[Press Statement on General Strike]

KCTU Initiates General Strike and Sit-In Protest!

Stop police suppression of Ssangyong Motors strike!

Stop retrogressive revisions to labour and media laws!

 

The KCTU announces that all affiliate unions will go on general strike as of 22nd July. This general strike is to condemn police operation aimed at clamping down the striking workers at Ssangyong Motors Pyeongtaek Plant and to attain overall job security by reasonably normalizing Ssangyong Motors. The general strike also targets the government and ruling party’s attempts to make downgrade revisions to various laws – known collectively to public as ‘MB (Lee Myung Bak) Evil Bills’ - regarding irregular (precarious) workers, those that aim to allow domination of media by large conglomerates, and the revision to the Minimum Wage Act. The KCTU orders affiliate unions to organize a strong and determined general strike so that workers can stand forth in unity to counteract neoliberal policies and the Lee Myung Bak government.

At 10:00 am on 20th July 2009, riot police entered the Ssangyong Motors Pyeongtaek Plant under the pretext of implementing forced execution (eviction) orders, and surrounded the paint shop building, which 800 workers are sitting-in, vigilantly waiting to violently clamp down on the workers. The management has ordered all non-striking employees back to work, and has also cut off electricity, water and gas to the paint factory. From 16th July, the management has blocked all food from entering the factory and then on 19th, disallowed medical doctors and nurses from entering the compound. As many had been concerned, the police and management have embarked upon a joint operation to break the strike. The KCTU maintains that police suppression symbolizes further catastrophe rather than any attempts to solve the crisis of Ssangyong Motors. We had already warned several times that police suppression will only call for disaster. However, police operation is now being implemented, which can only be interpreted as a signal that the management and government do not have any will to solve the situation through genuine dialogue with the union.

Just after the news went out about the police operations, the wife of KMWU Ssangyong Motors Branch policy director committed suicide. A mother of two young children, she was suffering stress and anxiety from receiving subpoenas and warrant for her husband’s arrest. As the union warned several times, and as reality manifests, “dismissals are, in fact, murder”. The death of the unionist’s wife is de facto homicide committed by the management and government. The KCTU will hold the government and management responsible for the series of deaths that have taken place at Ssangyong Motors, and no worker will ever forgive those responsible for the inhumane actions.

The National Assembly is also under very high tension, with ‘MB Evil Bills’, including those on irregular workers, the media and minimum wage, pending. Despite polls showing opposition to these retrogressive revisions, the ruling Grand National Party, holding the majority of seats, is waiting to unilaterally push ahead with the bills, under ex-officio authority of the assembly chair. Media is the final stronghold of democracy. If media is controlled by large conglomerates and capital, then there is no hope for democracy in the South Korea.

The bills to revise laws on irregular workers will in fact expand precarious labour. If the law is to be revised to truly protect precarious workers, then there should be clauses restricting the use of precarious labour. However, the pending revision calls for extension of the maximum employment period of temporary contract – at the moment, the Act mandates that an irregular worker who has been employed for two years be turned into a regular worker, it was scheduled to take effect from 1st July 2009, however, the ruling party’s revision calls for the postponement of the application of the Act for another two years. Thus, this revision is expected to deteriorate the already dire situation of irregular workers.

Thus, the KCTU will go on general strike as of morning of 22nd July. The strike, which will continue until 24th July, will be centered around the Korea Metal Workers Union and the National Union of Media Workers, joined immediately by other workplaces of affiliate unions. Workplaces that cannot immediately go on strike will implement struggles through other various ways including organizing workers assembly, leaving work early or using annual leave. As part of the strike action, the KCTU will hold simultaneous rallies around the country on 22nd, including in front of the National Assembly in Seoul and in Pyeongtaek. The KCTU will then hold a National Workers Rally in Pyeongtaek on 25th July, where Ssangyong Motors lies.

Along side the general strike, the KCTU leadership will start a hunger strike / sit-in protest in front of the National Assembly from today, with leaders shaving their heads in protest. The 16 affiliate federations and the 16 regional headquarters will join the confederation leadership in the sit-in protest. Various actions will take place including leafleting, mass rallies, downtown publicity events etc. as well as candlelight demonstrations every single evening.

KCTU’s general strike is a stern struggle to stop degradation of democracy, built upon the sweat and blood of the Korean people, and to protect the lives of all workers. The general strike must continue strongly and indefatigably, despite whatever sacrifice and pain that may come in our way, because this July battle will decide the fate of workers – will all workers continue to live as slaves of capitalists or will workers be guaranteed their livelihoods and full basic labour rights?

We give our final warning to the government. Workers and the people will gain our victory. This is because the demands of the workers and the people are so much more just and powerful than the greed of the Lee Myung Bak and capital, and because we will not stop our struggle until the day we win.

21st July, 2009

Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU)

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