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Exploiting a corpse in a labor protest?
FEBRUARY 02, 2013 08:15  
Members of the Hanjin Industries & Construction metal workers` union allied with the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Associations went on strike Wednesday in a Busan shipyard. They carried the coffin Choi Kang-seo, who killed himself Dec. 21 last year. His suicide note said, "Cancel the company`s lawsuit worth 15.8 billion won (14.43 million U.S. dollars) filed against the union." Choi was reinstated in November last year after being laid off in February 2011, but took a leave of absence because he was not given work.

How tragic that Choi killed himself because he had nothing to work at the company. But since hard-core unionists launched a corpse-hostage strike, his funeral has yet to be held 40 days since his death. In 2003, the Hanjin union branch held a month-long strike, filling dry ice on the coffin of then branch head Kim Ju-ik, who killed himself after demanding withdrawal of a lawsuit against the union and collective wage negotiations. The lawsuit was ultimately nullified. The latest case of taking a corpse hostage occurred with the 2009 Yongsan incident, which five people were killed. The funerals for them were finally conducted a year after the fiasco. Five of the six people who were evicted from their dwellings were indicted but recently received presidential amnesty.

To use a dead body in a protest is simply an inhumane act. The Hanjin union branch said members were confronted by police while trying to Choi`s corpse to the encampment tent, and in the process, the shipyard`s west gate opened suddenly and thus they accidentally entered the company with the coffin. These claims are hard to believe, however. Members should use better manners to place the body in an appropriate place and conduct the funeral.

Hanjin has two unions. Seventy-four percent, or 555 of 750 employees excluding administrative staff, are affiliated with one of them that was set up last year by staff who were sick of the branch-led strike. The remaining 195 employees belong to the branch. The union released a statement Friday saying, "Outside forces intruded without notice and carried out an extreme struggle with a dead body as hostage. Employees could not get to work and our workplace is in crisis," adding, "Do not distort the death of the deceased, and external forces should immediately withdraw." This was criticism that the metal labor union is leading a fight that could cause more deaths.

Due to extreme strikes, Hanjin has received no orders for merchant ships over the past four years except for three naval vessels. Just 20 percent of its employees are working. With its labor dispute easing, the company is seeing progress in negotiations for orders of 10 energy bulk carriers. The union head is speaking to ship-owners in Europe to win orders. Success in securing orders can have 300 employees on a leave of absence return to work. But external forces and militant unionized workers are worsening the situation. Allowing the workers to earn their money is the only way to save a company reeling from management difficulties. How sad to see many workers suffer because of a small number of labor activists in the union branch.

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