Mass protests continue to rock South Korea

Protesters brought in the New Year in South Korea with another mass protest to demand the immediate resignation of President Park Geun-hye. One million people protested in the capital Seoul with many staying after midnight.

Protests have been rocking the country since October—including the six weeks since parliament voted for Park’s impeachment. They are the largest in South Korean history, with a record 1.7 million at the largest demonstration in early December.

Park’s impeachment must still be ratified by the constitutional court in a process that can take six months, although the court wants to speed this up.

The protests were triggered by the revelation that Park has long kept a secret, unelected, superstitious “adviser”—Choi Soon-sil—who has meddled with all aspects of government from university admissions to key government appointments.

This was apparently based on a complex corruption network including big businesses and top government figures. These scandals are the straw that broke the camel’s back.

During the December 2012 presidential election, the ruling class almost unanimously backed Park. She is the daughter of the former military dictator Park Chung-hee. Park has attacked democratic rights as well as launching market-oriented assaults on wages, job security, public spending and safety regulations. Her government is also trying to build yet more military ties with the US and Japan.

The KCTU trade union movement has been at the forefront of the struggle. Within a year of Park’s election there was a rail workers’ strike which lasted for 23 days and broke the atmosphere of fear towards the government.

In 2014 a ferry disaster resulting from deregulation led to the loss of more than 300 young lives. Victim’s families, mostly from working class districts, have been leading the struggle against the government’s cover-up.

Park’s attacks on wages and workers’ rights last year were met by national protests which mobilized some 100,000 trade unionists in central Seoul. Eventually, in April, her party suffered a gigantic defeat in the general election.

Now the ruling class seems willing to sacrifice Park to save the rest of the regime and regain political stability.

It is demanding all political parties cooperate with prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who was appointed by Park and is now acting president. But protesters demand his immediate resignation too because he is pushing through Park’s policy agenda, a legacy which people call the “accumulated evils”.

Trade unions are playing a significant role in this movement. Contingents from the KCTU union federation have led many of the protests and the KCTU called its own one-day strike in early December.

Such developments show the power of the organised workers’ movement. But the workers are relying on bourgeois parties at the moment rather than taking the matter of changing society into their own hands and pulling other forces behind them.

To change such situation, it is important to encourage organised workers’ activity from below by combining the bitterness at workplaces with the current political developments.

The radical left is working hard to cooperate on this task.

Socialist Worker UK
By Workers’ Solidarity
Solidarity’s sister organisation in South Korea

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