Auto mechanics provided free tuneups and nurses gave free checkups Wednes-day, hoping to win popular support for South Korea's first organized nationwide strikes.
The public services were part of a "day of solidarity with the people" arranged by the outlawed Confederation of Trade Unions.The confederation said thousands of striking workers would hit the streets with brooms in a cleanup campaign, while others would help dig out remote villages snowed in by a recent storm. Free car tuneups were available in 12 cities, and some striking nurses and hospital workers set up tents offering free blood-pressure checks and services for the elderly.
The unions are challenging claims by the government that the strikes, called to protest a new labor law that allows layoffs, are fizzling for lack of public support.
The Labor Ministry said 79,000 workers at 80 work sites were taking part in the strikes Wednesday, but the union said 219,000 workers were on strike.
In the southern city of Ulsan, some 15,000 striking workers and their families demonstrated Wednesday to demand that the labor law be revised. A rally at a Seoul park drew 5,000 people.
The state prosecutor's office shelved plans Tuesday to request arrest warrants for union leaders, apparently believing the strikes would die out without any government action.
But if the unions prolong the protests, the "government has no option but to take firm action," Home Minister Kim Woo-suk said.
Thousands of workers have been on strike since Dec. 26 to demand that the new labor law be repealed. It was rammed through Parliament before dawn by ruling party legislators with no opposition members present.
Unless the government repeals the law, union members at subways, phone companies, newspapers, the national mint and other public works will join the strike next week, the confederation said.
So far, workers at subways, phone companies and cargo docks have stayed on the job because their work directly affects people. Hospital workers also have staffed emergency and operating rooms to minimize disruption.
Unionized workers at four national broadcasting stations, including journalists, joined the strike Tuesday.