The United Steelworkers (USW) strongly condemned the May 4 arrest of Youn Taeg-gun, first vice president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), who was detained for his leading role in organizing a general strike on Oct. 20, 2021.
Youn’s arrest is particularly outrageous given that International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions 87, protecting freedom of association and the right to organize, and 98, protecting the right to organize and collective bargaining, entered into force in the Republic of Korea on April 20.
Youn led the strike in part because, at the time, KCTU President Yang Kyeung-soo was in detention on similar spurious charges. Like President Yang before him, Youn has been charged with violation of the Infectious Disease Control Act on Demonstration and Assembly, despite the KCTU’s proper observance of COVID-19 protocols.
The strike took place shortly after representatives of the USW, the UAW and the AFL-CIO visited the Korean Embassy in Washington, D.C., to demand Yang’s freedom. The USW also raised the arrest of President Yang and the interrogation of Vice President Youn during the meeting of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement Labor Council on April 26.
Vice President Youn’s arrest, in the context of current discussions on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to South Korea, can only be seen as an expression of the Korean government’s intention to disregard fundamental labor rights and international conventions.
The USW calls on the Korean government to openly adhere to these International Labor Organization conventions by releasing Youn and ending police harassment of trade unionists for engaging in legitimate union activity.