Shipyard Protest – Forget Occupy Wall Street And Take A Lesson From Ms. Kim

John Konrad
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November 16, 2011

Occupy Wall Street has grabbed the headlines but momentum is slowing and their message is falling on deaf ears in Washington. Maybe they would be more effective if they took lessons from the maritime world on how to conduct a  protest. And to that end gCaptain has found the perfect teacher; Ms. Kim a shipyard worker who’s fortitude is producing results in South Korea. :

A solo protest that lasts 309 days is rare but Kim Jin-suk did it atop a 115 foot high crane with no access to basic necessities like running water – and it finally ended on Thursday.

Ms. Kim, a labor activist and former employee at the Busan-based Hanjin Heavy, came down from the crane after union workers accepted an offer from the shipyard’s management to rehire 94 workers who were laid off last year. The workers will also receive some compensation.

Her protest attracted attention in and out of the country. Supporters portrayed her as a martyr of the unemployed and less privileged. Hanjin criticized her for sabotaging their operations by occupying the crane “illegally” since she had been fired from the company more than 20 years ago.

Labor leaders and politicians rallied to her cause, visiting the shipyard, and other labor groups staged “Bus of Hope” protests outside the shipyard, in which several thousand people were bused to Busan for rallies.

Ms. Kim kept in touch via cellphone, sending Twitter messages to more than 27,000 followers.

The saga started in December last year, when Hanjin workers walked out in protest against the planned layoff of 400 workers, and the company, in turn, closed the shipyard. On Jan. 6, Ms. Kim started her crane-top protest.

“I knew I would come down alive. I could endure this because of you and (fellow) unionists. You saved me,” she said when she climbed down on Thursday. She was then taken to a nearby hospital for medical check-up.

Before coming down, though, Ms. Kim told a radio station that she’s worried that Hanjin won’t carry out its promise to rehire the 94 workers.

Ms.Kim’s protest underscored a difficult reality for companies in Korea: it’s hard to fire people no matter how bad business is going. After the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, Hanjin went for nearly three years without getting any new orders for ships. It reported a net loss of 51.7 billion won, or about $45 million, last year.

By John Konrad, gCaptain International and Jaeyeon Woo, Dow Jones Asia

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