Workers’ Stories

For 10, 20, 30 years,

Working in solvent and fumes in factories without windows…

Forced to work overtime, and never able to see your family…

Injuries, harassment, verbal abuse… and the final indignity- a mass firing under the cover of a sham bankruptcy.

(한국어)

Hear the Korean guitar workers’ experiences in this video:

The factory was always incredibly noisy and dusty. We worked standing all day long. Most of my coworkers suffer from asthma and swollen legs and have difficulty hearing. My hands became sore from using heavily vibrating grinding machine for a long time. My hands needed surgery, but the company wouldn’t recognize my case as a workers compensation case, for which they would be held responsible.

“Sometimes, the supervisor demanded to start us to start work as early as 6 am when there was a production deadline. At those times, we had to work without being paid any overtime allowance, even though we arrived earlier and worked much later than our shift hours.”

“We were really ignorant of the labor law at that time and believed the company’s false allegation that we wouldn’t be able to get  unemployment benefits without the documents issued by them. In the end, we helplessly accepted the forced resignation in exchange for these documents for unemployment benefits.”

“Some supervisors greeted the workers by touching the hips of the women workers every morning. They harassed the pretty women workers by asking them to go out after work and molested those workers they considered ugly with mean behavior. For example, they continually assigned the workers they considered ugly to other production lines before these workers became accustomed to the first line. This mean behaviors made them feel crazy.”

“We couldn’t even get the 15 minute-break twice a day until we organized the workers’ union. The supervisors cursed us if we didn’t arrive 30 minutes before the regular working hours. There was one worker who has worked at the painting process for 25 years and suffered from bronchitis. One day, when he lost consciousness during working, the managing staff even demanded for him to write a letter of resignation during hospitalization.”

“In 1992, I started this work at the age of 35, as the youngest one among my coworkers. At that time, I worked hard willingly without caring about my health at all, as the experienced workers did, starting work 50 minutes before the scheduled work hour.”

“Becoming exhausted from working so hard, I was sent to the emergency room three times. But I had to go to work early the next morning and leave the hospital for fear of getting sacked. Later, I lost consciousness and became hospitalized after all.

“(A worker says, while showing her right wrist) “Can you see the lump poking out of my wrist? This is from repeatedly making scooping motions with the sawing knife. The doctor said the joint fluid in my wrist has built up from the heavy workload. The fluid was extracted but this never stopped the lump from growing, and I have been suffering from this painful wrist problem ever since.”

“The company discriminated among workers by paying them differently, even to those on the same production line. That is, they paid higher wages to the workers they preferred without providing any acceptable basis for this. After raising these persons’ wages, the managing staff ordered them to keep this a secret from their coworkers. Every morning meeting, they always warn them to be careful not to disclose the secret. There was always so much jealousy and competition among coworkers. It was like a living hell.”

: Some time ago, one of my coworkers forgot to greet her supervisor. After that, he constantly and thoughtlessly harassed her and made complaints against her, even though she was actually very diligent and good at her work. On top of that, he would yell and curse her for no apparent reason and assign her to other production lines several times. Because it was so hard, she cried every day, and because she couldn’t win in this kind of situation, eventually, she left the company. Soon after her resignation, she hung herself to death on the mountain behind the factory because of the depression this constant harassment caused her, still wearing her work vest stamped with “Cort” (the company name) on the back.”

: Since 2005, the company often said in public that they were suffering from a chronic deficit. We believed the company’s explanation. Therefore, we saved materials and worked hard without requesting any overtime allowance. After organizing the union, we came to know the truth — that our company had made a large profit of $65 million dollars every year. All the workers who had worked with such patience were really shocked.”

: We persisted for a long time in not submitting to the company’s demand for worker’s resignation. But the supervisor would slip the resignation letter into our personal items. Even during our working hours, the supervisor would call us into his office and indirectly threaten us to sign the letter of resignation. After enduring this repeatedly, the pressure was hard to bear. So we suggested that we would accept their demand on the condition that they would give us short-term compensation.”

Cort/ Cor-tek worker holding guitar placard at a public action in Seoul, by photographer Noh Soon Taek.


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