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Updated: 18.12.2012 15:51
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Polizei prügelt Gewerkschaftsaktivisten zu Tode

Am frühen Morgen des 1. August starb Ha Joong Keun, Baugewerkschafter der Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU), KCTU, an den Folgen eines Einsatzes der Aufruhrpolizei am 16. Juli, als 3.000 der seit 1. Juli streikenden POSCO-Subunternehmen-Belegschaften eine Demonstration vor der Konzernzentrale organisierten, die mit Gewalt aufgelöst werden sollte. Die Demonstration war organisiert worden, nachdem POSCO eine Vereinbarung gebrochen hatte: Das Unternehmen hatte zugesagt, die Subunternehmen zu Verhandlungen mit der Gewerkschaft zu bewegen, stattdessen aber heimlich Streikbrecher angeworben. Als das Unternehmen die Riot-Polizei rief und diese aus dem ganzen Lande 10.000 Mann mobilisierte, flüchteten sich 3.000 Bauarbeiter in den Firmensitz und hielten diesen besetzt. Nach mehreren Tagen (in denen das Unternehmen Wasser und Strom für die Gebäude sperren liess) gingen die Arbeiter freiwillig heraus - und 58 von ihnen wurden festgenommen. Der Gewerkschaftsverband KCTU organisiert eine Solidaritätskampagne in deren Argumentation auch die ökonomische Rolle von POSCO in Südkorea und seine Public Relations und die Bedingungen unter denen die Belegschaften die Fabriken bauen müssen (unter anderem unter - verbotener - Anwendung von Asbest) gegenübergestellt.

Der (englische) Aktionsaufruf des KCTU "Union Member dies due to severe beating by riot police" vom 2. August 2006

Union Member dies due to severe beating by riot police

At 2:30 am on August 1, 2006 Ha Joong Keun, a member of the Pohang Local Union, an affiliate of the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU), KCTU died. He was severely beaten by riot police during a demonstration in front of POSCO headquarters on July 16. At that time, close to 3,000 members of the Pohang Local Union were participating in a sit-down demonstration inside POSCO headquarters.

Pohang Local goes on Strike

On July 1, the over 4,000 members of the Pohang Local union went on strike. The unions key demands were a 15% increase in wages, implementation of a five-day work week, and dignity and respect at the work site. Although the union members are hired by subcontractors, the majority work at the construction plants operated by POSCO; and thus, POSCO has a tremendous influence over the subcontractors in whether they negotiate with the union or not. Recognizing this, on July 11, the union was able to get an agreement from the POSCO management that they would mediate so that the sub contractors would not only negotiate with the union but more importantly POSCO agreed to work towards a positive and constructive resolution to the strike. However; two days later, the union discovered that POSCO had brought in replacement workers. In doing this, POSCO clearly breached the good-faith agreement with the union.

Angered, over 3,000 union members marched to POSCO headquarters to confirm whether the revelations were indeed correct. Rather than admitting that they had indeed hired replacement workers, the management stated that they had no role in the matter and they were neutral parties in the employer relationship between the union and the sub contractors and the main contractor. The union held its ground and sought an apology from the POSCO management. In response, POSCO refused and called in the riot police to forcibly remove the workers.

Union Members enter POSCO Headquarters

Fearing that they would be forcibly disbursed by at least 10,000 riot police, on July 14 the workers, spontaneously decided to go inside POSCO headquarters and conduct a sit-down demonstration rather than engage in a violent confrontation with the riot police. POSCO has alleged that the union had deliberately planned the "occupation" but it is clear that the union had not prepared for such a large-scale action as evident by the unions purchase of larges cases of water and food after the union members had entered POSCO headquarters.

For nine days, the workers remained holed up in the POSCO headquarters from the fifth floor to the ninth floor surrounded by thousands of riot police. During the lock-in, the union representatives and the sub contractors held a two-day negotiation session which ended in failure. Although the union had requested POSCO to mediate the dispute as they had earlier agreed, POSCO refused. In fact the management chose to increase the pressure and repression against the union. In two occasions POSCO cut off all power in the building; thus in the last four days of the sit-down demonstration, the workers had no access to water or electricity.

Union Repression: Ha Joong Keun Severely Beaten by Riot Police

In addition, thousands of riot police were called from all across the country to possibly forcibly remove the workers from the building. Outside POSCO headquarters, the remaining union members conducted solidarity demonstrations which inevitably resulted in confrontations with the riot police. At a rally coordinated by the KFCITU on July 16, the clashes with the police was so brutal that several members were beaten forcing them to be hospitalized. It was at this rally that Ha Joong Keun was beaten severely on the head by riot police who kept on pounding his head with their metal shields. This clearly further fueled the anger and frustration of the remaining members out side the POSCO headquarters and thus, many union members wielded steel pipes to protect themselves from the riot police in several demonstrations after Ha was hospitalized.

Furthermore, on July 19 in a regional rally coordinated by the Kyonggido Branch of the KCTU, the police not only surrounded the more than 3,000 demonstrators and blocked them from getting close to POSCO headquarters to support those locked inside, the police used water spray to break up the demonstration. Also, bus loads of supporters, mainly members of the KFCITU locals were blocked by riot police from leaving the nearby cities of Yeosoo, Daegu, and Ulsan to support the Pohang local union. There were even some buses carrying union members that were stopped in the highway and barred from entering the city of Pohang.

Throughout the sit-down demonstration, the President of the Pohang local Lee Ji Kyung consistently stated that the union would voluntarily leave the headquarters if the sub contractors agreed to return to the negotiating table. Despite attempts by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Korean Democratic Labor Party members of the National Assembly and the representatives of civil society groups, the sub contractors, POSCO management, and the government refused to have any dialogue with the union.

In the end, after nine days over 2,500 union members who had remained throughout the occupation chose to voluntarily leave the building without any concessions. As the members walked out of the POSCO headquarters, the police immediately detained 138 union members who they believed to be the key organizer of the action. Currently 58 union leaders and members were jailed for attempting to exercise their fundamental trade union rights. At 10:00 am on July 27, twenty nine of those arrested went on a hunger strike to protest the continued repression by the government as well as POSCO´s efforts to launch an anti-union public relations campaign, in which the union has been vilified as violent and lawless "gangsters".

Organizing to Change the Construction Site at POSCO, where the Working Conditions are Dangerous and Inhumane

The Pohang local union, formed in 1989 is one of four local unions (Yeosoo local, Chunnamdongbu local, and Ulsan local) that comprises the Network of Construction Plant Workers Union within the KFCITU. Construction plant workers work in the construction and reconstruction of big factories and plants that are used to produced petrochemicals, oils, and other dangerous chemicals. In the case of POSCO, it is the production of steel.

The work is backbreaking and extremely dangerous, as the workers are exposed to a series of hazardous products and chemicals that can cause serious illnesses and possibly terminal diseases. Although POSCO prides itself in protecting the environment and incorporating environmental sustainability in its steel production, construction plant workers work daily in dangerous and unsafe working conditions in POSCO plants. This year to date, there have been at least twenty minor a major industrial accidents but 95% of these accidents are unreported and deliberately hidden from public and government scrutiny. In addition, even though the use of asbestos is banned in South Korea, it is still used in POSCO plants, and thus, workers are exposed to a scientifically known substance that causes lung cancer.

Although South Korea is considered an OECD country, the workers in POSCO must work in working conditions similar to that of those in developing countries. Since the construction plants have no washing or changing facilities, the workers are forced to change outdoors. The bathrooms are inadequate, insufficient, and filthy. In fact, in a work site consisting of 3,000 workers, there are only 6 to 7 bathrooms and about 5 to 7 portable bathrooms. Furthermore, since there is basically no canteen or eating facility in the POSCO construction plant, workers are forced to eat at the worksite, sometimes on the dirty floor or ground

In addition, on an average, construction plant workers work 8 to 10 hours a week, seven days a week, totally 70 hours. They are denied any social and medical benefits or vacation pay. In fact is a °∞dream°± of many construction plant workers to have at least one day of the week off so they can spend time with their families. Thus, it is not surprising and completely normal that construction plant workers who have worked for more than twenty years have rarely spent time with their children, and as in the words of one worker, °∞I worked the entire time and during this time my daughter is no longer a child.

Relationship between Sub Contractors and POSCO

The members of the Pohang local union are categorized as subcontract and irregular (non-permanent) workers in South Korea. Since regular (permanent) workers are hired directly by the company they are guaranteed three basic labor rights---the right to organize, the right to strike, and the right to bargain. On the other hand, sub contract workers must negotiate with the sub contractors as they are hired by them but in reality the real power in terms of determining wages, working conditions, and work hours lies with the user company, the main contractor. Most user companies are big conglomerates such as SK Petrochemicals, LG Caltex, and POSCO.

In many cases user companies have terminated contracts with sub contracts once the workers organize and form a union. Because of this, many sub contract companies refuse to negotiate with the union. Furthermore, both the user company and the sub contract company shift the blame between each other in refusing to recognize and negotiate the union. It should be also noted that many sub contracting companies are owned by former top level managers of user companies resulting in an intertwined relationship between the sub contractors and the user company. In the case of Pohang, the main user company is POSCO and thus the real power behind the sub contractors is POSCO.

POSCO Made 6 Billion Profits in 2005 at the Expense of its Workers

In 2005 it was reported that POSCO made a profit of close to 6 billion dollars (US). Yet, construction plant workers who have contributed tremendously to this profit are paid simply pennies. A construction plant worker at a POSCO plant makes an average of $90 to $95 (US) daily for a ten hour work day, while workers in nearby cities of Ulsan, Chunnamdongbu, and Yeosoo make an average of $120 to $150 (US) daily.

POSCO Contradicts Company Codes of Conduct and Launches Systematic Campaign to Destroy the Pohang Local Union

As many big conglomerates, POSCO is very conscious of its public image both within and outside of South Korea. POSCO has donated millions of dollars to environmental, cultural, and human rights organizations. It has also launched the POSCO TJ Park Prize, an international award to be given annually beginning from 2007 for achievements in community development & philanthropy, science, and education. According to its materials, the Community Development and Philanthropy Prize will be given to °∞an individual or organization that has made outstanding achievements with the enhancements in the quality of human lives in Asia.°± Before POSCO starts giving awards to others in enhance the quality of life, they should start at home by making sure those workers who work at their facilities work in a safe and decent environment and that they are paid enough to improve the quality of their lives as well as those of their families.

In June 2003, POSCO prided itself in adopting a company Codes of Conduct in order to, °∞implement corporate ethics that meet internationally accepted standards thus making another bold step toward becoming a globally respected and trusted company.°± In both the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are specific articles pertaining to the right to organize, the right to join a union, and the right to strike. Even though the members of the Pohang Local union are not directly hired by POSCO, they still work in a POSCO work site and thus the international conventions comply. However, recent internal documents that were made public by the union revealed that POSCO had a deliberate and systematic campaign to utilize its political and economic clout at all levels to basically destroy the Pohang local union

POSCO urged the government to send in thousands of riot police from across the country to basically use force if necessary to break the strike. POSCO also galvanized the local citizens of Pohang to launch counter demonstrations against the union, stating that the union was creating a bad image to the city. Since POSCO controls at least 70% of the city´s economy, clearly the local government and the businesses are heavily influenced by POSCO. POSCO also used its influence to launch a highly distorted media campaign against the unions through major media outlets such as KBS and Chosun Ilbo. In fact the mainstream media has portrayed the union as violent and engaging in illegal activities, while POSCO has been portrayed as the °∞innocent victim.°± Finally, it should be noted that POSCO had a plan to employ replacement workers and migrant workers during the strike. By brining in migrant workers, POSCO was attempting to increase the tension between migrant workers and native workers. These actions and the campaign to destroy the Pohang local union are clear violations of all international human rights and cultural conventions that honor trade union rights and thus, contradict POSCOs own Codes of Conduct.

Unions Future Activities

Despite the increased repression from the South Korean government and POSCO, the members of the Pohang local union are strongly united in their effort to prove that their strike and their actions are justified. Although both the government and POSCO was hoping that the union would be destroyed by arresting all of its key leaders and potential leaders, the members are steadfast in their commitment to exist as a union and more importantly to make sure that their demands as workers and as human beings are fulfilled. In addition to continuing the struggle in Pohang a delegation of the local union is currently in Seoul engaged in a series of activities including visits to members of the National Assembly, main stream media head quarters, and government officials; demonstrations in front of the Blue House and the Police headquarters to protest both the government´s and POSCO´s actions; and to publicize their struggle to the citizens of Seoul.

The support for the unions has slowly increased. Recently more than 57 national civil society groups, women´s organizations, academic associations, and other organizations have professed support for the union. The KCTU had declared a national rally in support of the Pohang local union for August 4; however, due to the recent death of Ha Joong Keun this rally will also be a memorial service and march in honor of Ha Joong Keun.

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