|Issue No 52||05 May 2000|
Sydney Support for Korean Workers and Arrested Officials
By Peter Murphy
Over 40 unionists and Korean community activists occupied the North Sydney office of Daewoo Australia on Tuesday may 2, 2000, to support the demands for job security by car workers in South Korea.
For over two hours, the occupiers - mainly Korean-born building workers - discussed the situation at Daewoo and chanted slogans, while union officials negotiated with the local manager.
Daewoo Australia were extremely cooperative and refused suggestions by the building manager that the police be called. They arranged a phone connection to the Daewoo Motors Union office in Korea to allow the occupiers to directly communicate their support in conversation and by chanting.
Over 80,000 workers employed by South Korea's big four car makers - Hyundai, Daewoo, Ssang-yong and Kia - launched a series of strikes from April 6, leading up to a general strike on April 12. A further general strike was held on April 27 and a mass protest rally was held in Seoul on April 28.
At 3.40 AM on April 25, 2000, over one hundred battle-dressed police raided the office of the Daewoo Motors Workers Union in Pupyung near Seoul and arrested everyone in the office. There were twenty union leaders and activists who had made the office their temporary home for the duration of the campaign.
The pre-dawn raid signals the government's hard line attitude towards the workers' demand that a special taskforce be set up, comprising workers, company, creditor banks, the government, experts and other interested stakeholders. The taskforce would undertake a comprehensive examination and discussion of the best way to rescue the troubled Daewoo Motors.
The union had taken a step back from its original position of immediate and unconditional cancellation of the plan to sell Daewoo Motors overseas.
The government said it would not participate in this kind of consultation and joint decision-making process with the trade union movement.
This triggered a seven day strike from April 6 that included all four car companies.
In response, the Public Prosecutor's Office issued arrest warrants against 34 union leaders and activists. So the April 25 raid was long expected.
Of the twenty who were dragged away, thirteen low-ranking activists were released, but the other seven are held by the police. They are:
LEE Nam-mok, Vice-President
CHANG Soon-kil, Organising Director
KIM Jo-hyun, Industrial Action Director
BOK Jae-hyun, rank and file member
YOO Young-ku, Sports Activities Director
LEE Bong-yong, Industrial Health and Safety Director
Vice-President Lee and Sports Director Yoo are expected to be charged for organising a protest public meeting in front of the Central Office of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party before the April 6 strike. The rest, plus union President Choo, had outstanding warrants against them.
Key unionists at Hyundai Motors, including President Jeung Kap-deuk, also have warrants out against them.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) has complained to the OECD Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee on April 7 that the Korean government was making loud threats of arrests of union activists.
President Kim Dae-jung held a summit with the opposition party on April 24, and referred to the workers' actions as "illegal collective self-interest" and said his government would deal with them "sternly".
The trigger for this sharp conflict was the decision to sell the troubled Daewoo Motors to an overseas company - General Motors is the leading contender.
The Korean Metal Workers Federation, which covers the unions in these companies, predicts that if the sale goes through then a large number of Daewoo workers would be made redundant under the new labor code, and that imported cars would take a significant share of the domestic car market, thus forcing redundancies in the other three companies.
Daewoo has 30% of the domestic car market and its mid-range and large size cars are popular. The domestic car market is now 160,000 units per year and it is predicted to double in the next five years. This makes Korea a target market for transnational car makers.
Since China joined the World Trade Organisation last December, it is committed to reduce its tariffs by 20% by the year 2005. This makes export car plants in Korea attractive for carmakers wanting to export to China.
Daewoo was largely a subcontract producer for General Motors in the 1970s. the workers already know that working for GM will be a bad experience. Resistance to the entry of GM is very high.
Meanwhile, the privatised French auto-maker, Renault, has announced that it is buying a controlling interest in Samsung Motors. This company is viciously anti-union and has no union in its motor division. Samsung has 10% of the Korean domestic car market. Renault has just bought a controlling interest in Nissan, and Samsung makes Nissan-designed vehicles.
KCTU is planing a general strike of all its affiliates for May 31, 2000, on the following range of demands: higher wages, shorter working hours, trade union rights for public servants, a social welfare system, ending the conglomerate (chaebol) company system, co-determination by unions about restructuring.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005