Tuesday, July 28, 2009

[olympiaworkers] Municipal workers strike across South Africa

libcom.org July 28, 2009

Over 150,000 municipal workers in South Africa have gone on strike in a
dispute over paltry pay offers in the face of massive inflation.

In an overwhelming display of unity, over 150,000 workers employed by
municipalities and belonging to both South African Municipal Workers'
Union (SAMWU) and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU)
across the country rejected the latest wage offer of the employer body,
South African Local Government Association-SALGA. SAMWU together with
IMATU members have embarked on strike action from Monday 27 July 2009 in
all municipalities in every Province of the country.

SAMWU stands by its demands, which are as follows:

Minimum wage of R 5000 for the sector;
Wage increase of 15% or R 2500 whichever is the greater;
70% housing loan assistance of the bond up to R 200 000;
70% housing rental up to R 3000 maximum;
Rejection of multi-year agreement;
Filling of all vacant posts within municipalities; and
No linkages between finalisation of wage curves and our demand for wage

Food inflation over the last year climbed to a staggering 17.9 %, easing
off slightly to 13.7% in April. This increase in the price of foods has
hit workers' pockets hard as food is generally a much larger part of what
they spend their money on than it is for the middle class. In the context
of workers' receiving a below inflation level increase in the last
financial year (effectively taking a 4.5% cut in real wages), the economic
crisis, and the cost of basics like food and transport, workers' demand
for a 15% increase is not unreasonable. It must be noted that in reality,
workers are not just demanding this increase for themselves, but for the
families, neighbours and the many unemployed community members that they

The Polokwane resolutions of the ANC committed the government to reducing
poverty and inequality in the country. And yet, while workers' legitimate
wage demands are being ignored and denied, local government managers are
paying themselves exorbitant salaries – well over a R1 million a year in
many cases. It would take a municipal worker, earning the current minimum
wage, more than 28 years to earn as much as a municipal manager earns in a
year, or a national government Minister pays for a single motor car. Is
this just and equitable?

It is misleading and disingenuous for SALGA to claim that municipalities
cannot afford this increase, an increase which would go some way to giving
workers a decent wage for the important work that they do. It is our
members who perform the vital day-to-day work of the municipality, who are
out in the field day and night, in the searing heat and drenching rain,
fixing broken water pipes, maintaining parks, filling potholes and
providing electricity. But their work mostly goes unacknowledged and

And yet it is management, with their hugely inflated salaries and
outrageous performance bonuses, who are responsible for the sorry state of
so many municipalities. The auditor-general, in his recent report on local
government finances in the 2007 – 2008 financial year reported that almost
half (45%) of all municipalities have engaged in unauthorised, fruitless
and wasteful expenditure. How can municipalities engage in this kind of
expenditure, but not accede to a decent wage increase? SALGA claims that
one of the reasons it cannot afford the wage increase we are demanding is
because municipalities are currently owed almost R 54 billion. And yet,
40% of this is owned to the municipalities by national government and
businesses – must workers suffer because business and government cannot
pay their bills?

We are deeply concerned at the reckless attitude that SALGA is showing
towards labour relations in the sector. It is not only in relation to the
wage dispute that we are experiencing this, but also in their failure to
extend a number of other agreements, such as the disciplinary agreement
and the job evaluation agreement. They are also refusing to negotiate
picketing rules for this strike. This undermines workers' right to picket
peacefully in support of our demands, and is in contravention of the
NEDLAC Code of Good Practice on Picketing.

Marches are happening in all the major centres – Johannesburg, Tshwane,
Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Sol Plaatjie, as well as in many of the smaller
municipalities ranging from Bredasdorp, Mossel Bay and Beaufort West. In
other municipalities workers are picketing the municipal offices.

Our structures report massive support for the strike, with many services,
such as refuse removal, traffic, water maintenance, revenue collection not
operating. In many centres, both SAMWU and IMATU members are marching and
picketing side by side.

In Johannesburg 10,000 workers marched to Mary Fitzgerald Square where a
defiant mood reigned. Salga's position was rejected whilst the members
reaffirmed Samwu's demand for a 15% wage increase and a housing subsidy
based on a R200 000 house.

In Cape Town 3,000 workers marched to the provincial offices of the
employers' organisation, Salga, to hand over a memorandum reasserting the
union's key demands of a living wage of R4000, filling of the 25% vacant
posts in the sector and the improvement of the housing benefit.

In Durban 5,000 workers marched and are now picketing workplaces to ensure
that no scabs perform the work of the strikers.

Though the actions around the country were conducted in a peaceful and
disciplined manner by SAMWU members the union expressed "outrage" at
reports of police action against its members in Polokwane, where workers
have been shot at and arrested.

Monday, July 27, 2009

[olympiaworkers] Second day of general strike in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA (PL).—The three principal labor unions in Honduras are
maintaining a general strike in the state sector for the second day this
Friday, supported by road blocks put in place by the popular forces
repudiating the coup d'état.

Second day of general strike in HondurasThe country remained paralyzed
yesterday for several hours due to the closing of several strategic routes
by demonstrators, workers leader Juan Barahona informed Prensa Latina.

Barahona, president of the United Workers Federation, described the first
day of the strike as a success, taking into account the road blocks and
occupation of various state institutions by workers.

The popular actions cut off the country's principal ports on both the
Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as highways connecting the capital
with the northern part of the country.

Meanwhile, thousands of people began to move toward the Nicaraguan border.
Constitutional President Manuel Zelaya affirmed yesterday that he is to
return to his homeland overland from Nicaragua.

Many people called Radio Globo, a radio station that is keeping its
microphones open for the people, to report that they had been victims of
repression by the army forces who attempted to halt their movement.

In addition, a new problem has presented itself to the de facto government
headed by the entrepreneur Roberto Micheletti: police discontent over
delays in paying their wages, which has provoked a strike by some agents
from a station in the capital.

Daniel Molina, an official police spokesman, tried to downplay the issue,
assuring the press that it was merely related to administrative problems.

Nevertheless, officers interviewed by TV Channel 36 – the only station
with a critical stance toward the June 28 coup – said that they will not
attend to their duties until their complaints are resolved.

The problems arising in this repressive body, which includes the special
Cobras squadron, comes in addition to the regime's international isolation
and the wave of popular condemnation that will completes its 27th day this

The leaders of the National Front against the Coup stated last night that
the popular struggle will continue until the coup leaders are defeated and
constitutional order and Zelaya are restored.

During the blocking of the northern exit of the Panamericana Highway in
the capital yesterday, the crowd was urged over loudspeakers to leave in
convoys for the border with Nicaragua to await Zelaya.

Translated by Granma International

[olympiaworkers] Olympia Anarchists Sentenced for May Day 2008 “Riot”

On Tuesday, July 21st, 4 local individuals were sentenced for smashing
bank windows, "rioting", and thwarting the arrests of others on May Day
'08 in Olympia. The court house in Olympia was packed with supporters. A
ring of police stood between us and the judge, smirking and chatting with
the prosecutor during recess.

The actual crime of this whole affair is the persistence of the state, its
apologizers and witless functionaries, and the daily coercion which
becomes concentrated against individuals who show resistance. This was
displayed nakedly as the prosecutor and judge showed special enmity for
our companero, Bryan, by ordering 120 days in jail because he held his
head up during the proceedings intended for humiliation.

We know that jail time is one of the prods used by Authority to break a
human being down into subservience. In this regard, we think Bryan may
still be better off than others who received less time, because his spirit
was never fooled that the same State which is purposefully attacked every
May Day might spare anyone even a little breathing room from its wretched

We are reminded of a comrade in Greece, Ilias Nikolau, accused of an
explosion on the police in January, who sees clearly the stakes of his
imprisonment. He writes, "To all those who think that they have overcome
me, that they have overcome us…
For me and my comrades it works just the other way around! Because as long
as there are prisoners of war, we will continue to struggle."

We are sickened by Bryan's lawyer, who thought his liberal grandiloquence
would convince the liberal judge of anything but more of the same. Had he
watched Stefanie's defense (Stefanie abstained from groveling and was
granted 30 days of electronic monitoring), at the very least we might have
been saved 30 minutes incarceration by his painful sermon. The other
sentences were 45 days for Randal, and 30 days for Shyam. References by
almost every suit around the court indicated that the final absconded
defendant, "the At-large Mr. Wilson", was being vilified to the furthest
extent. We all laughed at the twit piece-of-shit prosecutor describing
black clothing as 'combat attire', but the judge threatened us to be
silent because she wanted to give her dirty verdict and then disappear
from any responsibility of her own. Some grumbles accompanied our
departure and someone shouted to her before leaving that she embraced a
vision of democratic self-deprecation. We feel that the Judge and
Prosecutor attempt to inseminate their filthy Ideal of pacifist democracy
and the sanctity of property.

All four have two weeks before beginning their sentences, as well as two
years probation. The other two arrestees, Daniel B. and Forest, have
already served 60 day sentences. Plank of America is requesting +$10K for
its broken windows, and the judge will most likely comply with that
bullshit, too, in the next month.

Do you think we ignore that in other countries your doppelgangers simply
kill our comrades for their crimes? Do you think we forget all those who
have been 'suicided' inside your wards? Why do you think that in Greece
and Germany it is not so forgotten that the state prosecutors and prison
directors were the target of attacks? It is because we understand this
entire open-air prison to be a death threat. As the torment increases, we
will continue fighting for our lives!

Scumbag mainstream article here:

leaflet on international imprisoned anarchists:

Do not pass go, Do not collect $200

On July 21, 2009, the events of May Day 2008 finally came to a close with
the sentencing of four anarchists of the South Sound region. For over a
year they have been legally bound to endure an array of court dates, legal
costs, extradition waivers, etc. All this has stemmed from some debatable
interactions with banks that have since then had a wide impact on the
Olympia activist and broader communities.

May Day 2008 began at noon downtown in Sylvester Park with a large crowd
listening to speakers who talked about issues ranging from establishing
Olympia as a sanctuary city to the history of May Day. Because the rally
was intentionally focused on immigrant solidarity, all the speeches were
directly translated into Spanish. At the conclusion of the speeches the
crowd led itself on a permitted march up Capital Blvd. to the Capital
Campus. At the Capital more speeches followed as well as some
disagreements over tactics. Next, the crowd continued the march to the
City Hall and then downtown where a "break away" march occurred. The break
away march consisted of people who were seemingly prepared to use a
diversity of tactics. These tactics proved to include property destruction
via rocks through the windows of banks. The cops reacted predictably as
pigs and began assaulting and arresting people at random. Six people were
arrested and taken away though many more were de-arrested.

In the weeks that followed police harassment against activists continued
as well as a disturbing amount of in-fighting and finger pointing towards
local anarchists. Claims went as far as to blame anarchists for the denial
of the Sanctuary City proposal, demonstrating a lapse in memory regarding
standard city council behavior. Whether or not all groups agreed the
tactics were effective they did work to initiate a significant amount of
dialogue around property destruction and what solidarity looks like.

Over the next year, despite state repression, anarchist activity continued
undeterred. In addition to countless hours of day to day community
organizing, the cops were attacked at their Westside station.

Mid afternoon on July 21, 2009, about 20 or so friends, family and
comrades of the arrested converged at the Thurston County Courthouse to
witness the conclusion of the court proceedings. While the defendants and
their supporters waited for the proceedings to begin, a badge wearing
buffoon tried to quiet the crowd but was met instead by jeers and
laughter. The atmosphere amongst the visitors remained supportive and
there was an understanding that this particular charade of justice was
soon coming to a close.

Inside the courtroom at last, the authorities displayed a typical
detachment with reality. There was an excessive amount of sheriffs
supposedly meant to deal with the anarchist crowd control. The prosecutor
Bruno, a parody of JP Moneybags, consistently talked in language equating
anarchists to criminal combatants. The Judge could hardly suppress her
disdain for the accused with body language that all but gave away her
bias. In the end after final statements were given, a last ditch effort to
demonize the defendants was provoked when Prosecutor Moneybags submitted a
photo of an unidentified person in black clad clothes. Meanwhile, the
defendants and their supporters braved the drudgery with jokes, small talk
and hugs.

The co-defendants received from 10 to 120 days in jail, although they will
avoid hard time because Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch
authorized the use of work release or home detention with electronic
monitoring. They must report by Aug. 4. Hirsch also ordered the
co-defendants to each serve 240 hours of community service.

Not all defendants interacted with the judge in a similar fashion when
given space to present a statement. Responses ranged from so-called
"groveling" or using an apologetic response and conceding to making a
mistake to a "defiant" non-response. It should be understood that
whichever approach is taken, the bottom line is the state is illegitimate
and we should not expect nor desire them to be moved by our behavior in
court. More importantly, within our anarchist communities we should
respect our own capacities to navigate the legal system in whichever way
we see fit. Ever heard of self-determination? We would do well to balance
a level of being self-critical with a space for support and compassion.
There is no interest in being part of replicating the same characteristics
of culture thriving on bickering and miscommunication.

If there is anything to be remembered from such a day in court, it is that
amidst the fallacy we remained in solidarity with each other and were able
to offer and provide comfort to our compañeros during a time of
misfortune. We do this because we love each other, what we stand for, and
how we are creating a world where days in court are a boring memory.

Anarchist activity looks like many different things for all anarchists. We
are deeply involved in building communities based on mutual aid, voluntary
cooperation and happiness inside a world programmed not to understand such
concepts. While our daily affairs may lead us into conflict with cops and
other authorities, anarchy is much more than the reliable opposition to
banks, schools and prisons. We must consider moving beyond defining
anarchist activities solely as confrontation with figments of the state.
We do not advocate a cease of direct action but rather an applause of the
all the dreams that we can realize.

On August 4th the defendants are ordered to comply with their respective
sentences as given by Judge Hirsch. As documented in the court proceedings
all four defendants have been and will continue to be involved in
important work within their communities. Luckily, the court has no idea
about what community work actually means and how subversive it is to their
positions of authority. These punishments should not be seen as setbacks
but rather as court-appointed hindrances that we will creatively endure
together. We would like thank our friends who will now have the
opportunity to reflect not on mistakes but on the learning process of
being an anarchist with a monitoring chain on their ankle.

PS – on May 1st 1886 the struggle for the 8 hour work day culminated with
the arrest and eventual execution of four anarchists (Albert Parsons,
George Engel, August Spies and Adolph Fischer). May Day has deep ties with
the anarchist tradition. In the Olympia community we would like to
recognize this tradition and not repeat the history of state repression of
anarchists by continuing to put anarchy on trial.

[olympiaworkers] Workers kill manager to protest takeover

Beijing - China scrapped the takeover of a steel plant, an official said
Monday, after workers killed a manager in a possibly unique instance of
industrial mob violence claiming the life of a senior executive.

Workers at the Tonghua Iron and Steel Group beat to death newly appointed
manager Chen Guojun on Friday after he threatened to lay off up to 30 000
people in a controversial restructuring, the China Daily reported.

"I haven't heard of anything comparable to this," said Geoff Crothall, a
researcher at the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin.

Chen was killed when about 3 000 workers forced a production shutdown at
the plant in northeast China's Jilin province after they heard
privately-owned Jianlong Group was taking over Tonghua, the China Daily

"Chen disillusioned workers and provoked them by saying most of them would
be laid off in three days," the paper quoted a local police officer
identified only as Wang as saying.

After severely beating Chen, workers clashed with police and refused to
allow medical personnel to attend the badly injured general manager. Chen
was declared dead late Friday after finally being taken to hospital.

"I have heard of cases where managers have been recently taken hostage in
their offices, but not beaten to death in this manner," said Jean-Philippe
Beja, research director at the Hong Kong-based French Centre for Research
on Contemporary China.

"As far as I know this is the first time, or in any case the first time it
has been reported," he said.

A spokesman with the Jilin provincial government confirmed the killing and
the protests when contacted by AFP on Monday, but refused to go into

"The Jilin provincial government has decided to stop the merger plan," the
official, who gave the surname Li, said. "The police have launched an
investigation into the killing."

Xinhua news agency said the government halted the merger plan "to prevent
the situation from expanding", apparently referring to the worker unrest.

"In most privatisations of state-owned enterprises, workers are concerned
they are going to get laid off with desultory compensation that will only
last a few years," Crothall of the China Labour Bulletin told AFP.

"But what gets them angry is that the whole privatisation process is done
under a cloak of secrecy... there is a lack of transparency and rightly or
wrongly, workers suspect wholesale corruption and a loss of state assets."

Further fuelling emotions is the fact that most workers, especially
middle-aged or older workers, know that it will be difficult to find new
jobs, he said.

"The police will obviously have to do their duty and find the culprits...
but it will be tricky," Crothall said.

"They realise the situation is very volatile and they don't want to
inflame it further."

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said
in a statement over the weekend that over 30 000 workers were involved in
the protest, while as many as 100 people were injured in clashes with riot

The workers had complained about Chen's alleged three-million-yuan (R3.4
million) salary, as the mill's pensioners received as little as 200 yuan
(R224) a month, the statement said.

China sees many large-scale protests each year, often sparked by
allegations of government corruption and fuelled by a widening gap between
rich and poor.

On June 15 in southern China's Dongguan city, a disgruntled worker at a
metals company upset over compensation from a work-related injury slashed
to death two Taiwan bosses and seriously injured another company manager.

The murder in Guangdong province was witnessed by over 200 people, the
Global Times reported at the time.

State-owned Tonghua Group is the biggest steel maker in Jilin province and
produced seven million tonnes of steel last year, the company said on its

In 2005, Jianlong sought to take over the company but backtracked last
year as steel prices tumbled with the global financial crisis. - AFP

[olympiaworkers] English Wind Turbine Sit-in protest into eighth day

Sit-in protest into eighth day

Vestas protest
Workers inside the factory say they will stay for "as long as it takes"

Turbine workers talk of sit-in life

About 25 workers staging a sit-in protest over job cuts at a wind turbine
factory on the Isle of Wight have entered their eighth day of action.

Danish company Vestas Windsystems plans to make 625 workers redundant at
the end of July, despite rising profits.

It said it was planning to shut the Newport site as the UK wind turbine
market was "not big enough".

The workers, who are not union members of a union, began their sit-in
protest on 20 July.

Digging in

Vestas served them with court papers last Thursday. The matter is due to
be discussed in a county court in Newport on Wednesday.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union and the Respect party have both come
forward to offer support for the workers.
Worker inside sit-in
The workers have spent almost a week inside the factory

On Saturday, members of the Respect party staged a demonstration at Vestas
headquarters in Warrington.

Hundreds of people also attended a rally for the protesters in Newport on
Friday evening, a worker said.

Vestas Wind Systems has told the BBC that even though demand was strong
globally it made "more sense" to make turbines as close to the market as

A total of five men have been arrested at the site of the action since
Monday, police said.

[olympiaworkers] Ssangyong occupation update: days six/seven, July 26-27, 2009


view pictures at this link


The police are closing in on the paint department, but the strikers
occupying the factory are not backing down. They broadcast their
determination to "fight to the death" over loudspeakers from the paint
department roof, only to have the cop helicopters immediately resume the
bombardment with bags of a toxic teargas mixture.

The map below shows that as of Monday at 1:00 p.m. the cops have fought
their way even closer to occupied paint department (at bottom center with
the number 2):

***Sunday, July 26, 2009***

Workers holed up in the factory:

Striker with broken wrist (on left) leaving the factory:
Striker with injuries from tear gas:
After battle, a striker watches the sunset feeling like he's in "a prison
without bars":

There is no water remaining in the occupied factory, so what water is left
was boiled from whatever they stored or scavenged after water was cut off.
Now they are rationing what little remains (view from inside the paint

***Update Monday, July 27, 2009***

Factory occupiers had a rally at 7:00 a.m., seen in the photo below:

Then at 11:00 a.m. they had a press conference by an amplified sound
system from atop the roof of the paint department, see here:
Which was immediately attacked by helicopters dropping bags with the toxic
teargas mixture:

In their statement the workers warned of a "fight to the death" if there
is continued use of "state power" to attack them. They also said it is a
"mistake" to try to suppress the occupation with violence, which will
result in a "terrible disaster."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

[olympiaworkers] One dead, dozens injured as quarry workers in Egypt clash with police

Jul 19 2009 libcom.org

A policeman died and dozens of people were injured when thousands of
quarry workers and owners clashed with police in Egypt on Thursday.

The protesters marched into Al-Minya city, in the central province of
Al-Minya 210 kilometers south of Cairo, and blocked a bridge spanning the
Nile, to protest against a decision by the authorities to impose new
duties on quarried rock, security sources said.

Police used teargas to disperse the crowd, but the protesters stoned
police, injuring at least four officers, security sources said.

An official said that police fired tear gas at some 3,000 workers who were
throwing stones. One policeman died, and accounts differed as to whether
he was killed during the stoning or from exposure to teargas. Reports of
the total number injured varied. Security sources said at least 17 riot
police had been wounded, and more than 20 protesters were suffering the
effects of teargas inhalation.

Police arrested some of the protesters. Estimates by security sources of
how many ranged from five to close to 50. The southern city is almost
quiet again, except for the intense security measures. Now, most of the
main roads are blocked, especially a bridge spanning the Nile, where the
clashes took place.

The prosecutor has charged detainees with rioting, murder, blocking the
main road, and disruption of the traffic, and has called on the forensic
team to decide on the autopsy of the dead policeman.

The website of the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm said the government
had imposed duties of LE 40 per ton of quarried stone, leading some
quarries to shut down and lay off their laborers. Protesters said they
held the demonstration because petitions to officials had been ignored and
some quarries had been shut for more than two weeks, the website said

Labor unrest has become common in Egypt, usually over pay, and often in
privatized companies. Even professional groups such as doctors,
pharmacists and lawyers have stopped work or threatened strikes over pay.
Worker frustration with rising prices and shortages of subsidized bread
flared into two days of clashes with security forces in the city of
Mahalla El-Kobra north of Cairo in April last year. Three people were
killed and scores injured.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

[olympiaworkers] Fired Olympia APWU President Clint Burelson Makes a Triumphant Return to Post Office

For Immediate Release 7/15/09 Contact Louie Mackey, Organizer (360)

Clint Burelson, the President of the Olympia Local of the American
Postal Workers Union made a triumphant return to his job at the
Olympia Post Office on 7/11/09 shortly after his unjust firing was
rescinded by the Postal Service as part of a grievance settlement
between the union and the Postal Service. A 7 day and 14 day
suspension against Clint for his union activities were also rescinded.

Although in a just world, the union should rightfully have been able
to win all the grievances regarding the unjust discipline against
Clint, the union agreed to compromise some in order to settle the
grievances now rather than wait for arbitration and the inherent risk
associated with that process. Clint and the union accepted a 7 day
and 14 day suspension for alleged AWOL and gave up one month of back
pay as part of the settlement.

The Postal Service improperly fired Clint in November of 2008 for
protected union activities such as arguing with management over labor
management issues. The Postal Service has a long history of
discrimination against active union representatives. Clint was
unjustly fired in 1994 for his union activities and was out for 3
years before winning his job back with full back pay. Despite
numerous local settlements where the Postal Service agreed in writing
to cease and desist from discriminating against Clint specifically,
and other union representatives in general, management continually
discriminates against active union representatives in their effort to
avoid being accountable to the community and their own rules in the

Clint's return to work was a big victory for the union. Workers at
the Post Office shared a cake that said "APWU 2 – 0," for winning
Clint's job back two times. The cake was decorated with miniature
versions of the picket signs held at the successful gatherings in
front of the Post Office calling for Clint's return to work. One of
the tiny signs said, "He fought for us, we fight for him."

The Postal Service's removal of Clint backfired on management as
workers stepped up to get involved with the union. There was also
support from postal workers in other locals, members of other unions
in Olympia, and caring community members that contributed to the
successful return of Clint. After winning his job back, Clint stated,
"I don't like to use the word proud, but I think in this case it is
appropriate. I am very proud of my union and friends in the

For more information contact: Louie Mackey at louiemackey@comcast.net
(360) 357-6231

Friday, July 17, 2009

[olympiaworkers] Korean Sanggyong Strike Up Against the Wall

The Ssangyong Motors strike in Pyeongtaek, South Korea (near Seoul), is
now in its eighth week, and the situation of the strikers is increasingly

Loren Goldner

July 17

(The following article reports "just the facts", based on communications
from workers and other activists involved in the struggle.)

The Ssangyong Motors strike in Pyeongtaek, South Korea (near Seoul), is
now in its eighth week, and the situation of the strikers is increasingly

To briefly reiterate the overall situation (following on my earlier report
of June 19):

Ssangyong Motors is 51% owned by China's Shanghai Automotive Industry
Corporation. In February the company filed for bankruptcy, proposing a
restructuring and offering the Pyeongtaek plant as collateral for further
loans to re-emerge from bankruptcy. The court approved the bankruptcy
plan, pending adequate layoffs to make the company profitable again.

Following job actions through the spring in anticipation of the layoffs,
the current strike began on May 27 when the company announced layoffs and
forced retirement of 1700 out of 7000 workers, with immediate additional
firings of 300 casuals. The workers slated for layoff immediately occupied
the plant, demanding no layoffs, no casualization and no outsourcing. The
KMWU (Korean Metal Workers Union) supported the occupation but tried to
channel negations strictly around the question of layoffs.

As of mid-June, about 1000 workers were continuing the occupation, with
wives and families providing food. The government and the company bided
their time, in part because of a broader political crisis of the
hard-right Lee government which militated against any immediate massive
police and thug attack, But two weeks later, they felt confident to go on
the offensive. The workers, for their part, had armed themselves with iron
crowbars and Molotov cocktails.

On June 26th-27th a serious government and employer attack began , as
hired thugs, scabs recruited from the workers not slated for firing, and
riot police tried to enter the factory. They secured the main building
after violent fighting in which many people were injured. The occupying
workers retreated to the paint sector, which was part of a defensive plan
based on the belief that police would not fire tear gas canisters into the
highly flammable area. (In January, five people in Seoul died in another
fire set off during a confrontation with police, sparking weeks of

The following day, the company issued a statement to the effect that there
had been enough violence, but in reality in recognition of the tenacious
worker resistance, and police and thugs were withdrawn. The company urged
the government to involve itself directly in negations. All water in the
plant was nonetheless cut off at the end of June.

Following a court order, the forces of repression struck again on July 11
as the riot police moved to seize the factory area with the exception of
the paint sector, and encircled the entire factory.

Ever since the attack of the 26th-27th attack aimed at isolating
Ssangyong's struggle and breaking the strike, solidarity actions outside
the plant were attempting to build broader support. These included a
street campaign, mainly from family organizations in the center of Seoul
and Pyeongtaek areas, a 4-hour general strike by the KMWU during which
metal workers from nearby plants rallied in front of Ssangyong factory
gate; on July 4th , and July 11 the KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade
Unions) held nationwide labor rallies in support of the Ssangyong's
struggle. These actions were however poorly attended and the leadership of
the KMWU has hesitated in declaring an all-out strike in response to the
attacks on the plant. Activists think the KMWU and KCTU leaderships are
more preoccupied with upcoming union elections. (927 activists also held a
one –day hunger strike in the center of Seoul on July 11.) (From my
experience in Korea over
the past four years, these are largely ritual actions which rarely
influence the outcome of a struggle.)

Finally, on July 16, 3,000 KMWU members gathered to support the Ssangyong
strike in front of the Pyeongtaek City Hall. When they tried to move to
the factory after the rally, they were blocked by police and 82 workers
were arrested on the spot.

All in all, chances for a serious generalization of the struggle to other
factories look remote. Activists on the scene feel that even if the KMWU
called a general strike, only a few districts would follow it. The Hyundai
auto workers are in the midst of wage negotiations themselves. Nearby
supplier plants have already gone through structural adjustment and are
not likely to mobilize.