Korea: Workers resist lockout, violence

More than 3000 riot police were sent to the Yoosung piston head factory in Asan on May 24 to break up a factory occupation and sit in protest over a company lockout.

Yoosung is a manufacturing company that has a near monopoly over the production of piston rings with an 80% share of the domestic market. It is a major supplier for Kia and Hyundai motors.

On May 18, unionised workers voted to hold a two-hour strike over management’s refusal to acknowledge an agreement it signed in 2008 to eliminate night shifts. Despite more than 10 rounds of negotiations, management stubbornly refused to reach an agreement.

Management reacted to the two-hour protest strike by locking all workers out of the workplace. Hired thugs surrounded the factory to prevent anyone from entering. Workers managed to force their way past the thugs and occupied the factory.

An hour later the hired thugs returned with a mini-van and drove it into a crowd, injuring 13 workers. Despite almost killing people, the thugs were released without police pressing any charges.

This is not a simple industrial relations dispute, but part of a well thought out plan by management to break the union. Company documents were found during the occupation revealing a detailed, long-term union busting plan by Yoosung management, Hyundai and Kia.

The document revealed that management planned to stall negotiations in order to induce a strike, impose a lockout, then surround the factory with thugs in order to provoke violence and have the workers taken away by police.

From May 19-24, more than 500 workers remained in the factory demanding an end to the lockout and an end to management’s dirty union busting tactics. However, the action was violently broken by riot police on May 24.

The lockout continues. On June 19, the workers held a rally in Asan. During the rally hired thugs attacked the workers and their families, throwing stones and bottles.

In the evening, the workers tried to push past the thugs and reoccupy the factory. However, the attempt was unsuccessful.

The struggle continues and workers need international support.

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