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Assault on the KCTU Headquarters: Next time, bring the trebuchets

The Park Geun-hye administration has earned the honor of being the first government to storm the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU) since the union was founded in 1995.

The police stormed the building to execute an arrest warrant nine members of the leadership for the Korean Railway Workers’ Union (KRWU), which has been striking for half a month. Using pepper spray, some 5,000 officers seized the 18-story building, defeating a spirited defense by about 120 members of the railroad union, KCTU and the Unified Progressive Party.

And the payoff for the government’s highly ostentatious use of force? Not a single one of the nine KRWU leaders wanted by authorities were found. The Park administration did, however, solidify its reputation in some quarters of the population as one whose political proclivities lean oh-so-slightly to the authoritarian. Or as the Hankyoreh put it:

Another of the government’s aims is to draw a clear line that extends beyond the KRWU to all members of the labor community who oppose the administration’s policies. While the KCTU, KRWU, and civil society in general have proposed setting up a “social dialogue” framework to address the key issue in the privatization furor – the establishment of a KORAIL subsidiary – the government’s response has instead been an ostentatious use of force. In effect, it has shown that it intends to respond to the debate by putting physical force ahead of dialogue.

“The government should be the ones initiating dialogue,” said a KRWU source on condition of anonymity. “Instead, they’ve issued what amounts to a declaration of war. They refuse to even recognize the body that is the supreme representative of unions, viewing it as an enemy instead.”

Good job, guys.

Mind you, there is another side to this story, and places like the Chosun Ilbo are all too happy to write seven-paragraph editorials in support of said side. The Chosun notes that no country would tolerate protesters violently blocking the execution of an arrest warrant (probably true, but on the other hand, I’m not sure how many countries would consider a strike like the KRWU’s illegal), that the government isn’t trying to privatize KORAIL, and at any rate the strike is less about privatization and more about the union blocking reform in order to protect its iron rice bowl (also probably true, IMHO). KORAIL’s personnel costs continue to rise—the company even pays out bonuses—despite a debt that’s triple its annual sales. Attempts to private the operation side of KORAIL go back to the DJ administration, and there are several examples of public corporations adopting a competition model to improve service and/or lower costs—see Korea Airports Corporation ve. Incheon International Airport Corporation and Seoul Metro vs. Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation.

Even granting all this, it’s hard to see how such a spectacular show of force—and a failing one at that—is going to help matters, especially considering that the government is going to need to work with labor unions in order to realize its economic reform initiatives.

photo credit: Luke,Ma via photopin cc

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  • brier

    Looks like the KRWU’s gravy train is drying up.

  • bumfromkorea

    Regardless of the merits or faults of the privatization of KORAIL, sending 5,000 (I heard 4,000 though) riot police into a trade union building with arrest warrants for 9 people that aren’t even there is comically fucked up.

    The three prominent phrases coming out of Korea’s discussion on this issue will be “Jongbuk”, “North Korean agents”, and “Commies” – as it always will be until the current generation of pre-90s conservatives die off.

  • Seoulite

    PGH, her father would have been proud of her.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Good, the KCTU should be crushed.

  • Fapitalist

    But the management and crony gravy train is just fine. Right.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    Can you see that when you post such comments that you seem more fascist than anarchist?

  • ryuNchoosk

    It’s pretty sad when(“In Korea”) you must be “anonymous” when saying…“The government should be the ones initiating dialogue,” said a KRWU source on condition of anonymity.”

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I generally think all communism should be crushed

  • Anonymous_Joe

    In a thread that had had only three posts before yours, how could you miss bum’s

    bumfromkorea: “Regardless of the merits or faults of the privatization of KORAIL, sending 5,000 (I heard 4,000 though) riot police into a trade union building with arrest warrants for 9 people that aren’t even there is comically fucked up.”

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I did not miss it; I disagreed with it. I think a show of force was a good thing; too long the government treated them with kid gloves. I look forward to a severe escalation of force against this particular union.

  • bananaman

    So much for your oft-championed anti-government/authoritarian sensibilities.

    You’re a dictator’s wet dream.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I look at this from a different perspective. The KCTU is a viper’s nest of North Korean support. I am fine with force being used to wipe out any such support. This is simply a matter of gradation: no matter how authoritarian PGH may become, the KCTU supports something much worse.

    Additionally, the KCTU is HARDLY anti-authoritarian and anti-government. They are a legal labor union which has been able to horde up quite a few nice little privileges thanks to that status. I am in principle against business or labor being in bed with governments. The first leads to fascism, the second to communism. If a parasitical cabal gets its feathers plucked by the other parasitical cabal, so much the better. Its a good show.

  • RElgin

    This action was different because it is a message to any who need it not to mess with this administration – including the cousins up north.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    finis coronat opus

  • RElgin

    Latin for “fire the cornet player”.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    lol… My latin is a bit rusty. It hasn’t been used for 500 years.

  • RElgin

    Cornet players have been around a long time.

  • bananaman

    Using an instrument of the state to physically smash and intimidate an unarmed group whose politics are not that of your own, is more akin to North Korea than any union can ever come close to being.

    And however you may wish to view it, it is fascism in its first and foremost form.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Using the fist of the State to smash a group that wishes to bring about the victory of something far worse, is simply self-defense.

  • Todd M

    If one is a capitalist, unions are a necessary evil.

  • RElgin

    Celeryman is basically correct this time.
    This was a message when viewed in context to current events. If they wanted those nine guys, they would have gotten them quietly enough but they wanted a show to prevent certain players from adding to the political problems this administration has at this time.
    Though there are problems with this administration, this was probably seen as a preventative step.

  • George_Smiley

    Awesome screen name

  • bananaman

    Fascism, nonetheless.

    You seem to be alluding to the collapse of South Korea. How do you know this is the political goal in calling a strike?

  • brier

    Fap. Anything you want. Just take it.

  • PeterDownUnder

    Well considering some even call Obama a communist still in the US, don’t think that phrase will die out in SK any time soon.

    Especially when there really exists Jongbuk, North Korean agents and Commies in SK.

    You can try and be politically correct as much as you want, the reality is there truly is a North Korean force within SK doing its best to subvert the SK government and sabotage everything and anything.

  • PeterDownUnder

    Explain this to a young libertarian please….

  • Aja Aja

    Thorough infiltration by NK agents into Korean unions makes talking with the Korean trade unions a very difficult job. It should be illegal to strike in vital government workers like firefighters, police, hospitals, and yes, rail workers. But I would rather see the K-government leave those nine ring leaders out of it, and just fire all the lazy assed over paid 5000 striking workers and replace them with those people who really want and deserve the jobs.

  • http://yuletide5142.weebly.com/ Yule

    Why do you think NK agents control the SK unions?

  • http://yuletide5142.weebly.com/ Yule

    The union and its supporters think that privatization means selling-off the company to foreigners, I’ve heard, so it’s also a nationalistic fight. The Park government is on the “foreigner” side.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Read the Hani, the collapse of this government is their goal.

  • Fapitalist

    Another point — while the police had an arrest warrant for those union leaders, they did NOT have a search warrants for the KCTU headquarters. So, even dumber.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Because its a way to try and destabilize the government. There are no better organized groups than labor unions, which are also strong physically (as opposed to students or professionals) and hence able to put up a fight against the police, have a very simplistic mindset and are hence predisposed to the message put out by the Workers’ Paradise. In 2 words: useful idiots

  • bumfromkorea

    and illegal…er.

  • bumfromkorea

    That’s exactly the rhetoric that PCH used to justify his bullshits. And, unsurprisingly to anyone who was wary of PGH presidency, the rhetoric that modern Saenuri party is using to justify this bullshit. The “there are REDS!” rhetoric justifying disgustingly undemocratic behaviors in a democracy is, sadly, a commonly occurring phenomenon. That’s how McCarthy did it, that’s how Saenuri does it, and it’s worked out pretty horrific so far.

  • RElgin

    Nope, I allude to sending a message of overwhelming retaliation for any provocation, to all parties – including the DPRK.
    Better now than later when the message would be less subtle and more dangerous.

  • RElgin

    Unions have been an easier target to infiltrate, in different eras. Though Communist-style unions were never a real social problem, despite the paranoia of Dulles and his lot, there are enough here in South Korea to cause some trouble.

  • RElgin

    These fellows are truly stupid to think in those terms. The government would not put certain sectors of business into “foreign” hands though there is a willingness to invite foreign investment into the tourism sector, such as down south or on Chejudo.
    I will say that most Korean projects that were intended to draw foreign involvement have lost money due to poor or non-existent local planning. The JoongAng has an article on this on their site now.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I have no sympathy for unions in general. Unions cryiong about violence being used on them forget that violence and the threat of it is how they do business. The very act of “crossing the picket line” is an acceptable excuse for using violence against the “scabs.” Unions THRIVE on physical violence and coercion. They are also a form of violence unleashed on the labor market: they gather up the cookies for themselves and exclude non-unionized, and distort wages in the process. And they do it all with the support, or at least with a blind eye, of the government.

    In Korea, as I said earlier, you have the fact that these are groups who are sympathetic with the Northern regime. They are infiltrated by the North’s agents; but even if they weren’t they would still lean that way. They are either taking direct orders from the North or pro-Northern domestic elements.

    I really have no sympathy for them and this is way too complicated to simply say that supporting PGH means one is a fascist because the political landscape here is far more complicated than it is back home. But to reiterate, these are really just 2 cabals going head to head, the government and the communist unions. And since for me there is nothing on earth worse than communism, and particularly the kind practiced in the DPRK, I will support PGH in her attempt to crush the unions.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    SalarymaninSeoul: “Read the Hani, the collapse of this government is their goal.

    http://english.hani.co.kr/arti

    “The KCTU’s declaration of a campaign to “bring down the administration”….”

    “Bring down the administration” does not mean “bring down the government.”

  • redwhitedude

    A bit too trigger happy on the part of the police.

  • redwhitedude

    It’s in the genes.

  • bananaman

    ‘I am hoping heads are split and the red stuff flows freely. If this is the final clash, may 2014 be the end of labor unions in South Korea.’

    A sentiment not unlike something I’d expect to hear from a brown-shirt in a beer hall in 1930s Germany.

    Whatever your beliefs, hardline and violent quelling of political, democratic dissent with sticks and fists does much to bring sympathy to those whose ‘red stuff flows freely’ under such state tyranny. That is far more damaging to the current political status-quo and long-term stability of South Korea.

  • Wedge1

    McCarthy was right, though. Oops.

  • Wedge1

    The best thing that ever happened to the UK was Maggie crushing their unions. Good luck Park Geun-hye.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I did not say that; I am under no delusion that they are anarchists. Bring down the administration means replace it with something else; and since we know the political sentiments of these far left scum, what that something else is, is pretty damn obvious.

    Those who cannot see this pledge in the context of what is happening with North Korea are either stupid or willfully blind. You are not stupid, so what is blinding you, Joe? Is it your quaint attachment to Democracy? These are not democratic warriors, do not be led about by your nose. They are as democratic as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and what they want is either direct rule from Pyongyang or a lackey boot licker like Roh in the Blue House.

  • bumfromkorea

    According to… who? And if you quote a right-wing think tank or a revisionist historian that every other historians laugh at, I get to metaphysically punch you in your metaphysical nose.

    …I’m going to go ask a think tank about how to go about doing that.

  • RElgin

    Agents for the DPRK actually did try to kill PCH though. American soldiers have died from DPRK ambushes during that time too.

    That was a real threat though, now, I think the Saenuri team has gone too far into that rhetoric for the sake of preserving power and by falling back upon such, make themselves vulnerable to the perception that they are doing the old Democratic Republican Party thing and that is not helpful for the country or themselves. Their ineptitude worries me more than union idiots.

  • bumfromkorea

    Agents for the DPRK actually did try to kill PCH though. American soldiers have died from DPRK ambushes during that time too.

    Yes, but I would argue that PCH (and his defenders in the present day) abused that reality by making it a moral blank check for himself.

    Their ineptitude worries me more than union idiots.

    In attempt to gain 명분, Saenuri has given it away to the unions. PGH should really update her daddy’s playbook – it’s not 1970s anymore.

  • RElgin

    . . . PGH should really update her daddy’s playbook – it’s not 1970s anymore.

    YES
    Her older advisors are too rooted in cliches and the past. They are alienating newer members of Saenuri Dang, which is a *very* bad thing. These old heads are just about as bad as their northern cousins, IMHO, considering the ignorance and waste.

  • Todd M

    Capitalism depends on growth. Growth comes from demand for products. Demand comes from consumers with money. Most consumers are workers. However, capitalists see workers as a cost to be minimized, usually by downsizing, outsourcing, offshoring, automation, union busting, etc. As the number of worker decreases and as workers’ wages decrease, there is less demand for products. This puts a brake on production, often leading to job loss and a further decrease in demand. Without growth, with enormous wealth and income inequality, and given enough time, people might turn away from capitalism to something far less desirable like communism, anarchism, or socialism.
    Unions are critical to securing the middle class, from where most economic growth comes and thoughts of communism and anarchism are low. Unfortunately, however, most people only focus on what’s wrong with unions (it’s easy because there are abuses, some incredible). Many forget how unions sacrificed to improve the lives of workers, from the Shirtwaist factory days to pre-Reagan and Thatcher, allowing many of us to have decent middle class lives.
    Those working towards ending unions may become both agent and victim.

  • seouldout

    There have been far finer moments than that. The Battle of Hastings, Magna Carta, the establishment of the Church of England, the sinking of the Armada, British India, the capture of New Amsterdam, the 7 Years War, the Battle of Trafalgar, Waterloo, the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, the Treaty of Nanking, the Convention of Constantinople, and the Battle of Britain to name but a few.

  • SeoulGoodman

    You forget Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Who, the Beatles…Oh, you get the picture.

  • SeoulGoodman

    “…I’m not sure how many countries would consider a strike like the KRWU’s illegal…”

    That’s the thing, it’s a legal strike. If they were burning cars in the street, ok, but that’s not what’s going on.

    KORAIL will become profitable if it’s privatized. How? It will become just as expensive to ride the train as it is in Japan. So, yeah, the union isn’t just trying to protect its “iron rice bowl”.

  • Mike Morgan

    Er, um, Godwin’s Law?

  • Mike Morgan

    You can’t really believe that. Unions are gangs of thugs. They have always been gangs of thugs. And frankly, given the events of Tiannemen Square in 1989, the SEIU protests across the US, and even the more recent violence in South Korea, you’re really naive or dishonest to suggest otherwise.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    You wrote that “collapse of the government”, which is illegal, is their goal. Bringing down the administration, has a place in the democratic process, and even if it is a stated goal is not illegal or should not be.

    Here’s my take: I don’t know enough of the particulars of the KCTU strike, but I find it disturbing that the government sent 5,000, or however many, riot police to arrest nine for what seems to me to be speech.

  • Todd M

    Naïve or dishonest? My, my, my…
    Are you young, an economic elitist, wealthy industrialist, or a sucker of the corporate propaganda campaign? (to give you two more options than you gave me)
    “…always been thugs” (Please read Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.)No they haven’t. Most unions formed because of the abuses of capitalism and capitalists, not because of some inherent thuggery. And they differ significantly depending on the jurisdiction and the systems within each. If some unions have been taken over by ‘thugs’, does that reflect more on them or the system within which they work? You mention Tiannemen Square. Do you realize how authoritarian the Chinese government was at that time? (I’m naïve?) What should students and workers have done at that time? Propositioned to the local authority for legitimacy? They were quickly labeled a “counter-revolutionary riot” and summarily stomped on.
    Systems regulating unions and worker wages vary significantly; some allow nonviolent economic justice while others do not. I do not advocate violence, but sometimes there are few options (because of the system) to achieve economic justice. Sweden, Norway, and Canada do okay; the US, less; China, much less so. Any discussion of unions’ aggressiveness and violent tactics should include the particularities and limitations of each system.
    The history of mankind has few repeating stories, but one has to be the conflict between the elites and the masses. Feudalism and aristocracy/oligarchy are common; a democracy with a healthy middle class is but a blip. Unions, along with progressive governance (support of unions, regulation of industry, progressive taxation, infrastructure building, student loans, social safety net, etc.) helped create the middle class. We need unions, plus progressive governance, to maintain the middle class. Otherwise, the US will (or is now) become an aristocracy/oligarchy.
    I fully agree that in some jurisdictions, some unions have pushed for far to much (even being controlled by “mobster’ influences), but many have also sought common sense demands. Perhaps just not the ones you are familiar with.
    Finally, we are in the midst of a class war, starting in the mid 70s, except few people realize it. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, almost nobody is fighting the elites, except unions. In fact, many people (who are not even elites) are advocating a system which enriches only an extremely small portion of society. And I’m naïve?

  • http://f5waeg.blogspot.com/ F5Waeg

    I agree in essence with what you say: unions have been necessary, and arguably still are. However, I do make objection when low skilled workers make wages that far exceed their abilities, such as in the case of the Hyundai workers in Ulsan. The issue with the railworkers is also similar: they need to realize that changes are necessary, as the system is too bloated.

    Mind, the first that should face cuts are those at the top, since they are supposed to serve as examples to all, and should be willing to sacrifice significant pay and bonuses to show how it is done. Sadly, most of what we see today in terms of cuts affects only those in the bottom 90% of workers, while managers and CEOs still enjoy huge payoffs. There is a serious problem, when you see stories like this, where the little guy is constantly being told to eat it:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/outrageous-hsbc-settlement-proves-the-drug-war-is-a-joke-20121213#ixzz2oPHZQStD

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/12/12/canada-post-ceo-deepak-chopra-is-a-board-member-of-the-think-tank-that-urged-mail-changes/

    There is something fundamentally wrong with this kind of situation, which is a case for why unions are still necessary.

  • http://f5waeg.blogspot.com/ F5Waeg

    wouldn’t the real thugs be those who take big payoffs in the roles of CEOs or consultants while middle class folks watch their standard of living disappear?

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    This decline in the middle-class standard of living which you describe, if it’s real, would also happen to take place concurrently with the rise of the welfare society and hyper-administrative state. Isn’t it also worth considering whether liberalism is, rather than an ameliorating factor, possibly an immiserating factor?

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    You want the government to decide who “deserves” a job? You’re limiting this only to government jobs, right?

  • Sumo294

    Hmmnnn . . . I cannot actually disagree with your statement. If anyone knows me, I loathe Communism, but I agree with this, the failure of capitalism is the failure to lead by example.

  • Sumo294

    Did you at one time go by the name of Sonagi?

  • Anonymous_Joe

    Dude, you’ve “borrowed” it long enough, and I want my teenage record collection back.

  • George_Smiley

    …Also words like “knob-head” and “quim” and “git”.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    Wanker.

  • http://f5waeg.blogspot.com/ F5Waeg

    um, waht? Perhaps I am too dimwitted to understand what you mean, as I see it as an evisceration of the welfare state

  • George_Smiley

    “Bitty!” lol

  • http://f5waeg.blogspot.com/ F5Waeg

    No. To define myself in that context: I know well the awesomeness of the spring rain, but have only at times understood the trappings of what I would consider middling wealth, which really is not a bad life at all. I am a mere social democrat who believes that those who make exceptional good have a responsibility to return what made them who they are. Some have more skill and more ambition and more focus, which is why I could never be a communist, since people are not created equal: we are only a response to what we live, which is situational. Some born in a different time and place would achieve things never dreamed of in other situations. Yet even if you’re bitter and resentful, you wouldn’t have your life without everything that made you who you are. If you choose to not give opportunity for others who follow when you’ve made good, you’ve really learned nothing at all, and lack perspective, and deserve to have it all taken away, since for some the lot of Job is the only option that can speak to them. . . but then, I am quite drunk at Christmas day and have decided to be all Catholic.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Maybe they felt that they are going into a den of terrorists who would not shrink from using deadly weapons if the forces were not overwhelmingly superior?

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    Let me rephrase: The salad days for the middle class in the United States were the 1950s and 1960s, but the United States experienced terrific economic growth over the century before that. However, in the decade of the 1960s two things happened — the Great Society welfare state was instituted, and the Federal government cemented its dominance over the states by a blizzard of regulations. The Federal government now redistributes over US$2 trillion a year out of a US$16 trillion economy. The Code of Federal Regulations in 1950 numbered about 20,000 pages; last year it numbered over 175,000 pages. As regulations impose social costs, it may be reasonably inferred that the cost of compliance with Federal regulations is much higher now than it was during the salad days of the middle class.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Who gets to decide how much has to be given back and by whom? What “we received” is rather subjective; or can you quantify it? We already pay taxes, which, I am told, are for the purposes of “giving back.” Are these taxes, then, not enough? Are you proposing heavily progressive taxation, then with the top bracket “losing everything?” But, since taxation is based on income, the top bracket may well be giving a lot back by creating economic opportunities in the form of jobs, as well as by paying taxes already. So, it seems you are implying the need for something else, maybe some kind of committee that would judge each of us on how we gave back relative to what we received, and punishing us accordingly for our failures to abide by your social-democratic ethic.

    And would unions be also similarly judged? They have received plenty, what with the government allowing them to exclude the non-unionized outsiders out of jobs and concurrently by reducing the wages of the non-unionized workers.

  • David Carruth

    Essentially, the only sources who are NOT anonymous in the media in Korea are analysts who have a reputation to build or maintain and spokespeople voicing not their own position but the position of the organization that they represent.

  • flyingsword

    The korean trade union is a bunch of selfish bastards, nothing more than stooges for their nK puppet masters. Should be declared illegal and all arrested!

  • Fapitalist

    A nice theory, but the numbers don’t back you up:

    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/03/long-term-real-growth-in-us-gdp-per-capita-1871-2009/

    As for middle-class quintiles, they started to erode under Reagan, with a brief slowdown under Clinton.

    But feel free to keep wearing your tinfoil hat and reading Lew Rockwell.

  • felddog13

    People ought to check out “The Wire” creator David Simon’s brilliant speech about the push-pull between labor and capital–and what will happen to a society when capital wins an untrammeled victory– from the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” in Sydney.

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    It was in the 1980s that the weight of the redistributive and regulatory state commenced in the 1960s started to drag. Generally speaking these things mount over time.

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    Please tell the Democratic Party.

  • http://f5waeg.blogspot.com/ F5Waeg

    Watching libertarians writhe around at the idea of taxation and government oversight is damn funny… No worries salaryman, as the levels of wealth I’m alluding to automatically exclude you. I can’t swallow that people in top positions keep getting massive payouts when the vast majority are told to suck it up… The new pope is very timely now isn’t he, with his message of needing to show less ostentation. Too bad that’s a message that the lower classes will be expected to assume while CEOs can still vacation in the Maldives.

    At least we seem close to the same level, as you do agree that paying taxes is necessary for infrastructure and necessary social services?

  • http://f5waeg.blogspot.com/ F5Waeg

    This seems an overly simplistic overview, and ignores the other great welfare state experiments that worked. Are you saying that overreaching welfare systems are responsible for the change in values from the can do rugged individualism yet concerned with building a strong nation and community, to the narcissistic me first taking pictures of food entitled Snots that seem so prevalent today? Are the costs too high for these types of programs now? The money and resources to make them work before were available, but more importantly so was the political and individual will. these days said will seems more intent on breaking apart these systems in the name of privatization (which isn’t always a bad thing before someone takes offense to that)…

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    That’s the thing, it’s a legal strike. If they were burning cars in the street, ok, but that’s not what’s going on.

    Violence is irrelevant to whether a strike is lawful or unlawful. Korea places limits on what may be the basis for a strike, and if a strike is undertaken for a prohibited reason, the strike is unlawful.