Support the Ssanyong Occupation

July 23, 2009

Workers at Ssanyong (seriously!)

Workers at Ssanyong (seriously!)

While the workers at Vestas in the Isle of Wight have begun an occupation of their soon-to-be defunct workplace, a similar struggle has been ongoing in South Korea for the past two months.

600 workers at Ssanyong motor’s central factory near Seoul have been occupying the paint shop part of the facility in protest against “massive job cuts that are part of a restructuring plan” as al Jazeera reports.

In the past few days, 6,000 riot police have been dispatched to the factory, police helicopters have begun the dumping of tear gas onto its roof while gas, water and food supplies have been cut. AFP reports that workers were doused directly with liquid tear gas, while there are reports that an elite police commando unit has been deployed in preparation for a clearance raid.

On the other hand, “the protesters, armed with high-powered slingshots and other makeshift weapons, have refused to move” and “are believed to have stocked up on enough food and other necessities to hold out for a considerable time.”

The elite police are also reluctant to enter. As one officer put it, “a lot of flammable material, such as paint and thinner, is scattered in the paint shop” making a raid slightly hazardous.

Union spokesman Lee Chang-ku says that the workers are resolved to resist using all means at their disposal. He has no illusions about the South Korean authorities, saying that “If police decide to move in, then it would mean that they don’t care even if dozens die.”

Ssanyong has been the highest profile Korean victim of the global economic crisis and is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings after its largest shareholder, the Chinese firm SAIC, refused to bail it out.

In some ways, its demise is welcome. Ssanyong is a prolific producer of SUVs, which are obviously pretty regressive from a climate change point of view. But the issue is, like Vestas, one of fairness and workers rights. Regardless of the product, workers deserve to be as secure in their personal lives, and as protected from the turbulence of the market as any banker or Chinese investor. Their skills and the plant that they work at could be diverted to other, sustainable, uses.

The right-wing South Korean government has shown no interest in taking over the plant and protecting the Ssanyong company. Neither has SAIC, despite being constantly linked with expensive acquiitions overseas (far in excess of the money required to bail out Ssanyong).

Like the Vestas workers, the Ssanyong workers are caught in the vice like grip of financial crisis and neoliberal ideology. While their jobs and livelihoods could certainly be protected, or at least made less painful to lose, they can see this being obviated by firms and governments wedded to a hands off, profit driven world view. Imaginative alternatives are firmly off the table.

Time for the liquid tear gas.


One Response to “Support the Ssanyong Occupation”

  1. […] Neale was that he had received a text message from the Ssanyong workers in South Korea (see my earlier post) who wanted to contact the occupiers on the Isle of Wight. This is clearly a growing international […]

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