South Korean teachers are facing the latest round in their long struggle to defend their union, the Korean Teachers Union from government attacks. The government has outlawed the union because it includes among its 60,000 members, 22 who were sacked for writing a statement against the previous administration in 2009.

The leader of the Korean Teachers Union was arrested in December along with 137 other trade unionists when police attacked the headquarters o the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. The government of Guen Hye Park came to power a year ago on a manifesto which included several welcome policies such as an increase in the old age pension and no privatisation of key public services. However since coming to power she has reneged on all these pledges and is pressing ahead with privatisation in health and education. Moreover her government has consistently attacked democratic rights in the country and in particular the right to organise in trade unions and campaign for social justice.

South Korea is one of the top-performing countries in the OECD's PISA study. It is interesting that the kind of 'excellence' recognised by PISA is one achieved by stifling teachers and forcing them to teach a narrow and completely prescribed curriculum, at pain of sanction if they are found teaching the wrong thing or at the wrong time. The KTU has consistently fought against these constraints as well as standardised testing, and has promoted a democratic vision of education, which encourages children to think critically about the world they live in. It is partly for that reason that it is subject to continual attack from successive governments who attempt to destroy the union by arresting its leaders and by penalising members who take part in action. These tactics are continuing with the current strike, with teachers and other union members being threatened with disciplinary action if they  take part.

The government is instructing the 78 staff members of the KTU to return to their teaching posts, which they are refusing to do. Moreover they are planning an 'all out struggle' against the moves which will start with a partial walkout next Friday (June 27th). On July 12th there will be a mass rally of teachers. The government has threatened 'stern punishment' if they go ahead with their actions.

A spokesperson for the KTU said in a statement:  'The decision to turn the KTU into an outsider union is an anti-labor act of violence that revives the ghosts from when (past military-led governments ordered) to dismantle trade unions and is an anti-democratic brutality that set back the clock of South Korea's democracy to before 1987. We will fight for the KTU until the end against forces denying and oppressing it.'

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