KCTU Hits:61036 2003.10.19 19:08

[Photo by Yoon Sunghyo, Ohmynews]

Another worker driven to his death in Korea.

On the morning of 17th of October, Kim Joo-Ik, President of the Hanjin Heavy Industries Union, was found dead on top of a crane within the factory grounds in Pusan, Korea. He had hung himself in the early hours, on the 129th day of a one-man sit-down demonstration on top of the 45 meter apparatus. He had started the demonstration on the 11th of June to protest against the company's policies toward the workers. Two heart-breaking notes found inside his pocket, one to his fellow workers and the other to his family, demonstrated beyond a doubt the reasons for his actions.

In the first note, the deceased lashed out against the company management, citing their dual policy of repressing the workers and the trade union while generously compensating top management and share-holders. He questioned how workers could be expected to accept wage-freezes when the company was earning record profits, with management and major share-holders reaping the gains. The long history of oppression against the workers and the trade union, insincere negotiation practices, layoffs and job changes for trade union activists, and wage levels not enough to cover living costs were all mentioned in his note. But perhaps at the heart of Kim and the workers grievances were the new tactics which the company had employed to repress workers.

Korean companies have started to sue individual workers for compensation for 'damages' suffered during industrial disputes and have seized property in the process, taking away trade union fees, wages, and as in the case of Kim, even his house. The desperateness resulting from having his livelihood, as well as his right as a trade unionist to stand for the interests of the workers taken away, must have weighed heavily on his mind as he prepared to take his last, and final action for the workers. Such actions on the part of management was the main reason why another worker took his own life earlier this year.

In a tragically similar incident, Bae Dal-Ho at Doosan Heavy Industries also took his life by self immolation in January of this year, in retaliation against the company's practice of seizing the trade union leadership's property and suing for damages from previous industrial actions. The government had promised to curb such actions by companies after a lengthy struggle by the working class in January and February, but as the death of Kim shows, there haven't been any concrete measures to follow up on the promise. The government has even been at the forefront of such actions, as the mass lawsuits against the National Railway Corporation, a public enterprise, clearly shows.

In a moving second message to his fellow workers, Kim called on them to "continue the struggle," as the only way to "defend the trade union and the workers' livelihood." He goes on to say that "my body can only stay at crane #85...until this struggle ends in victory."

After his death became known and the contents of the notes in his pocket became public, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions immediately denounced the government and the corporations for continuing and tolerating the various practices of trade union oppression and called for measures to stop the recurrence of such actions. The KCTU has formed a national emergency committee, which includes Korean People's Solidarity, the Korean Democratic Labor Party, and other people's movement organizations. They held their first demonstration today, and will hold nation-wide rallies this week and the next. Meanwhile, the body of Kim, with the consent of his family, remains on top of the crane according to his wish.

Kim Joo-Ik, aged 39, is survived by his wife Park Sung-Hee, two sons aged 12 and 7(Joon-Yup and Joon-Ha), and a 10 year old daughter(Hye-Min). The up-coming struggle will decide if his message to the people of Korea survives.

[Korean Confederation of Trade Unions(KCTU)]
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