THE FULL STORY OF E-LAND STRIKE
by Oh Min Kyoo (Aug 9 2007)
[2004~2006] Struggle against 'Irregular worker protection bill' legislation
In 10th of September 2004, government introduced this bill in the name of 'protection irregular workers'.
But it was clear to irregular workers' union members that this law could never protect us.
This bill was composed of two key contents which might enable employers to dismiss or outsource the whole irregular workers.
According to a draft bill ;
(1) Employers can use contract workers for 3 years without any regulation. And if they use contract workers over 3 years, they cannot terminate the employment relationship with the workers unless there is a just cause.
: This means employers can dismiss contract workers whose employment period is under 3 years without any reason. Even skillful contract workers can be dismissed every 3 years.
Furthermore, employers do not have to regularize contract workers who have fortune to be employed over 3 years. All they have to do is just not firing without a just cause, in other words, they can fire contract workers whose employment period exceeds 3 years any time, if they present "a just cause". Only the court can judge whether there is "a just cause", and the judicial procedure might take 3~5 years.
(2) Employers should not discriminate against irregular workers in salary and working conditions without 'a reasonable cause'. Irregular workers can file a suit to Labor Committee against employers discriminating against them. Such employers can be fined up to 100 million won($108,000).
: But this doesn't reflect realities of irregular workers. Once filing a suit to Labor Committee, they should be all dismissed by employers. Because foregoing paragraph(1) enables employers to freely dismiss contract workers, by what cause do employers not fire workers who have the courage to file a suit?
Those who have fortune to file a suit to Labor Committee, have to hurdle another barrier, that is 'a reasonable cause'. What is in the world 'a reasonable cause' of discrimination? There's no standard and it all depends on Labor Committee which is regarded neutral, but in real, partial to employers.
This bill would be applied to only contract workers. It does not be applied to subcontracted or outsourced workers and self-employed workers. So employers can avoid the application of this law by simply outsourcing contract workers!
At first, Korean people were dazzled by the bill's name -Irregular worker protection law. But Irregular workers' unions were conscious that it was totally a fraud.
So in 16th of September 2004 - just a week after the bill introduced -, 15 leaders of irregular workers' unions occupied ruling Uri party chairman's office for 7 days requesting withdrawal of the bill. They went on a hunger fight carrying out occupation. Their courageous action moved many Korean people and KCTU members deeply, since they made their action at the risk of arrest and imprisonment.
"We, irregular workers, are opposing 'protection law'! We don't want this bill passed or discussed in the Congress!"
▲ Irregular workers' union leaders occupying leading party chairman's office(2004). There sat in the center, Lee Nam-sin with red jacket, one of leaders of E-Land labor union. He carried the role of spokesman of sit-in workers then. He is now imprisoned to jail for E-Land workers' struggle.
After a week occupation, 15 leaders could meet the Uri party chairman, Lee Bu-young. He spoke to our leaders "I also think there are many problems in the bill introduced by government. So I'll discuss these problems with officials including irregular workers' demands".
Leaders were not satisfied but decided to walk out with a firm will to organize strikes and struggles to withdraw this bill (not just amend this bill). Government and police couldn't arrest any of our leaders since their action impressed people deeply. People started to think this bill had a lot of problems - That was an excellent outcome obtained by occupation.
(Actually they were the key members of "Solidarity of irregular workers' unions" which I have been working for.)
▲ 15 leaders' figure just after walking out of chairman's office. There sat Park Dae-gyu, the chief of Solidarity of Irregular workers' unions, the third place from the far left of bottomline. Lee Nam-sin, the third place from the far left of above line.
After the occupation, two years-long negotiation had begun in tripartite meeting and in Congress. KCTU leaders used our direct action pumping up their voice in negotiation. We didn't want that kind of bargaining, but KCTU bureaucrats wanted it enthusiastically.
KCTU leaders sometimes called out one-day general strike which didn't accompany any sit-in strikes or serious street struggles. General strike being declared, workers just participated in formal rally and then went home. It was just another holiday.
Finally, 30th of November last year, the bill had been passed in Congress without any serious resistance. KCTU had just called out another one-day strike and it was all!
But in the course of two-years' negotiation and irregular workers' struggle, a part of bill's contents has been amended ;
Employers can use contract workers for 2 years without any regulation, and if they use contract workers over 2 years, the workers are regarded asregular workers.
3 years has been shortened to 2 years, and the effect of exceeding 2 years has been intensified as regularization. This resembles CPE which French Minister Dominique de Villepin introduced and faced mass resistance to withdraw last year. The difference is that CPE was planned to apply to those who would sign first employment contract under 26 age, while Korean bill spread its application to whole irregular workers.
But the bill does not define the salary and working conditions when the workers are regularized. So employers can give regularized workers same salary as irregular workers. We call this kind of regularization a 'bogus' one.
This law was supposed to go effect from 1st of July this year, and starting point of effect is when the irregular worker renews employment contract after 1st of July. So regularization according to this bill will happen at least July 2009.
Some commentators except government and leading party said this law might make a lot of bad effect. But we did know this law itself is a catastrophe. And our prediction was actualized in E-land retailer company.
[Early 2007, the bad law has not only caused massive dismissal of irregular workers, but also accelerated new organizing in public sector, big retail stores, and so on.]
Before the new law going effect in July 2007, many employers had started firing a lot of irregular workers. Massive dismissal was first reported in public sector - it was a tragic comedy that government was planning to sack irregular workers in Labor ministry which enthusiastically had advertised this law as can provide more safe employment of irregular workers! In private sector as similar as public sector, it was reported that Big retail stores and department such as E-land and New-core began to terminate employment contract of thousands of irregular workers in early 2007.
▲ A press conference titled "I accuse - the evil law on irregular workers are putting us onto the guillotine!"
Our organization - Solidarity of irregular workers' union - had collected massive dismissal cases and held a press conference in April 30 - the previous day of 117th Mayday. As you know, massive dismissal cases cannot bereported unless there exist irregular workers who are already fired or threatened to be fired and courageous enough to fight against employers. If they wouldn't fight to get their rights, their cases couldn't be released to common people. So we cannot collect many cases in unorganized sectors. Instead, we can collect many cases in newly organized sectors.
Another truth lies here. The new law is designed to attack employment security of all workers and spread irregular employment to all kinds of industry. So many lay-off cases were foreseen even before this law took effect in July 1. On the other hand, new organizing on irregular workers who face employer's attack by the new law was also started. 8 of 10 cases we collected were newly organized irregular workers. The title of our press conference was "I accuse - the evil law on irregular workers are putting us onto the guillotine!"
So it was important not to be discouraged by the bad law's legislation, but to encourage and promote new organizing. E-Land workers' union was the only one which had not only fought against the new bill's legislation, but steadily provided new organizing irregular workers making itself ready for the new law. E-Land workers' union was passionately promoting organization campaign, whereas many other unions including the umbrella union(KCTU) were fallen into defeatism since the new law's passing in Congress in Nov. 30 last year.
About E-Land group and their unions
The E-Land company is well-known as a miracle in Korea's history of industrial growth. Started as a tiny garment store near a women's university in 1980, it acquired New-Core department and Kim's Club outlets in 2003, and again bought out the French-invested Carrefour stores last year, which was totally a surprise to its kind. Now the E-Land group has risen to 26th place in the nation's business ranking, now operating a network of 50 retail outlets and an array of leisure establishments and producing 55 popular casual wear brands.
CEO of E-Land group, Park Seong-Su, is alsowell-known with his 'Christian' management philosophy. He made oratories in all E-Land outlets and promoted workers to be Christian. E-Land didn't run stores in Sunday for workers' attending church.
But he is also notorious as a vicious enterpriser because of the very management philosophy. His famous words - "There is no labor union in the Bible" - shows his characteristic. He regards labor union and workers' struggle as infected with communism or Satan. (Communist means Mr. Satan to him ^^) There are oratories but no place for employee lounge or union office in outlet stores.
Last year he tithed 13 billion won(about $ 14 million) to the church whereas he always said that he couldn't afford enough money to terminate discrimination between regular and irregular workers! But it was totally a fraud! He earned 8.2 billion won(about $ 9 million) just by a stock dividend last year. He always enforces religious devotion to bear low wages and poor working-conditions. This, was the very secret of miraculous growth of E-Land group in 20th century.
In addition, E-Land group had started using a lot of irregular workers much earlier than other companies, which is another secret of rapid growth. E-Land workers' union had an experience to organize irregular workers involving serious strikes as long as 265 days to improve irregular workers to regular workers' status in the year 2000. This union became a good example for labor movement activists to organize irregular workers and fight against neo-liberalism since then.
There had existed three unions (E-Land workers' union, New-Core workers' union, Carrefour workers' union) in E-Land group till last December, whereas all companies were merged and integrated into E-Land group. Three unions had been discussing unificationorganizing joint strike and struggle, and it resulted last December E-Land workers' union and Carrefour workers' union was unified into "E-Land general labor union". (There exists New-Core workers' union separately, but I believe they will be unified into one union sooner or later.)
There are some 6,000 workers in Homever retailer's outlet stores - 3,000 regular and 3,000 irregular ones. (The name of Carrefour is changed to 'Homever' after it was merged into E-Land group.) Starting with 800 members, E-Land general labor union could recruit 500 more members by its passionate organization campaign before the new law went effect in July 1. Now the number of Homever unionists are 1,300 which makes organization rate 20% - Half of unionists are irregular workers. In addition, there exists more 5,000 outsourced workers left unorganized. In other words, 6,000 workers have direct employment contract with E-Land company whereas 5,000 outsourced workers don't. So the real scale of workers in Homever is 11,000.
There exist 2,000 workers in New-Core department and its discount store named Kim's Club - 1,300 regular and 700 irregular ones. New-Core workers' union had been composed of only regular workers and it has a collective agreement with company named 'unionshop clause' which means a regular worker become automatically unionists right after they enter a New-Core Co. The union has revised its rule to open a door to irregular workers and organized 300 more irregular workers in May this year fighting against employer's outsourcing policy. So the number of unionists is 1,600, but similarly as Homever there exist about 6,000 outsourced workers unorganized.
Though over 10,000 outsourced workers are left unorganized, two unions' organizing campaign was regarded as a brilliant achievement, compared with most other unions possessed with desperate helplessness.
The beginning : Massive dismissal of E-Land irregular workers and joint strikes
In April, Homever fired over 400 outsourced workers who were engaged in security, driving, cart-transporting jobs. This happened so suddenly that the union couldn't afford to deal with this case. Moreover, Homever dismissed some 350 irregular workers whose term of employment expired before July 1. Most of them were women workers aged 30~40 who were carrying cashier jobs in retailer's stores.
In May, New-Core management announced that they would fire all irregular workers, most of whom were cashiers of Kim's Club outlet stores, and replace them with outsourced workers. On June 30 - the eve of new law's first day - New-Core dismissed 300 irregular cashiers whose term of employment expired on that day, to replace with outsourced workers.
So E-Land group laid off more than 1,000 irregular employees at the group's major discounters, Homever and New Core Co., before the new law on irregular workers took effect on July 1,
Two unions had made themselves get ready against E-Land employer's attack for months. They held several co-rallies in April and May, then they called out first co-strike on June 10.
It was a one-day strike mobilizing to strike rally about 1,500 workers, which were composed of 700 New-Core workers and 800 Homever workers. I guess about 600 workers were irregular ones, especially E-land labor union members. They gathered at Kang-nam branch of New-Core Department, where the serious struggle against employer's outsourcing policy was going on.
E-land and New-Core workers' one-day strike and their rally was very successful! Some workers who were recently fired by E-land made a model of guillotine(!) and carried out the performance as if they had been forced to mount on the guillotine by E-land CEO Park and the President Roh! That was so much impressive to not only workers on strike but newspapermen that those scenes were pressed by some daily newspapers next day. Jeon-ByongDeuk(vice-president of KCTU), Kwon-Younggil(one of the Presidential candidates of KDLP) had a chance to make speech in the rally, but the best was the speech a rank-and-file worker made, which moved all the participants' heart deeply!
▲ Before the strike rally on June 10, two unions held conference interview. There stands on the center, Park Yang-su, president of New-Core workers' union. The third place with red jacket from the far left stands Kim Kyoung-ook, president of E-Land general labor union. (I stand in the far left)
▲ Picketting in Homever Ulsan outlet store on June 10. More than 100 workers had been recruited in Ulsan store during Mayand June. Members of Ulsan labor education community have also been backing Homever irregular workers' struggle in Ulsan.
On 5th, 9th of June, New-Core employer had brought dozens of gangsters to frighten irregular workers out of their jobs. But the New-Core workers' union went on a surprise strike for two hours to expel them! Many workers including irregular women workers were hurt, but they were fulfilled with sense of achievement and fighting spirit!
On the strike day, 10th of June, New-Core employer again put hundreds of gangsters to 6 branches of New-Core Department. (Kang-nam, Pyong-chon, Bu-pyong, Kwa-chon, East Su-won and Ilsan branch) After the common rally at Kang-nam branch, two unions decided to cancel afternoon schedule - according to original plan, they were going to move by 40 chartered buses to Homever outlet store in Worldcup Stadium, Sang-Am Dong after having lunch, It seemed not so easy for E-land labor union to decide to cancel afternoon rally schedule because Homever store in Sang-Am Dong is most profitable and there were more than 100 union members! But E-land labor union was willing to concede to struggle in solidarity with New-Core union!
They divided 1,500 participants into 6 groups(200~300 workers in each group) which were sent to6 branches of New-Core Department to fight gangsters. Finally at 5:00 p.m., all the activists sent victory message that they had driven gansters out at all! They announced the next strike rally would be held in front of Homever store in Worldcup Stadium in reward of solidarity!
It was invaluable experience that E-land workers' union had conceded in New-Core workers' favor, because struggle against E-Land capitalist wouldn't be ended in short time - so most important thing was not obeying the original plan, but building two-union's joint action and strike!
Counterattack : overall strike involving occupation
Two unions resumed their strike on June 17, and this time they carried out two-day strike. But until then their strike didn't influence sales of outlet stores. If unions call out strike, employers just replace strike workers with managers or substitute workers to run stores. So unions needed another strategy.
On June 23, unions called out another two-day strike which accompanied blocking up all the entrances of outlet stores and occupying stores for a short time. On the first day of two-day strike, more than 1,000 unionists gathered around Homever store in Worldcup Stadium to block and shut it down. Next day(June 24), they did same thing to shut down Kang-Nam branch of New-Core department and Kim's club outlet store! Total loss of sales made by two-day strike was mounted up to 3.1 billion won($ 3.5 million).
▲ E-Land and New-Core workers demonstrating in front of Lexington Hotel in Yoe-i-do which belongs to E-Land group. (June 18)
Workers - especially irregular workers - were fulfilled with winning spirit 'cause they realized their own power and potential that they could stop and shut down stores! From then on, main strategy of two unions' strike was calling out partial surprise strike occupying for a short time to block and shut stores down. On June 25, Ya-tap branch of Homever and New-Core were shut down for 5 hours. On June 26, they shut down Pyong-chon branch of New-Core for 3 hours. On June 27, Ilsan store of Homever was shut down for hours.
But there was one limitation - when they start to block and occupy the store, the riot police was sent to intervenein an hour or so. Thus workers' blocking couldn't last for more 5~6 hours since the police's threatening to arrest all the workers. That really hurt and halved workers' winning spirit and their pride. Due to police intervention, E-Land employers still remained unwilling to talk with unions.
There needed more powerful strategy for leaders and unionists. June 30 was getting close - the day when the terms of employment of 300 irregular cashiers of New-Core expired, and the previous day of the new law's goinginto effect. Unionists didn't have a time to play a hide-and-seek game with police any more.
E-Land labor union decided to make action first. Representatives from nationwide branches showed firm will at the risk of all imprisonment and resolved two-day occupation from June 30 to July 1, that is, from the day 300 irregular workers of New-Core became sacrifice of mass dismissal to the day the new law went effect which would make millions of irregular workers game for employers' hunting.
We thought if unionists took this decisive action, employers and government might choose whether they should send riot police to crack down or resume talks with unions - it might take no more than two days in their making choice, so workers decided just two-day occupation.
But we missed an important thing : The issues on irregular workers has already spread to civil society so widely that in May a daily newspaper 'Hankyoreh‘ published their public-opinion poll in which 80% of respondents said "In spite of company's loss of profit, irregular workers should be granted regular status". E-Land workers' struggle moved ordinary people's heart so deeply that their strike had already risen up to most significant issue in Korea. We still didn't realize our power and what we can make and have already made.
At last the day June 30 had come. At 12:00 in Worldcup Stadium Homever store, Occupation was made really calm and quick, which reminded management of surprising military operation! E-Land labor union didn't call out any strike for Homever workers to take employer's mind off. So Homever workers were working as usual until leaders and workers from other branches who had already come into the store on the quiet declared occupation surprisingly.
Workers let the clients out by the command of union leaders, and occupation was completed uncontested. Unlike our expectation, riot police was not seen after hours' occupation. When workers didn't have enough courage to occupy and take a risk, police could easily let them out of stores simply by threatening to arrest all the workers. But this time, police could see the firm will of workers' (not just leaders') so that police couldn't take crackdown operation.
▲ E-Land regular and irregular workers occupying Homever store at Seoul Worldcup Stadium. There stands a counter in which sit-in irregular workers has been worked. Their sit-in lasted for 21 days until riot police's crackdown at July 20.
More important thing was the wide support from civil society and ordinary people. E-Land irregular workers' struggle had already gained tremendous sympathy of many people, mainly because of far low wages and working conditions of irregular workers', most of whom are women aged 30~50.
According to a recent report released by Korean Women Workers Association(KWWA). 67 percent of South Korean female workers earn under 800,000 won($871), The report was based on statistics of the first half year that were conducted among 1,169 women workers who had been counseled by KWWA.
Even their financial status is too bad ; 51 percent of them are in debt. It is too difficult for them to get a new job because they are old or they don't have any certificate. 87.9 percent answered that they had not experienced any vocational training ; the result indicates that they have not been protected by governmental hiring policies.
Moreover, it seemed obvious to most people that their lives must be getting more and more worse by the new law. Even the daily newspapers which had been hostile to workers' struggle reported E-Land case in favor of women irregular workers. They even questioned government policy and the new law whereas they reported this law would do a lot of proper functions right after the law's legislation last November. It was not too much to say that all the press centered on E-Land case.
So this occupation meant not just an damaging E-Land employers, but also a transform from defeatism to a counter-attack of labor class aiming at neo-liberalism. Irregular workers are awakening whole labor class from long, long retreat.
On the second day from occupation, July 1, when the new law went on effect, E-land labor union and Solidarity of Irregular workers' union had a press conference in the occupation site to announce workers' demands. Those were as following ;
▲ Withdraw outsourcing and stop massive dismissal!
▲ Reinstate all irregular workers who were fired by E-Land group! (about 1,000 workers)
▲ Stop reshuffle of regular workers!
▲ Terminate all discrimination between regular and irregular workers! Raise our wages!
▲ Withdraw all accusation and a lawsuit for damages on unionists!
Spread of sit-ins and social backing vs, Threatening to crack down
▲ Sit-in workers are realizing that "Strike is a school of workers" ; During sit-ins, unionists can spend a plenty of time in discussing many problems such as irregular work and neo-liberalism, history of labor movement, and so on.
Shocked at E-Land workers' sit-in strike, Roh Government and E-Land employers started all kinds of repression. Labor Minister Lee Sang-soo blamed unions that this occupation was illegal and must be stopped right now. Employers filed union leaders with police and On July 6, police had issued arrest warrants for six key labor union members, including Kim Gyung-wook, chief of the union. It was a mad oppression because E-Land union and management were going to resume talks on that day, and six key members were negotiating delegates of the union.
On the other hand, employers and government couldn't use one method of repression, because E-land workers' struggle had been widely supported. So they had to make another gesture as if they had not wanted police intervention to solve this problem by talksbetween union and management. Chief of the police said he would wait and see the result of dialogue between the union and the management rather than fast crackdown and arrest operation. Police even guaranteed safety of union leaders saying that they would be left unarrested during talks between union and management.
E-land employers announced that they would regularize some hundreds of irregular workers over 2 years. But this kind of regularization was a 'bogus' one, as mentioned above. Regularized workers would be given same salary and working condition as irregular workers. So the union refused to adopt employer's suggestion, and kept up sit-in struggle. It was a kind of strategem for non-unionized members not to be recruited into union.
When talks were resumed, the employers' attitude was always, basically, that it was up to the unionists to jump through the hoop that was being held up for them, without anything in return. E-Land management just repeated its position that there would be no negotiations or concessions until the sit-ins at the retail stores ended.
They even made it seem in the press that their offer to "give permanent status to irregular workers that have worked over 18 months at the company" was a big concession. But it was the terms ofthe collective agreement which they concluded with union two years before! They blamed the union for the failure to reach an agreement and induced the break-up of the negotiations. For them, as well as the employers association and the labor ministry, the negotiations were solely formalities from the very beginning, and the only way to resolve the issue was through sending in the police.
But the unionists didn't yield in spite of all repressions, and the leaders were also ready to go on sit-ins at the risk of imprisonment. They announced they had nothing to concede and would fight against the bad law.
Unionists said against their Christian employer, "No labor union in Bible? Neither irregular workers are there!" And against government, they said "Not 'Irregular Workers Protection law', This is 'Irrgular Workers Fire law'!" "Crackdown won't change anything! We will occupy another stores!"
▲ Leaders of KCTU and KDLP participating in sit-in at Homever store. There sat Lee Seok-hang (the chief of KCTU) and Moon Seong-Hyun (the chief of KDLP), the third and the fourth place from the far left of the first line, respectively.
Low-waged women workers' strike and occupation had made a lot of social backing and support. Most of strike workers are housewives and mothers of 2~3 children. Their courageous action moved many workers deeply. After their sit-in struggle, KCTU and KDLP leaders announced that they would start to organize the backing of this strike.
After a week's sit-in struggle, on July 8, KCTU organized nationwide blocking of Homever and New-Core stores to shut them out. It was really impressive experience and would be recorded as first victory after years' retreat. More than 5,000 members of KCTU participated in blocking and 13 stores were shut down across the country!
On that day, New-Core workers' union started occupying Kang-nam branch, where two unions' first common rally was held on June 10! Many things had happened during only one month in a dynamic way. Now sit-in sites increased to two, and more than 1,000 unionists were taking part in occupation.
Even the Centre-Left social groups were supporting this struggle and occupation! There heroic action had been spread to civil society with boycott movement! "Do not go to E-land stores (including Homever and New-Core stores) and buy their commodities"
'Supporters of E-Land struggle' was launched involving more than 100 labor and citizen groups. It conducted apublic-opinion poll in which 60% of respondents said they were supporting E-Land workers' sit-in struggle. It was a meaningful number though occupation was regarded as very radical and illegal method.
There left no other choice but two for government and E-Land management - crack down or make concessions to labor unions. Unfortunately, they had chosen the former.
Crackdown - Another occupation - second crackdown
On July 20, Roh government directed police attack into the two occupation stores - Homever store at Worldcup Stadium and Kang-nam branch of New-Core department. Approximately 7,000 riot policemen cracked down on unionized workers at two outlets at 9:45 am. They broke down the barricades set up by striking shop workers and took the protesters out of each outlet.
▲ Riot policemen are making a violent attack at sit-in workers.
The police arrested 168 sit-in unionists including union leaders, 9 of whom already had been issued an arrest warrant. Lawmakers of the progressive Democratic Labor Party(KDLP), among whom were three presidential hopefuls, tried to protect union leaders participating in sit-in overnight, but they finally were pulled along to the police station.
On July 22, prosecutors demanded arrest warrants of 14 union leaders to the court and released 154 workers. But the court approved only one leader's warrant and released another 13 leaders! Even the judges thought the attack was not justified and they couldn't deny the rightness of irregular workers' struggle!
Imprisoned leader was Kim-Kyoung wook, the chief of E-land labor union. He said when he was arrested : "Police attack will be most terrible mistake of President Roh. And it is not our defeat, but President Roh's!" His words will be come true. Because police attack made irregular workers more militant!
▲ The striking workers are protesting with folded arms against arresting
The repression of irregular workers at E-Land is not an isolated incident. 271 workers were arrested during the past year alone, and 200 of these were irregular workers. 73% of all arrested laborers were irregular workers.
The number of workers arrested under the Roh Moo-hyun government is now at 958. This is a higher number than the two previous governments(Kim Yung-sam 632, Kim Dae-jung 892). Roh Moo-hyun will go down in history asthe most vicious of governments regarding workers' struggles.
▲ 1,000 Policewomen were called out to crack down women workers for avoiding(?) scandalous conduct to women.
After crackdown, Roh government and E-Land employers began to make a brutal oppression on workers. First, prosecutors requested again arrest warrants of 13 released leaders. The court reversed its own judgement 2 days before, to approve another 2 leaders' warrant! They have blocked the right of the workers to strike by applying for a provisional disposition regarding obstruction of business. On July 23, they had even provisionally seized the bank accounts of unionists whose salary was at most 800,000 won (about $ 870) a month!
But all kinds of repression couldn't make irregular workers' struggle stopped. Moreover, the rage against government's terrible crackdown had widely spread. KCTU called out another nationwide blocking and boycott action on July 21, which made 30 stores out of 61 shut down! More than 6,000 members of KCTU joined in blocking. What is more important is that they were moved not by command of KCTU leaders, but by their own will. Were it not for KCTU's calling, they would love to do anything to support E-Land workers and protest against terrible crackdown. For hours, there happened volunteer occupation in Chang-won branch of New-Core department, in which all workers were unorganized!
On July 27, KCTU held a big rally in front of Homever store at Worldcup Stadium where unionists were cracked down a week ago. 2,000 members of KCTU gathered to protest against terrible repression on irregular women workers and they tried to enter into the store fighting against riot police.
▲ Participants in the rally are burning a symbol of E-Land group. "Vicious enterprise : E-Land"
On July 29, E-Land and New-Core workers kept their promise to occupy another place against crackdown. At 2:00 am, 600 workers were penetrating into Kang-Nam Kim's club outlet store of New-Core and succeeded to occupy again! Paradoxically, this success was thanks to E-Land employers because they had compelled workers to work on holidays and 24 hour shifts. So the workers could enter that place in dawn without any obstacle. When they completed occupying, there were only 8 policemen! Right after reoccupation, police threatened crackdown but they had to wait for three days to attack.
On July 31, thousands of police again raided a discount store in Seoul on 31 Jul todisperse workers. About 5,000 police officers removed some 200 striking unionized workers.
▲ The second brutal attack by the police against the striking irregular workers at E-Land and New-Core.
It is not the end of our struggle! Those who are suffering are not only workers.
Now a week has passed after the second crackdown. 6 leaders are imprisoned to jail and another 8 leaders are wanted by the police. Union-management talks being resumed, management always says it is union's part to make concessions.
But irregular workers' struggle is not ended - they are now organizing more powerful struggle, and it might include another occupying. "The more repression will make our struggle stronger!" On August 18, there will be a workers' rally across the country with more than 50,000 workers participating. On 21th, a National Congress of KCTU will be held that has only one item for discussion: resolving the New Core, E-Land issue.
E-Land employers pretend to have a lot of nerve, but in real, they are suffering the loss of sales after unions' strike and occupying. Boycott campaign from civil society have made more influence to their sales. For example, hundreds of thousands workers have declared not going Homever store.
According to a source familiar with management, total sales have reduced by 20%. What is worse, banks are hesitating to approve another loan to E-Land group as a bad reputation increases. E-Land group arenow looking for a short loan with high rate of interest desperately. Those who are suffering are not only workers.
▲ The placard of boycott campaign hung in Hyundai Motor Company's Ulsan factory.
The catastrophe that the government has brought on by protecting abusive companies and deceiving the public with the bill to protect irregular workers will only further the repression of irregular workers by employers. It can be expected that irregular workers will not stand by while this happens, and more struggles will occur. The country will have to bear the costs of social conflict, and responsibility lies solely with the employers and the government. They will have to pay a price.
E-Land workers' struggle cannot be dismissed and their hopes cannot be extinguished. This struggle shows if regular workers decided to make firm solidarity with irregular workers, their struggle could awaken sleeping working class to fight against neo-liberalism strongly. This is the only way for workers to liberate themselves from chains of exploitation.
Capitalists are always trying to divide workers into regular and irregular separately. Divide-and-rule is their basic strategy for extracting more profits from workers. On the contrary, the efforts to overcome this division will provide infinite fuel to burn down neo-liberalism.