Some 1,750 workers were fired last week as part of Daewoo's moves to eliminate 5,500 jobs in order to make the bankrupt car maker more attractive to a foreign buyer.
Union members began to gather their forces Saturday, February 10, after the company passed out dismissal notices the day before. Workers declared that they would occupy the plant until the company gave up its layoff plans and reinstated those already dismissed. Several hundred workers outside the plant were prevented by 1,000 cops from joining those inside.
"We will keep on striking until the government abolishes the layoff plan," Kim Il Sop, the president of the union representing the workers, said in an interview. "We have gathered the workers in small groups throughout the plant to fight" an expected police assault, he added.
During last-minute negotiations February 9 between the union and management, union officials proposed workers go on unpaid four month leaves to help save the company. Daewoo reaffirmed that the layoffs were essential to its recovery plans. General Motors Corp., the only potential bidder for the plant, has made it clear that the layoffs are necessary before they consider renewing their 1999 offer to buy Daewoo for $6 billion. GM is now expected to offer $3 billion or less for the company, which can produce up to a million cars a year.
On February 13, some 4,000 police officers in riot gear and armed with arrest warrants for 32 union leaders entered the plant in column formation to remove the workers who were defending themselves with steel pipes. Many unionists were injured, 50 workers were arrested, and others fled, including some of the leaders accused of leading the plant takeover.
Despite these protests, the South Korean regime has backed the layoffs and the selling of Daewoo and other conglomerates to pay off some of the tens of billions of dollars in debt owed to the central government. Daewoo, for example, has debts totaling more than $10 billion.
The South Korean regime has also indicted 34 Daewoo executives on fraud charges. They are accused of overstating company assets to hide losses and ensure government loans. Union leaders have blamed the collapse of the carmaker on collusion between government officials and business leaders. "For many years, there have been money connections among these people," said the union president. "Now the government wants to take care of the problem by selling Daewoo to General Motors," he added.
In response to the union's proposal to turn Daewoo into a state-owned firm, Lee Jong Dae, the chief executive officer appointed by Daewoo creditors, said, "Making Daewoo a public or national corporation will take a long time and I don't think creditors would wait."
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