End of Daewoo Shipbuilding Strike Averts Disaster

The subcontractors' union was facing pressure from every direction, including other workers.

End of Daewoo Shipbuilding Strike Averts Disaster

Photo: Yu Choe-an in his self-welded cage, holding up a sign that says, "we cannot live this way."  Credit: Korean Metal Workers' Union.

On July 22, the Shipbuilding Subcontractors Division of Geoje, Tongyeong and Goseong 거제통영고성 조선하청지회 of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union 전국금속노동조합 ended their 51-day strike held at the Okpo Shipyard 옥포조선소 of Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) 대우조선.

The union members had occupied one of the dry docks, with their leader Yu Choe-an 유최안 welding himself shut into a small cage to protest. The union won a 4.5% increase in wages, and job succession for employees of subcontracting companies that recently went out of business.

The DSME strike was a potential tinder box. The striking workers were subcontractors, who invited resentment from the regular employees of DSME which was enjoying a rush of new orders. The conservative Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration was raring to make an example out of the strike by preparing to send in 5,000 riot police if the company and the union failed to reach a deal.

Facing a potential reprise of the 2009 Yongsan Disaster 용산 참사 (in which eight died and 31 were injured in a botched police crackdown of a strike), the union significantly scaled back their demand of reversing the 30% pay cut they accepted several years ago.

Despite the agreement, however, the police applied for the arrest warrant of nine union leaders; the Changwon District Court 창원지방법원 denied the application.

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