| Park Tae-man, deputy leader of KORAIL, and some other railway unionists are taking shelter at Jogye temple in downtown Seoul, leading a strike in protest against the government`s plan to set up a subsidiary to run part of the high-speed train services.
The KORAIL labor union apologized Wednesday for taking shelter in the temple without approval, while asking for the temple`s help in resolving the labor dispute.
During the past dictatorship era, pro-democracy activists who were chased by the police often took asylum at Myeongdong Cathedral or Jogye Temple. The late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan added power to pro-democracy movements by using the Catholic Church`s religious authority to prevent police from entering the cathedral for arrests. Following Korea`s democratization since the June 1987 pro-democracy movement, however, Myeongdong Cathedral has changed. When striking members of Korea Telecom took shelter at the cathedral in 2000, it asked them to leave and requested police protection. At a time when anyone can freely make their arguments and defense within the boundaries of the Constitution and law, it is illegitimate to take advantage of religious facilities to protect a certain group`s collective interest or accomplish political purposes. Moreover, religious facilities cannot be sanctuaries for even those who cause huge losses on the national economy through illegal strikes and ignore law and order.
Where the railway unionists who are wanted by the police should go is not Jogye Temple but a police station. Some Buddhist believers visited the striking unionists to ask them to leave. We view the move as reflecting many Buddhist believers` perception that the unionists should not use the temple as the headquarters for their illegal strike. The KORAIL union leaders` use of the temple or a newspaper company building is probably a strategy to discourage the police from conducting arrest operations. The union leaders seem to believe that any clash between the police and the Buddhist community will likely in their assistance. It is a dishonorable scheme.
The main opposition Democratic Party on Wednesday urged the government and the ruling Saenuri Party to make concession and have dialogue with the KORAIL union, expressing concern over the police`s possible forceful entry into the temple. When the opposition party was in power, it sought for railway privatization. Now, the party seems to be encouraging the railway union workers, arguing that the government`s plan is aimed at privatization even though President Park Geun-hye said her administration was not seeking privatization. It is appropriate for a political party that has experiences in running the government to disregard its role as a mediator of conflicts and seek reflex gains from the railway strike.