World in View: Militant truckers strike in South Korea

July 12, 2022

From the July-August 2022 issue of News & Letters

by Eugene Walker

More than 7,000 truckers took part in an eight-day strike that disrupted production and shipment in industrial centers, shipping hubs, and ports. Protests were held in 14 locations throughout the country. At a port in Incheon workers lined up dozens of trucks on the road, flying their union’s flags hoisted on bamboo canes.

Truck parked in Busan, South Korea. Photo: calflier001, via Wikimedia Commons

MORE PAY AND FEWER HOURS

The truckers’ demands center on the extension of a 2020 measure dubbed the “Safe Trucking Freight Rate,” which ensures minimum pay and is set to expire this year.

“When the other side of the world is getting better, why is our side of the world going backward and getting worse?” asked a striker who works as many as 15 hours a day. “The most frustrating thing is I’ve been following all the rules, like installing low-emission equipment, even by paying more money if I need to. But why is the situation torturing me now and why would I let things be taken away?”

This strike took place in the context of two moments, one internal to South Korea, and the other global. The new South Korean President, Yoon Suk-yeol, is a conservative who made “disciplining” labor one of his campaign themes. He took a hands-off approach to the strike, though the government was preparing to mobilize 100 military cargo trucks to break the workers’ actions before any settlement.

The strike also threatened the global supply chain already damaged by the COVID pandemic and the war on Ukraine. The strike paralyzed ports and cargo terminals in South Korea—a major supplier of autos, batteries, semiconductors, smart phones and electronics goods. Only its short duration prevented serious global effects.

South Korean workers—who create capitalist value, including through the labor of transportation and shipping—will surely have more to say.

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