Guitar Workers + Musicians United!

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

“We won’t be coming home tonight” – Will you join us?

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2010 at 2:36 am

Lyrics of Tom Morello's song "Worldwide Rebel Song"

There’s a line in the song by Tom Morello that he created especially for the January 13th concert for the Cort workers that struck me : “We won’t be coming home tonight.”

Sometimes you have to leave home to fight your battle. Sometimes you can’t go home, or there is really no home, until there is justice.

For guitar workers from Korea then, going to the NAMM Show in Anaheim meant going the farthest from home they had ever been – Los Angeles, USA. Trying to win their jobs back has meant a sit-in occupation of their factories in Korea, to prevent Cort Guitars from continuing its illegal move from Korea to China and Indonesia. For Lee Ingeun, Cor-tek worker, it meant living in a high-wattage electricity tower for more than 30 days without food, to try to raise awareness of the issue.

Sit-in tent outside the Cort factory, Incheon

The meeting space within the Cort factory

Not everyone understands this- that we can’t go home tonight. One attendee at the NAMM show told us to go away. Some businessman at the Yokohama Music Fair told the workers, “Go back to Korea!”

If only. Had the company, Cort Guitars, and the CEO Yung-Ho Park, been willing to negotiate with its workers, the Cort and Cor-tek workers wouldn’t be forced to travel so many miles to make this issue be known to an international audience.

Distance from Incheon, Korea to Los Angeles, NAMM Show: 6012 miles

Distance from Incheon to Yokohama Music Fair, Japan: 738 miles

Distance from Incheon to Frankfurt, MusikMesse: 5360 miles

Total distance traveled, when including round-trip flights, is 24,220 miles. That’s almost 25,000 miles traveled by each Cort and Cor-tek workers

In the solidarity and support shown by musicians like Tom Morello and Boots Riley  and ordinary citizens in LA, the Cort and Cor-tek workers and their supporters began to feel like they might be able to go home again.

In turn, the Cort workers have found small moments to exchange and contribute to local or timely issues. One was by donating the proceeds of the Cort worker solidarity concert to Haiti earthquake relief – which included both donations and Tom Morello’s merchandise sales. This will go to Doctors Without Borders’ fund for Haiti.

Another moment to contribute to local LA issues was when the Orange County Labor Federation met with the Cort and Cor-tek workers. At that meeting, the labor leaders, who included the local International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the US, its Territories and Canada and the local Teamsters Union, presented their own struggle – with Korean-American officials who claimed that the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement was unanimously supported by the Korean people. In fact, according to these labor leaders, the Korean-American officials had accused the unions of being anti-Korean.

On this matter, the Cort and Cor-tek workers, the Korean Metal Workers Union members, and the cultural supporters could reassure them that this was far from the truth. They went on record to tell the unions gathered at the Federation that the US-Korea FTA was something that South Korean people had gathered in the tens of thousands to protest in the streets.

So, from those without homes in Haiti to the struggle to save US jobs from Free Trade Agreements, the Cort and Cor-tek workers went far from home in more ways than one to exchange and build with musicians, groups and everyday people in LA and Anaheim. We hope this linked and connected struggle for freedom and justice continues to grow!

Again, there are many things you can do to support the Cort and Cor-tek workers from wherever you are. Contact us at, Sign the petition, forward this to music and guitar blogs, and tell Fender you want to see justice for the Cort guitar workers!


The word from Fender…

In Take Action, Uncategorized, Update on January 22, 2010 at 6:33 am

On Sunday, January 17th, Cort and Cor-tek guitar workers and cultural arts supporters from Korea and the US met with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation at the Hilton Hotel in Anaheim.

A sizable portion of Cort’s production is for Fender. The percentage is not known exactly at this time, but the Cort workers estimated it could be as high as 50% of Cort’s orders. (This page from Fender’s website shows how one can spot if their own Fender guitar is made in Korea (C is for Cort). This page shows how one can tell if their Squier guitar, a brand owned by Fender, has been made by Cort Guitars.)

As we stated in an earlier post, Fender claimed it had no idea of the workers’ situation and stated that it will conduct an investigation. Musicians like Tom Morello and Fender’s own endorser, musician Wayne Kramer, of the band MC5, have spoken to Fender on the Cort worker’s behalf.

Kramer, performing at our action in front of the NAMM Show on Saturday, Jan. 16th, with Cort worker Bang Jongoon appreciating his music next to him.

The meeting was an opportunity for the workers to present the facts about Cort’s illegal mass dismissal and its movement of its factories to China and Indonesia. It was also a brief time to clearly state their conditions for a fair investigation of Cort by Fender.

For Cort union officer Mr. Bang, as someone who worked at Cort for more than twenty years, one of the key points of struggle, and one of the most tangible, is the company’s refusal to pay worker’s compensation for workers who have been certified as those injured on the job. The Cort and Cor-tek workers brought to the meeting documents officially recognizing approximately thirty workers who were considered victims of industrial accident or injury.

Ultimately, Fender’s PR and legal counsel promised to conduct a fair and independent investigation that would rely on testimony and documents from both sides as well as from third-party sources, and to keep the workers updated on the investigation’s progress. For the Cort workers and their supporters, a fair process would involve consistent representation and participation by the union (and not just a closed dialogue between the companies Cort and Fender).

Fender’s PR and legal counsel asked the workers, “At the end of the process, what do you ultimately want to see as an outcome?” The workers explained, as they have throughout their struggle, that they want Cort to reopen its factories in Korea, that they want to return to work, and to do so with the company’s recognition of their right to collectively bargain with the company.

However, what the workers thought only part and parcel of a fair investigation, that Fender stop new orders with Cort until the investigation was concluded, was not something that Fender promised, although they stated they would look into it. In a sense, the inability to commit to this leaves the bread and butter of Cort’s operations running smoothly.

What we also learned at the end of the meeting was that while Fender has an internal Code of Conduct, it does not require the companies abroad who produce its guitars to abide by it.

While it is not necessarily a surprise that this is the case, this lack of worker safeguards for a process as dangerous and difficult as the mass production of guitars shows a familiar but disturbing double standard; the protections that American workers receive in Fender’s factories on US shores are not extended to the Korean workers who made its guitars for decades, or, for that matter, the Chinese and Indonesian workers making them now. We can only imagine, if Cort company treated their Korean workers so badly for decades, how the Chinese and Indonesian workers are faring now.

See this video for a recurring theme: guitar workers who stay with a company for decades. Meet Abigail Ybarra, who has been with Fender since 1956 (at 6:19 in the video). Why would it be any different for a worker who has been with Cort for decades? Of course they want to keep making guitars.

The video ends with the punchline, what most people assume and yet is not 100% true: “Fender guitars, made in America.”

How could Fender or other American guitar companies not know?

During the NAMM Show, a German manufacturer that had contracted with Cort in the 1980s, came up to us and told us that his company used to work with Cort in the 1980s. As a product manager, he had visited the factory many times a year. When he visited, he was appalled that the workers had to live with such conditions – without the proper masks, without the proper ventilation equipment above the workstations. He remembered the Cort factory as a ‘hell.’ To be clear, the ‘80s were also when many of the American guitar companies that we know began relying on Cort for their budget guitar production.

While this German music industry insider didn’t know what the conditions at Cort were like now, he told us it was hard to believe that companies could claim to not know the working conditions at Cort. He said that any product manager would visit the factory at least 10 times a year to check on production and to ensure quality control.

Perhaps the problem is that the long hours, the lack of workers’ compensation, the forced resignations, the sexual harassment, and other such degrading conditions are not visible to the naked eye nor taking place as an American business partner visits. Just as Jack Westheimer recalled for us that the Cort factories were ‘state of the art’ – when we are talking about the number of face masks a worker gets a week, or whether they are being arbitrarily switched around workstations by managers, these may not part of a standard checklist for quality control.

As the German manufacturer stated, ‘It is different now. Now we have to pay attention to these conditions, the environment, everything. “ I would say, rather, that we should have been paying attention from the beginning.

After all, the motto of Fender is “Make History.” Let it be the first among the legendary guitar giants to live up to its motto and make history by implementing a Code of Conduct that guarantees basic worker protections for all workers, whether they are based on American shores or abroad.

If you are like many- a music lover, a Fender fan, a believer in worker rights- please tell Fender you want to see justice for the Cort workers.

Reactions from Cort and Fender

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2010 at 7:17 pm

The irony and wonder of the trade show is that while its key purpose is to facilitate business, it is also an opportunity when the companies that normally cannot be reached, that are scattered all over the globe, that have shiny public relations machines, all gather in one place. In that space, companies acquire names and faces, and in the quasi-public eye of buyers and sellers of their products, they can be called on to be accountable to basic labor standards. For the Cort and Cor-tek workers, coming to the NAMM show was just such an opportunity.

Many people at NAMM have asked us – What is the reaction of Cort? What about its business partners like Fender?

We haven’t gotten any official response from Cort directed to the Cort and Cor-tek guitar workers during the US delegation. However, there have been moments to meet and hear from Cort in other ways.

Before our taped interview was broadcast last Thursday, Jan. 7th, on KPFK 90.7, Maria Armoudian’s show “The Insighters” (archived show link here), Cort sent a response. In it, they asserted something preposterous that not even the radio host could put on air; that the workers demonstrating against Cort Guitars were not guitar workers, but in fact, professional labor activists.

In their own words,

The majority of the demonstrators are professional labor activists, not former guitar workers.

The Cort and Cor-tek guitar workers are ALSO union members and officers.  This does not negate their decades of work at the Cort and Cor-tek factories. For Cort to assert such bold-faced lies to a radio station shows again their sense of impunity and how much they play with the truth.

Cort Guitars also asserted that it was 2 strikes, one in 2005, and one in 2006, that caused it to move factories to China and Indonesia, since these strikes and the demands of the labor union ‘undermined their efficiency.’

However, it is stated in this article in Entrepreneur magazine that, starting in 1992, the company began to look for new production sites BECAUSE of the union.

The company steadily added manufacturing capacity in Korea until 1992. Then the combination of rising costs and difficulties with labor unions prompted Park to search for new production sites.

The workers themselves remember that they were being laid off in batches during this decade, and formed a union to ensure some job security. Again, news media that may have based their article on interviews with Cort employees contradict the claims in Cort’s counter press release to KPFK.

Gene Simmons of KISS at the Cort booth, where he endorsed a custom-built Cort guitar

Another moment to encounter Cort came inside the show, when Cort/Cor-tek hosted a press conference and a photo session for fans of Gene Simmons of the band, KISS. KISS, for anyone who may not know, is a NYC rock band from the 1970s known for their personas and dramatic stage performances (and in shorthand, their makeup). However, Cort/Cor-tek employees in the booth, without any explanation,banned the Hankyoreh 21 reporter, although other press were allowed inside the booth.

Gene Simmons, photo source: E!Online/ Kevin Masur/

Later, two employees of Cort/ Cor-tek came out to ask the reporter to leave the area around the booth entirely, saying that artists were not people to ask questions about Cort’s labor violations.

Barring a reporter from asking questions of their endorser is one thing. But to ask us to leave the area entirely, and indirectly threaten us in the process, saying, “We may ask you nicely now, but you may force us to use different methods later,” directly revealed their willingness to bend the law to get what they wanted, and their lack of openness on the issue.

In the course of arguing that the Hankyoreh reporter needed to leave their booth area, the Cort-tek employee even claimed that sullying the name of Cort guitars would not just look bad for the brand, but also ‘look bad for Korea.’ The Cor-tek employee also tried to win the reporter over with an empathetic appeal – “You see, this is how I make my living. If you ruin the company, then you are taking that away from me. You should understand that I can’t just stand by and watch you do that.”

This is precisely what we are asking Cort Guitars to do- to understand the impact of taking away hundreds of livelihoods.

Within the NAMM show, we also approached Jack Westheimer himself, a co-founder of Cort credited with building the brand and building its OEM relationships in the US. In response to the Hankyoreh reporter’s questions about Cort’s labor violations, he kept telling him that the factory was state-of-the-art, that the floors were so clean that people could eat off of them, that the humidity control was finely tuned, etc. When he was pressed to answer about labor violations which are less visible to the naked eye, he dismissed the Cort Action rally outside, saying it was  ‘small’ and also ‘too extreme.’

When Gene Simmons came strolling out of the show and into the public walkway, a Cort/Cor-tek employee actually shoved me out of the way as I tried to approach him, but as if a towering rock god, he agreed to answer one question with a wave of a hand.

I asked,” Do you know about Cort’s labor rights violations?” He didn’t understand at first, but when he realized I was asking about Cort, the company he had agreed to endorse,  he resolutely answered, “I am a firm believer in capitalism. If you don’t like a workplace, you can just go to another one.”

Critiques of capitalism aside, what Cort Guitars engages in is not within the rules of the game – Lying to its workers, breaking the labor laws, dodging workers’ compensation cases by asking injured workers to sign resignation papers, and not appearing when called for an investigation by the National Assembly – these go beyond what any workplace should engage in. This is a workplace that is anti-worker. Who can work in such a place?

Simmons, without knowing any of the details and only hearing the words ‘labor dispute,’ also stated, “This has nothing to do with you or me. This is between the workers and the company.”

But is it possible for labor disputes to be resolved in an internal process when the company, like Cort, simply fires its workers and switches its factories to union-free workplaces in China and Indonesia? Everyone so far at NAMM and in LA and in Japan have assured me this is not true. We are all part of the system of guitar production, even if we are just the consumers at the end or the musicians who build the demand for them. How do we allow a workplace, any workplace, to be a mini-fiefdom?

As for Fender…

Before the Cort workers arrived in LA, we sent a letter to the CEO, to the VP of Global Manufacturing at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation as well as to the VP of the Supply Chain. Musicians Tom Morello and Wayne Kramer also spoke to Fender’s public relations to request an explanation.

We requested a meeting during the week between Jan. 11 and the 17th, and Fender public relations and legal counsel have granted us a meeting on the last day, today, Jan. 17th.

Fender stated in its letter to the Cort workers that they didn’t know about the labor law violations of Cort and that it will conduct an appropriate investigation of the matter.

For us, ‘appropriate investigation’ means that it will be fair, independent, and thorough. We would like continuous participation and input from the workers and the union.  We would like to be updated on the timely progress of the investigation, and we would like the results to be made public.  We hope that Fender takes the testimony of the workers to heart, especially since the Cort company has such a history of dishonesty, both with its business partners and with its workers.

Cort Action at NAMM

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm

The Cort/ Cor-tek guitar workers from Korea and the Korean Metal Workers Union at NAMM

After two days of actions at NAMM Show , we have stopped hundreds of NAMM attendees in their tracks.

How? We have a set up a staging area outside Hall B. We have stated the truth about Cort Guitars and its US business partners such as Fender.

On Thursday, we opened with a press conference at 2. LA and Orange County labor unions, organizations, and members of UNITE HERE Local 11 along with members of the AFL-CIO United Steel Workers Local 675 and the Carwash Workers Campaign came to support and to speak. Phoenix Benjamin, a musician invited to the NAMM show for his custom guitar, also spoke from a musician’s point of view. “We can’t just sit back and watch these things happen.”

Bang Jongoon, Cort union president, worker at Cort for 21 years, speaking.

Lee In-geun, Cor-tek union president, worker at Cor-tek for 10 years, speaking.

In two days, we have received hundreds of petition signatures. Many have told us they will take the 1-page factsheet we have gathered and go to the Cort booth under Westheimer, the Fender booth and the Ibanez booth, and express their sense of injustice at the way the Cort workers have been treated.

One NAMM attendee asserted,

This is not just a problem for Cort. This is a problem for the industry.  This is not what NAMM is about! We have to show that we support ethical workplaces, that we do not condone this type of treatment of workers.”

As vice president of a music company, he had spoken to NAMM’s director himself.

Some NAMM exhibitors, like ESP Guitar’s president, assure us: We NEVER contracted with Cort.

Others, like Avalon Guitar’s director, Steve McIlwrath, updated us: We STOPPED our contract with Cort.

Both had the same reason. They didn’t think Cort Guitars did business honestly. They didn’t trust their CEO or their management.

ESP mentioned John Park, the person in charge of OEM, and Avalon the CEO himself, as people that couldn’t be trusted, that had not done business honestly. Avalon’s director has gone on the record on behalf of the campaign to say that CEO Yung Ho Park had tried to cheat him and cut corners in the way he did his business.

We have asked for musicians to support us at NAMM. And they have come.

Like Samantha Clemons, LA-based singer/songwriter.

Yesterday, Phoenix Benjamin, a musician invited to NAMM, performed for Cort Action on his 9-string guitar.

Artists and musician Steve Noonan, also invited to perform at NAMM, stopped by and contributed his songs to the Cort guitar rally.  A young musician with Two Joints Later jumped up the volume and sang his heart out.

Tomorrow, the delegation has a meeting scheduled with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

Today at 2 pm in front of NAMM, we will make a lot of noise and music. Please join us. Hall B!

What are guitars for?

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2010 at 5:04 pm

All the musicians performing for A NIGHT OF GUITARS, a solidarity concert for the Cort guitar workers, showed us: Guitars are not for exploitation.

We are all buoyed up by a great concert last night, Jan. 13th- Tom Morello! Boots Riley! Wayne Kramer! SKIM! Shin Kawasaki! and more… it was a night full of guitars and guitarists, all performing to raise awareness and in preparation for our NAMM Show actions in Anaheim Thurs- Sat. of this week.

We decked the halls of Nanum Cultural Center in Koreatown with pictures, projections and art from the Cort worker’s struggle, opened the doors wide. And then the people came, and then the music washed over us…

(To see the pictures of this and any post in their full glory, click on the blog post title)

starting the night with 풍물, or rural Korean drumming, (to keep the spirits up for the hard work of farming)

followed by the songs and poetry of MARY ROSE GO

with performances by DAVID TRAN aka “Applesauce,” and Shin Kawasaki, here with concert organizer SKIM

and SHIN KAWASAKI going solo, bringing on the layers and layers of sound…

with surprise guest WAYNE KRAMER of the MC5

and to one of Cort Action’s dedicated supporters, TOM MORELLO of Rage Against the Machine, performing as The Night Watchman, a big THANK YOU !

and then, when we thought it couldn’t get any better, he brought out BOOTS RILEY for a set as Street Sweeper Social Club.  Boots took the small staging area and turned it into his own map of the world, as the band performed narratives about people struggling, both here in LA and around the world.

From SKIM integrating “No! Cort” into her lyrics to Tom’s anger against union busting companies like Cort, the night wrapped around the idea and the reality of musicians and guitar workers in solidarity…

The Cort worker delegation, who came up to the stage with Tom Morello –

sang the last song of the night, and the audience joined us, fists raised in the air.

Thanks to all the folks who came out to support, signed our petition to Cort and Fender, who shared their photography and video skills, and all the volunteers who got signatures and passed out drinks and the donation box. Thanks especially to KIWA Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance and Nanum Cultural Center for the space, the support, and the steady presence throughout these days.

We are now truly ready for the NAMM Show actions Jan. 14- 16th.

Even if you weren’t there for the concert, stay posted to the blog for video clips from the concert and remember to sign the petition.

1/13 Night of Guitars concert: Tom Morello, Boots Riley, and more!

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Sometimes, when musicians take a stand on an issue, they do so through their art. Sometimes, they take it a step farther. They create communities, they facilitate exchange, and they literally take a stand by throwing their name and inserting their presence where workers and farmers and people who are being oppressed have gathered.

In case, people didn’t catch it on the schedule, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Boots Riley of The Coup, collaborating on their project, Street Sweeper Social Club will be playing Wednes. Jan. 13 at 7pm, at a concert in support of the Cort guitar workers.

Address: 3471 West 8th Street.LA CA 90005. Donation Welcome!

Once again, and unbelievable, that’s Tom Morello:

and Boots Riley!

playing a show alongside LA artists Skim, Shin Kawasaki, David Tran, Albert Chiang and Sue Jin Kim.

Morello also offered a statement of support:

“Guitars should be a means to liberation, not exploitation. I fully support the Korean workers’ demands for justice in the workplace. All American guitar manufacturers and the people that play them should hold Cort accountable for the awful way they have treated their workers. Without us, they would go out of business. Simple as that. No one should have their job taken away because they stand up for their rights.”

Morello’s organization, Axis of Justice, additionally covered the story on their site: You can find it here.

Hope to see LA area music lovers and Cort supporters at the concert tomorrow night!

Main Schedule for Cort Action LA

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2010 at 10:21 am

The full schedule of events will continually be updated here on the blog. Listed below are the MAIN EVENTS for press, for musicians, and for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Cort and Cor-tek guitar workers’ struggle. Please forward widely and come out to support!

January 12 (Tues.) 11am – noon
L.A. Press conference

@ KIWA Cultural Education Center, 1st flr.
3471 West 8th St. , LA 90005

Cort Guitar workers present their demands for Cort Guitars and companies
like Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, G&L, Cort’s business partners.

January 13 (Wed.) 7pm – 10pm
Cort Action Solidarity Concert: A Night of Guitars

@ KIWA Cultural Education Center
3471 W. 8th St., LA 90005

Hear the workers’ testimony about Cort Guitars +
Tom Morello, Skim, and many more musicians and artists perform.

January 14 (Thurs.) 2pm – 3pm
NAMM Show Press Conference (Anaheim)

@ Anaheim Convention Center, NAMM Show
800 West Katella Avenue, Anaheim 92802

January 16 (Sat.) 2pm – 5pm
Musical Marathon for Cort Action

@ Anaheim Convention Center, NAMM Show
800 West Katella Avenue, Anaheim 92802

Musicians and music lovers perform to let NAMM attendees know about
the ugly truth behind Cort Guitars & Basses.

We would especially love it if musicians and artists could support:

Thurs., January 14, 2 – 4 pm @ NAMM, Anaheim Convention Center

Fri., January 15, between 10-6pm @ NAMM, Anaheim

Sat. January 16, 2-5 pm@ NAMM

This Saturday is the day when anyone and everyone who can move, shake and rattle should carpool and join in on the noise- to let the industry know: it’s not just about the instrument, it’s about the kind of world we want to live in –