Workers Gather in the Tens of Thousands to Commemorate the 123rd International Workers Day
On May 1, workers gathered in Seoul and 14 other locations around the country to commemorate the 123rd International Workers' Day. In Seoul, affiliates of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU), including the Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers' Unions (KPTU), the Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU), the Korean Government Employees' Union (KGEU) and the Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union (KHMU) held rallies earlier in the day and then conducted feeder marches, which converged on City Hall Plaza, where the main protest was held at 3:00pm.
The demands put forth by KCTU that day were: 1) Guarantee of public sector trade union rights and strengthening of democratic unionism, 2) abolition of mass dismissals, reinstatement of dismissed workers and regularization of the employment status of precariously-employed workers, 3) an end to attempts to close public medical clinics and strengthening of public healthcare and social services, 4) strengthening of the law penalizing work-related deaths and an increase in the minimum wage, 5) an end of the standoff between South and North Korea, South-North dialogue and the conclusion of a peace treaty.
Attended by an estimated 15,000 people, the main rally in Seoul was lively, including performances as well as speeches. Throughout the rally, workers 'performed' high-altitude protests on scaffolding set up at various places around the protest site to represent the actual high-altitude protests against mass dismissals, precarious employment and the repression of trade union rights, still underway in several regions around the country. A 'Declaration of Workers' Rights' was also read from the stage.
Comrades from several other countries participated in the May Day events alongside the Korean workers. Every year, KCTU runs a 'Leadership Education and Exchange in Asia Program for Young Unionists (LEAP)' at the time of May Day as a means to strengthen the democratic labor movement and facilitate exchange between unions in different countries in the region. LEAP participants, including comrades from the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand, shared in the May Day events and various other programs scheduled during the week they were in South Korea.
Near the end of the May Day rally, protesters attempted to cross the street to the site where the Ssangyong Motor workers' protest encampment had been demolished several days earlier. They were confronted by swarms of riot police, who prevented them from resetting up the camp using shields, police sticks and pepper spray.
While many tasks lay ahead of KCTU and the Korean labor movement, May Day was an important moment for workers to come together, recommit to our goals and reaffirm our unity both nationally and internationally.