“The Strike Is the Same as North Korean Nuclear Threats,” President Yoon Raises Pressure on Unionized Truckers

Yoo Jeong-in, Yu Sul-hee 2022. 12. 6. 15:09
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President Yoon Suk-yeol presides over a meeting of related ministers on the government’s response to the collective strike by the Cargo Truckers Solidarity at the Office of the President in Yongsan, Seoul on December 4. Courtesy of the Office of the President

News was released on December 5 that President Yoon Suk-yeol described the strike by the Cargo Truckers Solidarity of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union, an affiliate of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), as being on par with “North Korean nuclear threats” and emphasized a response according to law and principles. He reaffirmed the government’s hardline stance putting the union strike on par with North Korea’s nuclear program. The ruling People Power Party (PPP) tried to turn the labor issue into one of ideology and identity against the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions using expressions like the “Second Company of the Workers Party of Korea” and “another Lee Seok-ki incident.” As the PPP draws the North Korean issue into the labor dispute, the road to conflict resolution is expected to grow narrower.

In a private meeting with his aides recently, President Yoon reportedly described the strike as a danger on par with North Korean nuclear threats and said, “If we had implemented policies on North Korea based on the principle that nuclear weapons could not be tolerated, we would never have to face nuclear threats from the North.”

President Yoon criticized the Moon Jae-in government’s policy on North Korea as a political show to appease the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). His words also implied that the government would continue with its hardline stance against the strike by the unionized truckers in the name of law and principles. This would be an extension of the “rule of law in labor issues” and “no compromise,” guidelines he released in response to the freight truckers’ strike.

His comment reaffirmed his strict stance against the strike, but people criticized the president for comparing a labor issue, which requires negotiation and mediation, to the North Korean nuclear issue, where inter-Korean dialogue has been severed. A senior official in the Office of the President said, “He (the president) has always emphasized a response based on law and principles,” and explained, “He mentioned North Korean nuclear threats to stress the importance of a response based on principles.”

At the Korea National Prayer Breakfast, President Yoon also said, “I will do my utmost to build a country where the spirit of freedom and solidarity breathe on and where the law and principles stand erect,” and added, “That is the true way to embrace the vulnerable and the path to overcoming a combination of crises.” President Yoon recently pressed the unionized truckers participating in the strike by distinguishing them from the “truly vulnerable,” and his latest comment seems to confirm once again his firm stance on the issue.

The People Power Party has been more aggressive in linking the strike with North Korean issues. They appear to be turning the Cargo Truckers Solidarity strike into a problem with the direction of the entire Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, trying to reframe the dispute from a labor problem to one of ideology by claiming the KCTU is a pro-North group.

Sung Il-jong, head of the PPP policy committee said in a meeting of the party’s emergency response committee, “On the KCTU website, there is a letter from the Central Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea titled, ‘A Letter of Solidarity to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions,’ proudly posted, along with arguments that North Korea has been making, such as opposition to military cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan and calls for the abolition of the National Security Act.” He asked, “How can they post such things if they are not the 2nd Company of the Workers’ Party of Korea?”

Even inside the PPP, members began actively voicing arguments on ideology. Lawmaker Kweon Seong-dong said, “The true nature of the series of strikes by the KCTU is a political struggle dominated by pro-North ideas.”

With the ruling PPP working to reframe the latest strike away from its original issues into one concerning the labor union’s identity and ideas, the path to conflict resolution through negotiation and mediation appears more distant. The government is pressing the truckers on strike with an additional order for the commencement of business operations and legal action, and the PPP is expected to continue its hardline attacks by questioning the union’s ideology and turning the public’s attention away from the original problem concerning specific working conditions.

President Yoon presided over a meeting of related ministers on the government’s response to the strike on Sunday and said, “The government will not, under any circumstances, compromise with organized forces that collectively engage in illegal activities and violence.”

The Democratic Party of Korea criticized, “President Yoon must be mistaking the ‘rule of public security’ based on hostile views on labor as strong leadership.” Oh Yeong-hwan, the Democratic Party spokesperson on the floor said, “It is crushing, for it seems, to the president, the cries of the people calling for a safe environment in freight transport felt like a nuclear threat,” and asked, “Is he identifying labor as a clear enemy and trying to annihilate them?”

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