The Hope Bus goes off the road

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The Hope Bus goes off the road

The “Bus of Hope” movement, which emerged as a new form of peaceful group protest in Korea by busing sympathizers to rallies from across the country, has turned violent. Over 3,000 activists and members of the militant Federation of Korean Trade Unions arrived at Hyundai Motor’s Ulsan industrial complex last weekend in a convoy of buses and vans. With batons and other weapons in hand, they proceeded to break down fences as they demanded more stable status for part-time workers.

More than 100 security guards and protestors were hurt in the clash. One newspaper reported that after the performance, the protestors drank all night, with some even ending up fighting amongst themselves. The air in the morning was stale with the smell of alcohol and garbage.

In response to those reports, campaign organizers threatened to file a defamation suit against the paper. But they should be silenced by the photos from the scene. Who, exactly, is wielding batons with masks on? Who threw away the garbage and booze bottles that were strewn across the parking lot by the electricity tower where the demonstrators camped out? One demonstration participant wrote on the non-regular Hyundai Motor worker Web site that what he witnessed from the scene was all about disorder, anarchy and greed. The campaign has gone from being a Bus of Hope to a Bus of Mayhem.

Hyundai Motor and the union representing subcontractor workers are negotiating an upgrade to permanent status for 1,750 workers this year, and for 3,500 by 2016. But the union and the umbrella union group are demanding that the company place all 6,800 part-time workers on the permanent payroll and stop hiring workers on a non-permanent basis. Ideally, temporary workers should gain permanent status and better working conditions. But all things need to be carried out in an orderly manner according to the law. Committing violence by bringing in outside forces is no way to solve the problem.

Our society has become weary with the trail of destruction left by the Bus of Hope. Demonstrators have left behind disasters in the areas they have passed through - Hanjin Heavy Industries, Ssangyong Motor and Jeju Gangjeong Village. Labor unions also fear the arrival of the buses now. If they don’t shape up, those on the bus could be stigmatized as gangsters.
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