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울산 고공농성투쟁... (#6)

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Solidarity with the Protest of Hyundai Workers in Ulsan!


Since 28 days two labor activists - one official of the 'irregular' workers' union of Hyundai Motors and the other a former 'irregular' worker at the automaker - are now in sit-in strike on a power supply post...


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 Last Friday's Hankyoreh published the following related report:

 Irregular Hyundai Motor workers still shivering atop pylon

Demonstrators seek to publicize Hyundai Motor’s denial of facts that legislature, judiciary and administration have all admitted  


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Choe Byeong-seung (left) and Cheon Ui-bong look out from atop a metal pylon outside Ulsan’s Hyundai Motors on Nov. 7, the 21st day of their protest

The 50-meter electrical pylon was so massive that it was an almost overwhelming sight. In the middle of the pylon, 23 meters up, my eyes detected motion in two spots. Choe Byeong-seung, who previously worked for Hyundai Motor as an in-house subcontractor worker before being laid off in 2005, and Cheon Ui-bong, the secretary-general of Hyundai Motor’s temporary worker’s union, stuck out their heads and gazed down from above.

The two climbed up the 50-meter electrical pylon near the Myeongchon Gate of Hyundai Motor’s factory in Ulsan on Oct. 17. It was a midair sit-in that risked their lives, but their presence was small and no more than a mere speck in the sky to those on the ground. No one has yet responded to their demands. At 9 a.m. on Nov. 8, as the sit-in moved passed its 500th hour, I also ascended the towering steel pylon.

My limbs trembled. For the first four meters off the ground, there were no solid grips or footholds. I maneuvered my way upward, holding the steel railings and pillars that stretched askew. As I went higher, the strong wind buffeted my entire body. Even though I was wearing safety equipment to prevent a fall, the world below my feet began to swirl.

As I struggled for eight minutes with the steel pillar that they grabbed onto 20 days ago, I was finally able to make out their voices. “You’re almost here. Lower your head and be careful.” The 10m 2 venue for their elevated sit-in came into view. A 5x2m iron panel was placed on the floor and a green tent provided shelter. In the early days of their occupation, they called a plank of two-centimeter thick plywood their home. There wasn’t even enough room to turn over.

Since they began their protest, it has rained every weekend. Some days they’ve suffered through lightning and thunder. “We couldn’t lie down, so we just stayed sitting in the rain. We were almost out of our minds,” said Cheon. Their co-workers on the ground, worried about them as they braved the storm. On Oct. 26, they sent iron panels up to the two men and on Nov. 2 they sent up a tent.

Still, there is no guarantee of the two demonstrators’ safety. The unstable flooring and tent constantly shook. The steel pylon itself rumbled in the wind. Not far away is a railroad. The fast passing trains unsettled the air shaking the pylon. “When the wind is strong, we batten down the hatches, and crouch inside our sleeping bags like snails.”

At 12:10 p.m., lunch was sent up. Their co-workers attached food to the rope that the demonstrators had sent down. For the two crouching on the 23-meter high spot, the rope is like a lifeline. A black parcel carried up on the rope contained two thermos bottles, ttoekguk (rice cakes in beef broth), and kimchi. They gobbled up the food and made coffee with hot water in the thermos bottles and instant coffee mix. It is a rare moment when the bone-chilling cold melts away temporarily.

Such moments are rare because the men must limit their consumption. They eat two times a day to reduce the amount they excrete. On one side of the place was a bottle filled with urine. Solid waste is handled in the pitch-dark night. The excrement went down the rope to the ground. “I always feel sorry for making my co-workers dispose of it,” said Choi with embarrassment.

The smell, however, cannot be sent down the pole. Even the strong wind cannot sweep away the malodorous air. The men can only wipe their faces with wet tissues. Once every eight days they wash their hair and clean their feet with water sent up from the ground. Their faces were blackish, having been burned in late-year sunlight and frozen in the icy winds.

“This is really no big hardship,” said Choi, whose face was puffy and red. To him, hardship is not a sit-in up on a pylon but life as a temporary worker. Choi has fought for the regularization of temporary workers since May 2004. Since then, two union members set fire to themselves and 160 were sent home, and more than 1,000 were subject to a disciplinary measures. Union members have to pay as much as 600 million won (US$550,000) in fines on the charges of civil and criminal matters filed against them by the management.

In 2004, the Ministry of Labor, and in 2010 and 2012, the Supreme Court judged that Hyundai Motor’s in-house subcontractor employment was illegal, and that Choi should already have been made a regular Hyundai Motor employee. However, the automaker has held out to this day, failing to acknowledge that its use of subcontracted laborers was an “illegal dispatch.” In August, Hyundai Motor announced that they would be hiring 3,000 in-house subcontractor employees as new regular worker recruits through 2016. Temporary workers consider this hiring only some of the in-house subcontractors, and as new hands, which means their work experience is not recognized, as conduct that is not respectful of the court decision. “Don’t you think we’d better wait till labor-management agreement is at least better than the Supreme Court’s decision before we head down?” Choi said with a bitter smile.

Some signs of support and solidarity brought warmth to the sit-in. Lawmaker Jang Ha-na from the Democratic United Party sent a palm-size plant on Nov. 2. A note that read, “We’re sending first a little bit of earth up to you before you come down to us safely,’ was attached to the pot. A note handwritten unevenly by a kid read, ”That greedy boss has gone overboard. You’d better stay up there until you win.“

At 4 p.m., it was time for singing practice. Every day, at 6 p.m., a candlelight rally is held in front of the steel pylon. That day, they settled on the theme song of the TV drama, "Final Jump" for the rally. As night fell, 100 candles were lit. The performance was a far cry from what they had practiced. It was out of tune and meter. Laughter was carried by the wind as the group chuckled at the performance. The men’s fatigue lifted for a fleeting moment.

At 11:40p.m., the two demonstrators and I lay down inside the vinyl tent. Choi yielded the thickest sleeping bag to me, but the air was still cold as ice. "From 5 to 11 a.m. is the coldest time," said Choi. Suffering in the cold all night, Choi continued to cough the next morning. His right index finger, which he had injured climbing up the pylon on the first day of protest, was still badly swollen.

At 9am on the morning of Nov. 8., my feet were again safely on solid ground. They saw me off, pleading that I inform the public of a reality in which only Hyundai Motor denies facts that Korea’s legislative, judicial and administrative bodies have all admitted.” A piece of news that might rekindle a faint hope was being spread on the ground below the electrical pylon. The labor and management special negotiations resumed that day after being halted on Oct. 21. Choi and Cheon, who again faded into distant specks, waved their hands through the cutting wind...



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