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Police Response to Strike Criticized

Posted July. 21, 2006 03:02,   


After construction workers in Pohang area have been illegally occupying POSCO’s office building for eight days, the police are getting ready to step in to end the strike.

Cheong Wa Dae said the strike was obviously an illegal action on July 20 and that it would take stern measures to disband the workers. But people criticize the government’s belated measure.

The ministers of labor, justice, and government administration and home affairs made a joint announcement on July 18, after six days’ inaction. But they have not sought any detailed way to resolve the issue. The announcement was lackluster with the line, “The ministries will not be severe on the workers who voluntarily disband the strike.” Critics say policymakers are complacent as they fear becoming another Huh Jun-young.

At the end of last year, Huh Jun-young, the then-chief of the National Police Agency, resigned, taking responsibility for two farmers who had died while demonstrating. The farmers died after a physical conflict with the police who suppressed the protest. So, people think the police seem reluctant to step in the Pohang strike so as not to be faced with the same situation as last year.

When there was a controversy on whether Mr. Huh should resign last year, Cheong Wa Dae insiders said, “The deaths of two demonstrators by the police are unprecedented. That incident did not happen even in the military regime.” Eventually, Huh stepped down from office.

Lee Ji-kyung, the head of Pohang construction workers’ union, seems to be part of the cause of the government’s lackluster response. Kim Suk-hyang, the wife of Lee, is the vice representative of the North Gyeongsang Province Office of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and also a newly elected lawmaker of DLP in the May local elections. So, the government maybe does not want to stand against the DLP by taking an aggressive action.

The slow response of the police also worsened the situation in Pohang.

The police failed to defend against thousands of union workers as it deployed only a 500-strong police personnel contingent in the POSCO office on July 13. Although the police increased the number to 7,000, they did not succeed as it was difficult to make it into the building. After that, the police tried to enter the building on July 15 and 16. But they chose to persuade the workers to voluntarily disband rather than take a stern measure.

The government belatedly decided to take an aggressive stance out of concern that the strike would get out of control. Also, it was worried about a negative impact on the economy.

A source of the government said, “Cheong Wa Dae took a careful response not to make the problem worse.”

Yeon-Wook Jung Kwon-Hyo Lee jyw11@donga.com boriam@donga.com