Riot police have broken up a strike and occupation of Yoosung Enterprise factory in Asan, south of Seoul.
Around 3000 riot police have attacked 500 strikers staging a sit-in at the factory, which manufactures piston rings for Hyundai, Kia, Renault and General Motors in South Korea.
The majority of occupiers have been arrested, with the remaining strikers and their supporters being dispersed by the police.
The raid marks a significant attack on a building strike wave in the South Korean automobile industry which has seen several victories, but also follows several years of mounting repression against the workers' movement. Hyundai had already suspended production of diesel engines at its Ulsan plant as a result of the strike action creating a supply bottleneck, and had been threatening to suspend production of petrol engines as well.
However, Ulsan plant itself has been hit by strike action in recent months, initiating the strike wave leading to the Asan occupation. The end of 2010 saw a wave of strikes in which irregular workers - precarious employees with minimal rights, usually on short-term contracts and who earn on average less than half the salary of permanent employees - took a leading role. A sit in by irregular workers turned into a full-scale occupation after the protest was attacked by security guards and company thugs. The dispute spread to Chunju and Asan, and in Asan was met with significant violence during a prior attempt to organise a sit-in.
The tight supply chains utilised by Asian car companies, in particular Hyundai, with its lean production model, have been successfully disrupted by workers taking strike action in recent years, most effectively in China.