The Violence Commercialized: Capital’s Private Army – Contactus

A banner demanding that SJM's owner be punished for contracting with Contactus to violently suppress the union's protest

At 5 a.m. on July 27, 2012, the opening day of the London Olympics, 200 armed men raided the SJM factory in Ansan where members of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union SJM Chapter were staging a sit-in protest. A female union member called the police for help 4 times before they finally arrived. When they finally got to the factory, the police did nothing to stop the armed gang as it meted out violence against the union members. In all 35 union members were injured, 10 seriously. Following the incident images and video footage of the scene circulated widely through social media.

The strikebreakers who descended on the SJM workers that day were employed by Contactus, a security contractor specializing in quelling protests. Contactus owns not only 1,000 sets of riot police equipment, but also German-made water cannons. According to its website, the company can dispatch up to 3,000 individuals at one time and prefers offensive - as opposed to defensive - suppression tactics. It has been revealed that the chairman of Contactus is a staff member of the ruling New Frontier Party and that the company has a record of bribing police officers to win their cooperation. The fact that Contactus has been known to have its employees hired by its clients so as to disguise them as union members has caused a particular stir. Contactus even had plans to launch two media channels.

Hiring security contractors is becoming a common method for quelling strikes and bursting unions in South Korea. In the past, capital organized managers and non-union members into company strikebreaking squads. Now, however, the violence – like everything else – is being outsourced. Capital now seeks to exclude even state power from its domain by contracting private armies. In other words, capital is replacing state authority with its economic power, doing so with the consent of the police and conservative politicians. This collusion is making Korean workers into 21st century slaves.

Due to the public attention to this particular case, Contactus lost its business license, while 4 Contactus managers and the SJM director who orchestrated the raid are being prosecuted. Dozens of similar security contractors, however, are still in operation and vigorously expanding their businesses. Private violence is now a prosperous industry in South Korea.

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