Relay Hunger Strike for the Solidarity Struggle with the Catholic Univ. of Korea Incheon St. Mary’s Hospital

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On September 21st, Jeongeun Hwang, General Secretary of the ISC, met ISC Advisor Chong-Gak Lee, who started a relay hunger strike in front of Dabdong Catholic Church in Incheon. The hunger strike is to demand a resolution to corruption charges and an end to the suppression of the labor union in Catholic University of Korea Incheon St. Mary’s Hospital.

In the 1970s, Ms. Lee was a union leader at Dong-il Corporation. When the company management sabotaged a union election by pouring human excrement on the female union members, still wearing her stained clothes, she immediately ran to a photographer to document what had been done to them. She is currently a director at Cheongsol House which runs a community child care center, community self-sufficiency center, and elders’ community.

The struggle in Incheon St. Mary’s Hospital/International Strugglestarted when hospital management falsified medical records by inflating the number of patients to receive more funds from the National Health Insurance Service. Activists are denouncing the fraud and demanding the resignation of those responsible.

In addition, Incheon’s civil society groups have joined in solidarity with the campaign to stop the suppression of the labor unions. Since 2012, management has harassed the union leader and pressured members to leave the union. As a result, while 250 of the 400 staff were part of the trade union in 2006, currently there are only 11 members out of the now expanded 1,600 staff. Recently, the leader of the hospital union along with the Korea Health and Medical Workers’ Union went to the Vatican and Italy for ten days to petition for international solidarity from the Catholic church and Italian trade unions . Currently over 40 civic organizations in Incheon form a planning committee for solidarity struggle, which Cheongsol House will join.

As the one to propose the relay hunger strike, Chong Gak Lee was also naturally the first person to do it. When I met her at the entrance of the church she was sitting on the thin mat, she shared stories about her past struggles. She talked about the time she went to police station with others to demand the release of an arrested comrade, ended up pulling the hair of the police chief and then had to run away. She also spoke about the long term hunger strike to demand reinstatement of laid-off workers in Dong-il Corporation. As regards the current struggle, she thinks that it will last longer, but she emanates a quiet determination. “The side that is tougher and more patient will win,” she adds. She continues by explaining how those in high positions that abuse their power rarely know what it is like to work on the ground and do not put themselves in the shoes of the latter. Ms. Lee, who has always been working on the ground said that if she met those responsible, she could without any hesitation ask, “Do you know what it’s like to be doing work on the ground?