Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Students confront Samsung chief at Korea University

Just off the wire. It appears that some students disrupted ceremonies at Korea University conferring an honourary degree on Lee Kun Hee of the Samsung group. The students cited his notorious suppression of labour organizing, exploitation of irregular workers and evasion of taxes among other reasons for their protest. Here is an article from the Joong Ang daily (here) that you can read, followed by a response from the student group All Together, which you can read below or find on their site here.


Protest against the presentation of Doctorate degree to Lee Kun-hee was Just.

The people who have coldly turned their faces away from the sufferings and painful outcries of temporary workers are making a fuss about "the deplorable incident that took place at the presentation of honorary Ph.D. degree to Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee" (Eo Yun-dae, Korea University Chancellor) as if an end of the world is coming.

Korea University Chancellor Eo Yun-dae expressed a deep apology with a big bow while presenting an honorary doctorate degree in Philosophy to Lee Kun-hee who really deserves a Ph.D. in repressing workers and evading taxes. He then resigned along with his executive officers. There is a talk of taking disciplinary actions against the students.

Mainstream newspapers all lashed at the students for upsetting 'Dr.' Lee Kun-hee whose wealth in stock alone is worth more than $2 billion saying the students had "no courtesy" (Chosun Ilbo) and are "far from being open minded" (Donga Ilbo). Released by PSPD, an NGO, last year, a report tracing the lines of intimate connection in Korean high society revealed that there is a strong connection among the three major conservative newspapers centered on Samsung.

Information and Communication Minister Jin Dae-je, former employee of Samsung Electronics who profited $1 million in 4 months when the price of Samsung Electronics stock jumped in 2003 also came out in defense of his 'chairman'. Surely, ruling and opposition political parties and Chongwadae (Presidential Office) who received more than 38.5 billion won for their illegal presidential election fund could not just stand by and do nothing for their 'chairman'.

The court, public prosecutors, and National Assembly have already demonstrated the 'open mindedness' proper. Concerning a case of 12 former and current workers of Samsung SDI who have been surveiled illegally through duplicated hand-phones by the company, the public prosecutors announced the result of their investigation saying that since it is impossible to identify 'someone' who duplicated the hand-phones it is impossible to charge 'someone'. Shortly after, they closed the case saying that since 'someone' has not been identified they cannot continue investigating the Samsung officials.

The court sentenced Kim Seong-hwan, President of Samsung General Trade Union, to imprisonment for 3 years and 10 months for committing libel against Samsung SDI.

The National Assembly Committee on environment and labor persistently tried and succeeded in avoiding the calling of Samsung SDI as a witness to an NA inspection of the government. To such an act, Rep. Dan Byeong-ho said, "I saw a glimpse of the real power of Samsung who can control even the National Assembly”. Even today, the National Assembly is talking about an independent prosecutor's investigation of the recent oil gate, but no one is interested in the Democratic Labor Party's proposal to have an independent prosecutor's investigation of the Samsung SDI incident.

Chancellor Eo criticized the students saying they have "crossed the line by committing an undemocratic and violent act".

However, the protesting students have only formed a scrum and have never used violence.

An anonymous student posted a protest in the school's internet bulletin board asking "have you ever considered the feeling of professors in the Department of Philosophy who had to attend the ceremony after receiving a notice telling them to attend without explanation?"

Chancellor Eo indicated that the school is presenting the honorary degree to Lee Kun-hee for his achievements in elevating the level of the paradigm of understanding and thinking in management a notch through his new management and being an outstanding example in realizing a society where people live in harmony.

Indeed Lee Kun-hee has increased the level of the paradigm of repressing worker a notch through all kinds of illegal means to maintain his anti-union policy like evading inheritance tax by paying only 1.6 billion won when handing out 1.5 trillion won worth of wealth to his 4 children, giving slush funds via a book of bearer bonds worth 15 billion won when others were delivering cash in truck loads, and carrying out high-tech surveillance, kidnapping, GPS tracking of the workers.

What about his records in realizing a society where people live in harmony?

Lee Kun-hee is currently spending 80 billion won to build his own 'family town' on a 1600 pyeong (1 pyeong equals 3.5 sq. yard) land. The wage difference between the executive officers and workers at Samsung SDI is as many as 125 times.

When Lee's family went on a vacation to Germany for a week early this year, 50 people had to prepare the 'emperor's vacation' for 2 months.

A professor in Hong Kong University who gave a business consultation to Samsung in 1995 once said "although Samsung presents itself as a socially responsible corporation, in fact, there are more than 238 cases of violation of environmental, labor, and social welfare related laws.

Donga Ilbo wrote "a mischief by a handful of students disgraced the image of Korea University with 100 years of history". However, by protesting against the tax evader who has a long record of committing vicious repression against workers, the protesting students have elevated the honor of all the students at Korea University.

Such an act by the protesters following the will of the majority, workers and people, and not the few chabeols and the privileged is completely just.

Comment on the Campaign to Defend the Anti-Lee Kun-hee Protest at Korea University

'David wins against Goliath' was the title of All Together's comment issued on May 5.

The social repercussion created by the protest against the presentation of doctorate degree to Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee led by All Together members and students at Korea University on May 2 was enormous.

On May 4, more than 7 newspapers covered the incident in their editorials while reporting it in detail in the society section. Most of the newspapers including the Chosun Ilbo called for the witch hunt of All Together.

Even the Presidential Office (Cheongwadae), the government, and the bosses lashed at the student protesters as if it was a personal matter.

The fiercest attack came from the Korea University administration demonstrating again its close connection with Lee Kun-hee aside from the recent 40 billion won contribution.

Soon various student left groups in Korea University who participated in the protest broke under the strong pressure and retreated.

In such a situation, All Together members at Korea University threw themselves in the campaign to defend the protest which now became a struggle of David against Goliath. If the All Together members were demoralized it would have been a disaster for them and All Together as a whole as Samsung and the right would immediately start the witch hunt. That is why we need to give utmost praise and strongest support to the All Together members at Korea University.

On May 4, All Together published a special edition titled "Defending Anti-Lee Kun-hee Protest." A total of 60,000 copies were printed and was distributed at 14 major college campuses in Seoul and 17 busy streets in Seoul and Incheon cities.

Many of our members joined the distribution despite the short notice. Not only student members but local branch members participated in the distribution after work or during their lunch breaks.

At Gangnam Subway station where 3,300 copies were distributed within 2 hours, numerous pedestrians took a batch saying they would like to distribute along their ways. A DLP member who happened to pass by joined our members for more than 30 minutes and help in the distribution.

In most campuses and locals, our special edition of All Together stimulated further debates and discussions while drawing active supporters to us.

Shortly after the start of distribution, a call came to the main office. A university professor was on the other line saying he was calling after having read the special edition of All Together. He always wanted to do something against the atrocious acts of Samsung and now he would like to give a donation to All Together.

A student at Konkuk University also called after reading the special edition and said he is opposed to war and had a strong hatred against this society where the poor always remain poor and the rich always remain rich. He expressed he would like to join All Together.

A former Samsung E-Mart worker sent a letter thanking the student protesters saying when he was in a one-person protest in front of an E-Mart store after being fired a person came up to him and said "did you see Lee Kun-hee's embarrassing scene? Cheer up!" He was overjoyed to hear that and wanted to thank the protesters.

The Democratic Labor Party was the first to defend the anti-Lee Kun-hee protest by issuing a statement on May 3. It was a perfect timing with an appropriate statement. In the morning of May 4, Son Seok-chun wrote an editorial in Oh My News, an internet news, defending the student protesters.

Soon after, All Together members started to distribute the 60,000 copies of the special edition. These are the reason why Lee Kun-hee retreated on May 4.

We have won an important victory. But the fight is not completely over yet. Even at this moment, All Together members at Korea University is preparing to protest against the school's plan to discipline the student protesters and against Roh Moo-hyun if he decides to visit the university for the 100th anniversary ceremony on May 5.

We must not put down our guards just yet. We appeal to all members who know any of the members at Korea University in person to call them and give support and solidarity.

May 4, 2005
All Together

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