The Ongoing Struggle of Hyundai Motor Irregular Workers
January 5 marked Hyundai Motor irregular workers Byeong-seung Choe and Ui-bong Cheon's 81th day of protest atop a power transmission tower located at the Hyundai Motor Ulsan pant. Irregular workers at Hyundai's plants in Asan, Jeonju and Ulsan have carried out partial strikes on November 29 and December 5, a full strike on December 7, and two more partial strikes on December 12 and 14 in conjunction with this high-altitude protest.
Hyundai management has attempted to bring in scabs during the strikes to keep production going, forcing the striking workers to make efforts to block the scabs' entry. In response, Hyundai management has brought in contracted security forces who have rained down violence upon the workers. Many workers have been taken to the hospital for severe injuries, including bloodied faces and broken fingers. Of 22 workers brought to the hospital on December 14, 7 were admitted for treatment.
While violently suppressing the workers' struggle, Hyundai management continues to insist on its proposal for new hires as an alterative to regularization of irregular workers, a proposal already rejected by the Hyundai irregular workers union. In a special bargaining session held on December 13, management proposed to raise the number of new hires from the original proposal of 3000 to 3500. Moreover, management said it would begin on December 17 with the hire of 420 new workers, even posting job announcements throughout its plants and distributing applications through subcontracting companies.
In response to protests from the Hyundai regular workers union, management agreed to put off acceptance of applications, but it has persisted in its position that it will only make new hires and not regularize the irregular workers. The company insists that a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, which found that the employment status of Byeong-seung Choe, an illegally hired dispatch worker, must be changed to direct hire, applies only to Choe as an individual, and says it will wait to hear the results of suits filed by other workers.
If workers are rehired per Hyundai's plans, it would mean that they are not recognized as illegally employed dispatch workers who should, by the Supreme Court ruling, be taken on as directly hired workers. The workers' years of work for Hyundai would not be recognized. They would also forfeit their rights to back pay.
The number of workers participating in the struggle has grown over the course of several strikes reaching as many as 1,000. This is a much higher level of participation than at the start of the high-altitude protest, when only a fraction of that number came out to rallies. Solidarity from the regular workers' union has also increase, with delegates and worksite activists helping in efforts to block scabs from entering the factories.
On January 3, however, the Ulsan District Court accepted Hyundai Motor's application for an injunction against the workers engaged in the high-altitude protest. The same day, court officers visited the protest site to deliver a notice ordering the workers to clear the area. In this situation, solidarity is more important than ever.
On December 13, over a hundred organizations, including PSSP, held a press conference, at which we announced a declaration of support for the Hyundai irregular workers' strike. This sort of solidarity must grow. In addition, the attitude of the regular workers' union will play an important role in determining the struggle's outcome. Only with solidarity between regular and irregular workers will victory be possible.