MAY 1982 - VOLUME 3 - NUMBER 5
Control Data Fires Labor Activists In South Korea
The Minneapolis-based Control Data Corporation fired six labor leaders at its electronics plant in Seoul, south Korea after they led a March work slowdown at the plant protesting management intransigence in ongoing contract negotiations.
Talks between Control Data representatives and union leaders concerning wage increases reached an impasse last December, with Control Data refusing to offer raises of more than 12% and the union demanding 20%. Overall inflation in Korea now runs at about 2501o annually, according to U.S. Commerce Department figures; the cost of living of an average factory worker rose 50% from September 1980 'to September 1981, according to a study done by the Control Data union.
In mid-February, all 297 workers' at the Control Data plant - most of them women - began a work slowdown which cut production by 50%, according to Control Data vice president for labor relations Ed Vargon. "We said we wouldn't negotiate under those conditions," he declared.
The six labor leaders, who Vargon said were disclaimed by the Control Data union but were "employees who led the illegal slowdown," were dismissed on Saturday, March 13. Groups of three to six Control Data managers and bureau chiefs' visited the workers' homes and told them, according to a statement by union chairperson Han Myoung-hee, that "they had been too energetic in their union activities, and [they] were encouraged to quietly accept their dismissal and severance pay. They, were also told that they would be prevented from entering the factory compound as of Monday the 15th [of March], and that both the Ministry of Labor and the [Korean] Central Intelligence Agency had been informed of their dismissal."
The fired workers, who had tenures of up to 13 years with Control Data, protested their dismissal and rejected the offer of severance payments. "In its attempts to persuade them, however, management threatened the workers and even their families in their own homes, staying from 8:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night," Han relates.
The remaining workers at the plant staged a sit-in and strike, demanding that the fired workers be reinstated. Control Data refused, but did grant a wage increase of 19.9%. By March 19, the strike had ended, although off-duty workers continued to sit in at the plant's cafeteria.
Control Data's operations in south Korea - where a vaguely-worded but stringently enforced national security law makes most strikes and slowdowns illegal - began in 1959. Employment at its Seoul computer memory equipment plant has fluctuated from 30 to 400 workers since the plant was built in 1967. According to a union statement, "The eyesight of some 70% of the workers deteriorates. The tension of working with high-powered microscopes also causes stomach trouble, constipation and hemorrhoids. Soldering in confined space with poor ventilation causes nausea and bronchial trouble so that many have a cold all year long..."
The daily starting wage for Control Data employees in 1981 was $4.14, which was 31% higher than the average starting wage for other multinational electronics firms in Korea (which include Motorola, Fairchild, and Signetics). According to a study done by the Control Data union last year, a single women living alone in Seoul would need at least $8.89 a day to live.