SEOUL — Widespread strikes by employees of the South Korean government largely have fizzled under pressure from South Korea and unexpectedly harsh public criticism.
Korean Government Employees Union workers launched a general strike Monday, claiming up to 40,000 workers would walk off their jobs in an effort to win labor concessions.
The South Korean government promised to fire any workers who took part in the strike. The threat was backed up by more than 3,000 termination notices sent out Monday. By Wednesday, government officials said, fewer than 300 workers still were participating in the strike.
U.S. military and embassy officials had warned servicemembers and civilians that widespread rallies could turn violent if the striking workers clashed with police.
According to the Home Affairs Ministry, Korean National Police arrested 166 workers over two days of rallies and took into custody 13 of 47 workers identified as union leaders.
“Although almost every government employee who went on strike has returned to work in a day, there isn’t any change on our existing line to fire those who led the strikes as well as those who participated,” Home Affairs Minister Huh Sung-kwan told reporters.
Public opinion appeared squarely against the strikers. Many South Koreans felt the government workers already were well compensated, indicated several Internet sites and media reports.
Government officials are unsure how the failed KGEU strike will affect other planned labor actions. The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, with hundreds of thousands of members, has promised a general strike beginning Nov. 26. Another labor group, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, also says it will call a general strike at the end of this month.
Combined, the two groups have almost 1.5 million unionized members.