THE LABOUR PAINS

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions traces its roots to the nascent workers' struggles ignited by the self-immolation of a garment worker Chun Tae-il on November 13, 1970. The tenacious struggles of women workers in export-oriented light industries laid the foundation of the modern labour movement. As light industries gave way to heavy industries as the focal point of the export economy in the 1980s, the early militancy inspired the awakening of the regimented workforce in large-scale industries which became the hotbed of the Great Workers' Struggle of 1987. The explosion not only galvanised the uniformed workers of industrial complexes and the neck-tie corps of office buildings, but shook the entire society. The need to mount effective struggles to resist crackdowns, confront the military regimes, and reform labour laws led to the creation of frameworks for solidarity which transcend enterprise, regional, and industry boundaries. The joint struggles under the banners of the National Headquarters for Labour Law Reform in 1988, and then the National Council of Regional and Industrial Trade Unions in 1989 were the first expressions of nation-wide unity and solidarity of the democratic trade union movement. The National Council successfully held a nation-wide May Day rally in 1989 for the first time since the 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule. In 1990, the democratic trade union movement organised into the Korea Trade Union Congress (KTUC, Chunnohyup), consisting mainly of unions in the manufacturing sector; the Korea Congress of Independent Industrial Trade Union Federations (KCIIF, Upjonghweui), formed by white-collar workers including Chunkyojo (the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union organised in 1989); and the Hyundai Group Trade Union Federation and the Daewoo Group Trade Union Council, which united the workers of Hyundai and Daewoo companies respectively. The efforts to consolidate unity and solidarity led to the successful '1990 National Workers Rally' demonstrating the united force of manufacturing, office, and professional workers. In October 1991, the four major national configurations came together as one in the Joint Committee for Ratification of ILO Basic Conventions and Labour Law Reform in response to the government's decision to seek membership in the ILO. At the '1992 National Workers Rally' in November, the unions mobilised by the Committee set in motion programmatic efforts to build a consolidated national organisation. The subsequent efforts led to the formation in June 1993 of the Korean Council of Trade Union Representatives (KCTU, Chonnodae), which brought together leaders of all democratic trade unions into a single national body.

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