From the TUC

A close shave for workers’ rights in South Korea

10 Jan 2014, By

Karlson Lingwood shaves his head in solidarity with Korean rail workers

Yesterday morning, RMT Executive member Karlson Lingwood, sat in front of the South Korean Embassy in London, and had his head shaved in solidarity with a second general strike on the other side of the world. He visited the Asian tiger economy last month as part of an international delegation, and had his head shaved because it’s a common form of public protest in Korea.

Someone in Korea tweeted an offer to buy Karlson a hat to keep his head warm now that the hair is gone, but Mikyung Ryu, KCTU international secretary, told us later that:

“The plan for this action, including hair-shaving of Karlson was reported to the Strike Rally in Seoul by the Secretary General of the KCTU today! Thank you so much for your support and solidarity!

As we’ve reported before, here and here, South Korea is facing a wave of repression of tumultuous union protests. The railway unions are protesting against privatisation of the #KORAIL railway network (which explains the big RMT presence outside the Embassy, and the attendance of TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes, who stressed that if the Koreans win their struggle, we will be closer to winning ours.) The teacher union has been deregistered, as NASUWT’s Chris Weavers informed the rally. And now one of the Korean trade union confederations, KCTU, has held a second general strike (with another scheduled for next week) and called for the President to resign.

The rally outside the South Korean Embassy was organised by the International Transport Workers Federation, but the TUC and our Southern and Eastern Regional Council were there, as well as the unions mentioned above, Prospect and Unison, and Amnesty International, who made it clear that, while they hold no view on issues like privatisation, they absolutely condemned the harassment and arrest of trade unions for carrying out their collective bargaining function.

Speaker after speaker, including a South Korean tourist who had seen the protest advertised on Facebook, emphasised the links between events in Korea and the UK. First and foremost, the neoliberal ideology that – against all the evidence – keeps insisting that privatising railways is a good idea. But also the threat of privatisation spreading to other services, and the repression of trade unions to prevent popular opposition being mobilised successfully.

Similar protests happened at Embassies around the world, starting in Australia on Wednesday, and the global trade union movement will continue to back the Korean trade union movement’s protests by demanding action against trade union repression through the International Labour Organisation and the OECD.