Rumble at DSME strike site as tensions escalate and sides dig in
A fight broke out Tuesday at a shipyard between a striking subcontractor and a regular employee of the company angry about lost work as a result of the stoppage.
It is the latest chapter in a labor dispute that has been characterized by militancy and a degree of theatrics, and one that is getting significant political attention due to the possible impact on an economy that is already showing signs of weakness.
The conflict began at about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when a 41-year-old Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) worker attacked and damaged 17 large banners at the company's shipyard in Geoje, South Gyeongsang.
He used a knife to cut down and tear at the signage, which delivered messages like "raise wages" and "give us collective bargaining rights."
Police believe that the DSME employee damaged the banners due to dissatisfaction about a strike by DSME subcontractors and the resulting losses that the company has suffered. They are investigating the employee on charges of property damage.
Since June 2, 150 laborers contracted to work for DSME, and under the Korea Metal Workers Union, have been on strike. They are demanding a 30 percent wage increase, and claim that their current pay is essentially minimum wage. The Korea Metal Workers Union is under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more radical of Korea’s two major labor groups.
The workers have been occupying an oil tanker in dry dock and Yoo Choi-ahn, vice chief of the union, welded a steel cage-like structure to the floor of the occupied oil tanker on June 22. He locked himself in the cage, bringing construction to a halt.
Since Tuesday, a DSME employee in his 50s has been holding a one-person protest calling for the end of the strike at the top of a 20-meter-high structure inside the shipyard.
While the fight Tuesday was broken up quickly, tensions continue to escalate. Buses with people from organizations in support of the strike are scheduled to arrive at the scene, while 3,000 employees of DSME will hold a protest to call for the strike to end. The police plan to deploy eight units of officers to prevent disorder.
Government officials, including the Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Jung-sik and Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min, visited the shipyard in Geoje Tuesday and met with those holding the strike, urging them to stop their activities.
Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho and President Yoon Suk-yeol have condemned the strike, saying that it is illegal and could threaten the economy.
"I am concerned that if the situation escalates to extremes, it will lead to the worst case scenario and the use of force," said Lee Woong-hee, a professor of business administration at Hanyang University. "In consideration of the fact that workers at DSME are incurring huge losses due to the subcontractors strike every day, a solution needs to be found soon."
BY KIM MIN-JU, LIM JEONG-WON [email@example.com]