Karapatan condemns raids in offices of S. Korea labor unions

Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the recent raids by South Korean government forces in the offices of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union’s (KHMU), Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), among others. Starting January 18, 2023, operatives of the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the National Police Agency swooped down on several offices of the said workers’ organizations and affiliates as well the residences of a number of the progressive labor center’s officers.

The raids were reportedly conducted based on a search and seizure warrant alleging that KCTU and the others violated the National Security Act of 1948, a cold-war era law that penalizes South Koreans for maintaining links with North Korea. The KCTU has protested the raid, saying the South Korean government was cracking down on trade unionists invoking unsubstantiated accusations that they form part of a supposed North Korean spy network.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay condemned the attacks on South Korean unions, citing parallels between the raids on KCTU and the simultaneous raids that had been conducted on Philippine union offices in recent years, such as the Bloody Sunday incidents in March 2021 that saw nine Southern Tagalog activists, including labor leaders killed and six others arrested; the raids on the offices of the National Federation of Sugar Workers and other progressive groups in Bacolod City that led to the arrest of more than 40 activists; and the dawn raids on several locations on Metro Manila in December 2020, when seven activists were arrested, six of them union organizers.

“Apparently, reactionary governments everywhere resort to red-tagging as a pretext to suppress growing union struggles,” said Palabay. “In South Korea, the right-wing government of President Yoon has alleged that recent KCTU-led strikes were instigated by North Korea. As in the Philippines,” said Palabay, “red-tagging is a convenient tactic used by state authorities to divert public attention from critical economic and political issues.”

“In South Korea,” she said, “democratic unionists and other progressive forces are being targeted for repression to seemingly deflect growing concerns from the people about government corruption, some involving Yoon’s wife, as well as Yoon’s bellicose pronouncements that tend to further escalate tensions with North Korea and bring the country closer to war.”

“We stand in firm solidarity with the progressive South Korean workers in their continuing struggle for economic and democratic gains and against their government’s attempts to clamp down on their activities through disinformation and red-tagging,” said Palabay.