korea to ensure that the world trade union movement both witnesses and resists the government’s desire to break the spirit of Korean workers. As global union leaders, we will not cease to challenge the Korean government’s continuing and failed attempts to crush the union movement here."

Coverage of the march – including Rob Johnston addressing the protesters (at 39:40) – can be seen at

Follow this story on Twitter using the hashtag #UnionRightsKorea, #KoreanStrike4Justice, and #StopAttacksonKoreanUnions.

This was the second global union visit to Korea in just over six weeks – read more

Read more about other recent ITF support for workers in Korea:

Global unions join Korean unions in ILO complaint 

ITF unions unleash solidarity wave for Korean colleagues 

ITF unions unite behind Korean workers 

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