Closure by US in South Korea adds to strife with labor

Control Data Corporation's decision to close its computer sub-assembly plant in Seoul has irritated a strained relationship between the South Korean government and labor.

According to one company source, Control Data had been considering closing Control Data Korea (CDK) for several months. CDK's pretax profits for 1981 were developments in automated assembly technology had made the local labor force in South Korean less cost-efficient. Control Data closed a plant in England this spring, giving the same reason.

But before the Korean plant closed July 23, there was a messy strike. It is widely believed the strike, which broke out in March, accelerated the schedule for closing the plant.

Six union workers at CDK, accused of disrupting production to pressure the American company to grant higher wage increases, were fired. With over three-fourths of CDK's work force in the union, it was considered one of the stronger survivors of tough labor laws introduced by the Chun government.

One of the six fired workers belonged to the Protestant-led labor activist group, the Urban Industrial Mission -- an outspoken critic of the Korean government's labor policies.

The reinstatement of the six employees became the major demand of the union, which accused CDK of being in collusion with the Chun government to bust the union.

After Control Data's annual meeting in May, the company sent two executives to Seoul to settle the matter quietly. Their meeting with CDK union officials was joined by nearly 60 angry female union members, who held the executives for nine hours until police escorted them out of the building.

One American banker claimed the company had no choice but to speed up the plant closure. ''Why be a sitting duck for the gunfire between an active union and a government that doesn't want (the union) to exist,'' he said.

With the company's shutdown came a massive attack from the government-controlled news media, assailing the union and the Urban Industrial Mission as the sole perpetrators of the plant closure.

The government's hard line is seen as serving two purposes. It was a warning to local labor unionists to toe the line, and thus keep job security. And it was meant to assure foreign investors that the government would not permit labor unions to blemish Korea's reputation for an able and hard-working labor force. With a sluggish investment climate, the government doesn't want to lose that image. Foreign investment approvals for the first half of 1982 were less than $ 100 million; the goal for the year is $300 million.

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