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Lackluster Elections Show Decline of Teachers` Union

Posted November. 12, 2008 08:20,   


Only two areas have multiple candidates running for their chapters of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union this year, unlike in previous years where heated competition with many candidates had been seen.

This is largely due to decreasing union membership stemming from disillusionment of the group’s militant struggle, and this will have an adverse impact over the long term.

▽ Most chapters have no candidates

After candidate registration for the elections in 16 cities and provinces, which coincides with that for the union president Dec. 3-5, the union said only two chapters – Seoul and Daegu – have two candidates.

The chapters in 11 cities and provinces – Gangwon Province, Gyeonggi Province, South Gyeongsang Province, Gwangju, North Gyeongsang Province, Daejeon, Ulsan, North Jeolla Province, Jeju Special Self-governing Province and South Chungcheong Province – have only one candidate. Since the chapters in Busan, South Jeolla Province and North Chungcheong Province have no candidate at all, they have extended the registration period until today.

The dearth of candidates is the most severe since the union was legalized in 1998.

The elections for chapter and union presidents are tantamount to a factional war. The Alliance for True Education, a faction of the relatively moderate pro-North Korea National Liberation, and People Seeking for the Future of the Education Movement, a faction of the hawkish People’s Democracy, are battling it out.

Both sides have sought to control the union, competing in 11 chapters in 2004 and in eight chapters in 2006.

They failed, however, to send their candidates in many areas this year, not to mention competition. The National Liberation has no candidates in six chapters – Gangwon Province, Daejeon, North Gyeongsang Province, Ulsan, North Jeolla Province and South Chungcheong Province.

The National Liberation has traditionally struggled in those regions but even its members that were considered potential candidates are reluctant to run. The People’s Democracy is no exception. It has failed to produce candidates in five areas – Gyeonggi Province, South Gyeongsang Province, Gwangju, Incheon and Jeju.

▽ Why the elections are unpopular

The head of a chapter is considered influential in provinces; he or she has the right to sign a collective contract with the superintendents of 16 education offices and can sway educational issues.

The recent unpopularity of the chapter election reflects skepticism among union members about the union’s orientation toward militant struggle.

“Though the social perception of the union is negative, it is only immersed in fights between factions and militant struggles,” a former union leader said. “Union members are now sick and tired of their leadership.”

The union’s influence is also shrinking because of pressure from the Lee Myung-bak administration. Education offices nationwide are nullifying unreasonable collective agreements with the union as well.

“The union is divided by the National Liberation, which is focusing on the union headquarters, and the People’s Democracy, focusing on the Seoul chapter, and is only opposed to teacher evaluations,” a teacher who left the union said. “They blame external pressure on the union for the crisis, but the internal power struggle is the real culprit.”