(Updated August 5) South Korea: Graphic photos, video -- Ssangyong sit-in workers' appeal: `Our lives are at stake'
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Urgent appeal by the Korean Metal Workers Union and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
August 5, 2009 -- Today, police helicopters dropped two containers of SWAT team members onto the roof of the assembly plant building (adjacent to paintshop). They began to rush out and assault union members who were on the roof of the assembly line building.
Two union members who were being chased by SWAT team members on the roof of the assembly building fell off the building and plummeted to the ground. One of the union members who plummeted to the ground during this operation has head, neck and back injuries, particularly to vertebrae 3 and 4. Another union member (in his early 40s) was shot directly in the head and lost consciousness. He woke up in the hospital needing 20 stitches to his head. The doctor believes he was shot at close range with a rubber bullet.
A fire broke out in the assembly line building which is connected to the paintshop building by third floor walkway. We are afraid the fire could spread to the paint shop.
A union member (in his early 40s) was shot directly in the head and lost consciousness. He woke up in the hospital needing 20 stitches to his head. The doctor believes he was shot at close range with a rubber bullet. Another union member (in his late 30s) was dodging water cannon fire, and let his wooden shelter (used as shield) spread open a little and was promptly hit in the chest with a large nut with enough force to cause a fracture to his ribs.
Riot cops fire taser-like weapons
Other injuries to union members include: electrical shock by taser gun; shot by rubber bullet fired by what police call a “multipurpose launcher”; head split open; broken bones; harm caused by riot police boots, batons and sharpened edges of riot shields.
Riot police arrested people requiring hospitalisation and dragged them to police station for questioning, briefly having open wounds stitched together. Meanwhile company goons and private security forces rushed out of the plant around 9am to clear out the union supporters encamped in front of the plant. They began beating people with wooden sticks and steel pipes, pulling people away from the group of supporters and ripping apart our tents again (as they had also done on August 4). The private forces directed by the company have no authority to use force much less beat women and unionists on the sidewalk outside the plant.
When students came to our aid, the company forces backed off and the riot police cleared away the students with tear gas-laced water cannons.
Korean Metal Workers' Union members are hanging in there and the strike-attacking forces have been unable to enter the paintshop 2 building (the union offices are on the 3rd and 4th floor of the building, the paintshop is on the 1st and 2nd floor).
We already have a near comatose union member with spinal cord injury, a fire in the assembly line building and we have no water for fire-fighting purposes (much less for drinking or washing). The fact that the South Korean government is even attempting this raid at all in spite of the extremely dangerous situation is excessive if not lethal behaviour. The continued denial of food, water, proper medical care is an ongoing human rights violation.
We desperately need the International Labour Organisation to make some some kind of intervention asking South Korean government to call off this extraordinarily dangerous raid and participate in negotiations over alternatives to dismissal and a future for the plant. Our union members' lives are at stake.
Any international solidarity demonstrations should take place in front of South Korean embassies with the above two demands. We also appreciate it if you use any other diplomatic channels possible to ask the South Korean government to stop the raid and participate in or foster negotiations.
August 4, 2009 : Day of fierce fighting
By Owen Miller in Seoul
August 4, 2009 -- Socialist Worker (UK) -- The attack began at dawn today and lasted until late afternoon. Under a hail of metal bolts and stones from Ssangyong company thugs, liquid tear gas dropped from police helicopters, incessant loud music and an all-out assault by police commandos armed with steel pipes and taser guns, the occupying workers at the Ssangyong auto factory in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, have held out for one more day. The factory occupation began in May.
They forced back a number of attempts by police to retake the car plant’s paintshop, using every means at their disposal including flaming barricades, petrol bombs, slingshots and anti-helicopter spikes.
This sort of fierce resistance reflects the real desperation of workers faced with the loss of their jobs and unlikely to find another in South Korea’s harsh labour market. It is also a reaction to the sheer brutality of the company and the South Korean government in their repeated attempts to crush the occupying workers. There is a widespread belief here that the right-wing Lee Myung-bak government wants to make an example of the Ssangyong workers and achieve a decisive victory against unionised labour in South Korea in order to pave the way for more widespread restructuring.
There are now around 500-540 workers left inside the factory’s paintshop, living under terrible conditions after more than two months of occupation. The company and police have been enforcing a complete blockade on the occupying workers and for the last week they have had very little to eat or drink and practically no water to use for washing or going to the toilet. Many of the workers have sustained injuries during the last week of fighting but the company and police have consistently tried to block medical aid from reaching them.
Negotiations took place at the weekend between management and union leaders but they were broken off by the company on Sunday morning. Now the company, which has been under bankruptcy protection since February, faces liquidation in the next day or two and it is likely that many more will lose their jobs. Although it is clear that nationalisation is the only solution for the ailing car company, the Lee Myung-bak government seems quite happy to let it sink as long as it can score a victory against a militant section of the working class.
The remaining workers say they are ready to fight on and are surrounded by thousands of litres of flammable liquids which pose a threat to both themselves and the attacking police. On the outside of the paintshop building the occupiers have daubed the words, “If you don’t want to talk, you’d better kill us all!”
The families of the Ssangyong workers have been camped outside the plant for weeks and themselves faced violent attacks from company thugs and strike-breaking employees who have smashed up their tents in the early hours of the morning. This evening at 6.30pm, as the day of fighting came to an end, they released green helium balloons over the factory as a signal of solidarity with their loved ones inside the occupation. Despite their pleas for more negotiations there is little doubt that tomorrow morning will bring another savage assault from the police.
Graphic photos of police attack and workers' resistance
August 4, 2009, 1.30pm -- Libcom.org -- A special division of 2500 police are engaged in an assault on the occupied factory. The cops have removed most barricades and are using aerial ladders to attempt to reach the fortified roof positions of the strikers. Three helicopters are supporting the cop attack. Hand-to-hand battles are presently occurring and the strikers are fighting back with molotov cocktails.
Starting at 10.30am, more than 400 riot cops, using aerial ladders, failed to take the roof from the workers.
In the map below, the red circles show areas where the cops are fighting to overtake the strikers' positions. The paint department is at the bottom, containing the number "2."The workers still control the assembly-line buildings, shown by the numbers "3" and "4".The riot cops have managed to take control of the areas "1" and "2", which are the three circles on the lower left. On the ground level, the cops are five meters from the paint department building. At present, more than 2500 special forces police are involved in the attack.
Around 9am, 2000 scabs, who are the company loyalists wearing uniforms with armbands, were brought in to "clean up the factory" and in the process destroyed the strike supporters' encampment. Around 10am, scabs marched to factory from company parking lot, then attacked the strike supporters, destroying their water and medical supplies.
And emptied out water intended for the workers occupying the factory.
Photos from August 4, 3.25 pm below.