Monday, May 24, 2010

Looking for the Union Label

Politics in the good ol' USA seems to have turned batshit crazy in the last year or few, but I'm not sure that even at that, we have anything on South Korean politics. Local elections for mayors, representatives of borough, city and province councils nationwide will take place on Wed., June 2--which is a holiday for just this purpose--and things are starting to heat up.

I'll post later on about the typical forms of vote-canvassing, but for today, a couple of news stories caught my eye. First, though, I recall that a few weeks ago when Hwang and I arrived at school, there was an ajumma outside the gate with a sign that looked like a list of names. She was being loudly harangued by one of the older teachers. Turns out, he was the "shop steward" and she had a list of Young-il teachers who are members of the KTU (Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union).

I really didn't see what the fuss was about, since many of the union members, including my friend, have a little sign on their cubicle announcing as much. So then I see in today's paper where "education authorities" are moving to fire 134 KTU teachers for paying membership dues to a specific political party. According to the Korea Times report:
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced Sunday it was moving to sack 134 public school teachers, who reportedly signed up for the membership of the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party, and suspend four others.
"Teachers are bound to maintain their political neutrality. Paying membership fees to support a certain political party is illegal," the ministry said.

KTU leader Chung Jin-hwo called the episode a "Bloody Sunday" and pointed out that "being interested in political issues should not be grounds for dismissal." Assuming the statement was translated accurately, Chung is being a bit disingenuous: firstly, it wasn't "interest", but "action" that got them in trouble; and secondly, maybe it shouldn't be grounds for dismissal, but if you signed a contract that says it is, and if that contract is a legal one, then it is.

Meanwhile, the conservative Grand National Party, currently in power, isn't entirely clean in this affair, as one of their Reps., Cho Jeon-hyeok, published the names of KTU members on his website, citing the right of parents to know their children's teachers' political affiliations. The court ruled that teacher privacy outweighed this "right" and ordered the list taken down. He finally did so after four days and 120 million won in fines paid to the union. Curiously, the law involved here was one written by the GNP.

This Cho is a piece of work. He claims that students of progressive teachers do worse on national exams than other students, without providing any evidence, and that progressive, or anti-capitalist, teachers will brainwash students "the wrong way"--inferring that there is a right way to brainwash them. Practically the first thing he did once elected was charge election funding irregularities in the SMOE superintendent's race in 2008. Okay, I'll give him that one ... In 2009, he introduced a bill preventing anyone but teachers, students and schoolworkers from entering school campuses without permission. Notice any group conspicuously absent from the list? Yes, parents.

Now, as a long-time private school teacher, I can attest that meddlesome, super-demanding parents are the bane of our existence (along with grading exams), but they nonetheless deserve reasonable access to their child's campus.

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