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From South Korea to Isle of Wight - occupations show the way

Occupations of factories on opposite sides of the world show us different aspects of the problems facing workers as the state backs capitalist companies determined to restore profitability whatever it takes in the midst of the deepening global recession.

Ssangyong occupationAt Ssangyong Motors, in Pyeongtaek near Seoul, South Korea, the occupation is now in its eighth week. According to the Korean Trade Union Confederation , about 800 sacked employees are in a paint shop, armed with iron bars, air guns and Molotov cocktails. They have been confronting forces including more than 3,000 police using helicopters to spray tear gas, and company strikebreakers. Ssangyong – 51% owned by China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation – plans to eliminate 36% of its workforce to return to profit and thus meet a 15 September court deadline to avoid liquidation.

Following industrial action in anticipation of the layoffs, the workers launched their current strike on 27 May when the company announced the layoffs of 1,700 out of 7,000 workers, with immediate additional sackings of 300 casuals. The workers slated for layoff immediately occupied the plant, demanding no layoffs, no casualisation and no outsourcing.

On 26-27 June, a serious government and employer attack began, as hired thugs, scabs recruited from the workers not down for the sack, and riot police tried to enter the factory. They secured the main building after violent fighting in which many people were injured. The occupying workers retreated to the paint sector, as part of a defensive plan based on the belief that police would not fire tear-gas canisters into the highly flammable area. Since then, solidarity actions outside the plant have been taking place to build broader support.

Vestas occupationMeanwhile, on the Isle of Wight, 600 workers have occupied the Vestas factory which makes blades for wind turbines. The workers are trying to stop production being transferred elsewhere, and pointing out the contradiction between the threatened closure and New Labour’s promise of new, green jobs. But the highly successful company says UK planning restrictions are too obstructive and the plant just isn’t profitable enough.

For those who run the capitalist profit system it doesn’t matter whether a company is producing oil-burning cars which contribute to climate change or green energy generators designed to reduce the use of fossil fuels – the only question that matters is what they must do to restore companies to profitability. No amount of appeals to New Labour’s Ed Miliband will change that.

The burgeoning support for Vestas workers, with rail union RMT leader Bob Crow championing their cause, shows the potential for building a movement throughout the country. Vestas workers should, for example, appeal to the 3,000 workers at the Corus steel plants on Teesside who are in imminent danger of losing their jobs.

An occupations movement would challenge the “right” of the employers to close down production and destroy people's lives in the process. Workers wherever they are have to challenge the capitalist state for ownership itself, in which they control the factories and the banks, running them not for profit but in a sustainable fashion, deciding what can and should be made, to provide jobs, meet people’s needs and tackle climate change. The actions in Pyeongtaek and the Isle of Wight show the way forward!

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
24 July 2009

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