The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   N E W S W A T C H

Control Data Execs Held by Korean Workes

Control Data's labor troubles in South Korea reached the confrontation point on June 3, when women workers at the company's Seoul electronics plant barred the exit of negotiating Control Data executives, detaining them for about 10 hours before South Korean police released them unharmed.

The workers, 56 of whom were held and then released, were demanding the reinstatement of six union activists that Control Data fired on March 13 during annual contract negotiations (see MM, May 1982).

Ironically, the Control Data vice presidents from the company's Minneapolis headquarters were trying to accomodate the workers, but the South Korean government opposed the move.

"It was a bizarre and anomalous situation where a company and a union want to resolve an issue, but the government won't let them," says Pharis Harvey, director of the North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea.

"The government did not want the workers retained," says a U.S. State Department official familiar with Korean affairs. Korea's president Chun Doo-Hwan is "trying to maintain the competitiveness of its goodies abroad," and wants "to put a lid on" wages and unionization, the official explains.

The all-women workforce at the plant instituted a 20% work slowdown following the March 13 firings.

"There were encouraging signs that the company was prepared to reinstate the six women," says Harvey, who has criticized the company in the past. "Control Data Korea top management was changed and a more conciliatory attitude toward the union prevailed."

But the Control Data executives had little room to maneuver. "The Ministry of Labor decided that Control Data cannot resolve the conflict on its own, but must rely on the government-dominated Labor Committee" to settle the issue, Harvey says.

After a long day of negotiations with the workers on June 3, Control Data's two executives told the workers that the company "couldn't make a decision right away" on the issue and headed for the door, says Scott Meyer, public relations officer for Control Data. "When it became clear that the workers weren't going to be rehired right away, that's when the detention took place."

"This is not just a simple issue involving six women workers," says Harvey. "At stake is the future of the labor movement in Korea. The Control Data Union is one of the two remaining autonomous and representative labor unions left in Chun Doo-Hwan's `Fifth Republic,' " Harvey says.

Table of Contents