Death toll mounts after defeat of 2009 Ssangyong strike

Riot police arrest a doctor during the strike
Riot police arrest a doctor during the strike

Two years after the brutal crushing of the Ssangyong Motors strike and occupation in South Korea, an increasing number of sacked workers have died prematurely.

Submitted by Steven. on April 15, 2011

It has been two years since the management of Ssangyong Motor Company in Pyongtaek, South Korea, announced the layoffs of 1000 workers. Shortly thereafter, those workers occupied their plant and held it for 77 days, from May to August 2009, when they finally succumbed to a massive police and army assault.

In the immediate aftermath, many militants were arrested and some were sentenced to years in prison. Most, however, were laid off, on different terms (some with the hope of a recall after one year which to date has never materialized).

Two years after the announcement, fourteen people, both strikers and immediate family, are dead. (This is in turn part of a larger pattern in South Korea, including a spate of deaths from cancer by workers for Samsung and four recent suicides of students at KAIST, Korea's "MIT", resulting from grade pressures. Korea has the highest suicide rate of any advanced industrial country, and rivals the U.S. for deaths and injuries on the job per capita.)

Five Ssangyong workers have committed suicide and five have died from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or brain hemorrhage.

Doctors believe these were caused by severe stress in the aftermath of the strike and layoffs. Some of the suicides resulted from economic problems following the lay-offs.

In Feb 2011, one worker on unpaid time-off died of a heart attack. Under the pressure of the layoffs, his wife had killed herself in April 2010. They had two children. The worker's bank balance was close to zero.

The following is gleaned from an article in the South Korean daily newspaper Hangyereh:

A Korean hospital also found that more than half the Ssangyong strikers it has seen are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and 80% are suffering from severe depression. Almost all the workers involved have reported a deterioration in their marriages. Their average post-restructuring monthly income, of 822,800 Won ($757), represented a 74 percent reduction from their previous salary.

After the defeat of the strike, 462 workers were put on unpaid leave. The promised one-year period has elapsed, yet the company maintains it is unable to begin reinstatement. Workers who retired or were fired are having difficulty finding new employment because of the Ssangyong “scarlet letter,” and have been making do with temporary jobs and day-to-day work. Also absent has been any social safety network to address their deteriorating health and financial anxieties.

Hangyereh calls the 14 deaths "social homicides".