SEPTEMBER 1982 - VOLUME 3 - NUMBER 9
Women Beat Up at Control Data, Korea
Was headquarters responsible?by Matthew Rothschild
The unionized, all-female assembly line workers at Control Data Korea were preparing to leave the Seoul plant on the evening of July 16. Their supervisors - male, non-union employees - had other ideas for the women.
"The men shouted `shut the gate;' we shouted for the gate to be left open. The guards shut the gate and locked it," says a statement of the Control Data Korea Labor Union, dated July 17.
"Miss Han (union president) was knocked down, thrown against the gate and dragged away" by three male supervisors, the union says. "They then kicked her, yelling things like, "Let's burn this bitch with gasoline.' "
"After overcoming their initial shock, union members went up to the men, saying, `Let's save Miss Han,' " the union account continues. "But they were also knocked down. A factory hand, Lee Yangwoo, knocked one of them about, yelling `I'll kill you bitch.' "
One of the women, Suk Sook-ja, "was protesting" against the violence when, according to the union, a male factory worker "started punching her in the chest, while two other men held her and her hair was pulled by a fourth man. She fell to the ground unconscious."
"Suk Sook-ja is five months pregnant and is in the hospital now," the July 17 report stated. "Chae Hea-ran is also five months pregnant and was beaten insensible by three men... Mrs. Chae is in a particularly criticial condition, with internal injuries."
Mrs. Chae had a miscarriage about a week later. Miss Han, the union president, was hospitalized for a number of days, as was Suk Sook-ja and two other women workers.
This was the most violent incident in a five-month labor dispute at Control Data, Korea. The plant now has shut down for keeps, and the employees are without jobs.
The women, however, remain bitter over the July 16 beatings and the closing of the plant.
Three representatives of the U.S. National Council of Churches of Christ went on a fact-finding mission to Seoul in late July and early August and talked with 35 of the women. The observations of these church people, as well as statements by the union, raise questions about the responsiblity of Control Data's international management, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Control Data, Minneapolis insists that it acted responsibly throughout the five month controversy. It acknowledges that the beatings did occur on July 16, but provides a different interpretation of why they took place and who was responsible for them.
The Beatings: Who to blame?
Calling Control Data "a model of a wicked and treacherous multinational corporation," the union accuses the company of complicity in the beatings on July 16.
"Five workers were beaten and otherwise, badly mistreated as a result of Control Data Corporation's management directives," the union statement of July 23 declared. According to Betty Swain, a United Methodist missionary who was one of the three U.S. church people to go to Korea after the incident, "The women workers felt that the outbreak of violence was due to instructions from the Control Data Corporation in Minneapolis."
One reason the workers blame headquarters, says Swain, is because "the violent behavior commenced immediately following a phone call from the president of Control Data Korea (who was in Minneapolis at the time) to the personnel director" of the Korean plant in Seoul.
The violence against the women "was premeditated in detail," the union claimed on July 17. "A hit list of 40 names was prepared and they systematically attacked those 40."
The union also claims there was collusion on the part of Control Data and the South Korean government to "destroy the union" with these beatings.
"We can't forgive the manipulators - the management, the police, the Labor Department," the union stated. "They instigated the labor-managment dispute first, then got the men workers to break lap the union, literally if necessary." The men blamed the women for the plant's closing.
The union claims that "top-level managers (of Control Data Korea) and a Seoul city policeman stood by and watched" while the men beat up the women.
The failure on the part of the company and the government to prosecute or discipline the male employees fueled the suspicions of workers and church investigators.
"The company failed to take responsibility for the brutal beatings which its male superior workers inflicted on women whom they locked up in the plant," the three representatives of the National Council of Churches stated at a Seoul press conference of August 2.
What is more, the government "has brought no charges against the male alleged assailants of the five women who were hospitalized," the church people said, even though the government at the same time is preparing to bring to trial three women who engaged in a demonstration for their labor rights against Control Data Korea" earlier in July.
Control Data's side of the story differs in some central respects, though the actual beatings the company does not dispute.
Edward Vargon is vice president of labor relations for the Control Data Corporation. Vargon visited Korea in late May and early June to negotiate with the union.
Here is Vargon's account of the events of July 16.
"At the end of the shift, after rumors were started by the union that Control Data was shutting the plant, a group of male employees took it upon themselves to frustrate some of the union members. They got in a shouting match. Basically it was a case of the men taking matters in their own hands and beating" the women.
The violence was not premeditated, Vargon says. "It was a spontaneous thing that happened," which the union "is partially responsible for," says Vargon. "They're the ones that started the rumor of the place shutting down, not us."
Vargon flatly denies the existence of a "hit list" and rejected the implication by the union and church groups that a phone call from Minneapolis to Korea sparked the out break.
As for the claim that Control Data's Korea management stood by while the men beat up the women, Vargon answers: "We've heard that, and we're trying to find out ourselves" what happened. Vargon adds that "the information I have received is that the personnel director called the police, told the men to break it up, and opened the gates."
The Miscarriage and the Hospital
Just as Control Data's role during the beatings is contentious, so too its handling of one of the injured women.
"The women who lost the baby, her family told us that her husband was approached by company representatives and told that if he kept quiet about this incident, they would pay for her expenses in the hospital; if not, the family would have to pay. The husband took the money," says Reverend Northup, director of the Japan-Hong Kong division of the National Council of Churches, "It was kind of blackmail."
"There is nothing to that" story, responds Control Data's Vargon. The plant manager "did get in touch with the husband of Mrs. Chae purely to see how she was doing and to see if she did in fact have a miscarriage." Vargon stresses that although "it's true" Chae lost her baby, "this is not the first miscarriage she's had. She's had two before this."
Plant Closing and Severance Pay
On July 23, Control Data's headquarters in Minneapolis announced that it was permanently closing its manufacturing plant in Seoul, South Korea.
"Advances in technology have virtually eliminated the need for the products being manufactured at the plant," the company statement explained. "Employment at the plant has been declining in recent years from a high of 1200 people in 1977 to 350 today."
"The decision to close at this time was accelerated by the recent labor unrest at the plant," the company announced.
Control Data pledged "to assist employees in retraining as well as finding other work, and the company will also provide severance pay that is twice as much as required by law for its employees."
But according to the church people who spoke with the laid-off women, Control Data has not fulfilled its promise.
"The women told us that by no means was the company offering double" the legal benefits, says the Reverend Phillip Newell, the associate for economic justice at the United Presbyterian Church. Instead, the women said they were being offered "just a little over normal" benefits, says Newell.
In addition, claims Newell, the company "didn't offer anything to the six workers who were fired" in March, "and that was one of the union's demands."
Control Data's Vargon insists that the company is sticking to its word. "Under Korean law," says Vargon, "a company is required to give one month severance pay per year of service." Control Data, however, is "giving two months pay per year, plus an additional two months," Vargon says. "I've transferred the funds" personally, he adds, and "we have yet to get a complaint" from the workers about this.
The existence of these two such varying accounts of the Control Data Korea controversy has created some bitterness. "All of their (the company's) actions of good faith were just propaganda," says Reverend Northup. "They are bullshitters," says Reverend Newell of the Control Data managers.
Control Data says that the church representatives themselves are not being straightforward. "There's a lot of misinformation'' being spread around "by some church people," says Vargon.
Whatever the facts concerning the July 16 beatings and the severance pay to union members, two outgrowths of the Control Data controversy seem clear: the women will face a rough road ahead, and Control Data's actions - or the perception of its actions - will damage U.S.-Korean relations.
"The human costs are high," sass Reverend Newell. "The women are branded as troublemakers, and it is impossible in Korea for a troublemaker to be socially acceptable. It creates difficulties for your ability to get a job, to get married, and even your family turns against you."
Newell and two other church representatives said that some of the women already are suffering the resentment of their parents and husbands.
The political costs to the U.S. could be high as well. "There is no distance between Control Data Corporation and the U.S,. Government in the eyes of the Korean people," the three church officials said in a joint statement on August 2.
"The fueling of anti-American emotions is the inevitable result" of the Control Data episode, they warned. "Confidence in the American business enterprise, approval of the American mode of development and belief in the U.S. government's commitment to economic justice have all been violated by the Control Data affair in broad sectors of Korean society.