At nights, thuggish contractors shook the van at will and cursed … JEI Corporation story

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritativer personal translation of an article appeared in <The Hankyoreh> on Dec. 27, 2011, reporting the 4-year-long (1,461 days in exact) tent protest by the JEI Corporation union. In fact, the time line passed 1,500 days on Jan. 30, 2012, and it still goes on. The whole rationale of this post is well represented in the <Editor’s note> below. All rights regarding this post stay with the original author of the article or with <The Hankyoreh> and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. Although I personally paid much effort to make translated names of people / institutions / positions match their authentic ones, some of them, unfortunately, can be different from their authentic English translations. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

[The 2nd Kim Jin-suk, the 3rd Hanjin Heavy Industries]

1 night and 2 days reporter Park Su-jin spent at JEI Corporation union that had staged tent protest for 4 long years

Young contractors, “How about sleeping with me?” … a member was almost killed on the highway by intentionally punched flat tires

Bank account attachment, red-tapes on living stuffs at home … “Even a day is this cold and hurting … how could they live like this for 1,500 days..”

<Editor’s note> Kim Jin-suk is one of the most dramatic names in year 2011. Without public interest on her cause, she could have ended up as a ‘perpetrator’ illegally occupying a private property. Or, it could have been a tragic repeat of Kim Ju-ik’s incident who had hanged himself up there. With the help of voluntary solidarity budded all over the country, however, she became the symbol of unrelenting hope. Above all, she put the brake on the practice of layoff abuse that had been fixed like a habit since the IMF crisis. But, around us still are the 2nd Kim Jin-suk’s who are continuing fights of unforeseen end in sights strenuously against the 3rd ‘Hanjin Heavy Industries’. Unions of Coltcol Tech and JEI corporation whose fights are turning 5th year; unions of Yoosung Industry, Valeo Electrical Systems Korea, and Jeonbuk Express, the victims of  liquidation operation against Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU); laid-off workers of Ssangyong Motors 19 of whom killed themselves and left deep scars on the conscience of contemporaries. The origins of hellish incidents they face head-on everyday share the same root with that of Hanjin. <Hankyoreh> reporters went to the 2nd Kim Jin-suks and the 3rd Hanjins which next hope buses should be heading for. Joining their life-on-the-street protests for 1 night and 2 days, reporters hoped for a new year where the three labor rights could cherish the stature guaranteed by the constitution in full. ‘Workers are humans. We hope humane lives.’ An obsolete slogan still resonates in year 2012.

■ 제2의 김진숙, 제3의 한진중

» Ms. Yoo Myung-ja, the leader of JEI Corporation union branch of National Self-Study Material Union, that continues life-on-the-street protest for four years. In the morning on Dec. 21, last year, that completed the fourth year of their continuous struggle, branch leader Ms. Yoo still prepared for solo protest from the tent she had stayed the whole night. The parasol framed tent was wrapped with thin styrofoams, vinyls, and a few blankets. Park Su-jin 박수진기자

Four years of JEI Corporation union, a struggle for the right to be recognized as workers

Ms. Yeo Min-hee (38, female), finishing her all night protest in the tent, started her engine at 1 in the afternoon to go back home. She was moving on Kyoungbu Highway for a while when she realized that the handle was not working. She turned it left but the car was still on the lane. It would not accererate either. She got scared. She went to the first resting area, ‘Meeting Point’. All in the place looked at her car in surprise looks. “What’s wrong with my car?” When she got out of her car, she could not believe what she saw. Both of her two left tires were completely flat. Someone punched holes densely on them. Jun. 2010, a dreadful summer was about to begin.

Seeing two flat tires with holes, Ms. Yeo dropped to the ground and cried. Those whom she had never seen before said ‘how could you come here?’, ‘you could have almost died’ and tapped her on her back. Faces of thuggish contractors who had shouted “Hey, you f*, why do you live like that? Just kill yourself” to her turned up on her mind. “They really wanted me to die; they were not just scaring me off. On that, I got goose bumps” Ms. Yeo said at the rally on last Dec. 20th, marking the fourth year of union’s protest. Ms. Yeo Min-hee, at age 25, had started her career as a self-study material teacher of JEI Corporation in 1998 and had spent virtually all her career there until when she was laid-off in Dec. 2010.

“They really wanted me to die”

Thuggish contractors who shouted ‘just die somewhere’ to Ms. Yeo were wearing black half-sleeve T shirts with ‘CJ Security’ print on their backs. The driver who dashed to Yoosung union workers, those who tenaciously scuffled with Hanjin Heavy Industries laid-off workers at Youngdo shipyard, those bulky guys who stopped union at Valeo Electrical Systems Korea in Kyoungju were all thuggish contractors of ‘CJ Security’.

It was last Mar. 2010 when these contractors appeared at the protest site of JEI Corporation teachers. The teachers began their tent protest in front of the JEI Corporation headquarter building in Hyehwa-dong, Jongro-gu, Seoul, since Dec. 21, 2007. They requested the reinstatement of teachers laid-off due to their union-related activity, the acknowledgement of union as a negotiation body, and the re-enaction of collective agreement. They chose ‘all-night protest’ to press the company to accept those requests because, as soon as the supreme court had ruled as ‘self-study material teachers are not workers’, the company declined to acknowledge existing collective agreements with them. Since the supreme court ruling in 2005, the company completely ruined the quality of teachers’ lives; they slahsed fees, wages to teachers, without any negotiation with the union, deducted fixed amounts from teachers’ wages proportional to the number of students that stopped subscription, and hence forced teachers a practice to pay membership fees of ghost members instead.

» Ms. Yeo Min-hee who was laid-off from JEI Corporation in Dec. 2010. Ms. Yeo said that she was the happiest when she taught kids as a self-study material teacher for the last 12 years. Park Su-jin 박수진기자

Contractors sometimes humiliated teachers by hand motions mimicking sexual activity 

Ms. Yoo Myung-ja and Ms. Oh Soo-young who were elected in 2007 as JEI Corporation union leader and general manager, respectively, started the street protest to improve these injustices. The struggle turned into a whole new game when the contractors appeared in 2010; the name of the new game was ‘nightmare’.

Even to strong-willed union leader Ms. Yoo Myung-ja (43), the memories of ‘that year’s summer’  when they started to tussle with the contractors still creep up. “Once the court accepted the injunction by the company to ban the obstruction of business and the company started to demolish our tents proactively, we were not able to stage tent protests around the company premise. We had to stage sit-in’s on camping mats during days and slept in a van at nights. But the ‘van protest’ turned into a nightmare once the contractors were involved.

Contractors shook the van as they wished at nights. They shook the van in every 20 ~ 30 minutes, shouting “let’s have some fun”, “what are you doing?”, “how about sleeping together?” and some curses. They sometimes humiliated teachers by hand motions mimicking sexual activity.

Union branch leader Ms. Yoo said, “humiliation and scare were of exactly the same size.” They were young but strong men. The dark parking alley behind the JEI Corporation headquarter was the only place union could park the van at nights. The scare that they could have done anything at will still haunts her.

Ms. Yoo Deuk-kyoo (45, female) who had worked as a self-study material teacher for 18 years was dragged around with her neck being caught by a female contractor in the morning rush hour in front of the company in Jul. 2010. Ms. Yoo Deuk-kyoo said “Once they worked with me, but none stopped the contractor; they all rushed inside without saying anything. That really drove me to despair.” She abhorred the ‘contractor way’ that dropped her into such despair.

Vinyl tent in the middle of piercing wind, second encounter in two years

JEI Corporation self-study material teachers took turns to sleep in the street everyday for 1461 days since Dec. 21, 2007, irrespective of whether it rained or snowed. I visited the tent in front of the Seoul city hall square at midnight of last Dec. 21, that completed exact four years. There, JEI Corporation teachers were still trying to get some sleep. It was just after all the events JEI Corporation teachers prepared ‘to end four-year-long struggle’. The temperature was five degrees celsius below zero. But, because of the piercing wind, the windchill was less than ten degrees celsius below zero. Their only weapon to win the slashing wind was the semi-transparent vinyl that was wrapped in layers. The protest site was tightly sealed not to allow any wind to get in; even the entrance was not conspicuous.

When I finally found the vinyl door of the tent and opened it, Ms. Yoo Deuk-kyoo who was in six layers of clothes inside the tent got up arduously. While eleven JEI Corporation laid-off workers were hosting events, Ms. Yoo was in charge of the protest site. As soon as I saw her, I recalled one thing. Ms. Yoo was in charge of the protest site about two years ago on Jun. 4, 2009, when I visited the protest site in Hyehwa-dong. Then, I visited the protest site in front of JEI Corporation headquarter to cover the ‘500 days of protest’ by JEI Corporation teachers.

At that time, Ms. Yoo just came to the protest site at her turn after teaching mathematics, English, Chinese characters to children at about 20 places from 2PM to 9PM. The protest tent, then, was worse than the protest tent now. Since the tent was demolished about twelve times by pro-company workers or Jongro-gu workers at that time, they could not setup the tent again. So they tied umbrellas, parasols, and mattresses coarsely. It was just about the size of a person’s layout. Right now, the tent is about 1.7 square meters area with a roof and a vinyl door. At that time, Ms. Yoo slept on the street after finishing her teaching routine and then had to do her teaching routine again the next day from 3:30PM.

» JEI Corporation protest tent in front of Seoul city hall. Park Su-jin. 박수진기자

Provisional attachment of bank accounts and red-tapes on private property … company demanded damage compensation of 2B KRW to seven laid-off union members

Four years have passed since the beginning of protest; two years for the reunion with the reporter. 500 days became 1500 days and 2 years became 4 years during that time. And Ms. Yoo’s life deteriorated still. She was still hired at that time; she was fired in Aug. 2010. Now, she has only one thing to do; the protest. As the poet Song Kyeong-dong who was arrested for leading the ‘Hope Bus’ event last year said, past four years were just ‘savage time’ to her who used to be a teacher of JEI Corporation.

As it turned 2011, the company started to attach properties. Ms. Yoo was also notified for the attachment of her home in Kimpo, Gyeonggi-do in Jan. Notifications for auction also came; sometimes several times a day. JEI Corporation, raising the court ruling that banned illegal assemblies or unreconciled tents within 100m radius from the company headquarter and imposed 1M KRW fine for each such violation, started to attach private properties of union members from late 2010. Her subscription deposit accounts and wage accounts were already attached. Living stuffs of general manager Ms. Oh Soo-young who lives with her mother-in-law were already red-taped. Besides attachments, 2B KRW damage compensation lawsuit against 7 laid-off workers began from year 2011.

A day like a year … “It’s damn cold”

After a long talk, I laid myself beside Ms. Yoo in the tent. ‘A day like a year’ … this saying has never been so real. Just beyond the vinyl door was the city hall square. One riot police bus was still making the engine noise; it got on my nerves. Cars were speeding as well. I could not even imagine to take off my coat. With about five layers of clothes, even with gloves and a muffler on, I laid myself there. I got choked up somehow. I think I reminded myself “It’s damn cold” about one hundred times lying there.

At around 4 in the early morning, branch leader Ms. Yoo went into the tent. She just finished ‘a rally to recount 4 years of protest and to regroup’ and had several drinks with other people. At 7:35AM, in 3 1/2 hours later, branch leader Yoo Myung-ja and a teacher Yoo Deuk-kyoo would leave the tent and head for JEI Corporation headquarter. They would stage separate solo protests for an hour from 8AM. Then, they had to head for Seoul Central Regional Court for an hearing in regard to the obstruction of business claim by the company.

“Desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately …”

At their schedule, I could not fall asleep. Just one day was enough to make me feel cold and lonely; it was beyond my imagination how long and lonely and cold it would have been for the past four years to them.

They are fighting so earnestly and strenuously everyday, but nobody pays any attention to them. I remind myself of branch leader Ms. Yoo Myung-ja who was singing along with the protest singer Yeon Yeong-seok at yesterday’s assembly that wrapped up their four years of protest. “Desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately, desperately, … who do we step on, where do we stand, why should the same us be different? To survive, yes, but lonely tears in all eyes … Ah I desperately want today a world where I work as much as I want, a world where I get as much as I work.” Tears welled up to the eyes of branch leader Yoo while softly singing along the song. All the night I spent at the tent, I could not erase her image out of my mind.

A reality that even the law would not accept them as workers

This JEI Corporation tent protest site was the place where the six times of Hope Bus started for crane 85 in Youngdo, Busan. 309-day-long protest on top of 35m high crane. That protest which put the life of Ms. Kim Jin-suk on the line touched people’s hearts. Their hope and wish and desperation let Ms. Kim Jin-suk, a member of direction committee of KCTU Busan branch, to step down the crane alive and to secure a promise that seemed impossible to sequentially reinstate 94 Hanjin laid-off workers.

JEI Corporation self-study material teachers also put their lives on the line day after day. They are in worse dead zone since their status as legitimate workers is not even withheld by the law and hence they are not protected by the Labor Law. After JEI Corporation fired them, 9 workers applied to Regional Labor Relations Committee and Central Labor Relations Committee for relief from illegal layoff but they, claiming that ‘the teachers are not workers’, declined their request following the Supreme Court precedent in 2005. At this, the teachers filed a lawsuit to the Administration Court to withdraw the decisions on illegal layoff and labor activity by Central Labor Relations Committee in last Jun. Lawyer Cho Hyun-joo of KCTU Law Center said “company classify self-study material teachers as ‘individual business providers’. But, they in fact work in zones set by the company, teach students allotted by the company, go to the company office three times a week, and teach according to the guideline set by the company; the evidence is enough to indicate that they are workers bound to a business establishment. We will try until the end to gain the recognition as legitimate workers.”

Two years ago, I could not report the story of ‘500 days of JEI Corporation union’s protest’ due to page limitations. Was it my indifference, our indifference that extended the time of these laid-off workers indefinitely? The next day, my shoulders were stiff from a tiresome, curled up sleep in cold; but, my heart was stiffer.

Reporter Park Su-jin 박수진 기자

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One comment

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