Guitar Workers + Musicians United!

Posts Tagged ‘cort’

Raining support at Fuji Rock Fest

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2010 at 4:07 am

Fuji Rock supporters of Cort Action

Did the thugs that beat the workers at the sit-in site stop them? NO –

Did the winter winds that blew up high on the electricity tower where the workers did a hunger strike for 30 days  stop them?  NO –

Did a libelious, false charge against the workers by conservative Dong-a Newspaper stop them? NO – and the courts ruled that Donga News had falsely reported that the union had caused Cort to shut down. Incredible – since their website and industry show appearances show that Cort is clearly speeding on in production in Indonesia and Japan.

So … did the constant rain at Fuji Rock stop the Cort and Cor-tek guitar workers and the cultural workers who came with them from talking to the Fuji Rock attendees?

And did the rain stop Fuji Rock attendees from supporting the Cort workers?

NO and NO. As you can see from the pictures above, the workers and the Fuji Rock attendees were able to talk across language barriers and share the situation of Cort, Fender and Ibanez…

With support from One Day as a Lion (including Zack de la Rocha) and Ozomatli, this Fuji Rock 2010 carried not only the sounds of the musicians, but the voices of the workers who have been making the music possible through their labor —

A Fuji Rock fan writing a solidarity message

Cort guitar workers from Korea with Fuji Rock supporters

A Japanese cultural activist talking about the Cort worker campaign with Fuji Rock attendees

We will post video and photos of the Cort workers speaking during One Day as a Lion and Ozomatli’s performances soon! Stay tuned!


@ Fuji Rock Festival – living like lions

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm

photo credit: Village Voice/ Rebecca Sweyne

For those of you following Cort Action on Facebook, you may have already known, but the Cort and Cor-tek guitar workers are at NGO Village at Fuji Rock Festival.

Fuji Rock Festival, which takes place in Nigata, Japan, is the largest rock festival in Asia, and takes place this year July 30 – August 1st.

Cort worker and their cultural workers in solidarity with them are especially excited since two bands in the lineup at Fuji Rock will support their demands to Cort, Fender and Ibanez.

One of the bands is Ozomatli :

Ozomatli's guitarist, Raul Pacheco, holds up "No Cort' during the samba line (July 2010)

Ozomatli. Source:

And the other band is One Day as a Lion, featuring Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and drummer Jon Theodore from Mars Volta) who released an EP in 2008 and only began performing this year.

Zack de la Rocha performing in One Day as a Lion at Eagle Rock, LA (July 2010). Source: LA Times

One Day as a Lion

These dynamic bands, who have long stood up for worker rights all over the world, bring some incredible energy to the Cort worker campaign.

We hope that at Fuji Rock, music fans and the music industry will be paying attention to the truth – that the cheap guitars of Cort, Fender and Ibanez should not be made at the cost of worker exploitation!

Or, as the inspiration for One Day as a Lion’s name goes, IT IS BETTER TO LIVE ONE DAY AS A LION THAN TO LIVE A THOUSAND DAYS A LAMB.

Musicians standing up for guitar workers’ rights – this is the world we are aiming for.

“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.

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 –

The story behind your guitar

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Outside Shinjuku station, Tokyo, a street musician performs on the body of his guitar.

Many of us, at some point in our lives, have picked up a guitar and strummed it. The guitar invites experimentation in that way. It isn’t made up of a million different keys like the piano, it doesn’t require sharing spit like a horn instrument, and it doesn’t need a bow to bring it to life. It presents a field of strings. Under the pressure of your fingertips alone, without even knowing a single chord, you will make a sound.

Even if you don’t own one, there’s a guitar in your life somewhere. From your elementary school classroom to a concert you’ve attended to the street musician standing on the corner in the city where you live, the guitar has been there.

But the guitar’s ubiquity also attests to its affordability.  Most people do not question the low price of the mass-market guitar. But exactly how is it that an instrument made out of wood, strings, metals, and electronic parts, that needs human workers for assembly and finishing, be so cheap?

Acoustic Guitar Diagram. Source

The answer, and true of the industry for decades, is simple: by outsourcing the labor from abroad, where workers are paid much lower wages. Since the 1970s, for the most part, this has meant outsourcing from Korea. In fact, until very recently, Korean workers made more than half of the world’s guitars.

Since Cort Guitars alone commands 30% of this global guitar market, it is possible that the men and women who worked at the Cort and Cor-tek factories in Korea were making your first guitar. As the folks on Acoustic Guitar Forum tell it, “Between Cort and Samick [another Korean guitar manufacturer], everybody who has played guitar for a while has played one, whether they know it or not.”

The fact that many American, European and Japanese guitars were made in Korea has long been known among guitar aficionados. But unlike the publicity surrounding the export garment industry, the abuses of guitar workers to feed this annual $6 billion dollar industry is rarely publicized.

At the Cort and Cor-tek factores in Daejon and Incheon, ‘cheap guitar’ translated into a pressure for speed, cutting corners on required safety equipment, harassment and forced overtime. They endured the kind of conditions that were optimal for the guitar- not for them. And thus the Cor-tek factory had no windows. A single dust mask was given for an entire week. They couldn’t go home until production goals were met- but weren’t paid for all the extra hours. After 10 years of work, this ‘seniority’ still earned them less than 24 dollars a day.

As one Cort worker told me in Japan, waving his four-fingered hand,

It’s rare to find a worker with all ten of their fingers. Some people are missing multiple fingers, or all of the tips.”

Jack Westheimer, the co-founder of Cort Guitars, acknowledged in this article,

There were two factors driving up costs in Japan and Korea. The first was a labor shortage. In both countries there weren’t enough people willing to do what they called ‘3-D’ jobs: ones that are dirty, dangerous and difficult, like working in a guitar plant. Why work in a guitar plant when you can make more money as a waiter?’

That’s a good question, Jack. WHY work at a guitar plant at such an unlivable wage and in such demeaning conditions?

Still, the wages weren’t low ENOUGH for Yung-ho Park, CEO of Cort Guitars, and Westheimer. And they didn’t like the fact that the Korean Cort and Cor-tek workers were unionizing.

In fact, they picked the move to factories in China and Indonesia, as Westheimer says, because

Unemployment in China is equal to 250 million people, or twice the entire US workforce. With numbers like that, it will be a long time before there’s a labor shortage. The Chinese government believes that strong labor unions reduce employment levels, so there won’t be union problems either. “

And yet both Korea’s National Labor Relations Board and the High Court of Korea ruled that the mass layoffs and the penalization of union members was illegal and discriminatory. Running from the unions – and doing countless other illegal actions, such as hiring thugs to inflict violence on the workers – is this REALLY what is necessary to make a cheap quality guitar?

It’s clear that Cort Guitars is on a race to the bottom.  Guitar companies in the US and elsewhere that seek to have their budget lines should reconsider: Is it worth it?

“Open the factory! We want to work!”

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm

For the Cort and Cor-tek workers in Korea, life was a blur of sawing and grinding wood, painting, varnishing, fitting, sanding. With hardly any time to see their families, they left for work at the factories in Daejon and Incheon while it was still dark outside, and they came home long after the sun had gone down.

Some people ask: ‘Well, if it was such hard work, and the conditions so terrible, why do the workers want Cort to reopen the factory?’

After making guitars for decades, this is not just another job- it is their art and their livelihood. To them, there is nothing like seeing the finished guitar in the factory and then slung on the backs of a musician in the street. They can say, “I made that.”

Of course, it’s not as if many of the Cort or Cor-tek workers themselves had been to the concerts where their guitars were played, or had time to pick it up and learn it themselves.

But through their struggle to be reinstated at Cort Guitars, the solidarity between the musicians and workers has brought the two together in a way that has not often happened before. Now the workers know who buys the guitars, and now musicians care about who makes their guitars.

Yokohama: Cor-tek worker with the Cort guitar he may have made in the factory, altered for a performance at Cream Festival (Nov. 7, 2009).

As musicians, artists, makers, and cultural activists – we believe that the people who make our instruments, who make art and music and beauty possible, should be able to work without fear, without harassment, without discrimination.

The Cort and Cort-tek workers have raised their voices for more than 1000 days of struggle, and we lift our voices with them by making our music, by lifting our brushes, by taking photos, and by telling the workers’ story in whatever way we know how.

Just as music and art are a global language that crosses borders, so is the belief in justice for the workers who make the music possible. So we take action and we ask you to join us – because a world in which workers are denied their rights and livelihoods is not the world in which we can make music.

See some of the past solidarity actions by musicians and artists (Korea, Japan, Germany) and submit your ideas and work to be posted on the Musicians and Artists page.
Even better, come to our actions in LA and Anaheim this coming January 8-17!

No-Cort! solidarity

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm

A supporter in Seoul, Korea holds one-man protest

We ask for your solidarity and creative actions.

This is about the people who made one third of the guitars being circulated worldwide but didn’t own any. Do the names Fender, Ibanez, G&L, or Parkwood sound familiar to you?

Their factory was unventilated and had no windows in the name of ‘high productivity.’ They worked without a break, like hens in cages, and eventually became ill and injured. Some workers lost their fingers in the sawing machines, others suffered from chronic muscle and bone related diseases caused by the sanding and grinding process with only a facemask against the dust. Most of them contracted bronchitis or asthma caused by working in the unventilated paint rooms full of solvents. They worked overtime without being paid for all those hours, arriving early and leaving late, some even collapsing at the factory and then asked to sign resignation papers by their boss while they lay in their hospital beds.

Nevertheless, these Korean workers were happy whenever they saw the gleaming guitars inlaid with mother of pearl, produced by their own hands and exported to countries around the world. They worked hard, day and night, for ten to twenty years with pride. Finally, after establishing their labor union in 2006, they raised their wage to the highest level in 12 years, but the raise only brought them near the minimum wage of Korea.

Meanwhile, Park Young Ho, the CEO of Cor-tek, has built up a fortune of $78Million dollars during this period, at the expense of the workers’ labor. (Click “read more” below to get the rest of the post)

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to the international site for the Cort/Cor-tek workers actions

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Because we believe that there can be no music without the workers who make the instruments.

Because the struggle for the Korean workers at Cort/Cor-tek knows no borders, and needs the support of people around the world, including musicians, activists, journalists, artists, cultural activists and anyone who believes that workers and artists need each other and should fight together for the right to make music that means something, that calls for justice.

On this blog, you can read and hear the Korean guitar workers’ stories, you can see the recent international actions by supporters from around the world, hear from the musicians and artists who support the Cort workers, see the media gallery of actions and events, and contact us or the Cort company and its global sponsors to demand basic justice for the workers.

Cor-tek factory in Daejon, by photographer Noh Soon Taek (노순택 작가)

As  you can see in the photo above, the factories in Korea are quiet, and the half-completed guitars are warping and cracking, gathering dust. For the workers who made these guitars, watching these  guitars turning into waste, the evidence of Cort/Cor-tek Guitars suddenly and without warning shifting their factories overseas, is heartbreaking.

What do they want? They want Cort/ Cor-tek to re-open the factories and let them regain their livelihoods, their dignity, and their identity as guitar workers.

For anyone considering buying a Cort guitar or bass, please reconsider.

Aren’t people worth more than guitars?

For current actions taking place in Korea and a history of the Cort workers actions in solidarity with cultural activists in the Korean language, see this blog: