Meet the worker who’s been occupying a Samsung building for 123 days
Activist and former Samsung employee Yong-Hee Kim is occupying a 25-metre Samsung tower at Gangnam Station intersection in Seoul, South Korea. The 60-year-old has been on the tower since 10 June 2019; 123 days at the time of writing.
One night in March 1989, Kim was returning from a meeting to organise a trade union. He claims that he was beaten and left unconscious, then hospitalised in an intensive care unit for 20 days. Attacks on trade union leaders were aimed at discouraging their activities. In November 1990, Kim was allegedly kidnapped by his supervisor and department manager and confined for 15 days. They allegedly tried to force him to give up launching a union.
In March 1991, Kim was fired from Samsung after being accused of sexual harassment. The alleged female victim later admitted that it was a false accusation. This was common practice by Samsung to avoid violating the constitution that protects South Korean workers’ primary rights – including the right to organise a union.
Kim began with a fasting protest outside Samsung’s headquarters in 1995. This was followed by further fasting protests in 1999 and 2016-17, and other demonstrations including his most recent one outside the headquarters in 2018-19. On 3 June 2019, Kim started his latest fasting protest. This lasted 55 days and continued after he climbed up the tower. He is experiencing severe health issues, including paralysis, during his tower protest. The space he occupies is very narrow. He can’t spread his legs and must hunch his body to lie down. Kim refuses to come down from the tower until he is reinstated and receives an apology from Samsung.
Samsung is a South Korean company known as a chaebol, a large family-owned business conglomerate. It has opposed trade unions amongst its workforce since the company’s inception in 1938, saying that they “create unnecessary conflicts”. Kim has been fighting for 24 years to abolish Samsung’s anti-union policy around the world. As a supervisor at the company, he witnessed poor working conditions. Hundreds of workers have died from diseases allegedly caused by chemical exposure at Samsung’s South Korean factories. These include leukaemia, brain tumours and multiple sclerosis. In 2013, 31-year-old Samsung service worker Choi Jong-beom committed suicide in protest against poverty wages and working conditions.
To mark Kim’s 100th day (17 September 2019) on the tower, Supporting Task Team of Samsung Tower Protest (STTSTP) organised a 48-hour action. Unionised workers, civilians and religious, cultural and arts organisations sent photos in support.
Please send a message of alliance to Yong-Hee Kim who risks his life on the tower. Anything can help in this fight against Samsung; a video message, a picture or selfie with a message, even a short word. Please send yours to email@example.com.
In solidarity with Kim, STTSTP want Samsung to acknowledge its union-busting crimes and withdraw its anti-union policy. SungAe, a spokesperson for STTSTP, said:
It would be historic. Kim’s only options are to come down with victory or die on the tower. His struggle is so desperate. Let’s fight together until the day that capital can’t exploit workers and workers’ dignity is respected.
Accounts of workers’ rights abuses by Samsung have been reported globally, including in Vietnam, India and Indonesia. As the company grows through global capital investment, workers have less choice and increasingly struggle to avoid exploitation. SungAe added:
That is why international alliances and resistances are needed, to support workers in countries like South Korea who are oppressed under Samsung’s labour conditions.
Keep up to date with Yong-Hee Kim’s tower protest on the STTSTP Facebook page.
People & Planet groups across the UK and Ireland are taking part in 48 Hours of Action Against Samsung across 25-26 October 2019, supporting factory workers fighting union-busting at Samsung. They will demonstrate outside Samsung stores in cities around the UK and Ireland. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can get involved in a store action. You can also:
Header image credit: STTSTP