Yoon hints at exercising gov’t power to handle DSME strike

Jul 20, 2022, 07:21 am

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Yoo Choi-ahn, vice chief of the union on strike, is protesting in a steel cargo-like structure on the floor of the occupied oil tanker at the strike stie of Okpo branch of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) in Geoje City, South Gyeongsang Province on July 19, 2022./

AsiaToday reporter Lee Sun-young 

Tensions are rising as President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday hinted at deploying police to respond to a prolonged strike by subcontracted workers at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME). This is the first time since the 2013 railroad strike under the Park Geun-hye administration that governmental authority has been used. Concerns are growing as it is reminiscent of the Yongsan tragedy and Ssangyong Motor strike, which caused casualties due to police suppression.

Six union members of the subcontractor union continued to occupy DSME’s largest shipyard for 48 days. Yoo Choi-ahn, vice chief of the union on strike, welded a steel cargo-like structure to the floor of the occupied oil tanker, and locked himself in the cage. He is said to have a bottle of thinner. 

The Geoje, Tongyeong, and Goseong shipbuilding subcontractors belonging to the Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU) have been striking since June 2, demanding a 30 percent pay increase. Since June 18, they have been occupying a ship in the dry dock at the Okpo Shipyard on Geoje Island, The Korean Metal Workers Union (KMWU) has announced that it will go on a general strike starting Wednesday.

Relevant officials visited the striking scene to persuade the striking subcontractors. Interior Minister Lee Sang-min and Yoon Hee-keun, a candidate for the chief of the National Police Agency, visited Geoje by helicopter. Employment and labor minister Lee Jung-sik had a meeting with the management and the union, respectively, and urged them to refrain from illegal activities. 
Concerns are rising as the government hinted at dispatching law enforcement officials amid prolonged strike by unionists at shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. The photo shows Interior Minister Lee Sang-min and Yoon Hee-keun, a candidate for the chief of the National Police Agency, visiting DSME’s Okpo Shipyard on July 19, 2022./ Source: The National Police Agency

The interior minister, who had a talk with Yoo and the union members occupying the ship, said, “People want the strike to be halted and the case to be resolved peacefully. I hope there will be no more unfortunate incidents.” In response, Yoo said he cannot stop the strike. “It’s not that we don’t want a catastrophe. If you listen to our demands, it’s really nothing,” he said. 

Industry observers say the government may dispatch law enforcement officials as the president hinted at the possibility. On the previous day, the government said it would “sternly respond”, in a Cabinet meeting. “If labor-management dialogue fails to come up with a rational alternative and continues illegal occupation, we will have no choice but to respond strictly in accordance with laws and principles,” the government warned in a statement. 

There is a high risk of physical damage in the case of forced dissolution by public power. In January 2009, police forces were dispatched to a strike by protesters who occupied a building to demand more compensation to quit the property, scheduled for demolition as part of a major development in the area. Eight people died and 31 people were injured during the process. In April 2009, the police violently suppressed a strike by Ssangyong Motor workers who resisted the management’s announcement of restructuring, and 30 people died as a result of the large layoffs. 

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) voiced concern over using force. “If public power is put into the DSME strike, it would be the second Yongsan disaster or the Ssangyong Motor incident,” said Kim Sung-hwan, chairman of the DP’s policy committee. “This case should not be viewed simply as a conflict between employer and laborers or a simple illegal strike. It is clear that it is about fundamental multi-level subcontracting structure problem of the Korean shipbuilding industry. It is not the right response of the government, which is aware of it.”

#Yoon Suk-yeol #DSME #strike #government power 
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