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4,000 Korean metalworkers protest against restructuring of world’s biggest shipbuilder

17 February, 2017Some 4,000 metalworkers rallied in front of the Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) Shipyard in Ulsan, South Korea on the 15 February vowing to smash plans to restructure the world’s largest shipbuilding company. 

Korean analysts and unions believe that Chung Mong-Joon, HHI’s controlling shareholder and part of the Hyundai chaebol dynasty, is restructuring the company to transfer ownership to his son Chung Ki-seon. It is a move that would be illegal under Korean law.

HHI announced last October that it would split into six units: Robotics, Global Services, Electric & Energy Systems, Construction Machinery, Green Energy, and Heavy Industries. HHI is putting the restructuring plans on the agenda of a shareholders’ meeting scheduled for February 27, 2017. HHI workers plan to strike from 22-27 February in order to block the meeting.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), pledged to standby HHI workers, who voted to join KMWU in December 2016. KMWU brought together thousands of plant-level union officers from across the country for the rally, which coincided with a 4-hour work stoppage. Speaking at the rally, KMWU President KIM Sang Gu said, “The struggle against the restructuring is not only the fight of Hyundai Heavy Industries workers. I proclaim right here that it is the struggle of 170,000 workers of the KMWU.

“The KMWU will stop this restructuring, which is an attempt by Chung Mong-joon and the Park Geun-hye government to shift the responsibility for the shipbuilding industry downturn onto the backs of workers.”

Baek Hyeong-rok, a union leader at HHI said, “The Hyundai Heavy Industries spin-offs will lay the foundations for the third-generation succession of management by Chung Mong-joon and his family. They aim to monopolize all the wealth built from the hard work of the workers. We cannot approve of a shareholders’ meeting that is for the benefit of Chung Mong-joon only. We will stop this.”

HHI has refused to recognize the KMWU as collective bargaining representatives, even though KMWU is recognized by Hyundai Motors.  KMWU Hyundai Branch Chair Park Yu Gi pledged support for HHI workers at the rally, “The workers of Hyundai Motors stand with the comrades at Hyundai Heavy Industries. We will fight together until we win this struggle against unilateral restructuring.”

*This article was updated on 20 February 2017.