[Photo by Lee Jeongwon, Workers and World]

"Do not kill any more" - Two more workers burn themselves after late Kim Joo-Ik
27th October, 2003

It had been less than a week since Kim Joo-Ik, President of Hanjin Heavy Industries Union committed self-immolation, that Lee Hae-Nam, President of Sewon Tech Union (affiliated to the Korean Metal Workers Federation) also attempted to burn himself to death. Lee Hae-Nam lies in a hospital, in a very critical condition.

Only a few days have passed, and today, we had to face another sacrifice.

Today, 26th October, during the National Irregular Workers Rally, held to struggle for the rights of irregular workers, Lee Yong-Seok, President of the Kwangju Branch of Korea Labor Welfare Corporation Irregular Workers Union sprayed an inflammable liquid onto himself and lit a flame in self-immolation while shouting, "Stop discrimination against irregular workers!" He is in the hospital, his life on the line.

On 23rd October at around 20:50, Lee Hae-Nam went to the front of the office building of Sewon Corporation (the headoffice of Sewon Tech) where the executives were working. In his will he said, "I cannot forgive Kim Moon-Ki, president of Sewon Group" and "although I know this is not the right way, and though many comrades will speak ill of me, I have no other choice but to choose the extreme way, death." He continued, "Although it will be long and hard, we must protect our dream and hope, our democratic union... You must not make any arrangements for my body until you have solved the problems around Hyun-Joong's funeral." (Lee Hyun-Joong, also from the same union, was severly beaten in 2002 by thugs employed by the company. He died from the side-effects exactly two months before, on 26th August, 2003)

What drove Lee Hae-Nam to choose a method as extreme as self-immolation was the brutal repression on the union that capital of Sewon have been implementing, and the irrational repression of the Roh Moo-Hyun regime. The Sewon workers have been suffering from low-wages, where they could only earn about 800,000 won per month even after having worked extra hours. Unable to bear the terrible working conditions, the workers decided in October 2001 to form a union and join the Korea Metal Workers Federation. At this, the company hired 150 thugs and drove unionists from their workplace. In 2002, the company reorganised itself and introduced an 'union destruction scenario'. According to this scenario, the company will form strategies to break up strikes, sue the union, and issue seizure of the property/wage of unionists. They are to also force members to leave the union.

Lee Yong-Seok, who committed self-immolation today, participated as a member in the collective bargaining committee of the Labor Welfare Corporation Irregular Workers Union. There was no progress in the negotiations with the corporation while the Ministry of Labor refused to come up with any solutions. The union asked for the first negotiation in May this year, however, the corporation did not respond. The corporation only responded after arbitration from the Labor Commission in August. Even then, it is known that the corporation would not come up with any solutions and repeatedly said, "It is natural to discriminate irregular workers." Lee Yong-Seok had led the resistance in the process by mobilising in front of the Ministry of Labour.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions cannot but express remorse at the self-immolation of Kim Joo-Ik, Lee Hae-Nam and Lee Yong-Seok, and we sincerely hope that there will be no more sacrifice of lives of our precious workers. We also cannot swallow down our anger at the repression of capital and the Roh Moo-Hyun government, both which have driven the workers to take their own lives.

These three workers are not the only ones. After Roh Moo-Hyun came into power, Bae Dal-Ho from Doosan Heavy Industries sacrificed his life in resistance against the company's repression on the union, followed by Park Dong-Joon from Daehan Synthetic Fiber Union. If capital and the government do not stop their repression of the workers, we do not know how many more lives will be sacrificed.

The KCTU has decided that we can no longer wait for the government and capital to 'release' their noose. We feel terror at the prospect that we may have to send more of our comrades away from us. Thus, we have decided to struggle.

We demand that the government and capital stop the repressive neoliberal attack on the workers and that they stop their irrational and unjust acts. Moreover, we demand the stop to discrimination of irregular workers -the demand of Lee Yong-Seok- and protection of their basic rights. This is the only way that the extreme self-immolation of the workers can be stopped. The KCTU will not despair but will fight to the end.

[Korean Confederation of Trade Unions(KCTU)]
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