GWANGYANG, May 31 (Korea Bizwire) — A rally organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) took place in downtown Seoul on Wednesday without major clashes with the police. However, protests by workers in rural areas have sparked controversy due to violent clashes during police crackdowns, as reported by prominent media outlets such as JTBC and Pressian.
During a high-altitude protest by POSCO subcontractors on Wednesday, a protester was struck on the head with a baton by the police, resulting in a bloody incident. The police repeatedly struck the protester, who was then taken to a nearby hospital with a scalp injury. While the police claimed that they had no choice but to use force to control the protesters, labor unions criticized their excessive use of force.
On May 31, according to a statement from the Jeonnam National Police Agency and the Korean Metalworkers’ Union (KMWU), four police officers and two firefighters climbed onto two ladder trucks and struck Kim Jun-young, the secretary-general of KMWU, on the head with a police baton.
The incident occurred around 5:30 a.m. during a 7-meter-high sit-in by POSCO subcontractors in front of the Gwangyang Steel Plant in Gwangyang, Jeollanam-do. Kim was promptly taken to a hospital in Suncheon, where he received medical treatment. He is reportedly under investigation by the Gwangyang Police Station.
A video captured by a member of KMWU showed Kim resisting arrest by wielding a part of the structure of the high-altitude sit-in and swinging it at the approaching police. The officers, armed with shields and batons, approached Kim and struck him with their batons, causing him to fall to the ground. Even after the protesters were subdued, the officers continued to use their batons to strike Kim multiple times.
The police officers used plastic batons measuring one meter in length during the incident, which lasted approximately one minute. The police claimed that Kim resisted arrest by brandishing a 42-centimeter-long jungle knife and a metal pipe, necessitating the use of batons. They also alleged that the union had illegally constructed a building in the centerline of a six-lane road, blocking four lanes of traffic. According to the police, Kim’s actions were deemed interference with the dispersal process and contrary to the principle of public service.
The use of a baton, symbolizing “violent suppression,” by the police to suppress a labor union is highly unusual. The National Police Agency Standards for the Use of Physical Force stipulate that physical force should only be employed when there is a reasonable justification and, if possible, alternative methods such as persuasion and stabilization should be prioritized. However, it is reported that the police did not engage in any persuasion attempts before conducting the pre-dawn raid.
Earlier in the day, the police forcefully pinned down Kim Man-jae, the chairman of KMWU, during his protest at the same location. They pushed his head to the ground, causing him to lie face down, and proceeded to handcuff him from behind. This incident has drawn criticism for the alleged use of excessive force.
Meanwhile, Kim Dong-myung, President of FKTU (the Federation of Korean Trade Unions), the umbrella union of KMWU, vehemently condemned the police crackdown during a press conference at the National Assembly on Wednesday.
He stated, “The government’s blatant and direct display of violence clearly indicates its disregard for the labor movement. Now, it is time for FKTU to respond and demonstrate our stance. Going forward, FKTU will engage in a comprehensive struggle to hold the current government accountable.”
This declaration signifies a potential escalation in labor-management conflicts in the future.
M. H. Lee (email@example.com)