South Korean strikes ease, but unions vow more protests
Controversial labor law officially enacted
In this story:
December 30, 1996
Web posted at: 12:20 p.m. EST (1720 GMT)
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Striking subway drivers and
nurses began drifting back to work on Monday, but car and
shipbuilding plants were still idled by the fifth day of
widespread labor strikes that threatened South Korea's
Union leaders vowed to escalate their protests after the new
"We will take our strikes to a higher level and prolong them
starting in the new year," said Kwon Young-kil, head of the
outlawed Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
The much larger Federation of Korean Trade Unions, which
called its 1.2 million members out on strike until the end of
the year, said it would announce details on Tuesday on "an
escalated second stage which would include the public
Government says law needed for economy
The strikes began Thursday when ruling party members in South
Korea's Parliament passed a law that workers fear will
threaten their jobs. It allows companies to lay off workers,
replace strikers, and hire temporary staff.
The law was adopted in a secretive, pre-dawn session, with no
opposition party members present.
The government made the law formal on Monday by approving it
at a Cabinet session. Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung, in a
televised speech on Monday, warned workers that "legal
countermeasures" would be taken to stop strikes.
Lee defended the law, saying it was the only way to boost
South Korea's fragile economy.
"We chose the law to prevent our offspring from falling
behind developing countries," Lee said. "We could not watch
companies go bankrupt and corporations move offshore, causing
major job losses."
Back to work, but for how long?
Striking subway drivers in Seoul and South Korea's second-
biggest city, Pusan, returned to their posts on Monday after
a short strike failed to disrupt services. Non-union workers
had kept trains moving.
Subway unions are discussing a renewed strike in January, and
the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit, which runs three new
lines in Seoul, has already declared a 48-hour strike
starting on Saturday.
Hospital unions decided to suspend their action on Tuesday,
although some nurses and orderlies began returning to their
wards on Sunday and more joined them on Monday.
Transport and medical unions said they were suspending
industrial action to spare the public from chaos over the New
Year holiday period.
Students, who have kept a low profile since a major
crackdown by the government in August, took to the streets to
Chanting anti-government slogans, 1,000 students rallied in
Myung-dong, Seoul's commercial center, witnesses said. They
sat in a pedestrian zone and faced a wall of riot police in
full gear armed with tear gas rifles.
Earlier, riot police grabbed shopkeepers who they mistook
for students, prompting a protest from fellow merchants,
according to witnesses. Some stores closed in anticipation of
clashes, but the rally ended peacefully.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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