YURA Corporation: The Power of Bosses and the Power of Workers. Tactics and Possibilities
The following article was published in Slovak at the end of February, and thus does not contain information about current developments. It explains the anti-worker practices in Slovak branches of South Korean company Yura Corp. The article also contains a leaflet of Priama akcia in solidarity with the workers which was distributed in the region.
In mid-January the media informed that a disgruntled employee of the company Yura Corporation Slovakia Ltd. in Hnúšťa had slapped the boss as a reaction to locking the employees in the company in order to work overtime. There are various opinions on this action. On one hand, the employees are thrilled that someone finally expressed their dissatisfaction with the horrible working conditions. On the other hand, there is a lot of fear that the company will simply pack up and move to somewhere „more profitable“.
The Yura plants in Lednické Rovne, Hlohovec, Rimavská Sobota and Hnúšťa currently employ around 3 700 workers. Most of the employees in Rimavská Sobota and Hnúšťa have elementary education and are from socially weaker families, travelling to work from neighbouring villages and towns. The unemployment rate in this region has reached almost 30%, so the employers (not only in Yura) can treat the employees practically as they wish.
CORE PROBLEMS IN YURA
Forced overtime. In Yura, it is a duty to work overtime. For example, if you want to get employed in Rimavská Sobota, you cannot avoid the question, if you are willing to work a large amount of 12-hour workdays. If you refuse, the chance that you will get the job drops to zero. Many employees have confirmed that they work more overtime than is allowed under the Labour Code. Problems also arise with the issue of rest after 12-hour shifts and payment for the overtime.
Wages, bonuses and rest. Performance bonuses are decreasing, despite the company’s statements to the contrary. Holiday and sick leave are unwelcome and are considered equal to intentional absenteeism - which is threatened with dismissal. Many employees feel like slaves. They face huge pressure, coercion and threats.
Ineffective inspections of the Labour Inspectorate. Similar to other companies, inspections do not have much significance. The management tells the employees that if they call the inspectors, they will simply pay the fine and detract the amount from the employees‘ bonuses.
Transferring employees from one workplace to another. There were cases when disgruntled workers from Rimavská Sobota were moved to Hnúšťa and vice versa. Travelling to work is difficult, and many of the workers preferred to quit their jobs. Such practices are an apparent breach of the Labour Code. (The transfer of employees has to be agreed in writing, listing the reasons for the change. These reasons are limited and listed in the Labour Code, as is the duration of the transfer).
Unions? Forget about it! The company simply does not accept union organizations.
A complete list of problems would require more information from a larger number of employees than we currently have. Naturally, similar problems occur in many other companies. The only difference is that, unlike in Yura, they are not publicly known.
THOUGHTS ON MOVING THE PRODUCTION
On 21st February the General Director of Yura Corporation Slovakia Ltd. and Yura Eltec Ltd., Seung Kil Park, gave several statements which then appeared in an article "Yura is Considering Moving Out of Slovakia“. Some employees have interpreted this misleading headline and the notes about not expanding the production as intentions to move the company elsewhere. Such explanations among the workers only strengthen their obedience and fears. Therefore it is necessary to clarify some facts.
At the end of October 2009 in an interview for magazine eTrend entitled "The Cable-makers are Dismissing Workers, Yura Has Other Plans“, Park introduced the future strategy of the company. "We want to decrease the fixed part of the wage and increase the motivational and performance bonuses.“ The aim was higher productivity and quicker pace of production. Yura also negotiated the lowering of prices with its Slovak and Czech suppliers.
After the publicity given to the problems in the company Park basically repeated the same things in media on the 21st of February. He mentioned the same expectations as in October 2009 regarding losses amounting to several million Euros. "We are discussing things with our headquarters and considering options. We are searching for a different strategy. First of all we have to normalize the company finances.“ According to him, the company also needs (no, this is not a joke) a better working attitude! In other words, no sick leaves or other absences, just work from dawn till dusk, and even more intensively than before. He also sent a message to those thinking about further physical attacks: "The customers might stop relying on us. In the worst case they may stop ordering from us altogether and that would have a very serious impact on the whole production. What was done is irreparable and it has serious implications. [...] This incident is part of the reason why we will not expand our production in Slovakia, although the town of Hnúšťa made an offer to fund the reconstruction of a production plant. We have to again discuss our strategy of operating in Slovakia.“ Probably this sentence has stirred a debate among the employees regarding a possible departure from Slovakia. Park, however, has been quite clear on the subject – Yura has no plans to stop production.
It is obvious that Park never said that Yura wanted to stop producing in Slovakia. Neither in February 2010, nor in October 2009, when eTrend reported the following: "S. K. Park claims that the company will stay in Slovakia as long as Kia and Hyundai are here and in the Czech Republic.“ In Park‘s own words: "We are successful insofar as they are successful.“ Park even denied possibilities that they would produce for other car manufacturers reasoning that the production capacities were fully utilized, and the demand would grow when Kia and Hyundai start producing new car models.
A company is not a backpack and can not be "packed up” that easily. It operates in accordance with an economic plan and business results. Decisions about production or its movement are not made as a reaction to slaps. If the Korean management decides to leave, the decision will not come suddenly and the company will make preparations for it. Including screwing the workers as much as possible. A company in crisis usually starts dismissing people and shortens the workday (that is, if it wants to continue operating, and is not trying to go bankrupt). In Hnúšťa the situation is quite the opposite – people have to work a lot of overtime and the work pace is intensifying. Furthermore, the main customers of Yura have reported huge profits in the year 2009 and an increase in sales.
PUNISH THOSE WHO ARE PROTESTING (IF POSSIBLE)
Yura has a lot of experience with practices against workers who have objected to what is going on in the company. For example, in 2007 there were two production stoppages in Sewon (today‘s Yura) in Rimavská Sobota. In July, due to lower wages, in November due to late payments and unpaid overtime. People suspected of organizing them were dismissed and those who informed the public about the strike also got in trouble. Other experiences come from Korea, where the workers are much more militant. If the bosses feel resistance, they always want to punish and intimidate the workers, and thus shape a disciplined workforce. They can afford this especially when there are weak and unorganized workers in the company.
Yura is also familiar with practices of its customer, Hyundai. For example during the negotiations after the wildcat strike in Nošovice (Czech Republic) at the beginning of December 2009 the Hyundai management insisted on punishing those who initiated the strike. The control over the workforce was finally established through the union which agreed that it would not stand up for the workers who would want to strike outside the union in the future. The company succeeded to a great extent in getting control over the workers. However, fact remains that no one was punished for the wildcat strike, and the workers achieved small improvements. In March we are planning to publish an analysis about this struggle and the controversial role of the unions written by the group Kolektivne proti kapitálu (KPK). We will also publish a text about workers’ experiences in the auto industry in the US during the 70s, which are in some aspects similar to what happened in Hyundai.
YURA, KIA, HYUNDAI – MUTUAL COEXISTENCE AND THE ACHILLES HEEL
Business results of Yura for the year 2009 are not available at the moment. In the year 2008 Yura had a small profit and for the year 2009 incurred a loss. The company came to Slovakia four years ago together with Kia Motors. In South Korea it has been a cable harness supplier for Kia for about twenty years. After it started supplying Hyundai in Nošovice, Yura had to expand production, also with help from the state (Yura thought about the same thing in the autumn of 2009). Park declared then: "If there is money from the government, we will probably expand production in Rimavská Sobota and Hnúšťa.“
Although Yura also has a plant in Tunis (and more plants in China and Korea), where the costs of the labour force are one third of those in Slovakia, it produces here because of Kia. As the article in eTrend says: "... if today one cable harness was missing in Kia, they could produce it in Yura and deliver to Žilina in three hours with a telephone call. They do not wait for delivery by truck - they send the harness in a taxi.“ And what would happen if that did not work out? "A cable harness is the first thing assembled. If it was missing, they would have to stop production and it would mean huge costs due to the stoppage.“ That’s another reason to develop mutual contact among the workers from Yura, Kia and Hyundai. Two thirds of the production from Yura went to Kia in Žilina in autumn 2009. For the year 2010, the plan is to deliver 50% to Kia and 50% to Hyundai.
Knowing these facts gives the workers more strength. If they know how the production and delivery system work, they can determine the weak spots. Based on that, they can develop an effective strategy to enforce their demands. They can put pressure on the company where it is weakest and force it to make the desired changes in a short time.
THE POWER OF THE WORKERS IS IN THEIR OWN ACTIVITY
Even though the workers in Yura are victims of the targeted strategy of the management aimed at building their hopelessness and helplessness, they still have some power. Many of the employees stand up for their demands even in complicated situations. Hopelessness and helplessness at work is a common problem. And problems can be overcome by our own activity. We discuss this also in the leaflet which was distributed in Hnúšťa and nearby towns and villages. Slovak version can be downloaded here. Here is a part of its contents:
IN SOLIDARITY WITH YURA EMPLOYEES
It is pointless to describe what is familiar to everyone in Yura. The working conditions and wages are simply unbearable. Some explain it with the approach of Korean management which expects a specific work attitude and sacrifices. Others think that the problem is not the Korean management but Slovak supervisors who act to benefit themselves. Both opinions are more or less correct. The problem lies in the organization of production and management system, i.e. the power that the machines, supervisors, and bosses have over the workers. Because of this power, we are just parts of a machine.
WHO HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE SOMETHING?
However, there is another way to look at things. Without workers, nothing can be produced. In this lies our power over the machine, supervisor and boss. People always had to fight for important changes, fight where the bosses were weakest – in production. Without production, the boss loses the profits. When people stick together and, for example, stop production, the boss is suddenly more inclined to listen.
EXPERIENCE FROM OTHER EMPLOYEES' STRUGGLES
If only there was a simple answer to the problem how to achieve unity and have the strength to carry out a joint action which would force the boss to comply with our demands. There are no proven recipes though. We can only consider the situation and take other people’s experiences into account. Yura supplies for example to Hyundai in Nošovice. Only three months ago there was a wildcat strike there. The workers stopped the production at one assembly hall, other workers joined them and achieved some concessions. A month later, workers from Grammer in Most (Czech) walked out and received an assurance of improvement. Grammer is an especially suitable example for Yura because the action was joined by workers of different nationalities. Their strength lied in that they stood up against the bosses as workers, not people of this or that nationality - which would have divided them. Naturally, these are just two recent examples, which are furthermore more complex than can be described here. More information about them as well as other examples and experiences from workplaces can be found at www.priamaakcia.sk. Here we would only like to say one thing – workers have their strength and this strength can be used.
There is a bigger chance to achieve demands when people communicate with each other regularly. Not only on one assembly line but also with people from different branches of the company here and elsewhere in the world. Thus, they can uncover the real situation in production, see through the information of the bosses about bad business results, recognize the tactics against the employees used elsewhere, etc. If one has such information and support, it is easier to develop a strategy, and there is a greater possibility that people will stick together. However, such practical activity is developed only sporadically in Slovakia. Priama Akcia, Slovak section of International Workers’ Association (IWA), a confederation of rank-and-file, self-managed unions and initiatives from 16 countries from around the world, tries to develop it. On our website we inform about struggles at workplaces, their progress, conclusions and lessons learned. We make solidarity actions and focus on creating contacts among the workers. (Last year we supported workers on strike in Ssangyong Motors, Pyeongtaek, where there is also a Yura plant).
If you belong to those employees who think that such activities have practical use or you want to get more information, contact us via email: priamaakcia(at)priamaakcia(dot)sk, or at the address: Priama akcia, PO Box 16; 848 08 Bratislava 48. For more information visit www.priamaakcia.sk.
Slovak section of International Workers’ Association (IWA)