Daewoo Autoworkers Back on the Job

By Jae-Suk Yoo, Associated Press, Tuesday 2 May 2000, 8:18 AM ET

SEOUL, South Korea (AP)—Thousands of workers at Daewoo Motor Co.’s main plant reported to work Tuesday, ending a week-long strike related to a long-running dispute over plans to seek bids from overseas for the ailing automaker.

Company officials said some 2,700 dayshift workers at the carmaker’s plant in Bupyong, 18 miles west of Seoul, returned to assembly lines after management agreed to discuss their grievances.

About 1,000 nightshift workers also reported to work later Tuesday, both the management and union said.

The Daewoo workers walked off their jobs last Tuesday, protesting a dawn raid by police in which 20 labor activists were arrested. All but four were later released.

Those under arrest included Chu Young-ho, the top union leader and organizer of the strike outlawed by the government.

The raid followed more than two months of partial or full-scale strikes at the main plant, called to oppose the planned sale of the company. The government said the strikes were illegal.

The walk-outs affected only Daewoo’s main plant, which has an annual capacity of 500,000 cars. A second Daewoo plant on the nation’s central west coast with an annual capacity of 300,000 cars stayed open.

At the first bargaining session with management on Tuesday, the union called for efforts to secure the release of their arrested leaders and for charges to be dropped against about a dozen other activists being sought by police.

One of the union’s major grievances is the plan by creditors to seek bids from non-Korean companies for Daewoo. General Motors Corp. (NYSE:GM—news) and Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F—news) are reportedly the front-runners in international bidding for Daewoo.

Workers from Daewoo’s main plant vowed to fight against the sale of their firm. But on Tuesday, their union relented somewhat on its stance.

Foreign takeover of our firm is negotiable if matters of our concern, including layoffs, can be addressed, said Cho Yang-hee, the union’s secretary-general.

Daewoo’s main plant is 30 years old and its second plant in Kunsan on the southwest coast is five years old.

Industry analysts say that a foreign buyer would like to relocate Daewoo’s outdated facilities at the main plant to its second plant in Kunsan where land and other prices are cheaper.

About 3,000 workers at Daewoo’s second plant ignored a call for a full strike by their colleagues at the main plant and kept their assembly lines running throughout.

Other grievances raised by the union at Tuesday’s bargaining session included a pay hike and better working conditions.

The Daewoo protests began Feb. 15, forcing the main plant to operate at under 40 percent of capacity.