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Violence Flares in South Korea Labor Disputes

September 04, 1987|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — Striking shipyard workers clashed with riot police in Ulsan, auto workers rampaged through management offices in Inchon and a taxi driver set himself on fire in Seoul as labor disputes across South Korea flared up with increased violence Thursday and early today.

An employee of the Hyundai Heavy Industries shipyard was killed and four other strikers were injured when the five were hit by a truck that rammed into a crowd of protesting workers outside a sports stadium in downtown Ulsan, a city 190 miles southeast of Seoul. Strikers captured the driver, who apparently was drunk, and turned him over to police.

About 15,000 Hyundai workers who had occupied the stadium returned voluntarily to their shipyard Thursday, but about 500 strikers who attempted to occupy a luxury hotel outside the shipyard gate clashed with riot police.

The police fired tear gas and drove the workers back into the shipyard, where strikers seized the company administration building, ransacked offices and set fire to cars. The strikers had occupied Ulsan's city hall Wednesday night, smashing furniture and windows, setting fire to an annex building and burning more than a dozen cars.

Early today, riot police raided a workers' dormitory at the shipyard in Ulsan and seized 70 strikers suspected of leading the protests. Police then entered the shipyard facility to arrest other suspected labor agitators.

Witnesses in Ulsan said a crowd of 15,000 workers later gathered in the shipyard after the arrests. Police fired tear gas to disperse a group of about 200 trying to block the gates and made several arrests. Arrests were also reported today when police entered the Daewoo Motor Company plant at Inchon and arrested about 100 workers after violent demonstrations on Thursday. In those protests about 500 striking employees seized the administration building, drove out company officials and destroyed furniture and telephones, according to reports in today's editions of Seoul newspapers.

Police said 105 striking coal miners were arrested in Jungjam in eastern South Korea on Thursday.

Violence also escalated in a Seoul taxi drivers' strike. A union official, Lee Suk Ku, 32, poured flammable liquid on his body and set himself afire, screaming, "Do not crush union activity!" He was hospitalized with burns.

Police said that drivers of about 15,400 taxis--more than 90% of the company-owned taxis in the city--were on strike. According to the police, two drivers were arrested for attacking non-striking drivers, and there were dozens of reports of assaults against non-striking drivers and their passengers. Most of the city's 41,000 taxis are owner-driven.

751 Strikes Unresolved

Nationwide, 751 strikes involving hundreds of thousands of workers remained unresolved Thursday, according to the Labor Ministry.

Some important labor disputes have been resolved, however. Of the 11 subsidiaries of the Hyundai group in Ulsan, labor-management agreement over wage increases were reached at seven companies.

The dispute at the Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. shipyard reflected the collapse of a government-mediated settlement that cooled protests last month by 70,000 workers of Hyundai companies. The workers were offered negotiations aimed at reaching a wage settlement by Sept. 1.

The Hyundai workers still out on strike have been variously reported as seeking an 18% or a 25% raise in pay. Management has offered 11%.

Accused of Abetting Strikes

Police made additional arrests Thursday of lawyers and students accused of fanning the labor violence. Among those arrested were Noh Mu Hyon, a dissident lawyer, Lee Su Bin, a senior at Pusan National University, and Kim Yon Ung, a junior at Korea University. All were accused of abetting strikes at the Okpo Shipyard of Daewoo Shipbuilding and Heavy Machinery Ltd.

University students spearheaded the massive demonstrations in June that prompted a government pledge of democratization and opened the door to more militant labor activity. Strikes are virtually outlawed in South Korea and until July had been firmly suppressed.

While leaders of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party are seeking to cooperate with the ruling Democratic Justice Party in holding presidential elections scheduled for mid-December, radical students are seeking an alliance with labor and the middle class aimed at forcing the present government out of power. Police said 5,500 students staged demonstrations on 18 campuses Thursday.

Students at Yonsei University in Seoul have scheduled a rally and demonstration for this afternoon. More than 2,000 students, including some from Yonsei University, clashed with riot police after a Tuesday rally at the Seoul National University campus.

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