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Putting The Brakes On The Corporate Machine

16 Aug 2012

Whenever we hear the drumbeat about needing to work harder because productivity is slowing—and that it s a relentless theme emanating from the Coalition and its business allies—it’s always good to stop for a moment and ask: what is the price for working harder for the sake of fattening some CEO’s wallet? Which is why a labor dispute at Hyundai in South Korea is worth paying attention to.

Hyundai workers are pushed, pushed, pushed…so hard that it verges on inhumane. It’s a shiny, buffed-up picture of a sweatshop. But, the union, led by union president Moon Yong-moon, wants to put a stop to this, per this report in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required):

Mr. Moon has brought a decade-long fight to end night-shift production to a head with a series of strikes that have cut Hyundai’s output by 40,000 vehicles worth 804.5 billion won ($712 million.)

A fresh strike is set for Friday and the union says it plans more if the company doesn’t agree to end night-shift work beginning in mid-2013 and meet other wage and hiring demands. The company now runs two 10-hour shifts at its domestic assembly plants and Mr. Moon is pressing for two eight-hour shifts.

Why seems pretty obvious:

While major global car makers including General Motors Co. run plants into the night—as do all of South Korea’s auto companies—Mr. Moon argues that night-shift work is unhealthy. “Working through the night has caused chronic fatigue, sleep disorders and indigestion for workers,” he said in an interview. “In some cases, it is also to blame for family troubles.” [emphasis added]

So, this is important. If a movement of workers, in an industry long at the tip of the sword of the relentless drive by corporations to push human beings to the limit, is saying, “no more”, that demand can, and should, reverberate beyond the auto assembly line and far beyond the shores of South Korea. It can, and should be, a rallying cry for all workers who want to preserve a semblance of control, sanity and reasonable balance in their lives.