(Updated August 4) South Korea: Ssangyong workers face brutal police/thug attacks as factory occupation continues

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See also the statement by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, ``Call to Action: Stop Police Suppression against the Striking workers of Ssangyong Motors!''

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Scroll down for earlier coverage.

Urgent Appeal: Ssangyong Motor workers’ lives in danger! Solidarity urgent!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU)


Dear friends,

We urgently request your solidarity regarding Ssangyong Motor Workers’ dispute. It is urgent for the Korean government to step up and play a role toward a peaceful settlement!

Our union members’ lives are in danger.

- Ssangyong Motor management unilaterally broke off negotiations and

- management is calling for riot police to raid the paintshop building or they will use their privately built up forces to enter the paintshop, further they have cut off the electricity, making for an extremely dangerous situation.

The company has used these private forces to repeatedly attack the sit-in strike and incite clashes.

The police should not allow company-hired private security forces and company-organised goons to attack the striking workers with nunchakus, pipes and other artillery, but the police allow them in and work together with them, dividing up responsibilities with non-State actors such as hired thugs who have no accountability and feel immune to law since they are already working joint operations together with the police.

Thus, the workers on a long strike with tension and lack of sleep and a very sensitive state are incited by the thugs to act in self-defence, while the government plays the role of precipitating violence by allowing these thugs into the dispute and also escalating tensions and self-defense instincts by creating a climate of fear and intimidation with continuously flying helicopters above, dropping chemical substances on sit-in strikers giving them chemical burns, and not allowing humanitarian aid such as food, water, medical care freely pass unimpeded. Even prisoners of war are treated better than our union members on strike.

For almost the whole time, management has been urging the riot police to stamp out the strike, but briefly came to the negotiating table.

But with riot police, private security forces and goons training and waiting during the negotiations and maintaining the blockade on water and food.

Thus, management does not feel pressure to genuinely try to come to terms with the union because it can also resort to calling the riot police and management decided to walk out of negotiations, informing us through press conference .


In solidarity,

Hyewon Chong
KMWU _inter@metal.nodong.org

We need water, food and medical attention!

Stop suppression of Ssangyong Motor workers’ strike! Lift the blockade! Negotiate!

Police and management deny strikers access to food, water, medical treatment.

29 July 2009 Update

The 20 July police and management raid on the Korean Metal Workers’ Union Ssangyong Motor Branch sit-in strike continues into the second week. Police helicopters continue dropping corrosive chemical substances on the sit-in strikers. Police and management have coordinated to blockade food, water, medical care from entering the plant and isolating the strikers, but the Ssangyong Motor workers are holding out despite severe conditions and serious human rights violations: ....

For the full text, please see the attached file.KMWU_UrgentAppeal(29JULY).pdf

Police gear up for raid on Ssangyong workers

By Park Si-soo
Staff Reporter

July 28, 2009 -- Police are gearing up again to forcibly disperse laid-off union workers from Ssangyong Motors who are occupying a building at the company's factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, after labor and management failed to produce an agreement.

Around 3000 riot police carried out large-scale simulation drills July 27 in preparation for a raid on the building. Dozens of ambulances and fire engines were also mobilized in the drills.

"We are weighing the right time for an operation," National Police Agency Commissioner Kang Hee-rak said. "We will put priority on the safety of both protesters and police in doing so."

In response, protesters reportedly have drawn up "defense lines" using flammable materials that could potentially ignite amid a major clash.

"If police launch an operation, we will fight back with slingshots, steel pipes, petrol bombs and other weapons," a protester said using a loudhailer.

The union and management are sticking to their stances on key issues ― the union is demanding the cancellation of the layoffs and management said it will not begin talks until that demand is dropped. Whether the government should take responsibility for selling the automaker to Shanghai Automotive Industry, which some say resulted in the Ssangyong insolvency, is also pitting the union against management.

Five lawmakers of opposition parties staged a sit-in Tuesday in front of the plant, demanding the government engage in talks with union representatives. Eight other lawmakers issued a joint statement calling on the government to play a key role in ending the confrontation.

The lawmakers attempted to deliver 3000 bottles of fresh water and other aid kits to protesters, but were blocked by the police. Jeon Myung-hoon, a spokesman for a progressive lawyers' association, said it will file a suit against police for blocking the supplies. Police cut the supply of these about a week ago.

Scores of protesters arrested in Ssangyong plant clash

July 26, 2009  -- Yonhap reports that scores of demonstrators were arrested after they clashed with riot police in a sympathy protest for laid-off workers of the troubled Ssangyong Motor Co., police said Sunday.

About 7000 members of the umbrella trade union federation KCTU and civic groups faced off with riot police Saturday July 25 as they attempted to enter the plant to provide drinking water to the protesting Ssayngyong workers.

Water and gas supplies to the plant have been cut by police. "About 30 demonstrators were hauled away for breaking the law. Two police motorbikes were also damaged during the clash", police said.

More than 9000 police were mobilised over the weekend, firing water cannons and tear-gas bombs at the protesters. Most of the activists disbanded voluntarily after failing to enter the plant, police said.

Also on Saturday, a new round of labour-management talks failed to begin due to Ssangyong's refusal to attend. The company said it would not come back to the bargaining table until the strikers end their "illegal and violent behaviour".

There is nothing to talk about at the moment", said Park Young-tae, representing Ssangyong management. "We are ready to return to the negotiation table as soon as labour presents a new proposal."

KCTU holds general strike in support of Ssangyong occupiers

Update, July 24, 2009 -- Morning Star -- South Korean trade unions kicked off a two-day general strike on July 22 in support of striking Ssangyong workers who have occupied a Pyeongtaek car factory for more than two months. The 700,000-strong Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) reported that "all affiliated unions" supported the action yesterday, which follows a series of heavy-handed attacks by riot police on unionised members of the Ssangyong Motors workforce.

The KCTU leadership has also launched a hunger strike and sit-in protest in front of the National Assembly in Seoul. Some 800 Ssangyong workers have been occupying the Pyeongtaek facility since May, when management announced that it would axe 2646 workers -- 36 per cent of the workforce -- as part of a "restructuring plan" at the Chinese-owned plant.

Management has blocked all food from entering the factory and the trade unionists are reportedly surviving on three or four rice balls a day. Bosses have prevented doctors and nurses from entering the compound, then on July 20, more than 3000 riot police backed by around 30 vehicles mounted with water cannon stormed the factory compound, with creditors brandishing an eviction order in tow.

The combined forces failed to dislodge workers, who holed up in the plant's paint shop. On July 23, police began dropping vats of tear gas from helicopters onto the workers and huge speakers have been installed near the occupied building, blaring messages calling on them to leave. (See graphic photos below.)

Around 100 police commandos are reportedly on standby for a possible raid. As yet there have been no hand-to-hand clashes, but 16 people, including five policemen, have been injured so far.

The KCTU observed in a statement that police and management "have embarked upon a joint operation to break the strike", warning that the "police suppression symbolises further catastrophe rather than any attempts to solve the crisis of Ssangyong Motors."

It declared that the strike must "continue strongly and indefatigably, despite whatever sacrifice and pain that may come in our way," adding: "This July battle will decide the fate of workers." 

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July 22, 2009 -- The strike and factory occupation by workers at Ssangyong, in Pyeongtaek near Seoul, South Korea, is about the enter its eighth week. About 800 fired employees are in a paint shop, confronting more than 3000 police. On July 22, according to the Hankyoreh newspaper, ``Police deployed some 400 men in the afternoon and are occupying a warehouse next to the factory headquarters. The move has escalated tensions since the warehouse is a merely a few dozen meters away from the paint shop and provides a vantage point to the paint shop’s entrance... police advanced four lines of officers deployed inside the front gate some 20 meters to 30 meters at a time towards the paint shop beginning at 3:50 a.m. Later that morning, they also used a helicopter to spray tearing agents in the air above the paint shop. The unionists fired bolt air rifles and burned tires in response to the police advance.''

Bosses claim the occupation has caused production losses of about 10,800 vehicles worth 230 billion won (US$183 million) as of July 15.

Ssangyong plans to eliminate 36 per cent of its workforce to return to profit and meet a September 15 court deadline to submit a restructuring plan to avoid liquidation. Ssangyong Motors is 51% owned by China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.

In February the company filed for bankruptcy, proposed a restructuring and offered the Pyeongtaek plant as collateral for further loans to escape bankruptcy. The court approved the bankruptcy plan, pending ``adequate'' layoffs to make the company profitable again.

Following industrial action in anticipation of the layoffs, the workers launched their current strike on May 27 when the company announced the layoffs and forced retirement of 2600 out of 7000 workers, with immediate additional sackings of 300 casuals. The workers slated for layoff immediately occupied the plant, demanding no layoffs, no casualisation and no outsourcing. The Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU) supported the occupation but tried to channel negations strictly around the question of layoffs.

As of mid-June, about 1000 workers were continuing the occupation, with families providing food. The government and the company bided their time, in part because of a broader political crisis of the hard-right South Korean government which militated against an immediate police and thug attack. But two weeks later, they felt confident to go on the offensive. The workers, for their part, had armed themselves with iron crowbars and Molotov cocktails.

On June 26-27 a serious government and employer attack began, as hired thugs, scabs recruited from the workers not slated for the sack, and riot police tried to enter the factory. They secured the main building after violent fighting in which many people were injured. The occupying workers retreated to the paint sector, which was part of a defensive plan based on the belief that police would not fire tear-gas canisters into the highly flammable area. (In January, five people in Seoul died in another fire set off during a confrontation with police, sparking outrage.)

The following day, the company issued a statement to the effect that there had been enough violence, but in reality in recognition of the tenacious resistance by the workers, and police and thugs were withdrawn. The company urged the government to involve itself directly in negotiations. All water to the plant was cut off at the end of June.

Following a court order, the forces of repression struck again on July 11 as riot police moved to seize the factory area, with the exception of the paint sector, and encircled the entire factory.

Ever since the attack of June 26-27 aimed at isolating Ssangyong’s struggle and breaking the strike,  solidarity actions outside the plant have been taking place to build broader support. These included a street campaign, mainly from family organisations in the centrr of Seoul and Pyeongtaek areas, a four-hour general strike by the KMWU during which  metalworkers from nearby plants rallied in front of Ssangyong factory gate; 927 activists also held a one-day hunger strike in the centre of Seoul on July 11; and on July 4 and July 11, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) held nationwide rallies in support of the Ssangyong’s struggle.

On July 16,  3000 KMWU members gathered to support the Ssangyong strike in front of the Pyeongtaek City Hall. When they tried to move to the factory after the rally, they were blocked by police and 82 workers were arrested on the spot.

[Send solidarity messages to the KMWU at inter@metal.nodong.org]

Brutal volence by riot police and thugs against the Ssangyong Workers

From the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

1.    [21 July 2009] Riot police and management-hired thugs gang up to kick and beat up a union member who already has no possibility of resisting arrest


Source : Photo courtesy of Media Chungcheong

-   Person wearing light grey pants, grey socks and dark grey athletic shoes crunched up under feet of policemen is KMWU union member (inside red circle).

-   Person holding a steel pipe with green duct tape wrapped around the handle for better grip (far left) and wearing a black shirt with white gloves and white athletic shoes is a management-hired thug. (Persons in white helmets are thugs paid by management.)

-    Persons in black helmets (blue or yellow stripe) are riot police.
-    Red arrow points at management-hired thug holding shield.
-    New photos heighten concern over the complete impropriety of public police forces collaborating with privately-contracted thugs to stop a strike.

2.    [21 July 2009] In addition to steel pipes, management-hired thug wearing construction site gloves also wields a baseball bat


 Source : Photo courtesy of Media Chungcheong

3.    [21 July 2009] Thugs contracted by Ssangyong Motor Court receivers also come to factory with martial arts weapons (in photo “nunchaku” are circled in red).Ssangyong_003.jpg 
Source : Photo courtesy of Media Chungcheong

4. [21 July 2009] Police use three helicopters to take turns to bombard sit-in strikers for hours with tear gas concentrate dropped from the sky



Source: Yonhap News

5.    [21 July 2009] Unionist trying to wash off chemicals poured from the police helicopter but that landed on his arm.  Unfortunately management cut off the water supply so he is using precious rationed water to get chemicals off his skin


6.    [21 July 2009] Police also drop plastic bags of tear-gas concentrate onto the sit-in area then use the wind created from helicopters to spread and lift the gas concentrate (this method keeps concentration of tear gas high in area closest to workers sit-in)


7.    Watercannon truck shooting water at the roof of the paintshop building in Ssangyong Motor Pyeongtaek plant


8.    [22 July 2009] `Dawn terror' raid of the sit-in tent used by the wives and children of the striking workers



All four photos courtesy of Media Chungcheong.

-       At 2:30 am, July 22, 2009 management-organised goons suddenly emerged from the main gates of the factory and began tearing down the tent (green canopy in photo on left) used by the family members of the workers on strike and tearing down the signs they made.

-       Journalists rushed to the scene to cover the emerging issue but the managerial goons began attacking the journalists (third picture in which man in white dress shirt is choking the reporter in the white T-shirt and jeans, red circle around goon’s stranglehold on person’s neck). 

-       People at the site (including other journalists and camera operator) begin protesting that this is too much and even the reporters started to defend themselves from this sudden attack.

-       Goons retreat and riot police move in to protect the managerial goons and give them safe cover to run back inside the factory.


9.    [22 July 2009] Unknown stinging chemical dropped onto striking unionists from this police helicopter. After noticing that the new chemical burns through Styrofoam, sit-in strikers began to feel more alarmed as to what this substance might be


10.    [22 July 2009] Police shoot water mixed with tear gas from a water cannon onto the striking workers who are on the roof of the assembly line team three building (in front of the TRA building)


11.    [22 July 2009] Management-organised goons (near the TRA building) are using slingshots to shoot bolts at the striking workers who are on the roof of assembly line team three building


 Management-organised goons shoot nuts and bolts at the sit-in strikers with slingshots.

 Atop the roof, one of the workers on sit-in strike shows the camera the bolts that management-organised goons shot at him

12.    [22 July 2009] Management locks the gates to prevent human rights and healthcare groups and professionals from conveying medical care to sit-in strikers; subsequently, riot police move in to arrest human rights groups and healthcare groups maintaining the denial of medical care to sick and injured sit-in strikers



Ssangyong Motor manager with management-organised goons standing behind him.Here, the management is locking the front gates to keep out healthcare groups and professionals. The healthcare professionals have been receiving calls from sit-in strikers who need medical attention but cannot leave the sit-in site for fear of arrest. They are suffering from:

-       torn ligaments and broken bones

-       open wounds needing stitches

-       optic nerve damage

-       stress-related issues (depression etc)

The medical professionals assert that untreated wounds will get infected and torn ligaments and broken bones need to be set.

Second, they are attempting to convey food, drinking water, diabetes medication, blood pressure medication and other medical supplies to the workers on strike  


Riot police move in and arrest the doctors and human rights advocates.

The riot police used taser gun against the striking workers.