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KHMU resolves to struggle for better health care and the candlelight revolution in Korea, at annual Congress

02 March 2017
The Korean Health and Medical Union (KHMU) held its 2017 Annual Congress on February 22-23 at the International Conference Hall of the Seoul Women’s Plaza. The meeting was attended by delegates from the 180 branches of KHMU, representing 50,000 members.

The Congress-in-session resolved that KHMU would place struggle for job creation and grand reforms in the health and medical sector as top priorities for 2017. It also resolved to fight for a better New Korea, based on Five Major Projects and Tasks, with the triumph of the candlelight revolution.

KHMU and other affiliates of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) have been at the fore of mass mobilisation of millions of working class people in the country demanding the immediate resignation of President Park Geun-hye. The KHMU President, Yoo Ji-hyun led union activists in the seventeenth protest manifestation of candlelight rallies since they burst out in October last year. This is the most massive movement for democratising society in Korea since 1987

The ongoing civil revolution was sparked by revelations of corruption in high places. The political scandal of influence-peddling by Choi Soon-sil, a close confidant of President Park for decades opened a can of worms, showing utter disrespect for constitutional provisions by the president and collaboration of highly placed rich people as cronies. But the roots of the mass anger go even deeper.

President Park has consistently championed neoliberal policies and programmes that have made life more difficult for Korean working class people, as the economic situation deteriorates. In the health sector, this has included the introduction of a Performance-based Pay System which promotes the commodification of health. Achieving the full wellbeing of patients is no longer considered as the focus of health care delivery by the state. Rather, it attempts to calibrate “performance” strictly on a basis of how many patients are attended to per day and related quantitative indices.

KHMU has repeatedly challenged this anti-workers and anti-poor people policy. The union has raised the danger of declining quality of health. Staff-to-patient ratios are nothing to write home about in the first place. When you now add the Performance-based Pay System to the mix, it is difficult for those that are not rich enough to afford health services at any cost to access quality care.

KHMU has always understood the interwoven linkages between fighting for better health for all, and the struggle for a just, democratic, economic and political system. That is why it has continued to stand in line with the candlelight protesters for civil revolution. At the pre-Congress KHMU Joint Leadership Training Camp held in January, President Yoo Ji-hyun pointed out to participants that “Candlelight demands for more fundamental changes”, urging them all, as one body, “to share concerns and establish plans as well as strategies”, for the struggle ahead in the sector, and the Korean body polity.

The whole of Korea waits with bated breath for the ruling of the Constitutional court on the impeachment of President Geun-hye by March 13 at the latest. The political climate is charged for elections this year, with counter-protests in defence of the indicted president, even though these are less than the mammoth-sized rallies which unions like KHMU have been very active in organising. KHMU will be presenting its Five Major Projects and Tasks resolution before parties that will be contesting.

The union will continue to build workers’ solidarity and mass action to expand the democratic space, ensure that workers are treated with dignity and well remunerated, and for the realisation of the right to health in Korea.

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