S Korea union says GM plant closure is ‘death sentence’, threatens strike

GUNSAN/SEOUL: General Motors’ workers at a South Korean plant staged a protest against its planned closure, calling the move by the US automaker a “death sentence”, and threatening a strike. In the city of Gunsan, where the factory with 2,000 workers is, shuttered store fronts and empty streets near the plant are a stark reminder of the depressing impact on the rural town.
The factory had already been running at about 20 per cent of capacity over the past three years even before the US carmaker announced the closure.
“Gunsan city worked really hard to rescue GM, buying GM cars produced from the factory. The whole town is now in panic,” Park Chung-hi, chairwoman of the Gunsan city council, said.
Park who also has a GM car said one out of five in Gunsan, including family members of workers at GM’s part suppliers, relies on the US carmaker’s operation there.
GM’s South Korean unit launched a voluntary redundancy scheme for its 16,000 workers in the Asian nation after announcing on Tuesday it will shutter the plant in Gunsan by May and decide within weeks on the fate of the remaining three plants in the country. Unionised workers at the Gunsan plant wore red headbands saying “Solidarity, Fight” and held leaflets demanding the withdrawal of the closure plan. Some had shaved their heads. “Let’s protect our right to live on our own,” Kim Jae-hong, the leader of the workers’ union at the Gunsan branch, said amid tears.
GM’s planned revamp of its loss-making South Korea operations is the latest in a series of steps by the automaker to put profitability and innovation ahead of sales and volume. Since 2015 GM has exited unprofitable markets including Europe, Australia, South Africa and Russia.
It is offering South Korean workers three times their annual base salary, money for college tuition and more than $9,000 toward a new car as part of a redundancy package.
A spokesman of GM Korea, the local unit, said the company would continue discussions with the union and seek their understanding over the closure plan.
But workers were far from placated. The union will establish a detailed plan in protest against the shutdown that may include a strike and holding of a sit-in rally at the headquarters of GM Korea, according to the union’s Gunsan branch.
“We can’t accept this. The company informed us about the closure plan, not asking for our opinion. It was already the end of the discussions,” Dang Sung-geun, a senior official at the union of GM Korea, said by telephone.
“This is like a death sentence notice before the Lunar New Year holidays.”
Dang said about 1,200 unionised workers from GM Korea joined the protest at the Gunsan factory, a day before the Asian country begins Lunar New Year holidays. Gunsan is located in the southwest of the country.
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday used GM’s decision to close the plant to launch fresh criticism of the US-South Korea trade agreement.
— Reuters