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Vol. 78/No. 2      January 20, 2014

On the Picket Line

SKorea rail workers end 3-week strike
Thousands of workers on strike against KORAIL, South Korea’s state-owned rail company, returned to work Dec. 31 without achieving their central goal of blocking moves to privatize the company, according to a statement from the Korean Rail Workers Union. Union officials ended the strike after the South Korea National Assembly set up a subcommittee to discuss the country’s rail industry that will include union participation.

“Through the strike we made privatization an issue and we built a massive amount of public support,” Wol-san Liem, international affairs director of the Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Union, said by phone from Seoul Jan. 1. “Workers were on strike for a historic 23 days despite repression by the government. We went as far as we could at this juncture.”

Warrants for the arrest of 25 strike leaders have not been withdrawn and some 490 union members still face possible firings.

On Dec. 28 tens of thousands demonstrated in central Seoul to back the strike. Korean Confederation of Trade Unions spokesperson Jeong Ho-hee told Hankyoreh newspaper that about “half of the people attending the rally were not union members, but ordinary people.” Among them were hundreds of teachers who are fighting an attempt by the government to dissolve the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union.

Students organized solidarity actions in five cities that day.

The strike began Dec. 9 after KORAIL refused to back off plans to set up a subsidiary to run a planned high-speed passenger train between Seoul and Busan. The company denied the new entity was a step toward privatization, but admitted its goal was to cut costs — which workers know would be done to their detriment.

The government of President Park Geun-hye declared the strike illegal, issued arrest warrants for strike leaders and raided union headquarters, including the Confederation of Trade Unions. KORAIL hired scabs to keep as many freight and passenger trains running as possible.

At the peak of the strike freight train service was down 45 percent and passenger trains were down by 34 percent.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is calling for demonstrations and one-day strikes on Jan. 4, 9, and 16, demanding that President Park resign and for an end to privatization and attacks on unions.

— Seth Galinsky

Stationary Engineers union
locked out at Calif. dairy plant

Thirteen stationary engineers, who keep the milk-processing plant operating at Berkeley Farms dairy in Hayward, Calif., have been picketing outside the factory gate since the company locked them out on New Year’s eve.

The workers, members of Stationary Engineers, Local 39, said they oppose the company demand that they start paying monthly premiums for their health insurance.

“We voted against their ‘last and final’ offer and gave them 48-hours strike notice,” Jim Butler, who has worked at the dairy for 25 years, said on the picket line Jan. 3. “Thirty-six hours later, they walked the workers out of the plant.”

Dean Foods, the company that owns Berkeley Farms, has brought in scabs from its nonunion plants in other parts of the country. Workers who are members of three other unions at Berkeley Farms continue to work.

Berkeley Farms did not respond to a request for comment.

— Betsey Stone

Related articles:
Profit drive of oil, rail bosses behind train wreck in ND
Garment workers fight for higher wages in Cambodia:
Protests subside after government crackdown
Boeing Machinists ratify 8-year concession contract
New pattern of struggle developed in partial recovery of 30s
Only workers can enforce safety
Congress divided over extension of benefits for long-term jobless
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