Socialist Worker

Day of fierce fighting at occupied South Korean car factory

by Owen Miller in Seoul
Issue No. 2163

The attack began at dawn today and lasted until late afternoon. Under a hail of metal bolts and stones from Ssangyong company thugs, liquid tear gas dropped from police helicopters, incessant loud music and an all-out assault by police commandos armed with steel pipes and taser guns, the occupying workers at the Ssangyong auto factory in Pyongtaek, South Korea, have held out for one more day.

They forced back a number of attempts by police to retake the car plant’s paintshop, using every means at their disposal including flaming barricades, petrol bombs, slingshots and anti-helicopter spikes.

This sort of fierce resistance reflects the real desperation of workers faced with the loss of their jobs and unlikely to find another in South Korea’s harsh labour market. It is also a reaction to the sheer brutality of the company and the Korean government in their repeated attempts to crush the occupying workers. There is a widespread belief here that the right wing Lee Myung-bak government wants to make an example of the Ssangyong workers and achieve a decisive victory against unionised labour in Korea in order to pave the way for more widespread restructuring.

There are now around 500-540 workers left inside the factory’s paintshop, living under terrible conditions after more than two months of occupation. The company and police have been enforcing a complete blockade on the occupying workers and for the last week they have had very little to eat or drink and practically no water to use for washing or going to the toilet. Many of the workers have sustained injuries during the last week of fighting but the company and police have consistently tried to block medical aid from reaching them.

Negotiations took place at the weekend between management and union leaders but they were broken off by the company on Sunday morning. Now the company, which has been under bankruptcy protection since February, faces liquidation in the next day or two and it is likely that many more will lose their jobs. Although it is clear that nationalisation is the only solution for the ailing car company, the Lee Myung-bak government seems quite happy to let it sink as long as it can score a victory against a militant section of the working class.

The remaining workers say they are ready to fight on and are surrounded by thousands of litres of flammable liquids which pose a threat to both themselves and the attacking police. On the outside of the paintshop building the occupiers have daubed the words, “If you don’t want to talk, you’d better kill us all!”

The families of the Ssangyong workers have been camped outside the plant for weeks and themselves faced violent attacks from company thugs and strike-breaking employees who have smashed up their tents in the early hours of the morning. This evening at 6.30pm, as the day of fighting came to an end, they released green helium balloons over the factory as a signal of solidarity with their loved ones inside the occupation. Despite their pleas for more negotiations there is little doubt that tomorrow morning will bring another savage assault from the police.

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Tue 4 Aug 2009, 19:38 BST
Issue No. 2163
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