Originally posted on “From the Desert, Under Constantine”, my blog on religion and spirituality
A year ago, In Soo Chun, a Korean-American custodian at the University of Washington poured gasoline over his body and lit himself on fire in front of the office of the university’s president. Several students rushed to try to put out the fire in vain. In Soo Chun soon passed away.
The media dismissed him as deeply troubled, following the lead of UW public relations rep Norm Arkans. There was no effort to ask why he chose such a public way to die. There was no effort to ask whether it had to do with the poor working conditions many UW custodians face. There was no effort to ask whether In Soo Chun was attempting to carry on a tradition of self-immolation that has been a central part of the Korean labor movement.
I work closely with an organization called International Workers and Students for Justice, a group of rank and file UW custodians and tradespeople. IWSJ held a memorial on the one year anniversary of In Soo Chun’s death at which they asked these difficult questions. A video of the memorial can be found here. A publication of workers’ writings dedicated to In Soo Chun’s memory can be found here and here.
Continue reading The Death and Resurrection of In Soo Chun
One of the most militant strikes in the current crisis has been the occupation of Ssangyong Motors in South Korea.
The strike failed to win its main demand of no lay-offs, however, it blazed a light in a murky time of reactionary offensives by the rulers and defensiveness by the oppressed that characterizes much of the current moment. There is a lot that we can learn from these heroic auto-workers.
Loren Goldner, who was in South Korea during the occupation, has a comprehensive interview here about the strike.
Also, here is a summary of Goldner’s conclusions taken from the Libcom archive.
Ssangyong motors strike in South Korea ends in defeat and heavy repression
by Loren Goldner
The Ssangyong Motor Company strike and plant occupation in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, ended after 77 days on Aug. 5. For the 976 workers who seized the small auto plant on May 22 and held it against repeated quasi-military assault, the settlement signed by Ssangyong court receivership manager Park Young-tae and local union president Han Sang-kyun represented a near-total defeat. Worse still, the surrender was followed by detention and interrogation of dozens of strikers by police, possibly to be followed by felony charges, as well by a massive ($45 million) lawsuit against the Korean Metal Workers’ Union and probable further lawsuits against individual strikers for damages incurred during the strike. The hard-right Korean government of Lee Myong Bak is signaling with these measures—its latest and most dramatic “take no prisoners” victory over popular protest in the past year and a half– its intention to steamroller any potential future resistance to its unabashed rule on behalf of big capital.
The Ssangyong strike echoed in many ways the dynamic seen in the recent Visteon struggle in the UK and in battles over auto industry restructuring around the world. Involving, on the other hand, an outright factory seizure and occupation, and subsequent violent defense of the plant against the police, thugs and scabs, it was the first struggle of its kind in South Korea for years. Its defeat—one in a long series of defeats extending over years—does not bode well for future resistance.
Continue reading What can the Ssangyong strike in South Korea teach us?