Police arrest 64 Ssangyong Motors union members

Posted on : 2009-08-12 12:09 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Ssangyong union‘s mass arrest is the largest public security arrest since 1997
 the head of the Ssangyong Motors chapter of the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU)
the head of the Ssangyong Motors chapter of the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU)

Some 64 members of the Ssangyong Motors labor union have been arrested following their participation in the recent sit-in strike at the company’s Pyeongtaek factory, including all of the core union leaders and a number of workers. Prosecutors and police have even raised the specter of communism during the investigation, claiming, “Outside forces with a strongly pro-communist character were involved in the strike.” In response to this hardline response by prosecutors and police, labor is warning that another strike similar to the one at Ssangyong’s Pyeongtaek factory could result from the administration’s public security witch-hunt that destroys the spirit of labor-management consensus.

Judges Jeong U-yeong and Jeong Ha-jeong of the Pyeongtaek branch of Suwon District Court issued arrest warrants Tuesday morning for 38 of the 42 workers for whom warrants were requested for violating the Law on Punishment of Violent Acts, obstructing the performance of official duties, and obstructing operations. The two judges cited sufficient grounds for criminal charges and flight risk as reasons for issuing the warrants for the workers, including one for Han Sang-kyun, the head of the Ssangyong Motors chapter of the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU). Han and the other workers are also being investigated for acts of violence against police officers and the company’s security personnel during the occupation of the factory from May 21 to August 6, and for using illegal weapons such as Molotov cocktails and air rifles.

These arrests, together with the 26 workers that had previously been detained, bring the total number of detainees in connection with the Ssangyong Motors strike up to 64. This is the largest number of detentions since police brought in 58 union members following the Posco union’s sit-in at the Posco headquarters in Pohang in May 2006. It also appears likely to mark the biggest public security incident in 12 years, if the 1997 arrest of 195 individuals at the inauguration of the South Korean Federation of University Student Councils (Hanchongryun) is included. Police announced that they had received warrants Tuesday for the arrest of two additional individuals connected with the union, and that they had requested that a total of 68 people report in, of which 12 are individuals who are unaffiliated with the union.

As of Sunday, prosecutors have also announced that “outside forces with a strongly pro-communist character” were involved in the Ssangyong Motors strike, including individuals with a prior history of violating the National Security Law. “We confiscated ideological documents and illegal weaponry, and uncovered an attempt to establish a military committee,” prosecutors reported. However, the security investigation division of the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency, which actually conducted the investigation of the case, was unable to apply charges of violating the National Security Law against any of the individuals. This suggests that baseless charges of communist sympathies have been pinned on workers who waged a strike against large-scale layoffs.

Observers are also commenting on the fact that prosecutors and police have been focusing on the actions of the union while ignoring the illegal and violent acts perpetrated by the company and the police. There has been no mention of an apology from police, let alone criminal punishment, for the indiscriminate assaults on fallen union members during their August 6 entry into the factory. Moreover, although company employees were booked without detention, none have been arrested for attacking members of civic groups with pieces of wood in front of the factory‘s main gate on August 5 and 6. Police are also doing nothing about the fact that the company violated the Fire Services Act by cutting off electricity and water for fire hydrants, violated the Emergency Medical Service Act by preventing medical personnel from entering or exiting the occupied factory, and violated basic human rights by blocking individuals from bringing the workers water and food.

Civic groups and labor organizations are unanimous in criticizing the hardline and anti-labor stance of the prosecutors and police and accusing them of ignoring the spirit of compromise between labor and management. At a press conference Sunday, a representative of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, to which the Ssangyong union belongs, said that the law was being “applied in a biased manner against labor union officials and people who opposed layoffs, while not a single arrest has been made for the excessive force and illegal and violent acts of police officers or for acts of brutality on the part of the company‘s security personnel”

“If the administration goes against the people’s desire for mutual benefits of labor and management, a fierce struggle is inevitable,” the union claimed.

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

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