Hope Bus activist shares her heart-warming stories of shit bombs and struggle

Posted on : 2012-05-30 12:04 KST Modified on : 2012-05-30 12:04 KST
Kim Jin-suk brings story of crane campaign against worker dismissals to Germany
 May 22. The South Korean labor activist was invited to on a three city tour of Germany by IG Metall to share her experiences of labor struggle. (by Han Ju-yeon)
May 22. The South Korean labor activist was invited to on a three city tour of Germany by IG Metall to share her experiences of labor struggle. (by Han Ju-yeon)

By Han Ju-yeon, special contributor in Berlin

Labor activist Kim Jin-suk wrote a new chapter in the history of South Korea’s organized labor movement with her 309-day-long strike atop a crane in a shipyard in Busan. On a May 24 visit to the Berlin chapter of the German Industrial Union of Metalworkers (IG Metall), she drew an enthusiastic response from an audience of around 50. Kim shared the story of how her refusal to come down from the crane led to the Hope Bus movement that drew thousands of supporters from across the country.

The German workers showed a particularly keen interest in the South Korean layoff situation, noting a 2009 agreement among German unions, companies, and government to hold off wage increases. While it did not cause any major shocks, a large number of temporary workers ended up being dismissed, the workers said.

Kim was speaking in Germany as part of a tour of lectures and round tables in Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin between May 19 and 26 with Hwang I-ra, head of the counseling department in the Korea Confederation of Trade Union’s Busan chapter. The labor communities in South Korea and Germany already have a history of solidarity, as last year’s Hope Bus movement drew messages of support from German workers.

IG Metall began pushing to invite Kim after finding out about her aerial protest from an article in the progressive daily Tageszeitung. Hans Koumlbrich, 67, of the union’s international relations division, which handled organizational efforts for the effect, characterized the crane strike and Hope Bus campaign as an “unprecedented” labor struggle.

A packed house of around 100 people attended an evening talk on the crane protest on May 22 at the Taz Cafe on Berlin’s Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse, which is run by the Tageszeitung. A grateful Kim told the audience, “I was able to come down alive [from the crane] thanks to all of you who came to see me and showed your solidarity.”

She also had the audience in stitches with anecdotes from her desperate struggle, such as the time she used feces as a “bomb” when hired security workers attempted to ascend the crane.

But the mood turned somber when she responded to a question by one audience member who asked whether she had decided alone or with other union members to station herself atop the crane. “No one knew I was doing it,” she said. “People were stunned when they found out.”

The talk ended up going on well over an hour past the scheduled ending time as audience members asked question after question. A Siemens employee said, “As a fellow worker, I was very moved by Kim Jin-suk’s courage.”

Yu Jae-hyeon, a 38-year-old Korean who came to Germany in 2001, called Kim a “little giant” and said, “Since she was someone who went through an ordeal lasting 309 days, I was expecting her to be big and burly. It was a shock to see how frail she was.”

Kim also attended the May People’s Festival, an event on May 26 organized by Koreans in Germany to commemorate the Gwangju Democratization Movement in 1980.

The German listeners were especially interested in the Hope Buses. Kim called the caravan an alternative to an bureaucratic South Korean labor campaign, saying, “It was the first time in thirty years of labor activity that I’d ever seen a show of solidarity like that.

"If the KCTU had come up with the Hope Bus idea, it would have had a really long name like ‘the struggle for such and such,’" she added. "I think the Hope Buse movement was attractive because it wasn’t authoritarian and bureaucratic. It became possible to have something heartfelt and warm."


Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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