South Korean trade unions have kicked off a general strike in support of striking workers who have occupied a Pyeongtaek car factory for over two months.
The 700,000-strong Korean Confederation of Trade Unions reported that ‘all affiliated unions’ supported the action yesterday, which follows a series of heavy-handed attacks by riot police on unionised members of the Ssangyong Motors workforce.
The KCTU leadership has also launched a hunger strike and sit-in protest in front of the National Assembly in Seoul.
Some 800 Ssangyong workers have been occupying the Pyeongtaek facility since May, when management announced that it would axe 2,646 workers – 36 per cent of the workforce – as part of a ‘restructuring plan’ at the Chinese-owned plant.
Since last Thursday, management has blocked all food from entering the factory and the trade unionists are reportedly surviving on three or four rice balls a day.
On Saturday, bosses prevented doctors and nurses from entering the compound, then on Monday, over 3,000 riot police backed by around 30 vehicles mounted with water cannon stormed the factory compound, with creditors brandishing an eviction order in tow.
The combined forces failed to dislodge workers, who have holed up in the plant’s paint shop.
Yesterday, police began dropping vats of tear gas from helicopters onto the workers and huge speakers have been installed near the occupied building, blaring messages calling on them to leave.
Around 100 police commandos are reportedly on standby for a possible raid.
As yet there have been no hand-to-hand clashes, but 16 people, including five policemen, have been injured so far.
The KCTU observed in a statement that police and management ‘have embarked upon a joint operation to break the strike,’ warning that the ‘police suppression symbolises further catastrophe rather than any attempts to solve the crisis of Ssangyong Motors.’
It declared that the strike must ‘continue strongly and indefatigably, despite whatever sacrifice and pain that may come in our way,’ adding: ‘This July battle will decide the fate of workers.’