South Korea labor strike turns violent
December 28, 1996
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT)
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea's growing labor
strike turned violent for the first time Saturday as police
used tear gas to disperse some 5,000 marchers protesting a
new labor law.
The demonstrators fought back by throwing rocks as they faced
off against 3,000 riot police. There were no reports of
injuries, but 12 people were arrested. The demonstration
began peacefully with protesters chanting anti-government
To the steady beat of gongs and drums, they denounced the
country's president: "Kim Young-sam betrayed us!" and "Down
with Kim Young-sam!"
Many waved huge, brightly colored union banners through the
dense fog of tear gas.
Strike expands to other sectors
Most of the marchers were among the 373,000 workers
participating in the country's largest organized labor
strike, which has idled hundreds of car, shipbuilding and
other export plants for three days. Hospital workers and
students have joined the protest to show solidarity.
The workers are protesting a labor law unilaterally passed by
the ruling party on Thursday, which allows companies to lay
off large groups of employees, something unheard of in South
Korea. Many South Korean workers assume that once they enter
a company they have a job for life. But businesses say they
cannot compete in world markets without the flexibility to
restructure and lay off workers.
Ruling party officials tried to persuade the striking workers
that the law was in their best interest.
"This is all a big misunderstanding," said New Korea Party
chairman Lee Hong-koo. "We struggled to write a law that
would protect workers' rights and gain management flexibility
Strikes take heavy economic toll
The expanding strike that began Thursday was expected to
continue through the end of this year at a cost of more than
$1 billion in lost production, according the government,
which has declared all the strikes illegal and has warned of
South Korea is the world's sixth-largest automaker and
handles one-third of the world's shipbuilding orders.
The South Korean stock market plunged to its lowest level in
three years Friday as investors worried that the strike would
hurt the country's export-led economy.
CNN's Lim Yon-suk and Reuters contributed to this report.
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