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[Editorial] Ssangyong Union Needs to Sacrifice

Posted July. 22, 2009 07:03,   


Tension is mounting at the Pyeongtaek plant of Ssangyong Motor. Police, employees and unionists are clashing as police failed to expel union members who have occupied the plant for more than two months. Some 1,500 employees are trying to check the damage to facilities and restart the plant in two months, but some 600 unionists occupying the painting shops full of inflammatory substances are in the way.

Masked union workers used slingshots to fire nuts and bolts at court officials and police to prevent them from implementing a court order to expel the workers from the site. Ignoring the court ruling that decides the revival and liquidation of their company is simply a recipe for self-destruction.

Ssangyong management said that if it can check facilities and restore destroyed equipment, it can prepare to resume production in seven to 10 days and produce 3,000 cars per month starting next month. If the situation does not change, it cannot make cars from next month, and if it operates the plant, it cannot guarantee the sale of finished cars. It also needs additional funding to run the plant. Knowledge and Economy Minister Lee Yoon-ho said, “We believe Ssangyong Motor is very unlikely to survive. If the plant suspension continues, it will inevitably face bankruptcy.” The court needs to calculate whether it is better for Ssangyong to continue operating after the long strike or shut down because the burden of financial support for Ssangyong will fall on taxpayers’ in the end.

The Ssangyong union should learn a lesson from General Motors, which got out of bankruptcy protection July 10, 40 days after it filed for bankruptcy. GM is restructuring by cutting the number of U.S.-based employees by 20,000 and closing 14 plants. United Auto Workers, the umbrella union of GM’s union and also militant in the past, promised the U.S. government not to go on strike through 2015 in return for financial support. The Ssangyong union has chosen a different path, however, and given up on an opportunity to turn the company around. Minister Lee said he has never considered a GM-style solution or a merger with GM Daewoo.

Another culprit making the Ssangyong fiasco more complicated is external militant groups. The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions is insisting on hostility unlike UAW, which helped revive GM. The confederation and the Korea Metal Workers’ Union are driving 7,000 Ssangyong workers and those at subcontractors out of work. Worse, the confederation has declared a nationwide strike through Friday. The Ssangyong union is being duped by the propaganda of an external group and is walking on a path of self-destruction.