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Hope, Not Despair

An ‘aerial protest’ by a Korean activist to embrace another freezing weather, celebrating 300 days (1)

by Yu-Kyung Lee, Pusan & Seoul, 03 November 2011


Today, ‘occupy’ isn’t a word that war monsters or the power exclusively ‘occupy’ for their practice.  But for those who have no means to make their voice heard, ‘to occupy’ has become their own.

photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

When ‘The 99%’ have occupied from liberty plaza in New York to the streets of Ayala in Manila protesting against ‘The 1%’ on October 15, Kim Jin-Suk - a labor activist in Korea - has celebrated 283 days of her ‘aerial occupation’ of 35 meters above the ground on the crane No. 85 at the shipyard in Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (here after HHIC) in Pusan, the second largest city in the country. There’s little sign of ending the harshest ever protest, which falls on 300 days on November 1st.

By climbing up the crane around 3AM on a freezing day of January 6th, the 51- year-old activist has kicked off her lonely protest demanding of nullifying lay off by HHIC management in recent years. The dismissal was following to another massive lay off of some 3,000 casual workers by HHIC’s sub-contractors. Union of HHIC launched a general strike in December 2010.  

“The crane No. 85 has been a bitter memory haunting us” said Jeong Tae-Hoon, one of laid-off workers. The bitter memory, in which the former union leader Kim Ju-Ik hung himself in October 2003 to discontinue his 129 days of protest against 600 job cuts then, must have greatly disturbed Kim Jin-Suk. She’s been doing much the same, occupying the same crane with the same demand; ‘recall lay off’

photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Haunting memory

Ms. Kim, the first woman welder in the country, herself was fired by the Chosun Shipbuilding Corporation – the former self of HHIC - in 1986  because of her disobedience to her superiors. She played a key role to break down the company-dominated union in 1987. She never was reinstated unlikely most of laid off workers, including her unionists colleagues fired along with her.

“I have one and only demand which is to scratch out this massive layoffs. Once my demand will be met, I will walk down”.

Kim Jin-Suk said in a phone interview.

Her critical stance is firm to not only management but also to the former union’s executive committee, who absurdly made an agreement with the management on June 27 terminating month-long strike. The agreement, about which Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU) describes ‘no valid’ as it violated umbrella union’s regulation, didn’t specify about an issue of lay off, a key agenda for strikers.

On a day of agreement, strikers inside company’s compound were dragged out by private security thugs to the court order. Dozens of workers rushed to climb to mid-point of the crane No. 85 and tied themselves with the crane. As of the mid-October, three workers remained to occupy mid-point to desperately defend ‘Kim Jin-Suk at crane No. 85’. 

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