Costly Fuel, Anger at President Drive South Korean StrikesBy Kurt Achin
17 June 2008

South Korea's biggest labor confederation says its members will go on strike, next month, to protest the policies of the country's president. The labor troubles heap new crisis on an administration facing mass street protests about trade with the United States. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

South Korean truck drivers on strike, hold mock license plates during rally against oil prices, in Gwacheon, 17 Jun 2008The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions announced Tuesday it would conduct a nationwide general strike on July 2. And, KCTU president Lee Seok-haing says that is just the beginning.

Lee says after the strike, there will be several days of organized labor protests.

The KCTU is an umbrella union group for more than 600,000 members, working in nearly every sector of the country's economy.

Transport and construction workers have already been on strike since last week, costing South Korean businesses billions of dollars and clogging the country's container ports with unmoved cargo.

Laborers want South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's administration to offer more assistance, in the face of skyrocketing fuel prices. They are also demanding President Lee nullify an unpopular American beef deal and rethink plans to privatize many South Korean businesses.
Senior South Korean officials say those demands overstep the bounds of legitimate strike activity.

South Korean Justice Minister Kim Kyung-han says the strikes are illegal because some of the demands have nothing to do with improving worker conditions. He says, if what he calls illegal activity continues, the government will have to take legal action against the labor groups.

President Lee - inaugurated only four months ago - has seen his approval ratings plummet, since he agreed in April to a wide-ranging deal to resume imports of U.S. beef. Many South Koreans perceive American beef as posing a health risk, despite a lack of hard science to back their fears.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans have held massive street protests against the beef deal. They say President Lee has a disregard for public opinion, in a number of areas.

KCTU spokeswoman Woo Moon-sook says workers share the protesters' discontent.

She says the results of a union vote show a public sense of crisis about the way President Lee has been running the country's affairs.

President Lee rose to popularity as a hard-driving corporate chairman, but many South Koreans say he has much to learn about being an elected political leader. Mr. Lee's trade minister is in Washington, seeking a compromise on beef imports. The outcome of those talks may hold the key to easing both South Korea's street protests and its present labor unrest.

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