From Korea to Ireland- Workers Occupations Under Attack

Socialist Aotearoa public meeting
with Jacob Lee, Korean Socialist with All Together
Wednesday 19th August. 7pm. Clubspace at Auckland Uni

Day of fierce fighting at occupied South Korean car factory

by Owen Miller in Seoul

The attack began at dawn today and lasted until late afternoon. Under a hail of metal bolts and stones from Ssangyong company thugs, liquid tear gas dropped from police helicopters, incessant loud music and an all-out assault by police commandos armed with steel pipes and taser guns, the occupying workers at the Ssangyong auto factory in Pyongtaek, South Korea, have held out for one more day.

They forced back a number of attempts by police to retake the car plant’s paintshop, using every means at their disposal including flaming barricades, petrol bombs, slingshots and anti-helicopter spikes.

This sort of fierce resistance reflects the real desperation of workers faced with the loss of their jobs and unlikely to find another in South Korea’s harsh labour market. It is also a reaction to the sheer brutality of the company and the Korean government in their repeated attempts to crush the occupying workers. There is a widespread belief here that the right wing Lee Myung-bak government wants to make an example of the Ssangyong workers and achieve a decisive victory against unionised labour in Korea in order to pave the way for more widespread restructuring.

There are now around 500-540 workers left inside the factory’s paintshop, living under terrible conditions after more than two months of occupation. The company and police have been enforcing a complete blockade on the occupying workers and for the last week they have had very little to eat or drink and practically no water to use for washing or going to the toilet. Many of the workers have sustained injuries during the last week of fighting but the company and police have consistently tried to block medical aid from reaching them.

Negotiations took place at the weekend between management and union leaders but they were broken off by the company on Sunday morning. Now the company, which has been under bankruptcy protection since February, faces liquidation in the next day or two and it is likely that many more will lose their jobs. Although it is clear that nationalisation is the only solution for the ailing car company, the Lee Myung-bak government seems quite happy to let it sink as long as it can score a victory against a militant section of the working class.

The remaining workers say they are ready to fight on and are surrounded by thousands of litres of flammable liquids which pose a threat to both themselves and the attacking police. On the outside of the paintshop building the occupiers have daubed the words, “If you don’t want to talk, you’d better kill us all!”

The families of the Ssangyong workers have been camped outside the plant for weeks and themselves faced violent attacks from company thugs and strike-breaking employees who have smashed up their tents in the early hours of the morning. This evening at 6.30pm, as the day of fighting came to an end, they released green helium balloons over the factory as a signal of solidarity with their loved ones inside the occupation. Despite their pleas for more negotiations there is little doubt that tomorrow morning will bring another savage assault from the police.

Brutal police assault on Thomas Cook workers in Dublin

by Tom Walker

bosses and the Irish government have launched an appalling assault on workers fighting for their jobs.

At 5am on Tuesday, some 100 police officers took over a shopping street and smashed their way into a workers’ occupation at the Thomas Cook store in central Dublin.

They sealed off the street, dragged peaceful demonstrators away and broke into the occupation with a battering ram.

Outside the Four Courts in Dublin on Tuesday afternoon some 300 people protested against the eviction and arrest of the workers.

The workers were released after they purged their contempt of court and agreed to abide by the injunction as Socialist Worker went to press.

Thomas Cook management agreed to hold talks with the workers.

More than 40 Thomas Cook workers had been occupying since Friday of last week in response to the company’s attempts to sack them.

Workers sleeping inside were taken out and arrested.

One heavily pregnant woman in the occupation went into labour after being arrested and was eventually taken to hospital.

Police initially refused to allow her husband, who is also one of the arrested occupiers, to accompany her, but both parents were present at the birth of Chelsea Clancy.

Twenty eight people were arrested. In addition to the Thomas Cook workers this included councillor Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit Alliance.

The determination of the Irish bosses to hold back the fight against job cuts was such that the Irish court sat three times on a bank holiday—specifically to set up the attack on the occupation.

The Irish bosses and state are fearful of escalating resistance to their continued attacks on workers’ rights.

Before the raid, Thomas Cook worker Antoinette Shevlin spoke to Socialist Worker from the occupation.

“On Friday the Thomas Cook security turned up, told us the shop was being closed and asked us to leave in an orderly fashion,” she said. “We weren’t taking that, so we occupied.”

The workers, who are members of the TSSA transport union, locked themselves on the top floor and refused to come out.

“The support has just been fantastic,” said Antoinette.

“People have collected money and dropped in food for us. Workers at a local grocery store sent us breakfast.”

Thomas Cook made £400 million profit last year, and CEO Manny Fontenla-Novoa paid himself a £6 million bonus.

The company is majority owned by nationalised bank the Royal Bank of Scotland—meaning that it is essentially a public company owned by us.

The closure of the Grafton Street shop had been planned to take place on 6 September.

It was moved forward after staff there held protests against the closure and voted 100 percent for industrial action.

Patrick, another worker, told Socialist Worker, “The management said, ‘You’re sacked and here’s your letter’. We told them to go and get stuffed.

“We won’t be treated without respect or dignity.”

Eight workers at Direct Holidays, another Dublin travel shop owned by Thomas Cook, also occupied from Saturday to Monday over a closure threat.

They voted to leave their occupation and join the picket outside the larger shop, before police smashed it.

This brutal assault on workers fighting for their jobs needs to be opposed by every trade unionist. Email and


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