As the former US president Clinton’s visit to North Korea – meeting with ‘Dear Leader’ apparently in an effort to free the two US journalists– has hit the headline, some hundreds of workers at Ssangyong Motors factory in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers from Seoul in South Korea, have been desperately resisting against the police commandos and riot police, who have been massively pouring ‘tear water & gas’ and firing water cannon towards ‘workers’ head’ from ‘spraying helicopters’. The tactic having cornered those die-hard protesters to an extreme has created extremely dangerous situation indeed. The brutal crackdown was intensified from 6 am August 5th. High casualties are feared to be reported. I do fear of it.
The protesters are the ones who were laid off months ago due to ‘near bankruptcy’ of this fifth-largest carmaker company. The dismissal was unilateral – as usual – without any sort of compensation, process or negotiation with the employees. The Union has ‘disapproved’ the unilateral notice of sack. According to AFP report on 6th Aug,
“The Chinese-invested Ssangyong, the country’s smallest automaker, received court protection from bankruptcy in exchange for a turnaround plan which called for 36 percent of its workforce, or 2,646 employees, to be sacked.
Some 1,670 accepted voluntary retirement but the rest went on strike and occupied several buildings, eventually halting production”
Since the workers have occupied the factory two months ago in a protest, there seems to have been a small size of war-like situation in and out of the factory.
Well, I would say that it’s not ‘unfamiliar’ to have workers’ protest in this fashion – occupying compound for long to be crack downed finally– in the country, where a street protest or workers’ strike never was missed. However, there are very legitimate reasons why people are far more outrageous at ‘inhumanity’ this time, extremely concerning of safety of those inside the compound. That is…a ‘blockade’, and that is…a ‘renaissance’ of merciless manner of police commandos forces, who have been ‘braved’ to kill protesters (not intentionally though) under the incumbent Lee Myung Bak administration.
All necessary goods and food have not been allowed for strikers for many weeks. Medical treatment has been denied for those injured strikers. Water and power have been cut off. And now, hunter-like commandos are doing such harsh operations using excessive forces. It all reminds me of one thing, that is a Sri Lanka’s war, the one of the most brutal warfare in recent memory.
In the early months of this year, hundreds of thousands innocent Tamils had had to bear unprecedented inhumane conditions without food, shelter, drinking water and medicine in their homeland because of blockade by the Sri Lankan government, until they had been massacred by constantly fired rockets and bombs from government forces. Likewise, hundreds of workers in South Korea have had to bear inhumane conditions without water, food, medicine and power shortage…etc, while they practice their basic right, i.e. ‘strike’.
Well…the level of seriousness is not comparable of course, as South Korea is not on the war with any rebel group or country– it’s just been on cease fire with North Korea since 1953-. But again, it’s kind of parallel if one considers the way of operation, particularly blockade of basic goods, which tactic was never witnessed in a case of workers’ strike. The Lee Myung Bak regime, which could be characterized as a ‘neo liberal dictatorship’, has deprived human beings’ needs as well as workers’ basic rights.
The followings are a couple of related-articles on the Ssangyong workers’ struggle. I also add links of my recent article on South Korea in English at
and in German at
More updated situations will be following.
– Penseur21 –
S.Korea police aommandos confront Ssangyong strikers
By Lee Jae-won
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea, Aug 5 (Reuters) – South Korean police in full riot gear descended on autoworkers at embattled Ssangyong Motor Co (003620.KS) on Wednesday in an operation to break up a sit-in by unionists demanding to keep their jobs.
Cash-strapped Ssangyong, which is South Korea’s smallest automaker and currently under court receivership, had been pushing to cut more than a third of its workforce of 2,600 in a bid to resuscitate the company.
About 600 laid-off workers have occupied its main factory for more than 70 days, halting production lines at a mushrooming cost that the company said has now exceeded 300 billion won ($245.9 million).
Police commandos descended from helicopters onto the roofs of the assembly plant in Pyeongtaek, about 80 km south of the capital Seoul, and two warehouse buildings that store highly flammable materials used to paint automobiles.
Most of the plant’s facilities are now under police control except the main paint warehouse, where strikers are blockading the doors and armed with blowtorches, according to a Reuters photographer on the scene.
The operation capped days of cautiously executed planning to close in on the striking workers using tear gas sprayed from helicopters hovering from above and cutting off water supplies to the buildings in which they have blockaded themselves.
Ssangyong’s union has also demanded an infusion of government funds to rescue the troubled company. The government has rejected the proposal.
Ssangyong shares tumbled nearly 15 percent on Wednesday. Analysts said worries about the company’s liquidation outweighed earlier hopes it may be resuscitated.
Once the court decides on a liquidation, it will sell the company’s assets and distribute the proceeds to creditors, company officials have said.
In May, the Seoul Central District Court ordered Ssangyong to draw up a survival plan by mid-September.
The maker of the Rexton sport utility vehicle is 51 percent owned by top Chinese car maker SAIC Motor Corp (600104.SS). (Writing by Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)
source : http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssConsumerGoodsAndRetailNews/idUSSEO18825320090805
Police storm Ssangyong factory
Associated Press /Aug. 4th
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — South Korean police commandos on Tuesday stormed an auto factory occupied by hundreds of fired workers, who set vehicles alight and fought back with firebombs.
The raid on Ssangyong Motor Co’.s sole assembly line comes after weeks of tension that has seen workers use slingshots and molotov cocktails against riot police, who have responded by dropping tear gas from helicopters.
The fifth-largest South Korean carmaker has been in court-approved bankruptcy protection since February amid falling sales and mounting red ink. Troubles have deepened in the past two months with hundreds of dismissed workers occupying the factory’s paint shop packed with flammable materials to protest massive layoffs.
An officer with the Gyeonggi provincial police said about 80 commandos had taken over a few factory buildings occupied by strikers and were being supported by three police and two fire helicopters. Strikers fought back, hurling firebombs at police, but there have been no reports of injuries, he said.
Estimates by police and Ssangyong have put the number of people occupying the factory’s paint shop the focal point of the protest at up to 600, though some have given up in recent days.
The facility is located in Pyeongtaek, some 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of Seoul.
Police have closed in on the paint shop, the police official said, but did not enter it. They may later in the day if the situation allows, he said.
The paint shop is said to contain flammable material which besides the risk of a violent showdown has raised fears of an inferno if there is a full-blown police assault.
Lee Won-muk, a Ssangyong spokesman, said that between 500 and 540 people were still occupying the paint shop after about 100 gave up on Sunday and another 17 on Tuesday.
Numerous ambulances and fire trucks were standing by. Strikers had set Ssangyong vehicles on fire and were also burning tires. A thick cloud of smoke rose above the facility.
Unionists have been occupying the facility for more than two months to protest massive job cuts by Ssangyong, which is seeking to reorganize after entering bankruptcy protection.
A major restructuring plan calls for the shedding of 2,646 workers, or 36% of the work force. Some 1,670 have left the company voluntarily but nearly 1,000 opposed the move.
The standoff intensified last month when riot police began gradually moving in to kick protesters out of the compound.
Talks last week to end the occupation broke off Sunday, with management threatening to take steps toward bankruptcy unless the union accepted a compromise offer on layoffs.
The company offered to keep more workers than before in a compromise proposal, but the union insisted on no layoffs.
Copyright © 2009 Associated Press
source : http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124936693031003877.html
Caring if people live or die at Ssangyong Motors plant – [Editorial] of The Hankyoreh / Aug. 4th
Conditions for the unionists who have been protesting mass dismissal at the Ssangyong Motors plant in Pyeongtaek are now at their worst. The management of Ssangyong Motors had police shut off water, food and gas last month, and they have now added electricity to the list in response to Sunday’s breakdown in negotiations. Making food and basic survival has just been made more difficult for the union members in the now pitch-black factory. It seems as though management is saying surrender or starve to death to union members they are regarding as their enemy.
The inhumane acts do not end there. As of yesterday, police resumed using helicopters to spray the roof of the plant with tearing agents. Dichloromethane, contained in the tearing agent, is a hazardous material that is listed as a carcinogen by both Korea’s Industrial Safety and Health Law and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The police claim it is not harmful, but this contradicts the agent’s level three (out of five) classification as a carcinogenic material by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Moreover, due to the suspension of the water supply, the workers are unable to wash off the spray once they come into contact with it. Nevertheless, police continue to spray this harmful material, as if to suggest that they do not care if the workers get sick or die.
Even with electricity and without the spraying of the tearing agents, the paint shop where the strikers are demonstrating is a very dangerous place. There are few doors or windows from which to escape in an emergency. Furthermore, the plant’s fire sprinklers are unable to function properly as a result of the power shut-off and an estimated 200,000 liters of flammable material like paint thinner are stacked along the pathways of the maze-like interior of the shop.
If the police launch a raid or a fire breaks out, it will be difficult for the workers to escape from the shop to safety. The possibility is high that the slightest mistake may trigger a major catastrophe, and this is probably what has informed the actions of the Gyeonggi-do provincial firemen to issue a warning against the company for violating fire safety laws and to order it to turn the water back on. The company, however, is saying it will pay the penalties and will hold out, as the police appear ready to deploy its men. If something adverse were to occur, it would be negligent homicide. This is what we witnessed in the Yongsan tragedy in January, and accountability does not end with mere words. The police and management of Ssangyong Motors must value human life and make the decision against a crackdown on the workers. The current level of deprivation of human rights at Ssangyong Motors is already enough to bring shame to this democratic nation. We hope the management and labor return to the negotiating table before an even bigger mistake is made.
source : http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_editorial/369378.html
Striking Korean workers defy police
Aljazeera / Thursday, July 23, 2009
He said that electricity to the plant had been left on because it was necessary to keep paint at the factory fluid.
On Wednesday an extra deployment of 100 police commandos joined the security forces already at the plant to lead a possible raid of the occupied buildings, an officer with the provincial police said.
“We’re fully ready to move in, but haven’t set the timing because a lot of flammable material, such as paint and thinner, is scattered in the paint shop,” the officer said. “For now, it is difficult to move in.”
Lee Chang-kun, a spokesman for the union leading the protests, said the occupying workers would resist if police launch an assault and suggested such a fight could turn bloody.
“If police decide to move in, then it would mean that they don’t care even if dozens die,” he said.
Chinese-owned Ssangyong, which specialises in sport-utility vehicles and luxury sedans, said the factory occupation had cost $196.5m in lost revenue.
The protest began on May 21 and has paralysed production at the plant, adding to the problems faced by a company that was already in court-approved bankruptcy protection.
Government officials have said that unless the protest is ended soon, there will be little hope of saving Ssangyong motors as a going concern.
Ssangyong’s labour union rejected a compromise offer from the management in late June and since then there has been no contact between the company and the protesters.
South Korea’s fifth-largest car maker had offered to re-hire some of the workers by 2012 and give others opportunities to retire with more benefits or help them to find other jobs.
source : http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2009/07/2009723582641747.html