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S.Korea Workers Decry Restructuring

By Jae-suk Yoo, Associated Press, Sunday 26 November 2000, 2:05 PM ET

SEOUL, South Korea (AP)—Two major South Korean labor groups rallied about 15,000 workers in central Seoul on Sunday to protest government-led corporate restructuring they fear will lead to mass layoffs.

It was the first such joint rally in three years for the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. The two have a combined membership of 1.8 million.

The protesters, many carrying signs or wearing red headbands and vests with slogans such as Fight and Solidarity printed on them, chanted and pumped their fists in the air.

If we will be driven out to the streets just for working hard, let’s not work. Let’s strike! said Kim Yon-hwan, head of an umbrella group for state utility labor unions.

The workers marched from Seoul train station to a cathedral a few miles away, clogging up traffic. They dispersed peacefully after the 21/2-hour-long rally.

Thousands of uniformed police officers, some with shields, stood around the protesters to guard against possible violence, but there was no report of clashes.

The protest was partly in support of workers at Korea Electric Power Corp., a state-run power company which the government plans to break into several units and sell.

A 950-megawatt electric power plant belonging to the firm has already been sold to a consortium of local and foreign firms.

Experts say the nation’s economy might face recession if the government does not speed up restructuring heavily indebted businesses and banks.

In a drastic measure earlier this month, government-controlled creditor banks named 52 financially weak companies that should be shut down or merged for sale. The move shocked tens of thousands of workers who work for those and other financially shaky companies, which have been surviving on emergency bank loans.

South Korea was forced to accept a $58 billion bailout fund from the International Monetary Fund in late 1997 to save its economy. In return, it promised to restructure its bloated businesses and inefficient financial sector.