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Kim to Take Tough Measures Against Strikers - 2002-02-26

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung says he will take tough measures against illegal or violent strikers. His warning comes on the second day of a massive walkout by thousands of state power and rail workers. The strike has so far been peaceful but has widened to include tens of thousands of autoworkers.

The South Korean president told his cabinet that he prefers to negotiate an end to this week's labor strikes but his administration will be tough if it has to.

Public sector rail and power industry workers walked off the job Monday and were joined by employees of South Korea's largest car manufacturers, Hyundai and Kia.

The government says the strike action is illegal since the law prohibits employees at government utilities to walk out. But Yoon Yung-mo - a spokesman for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions - says his group will not be deterred. "Unions that are members of the KCTU, at the petition of KCTU, have gone on strike from one o'clock today [Tuesday] to show solidarity to those workers in the struggle to stop the government's privatization drive," he says.

The workers oppose government economic reform plans to sell many public sector firms, saying they could lead to huge layoffs. They are also demanding that their five-and-a -half day work week be shortened but they do not want to take a pay cut.

Mr. Yoon says that the workers want a dialogue with officials, but, instead, the government is too focused on impressing international institutions. "The unions and society as a whole is forced to take this kind of action so that we begin a process. We are seeing a government that is very much a prisoner of the I-M-F, the World Bank and also international confidence," he says. "It is very much a captive, and because it is a captive it is not really able to listen to the people and engage with people to find a solution that is worthwhile and acceptable and means consensus."

The rail workers' walkout disrupted transport services for a second day, causing delays for commuters and for cargo deliveries to ports. The government has taken emergency steps to avert problems with power supplies.