The Cort and Cor-tek workers from Korea are now back with their families and their fellow workers. But the reality of struggling for over 1000 days is a difficult one. Many workers have had to move from their original homes – to rent, to take smaller places, in order to continue this fight. They have had to rely on one income, or turn to day jobs and temporary jobs to try to put food on the table. A group of them even turned to farming – working as day laborers on a farm in exchange for apricots, which they squeezed into a pepper paste to sweeten it and sell jars of over the winter. But no matter what, they go to the factory sit-in daily, support other workers’ struggles in Korea, and they have traveled to Germany, Japan and the US to fight for their rights.
If it was just about their own lives, or the money, then they could have moved on. But that is not the essence of why they struggle.
While working alongside Mr. Bang Jongoon, the Cort union officer who came to LA from Incheon, Korea, it was clear to me that, above all else, he wanted justice. He did not believe workers should be trampled upon, or lied to, or treated so inhumanely, as Cort had done. If he didn’t fight, it wasn’t just him that suffered- it was everyone he had worked with, those who had worked before him, and those who would work after him.
Everywhere we went in LA and Anaheim, he showed the photos of his colleagues and fellow union members, struggling for breath in hospital beds, seriously and chronically diseased by the lack of safety equipment in the factories. He pulled out the more than thirty certified cases of industrial injury that had been recognized by the Korean government and showed it to journalists and passerby in LA and in Anaheim. He showed these certificates to Fender’s legal counsel and public relations.
As another Cort /Cor-tek worker said (you can see this in the video) – she fights so that not only her but her children, as workers, can lift their heads and be treated humanely as workers. It is not just about her,and it is not just about the present.
I was also reminded of this passing by Disneyland on the way to the NAMM Show in January, and reminded of this when we met with UNITE HERE Local 11 workers, who worked in food service at NAMM in the Anaheim Convention Center itself.
At the Disney gates, workers stood holding up banners. They have been in contract negotiations for over two years. Likewise, workers in the Anaheim Convention Center, part of UNITE HERE Local 11, have also struggled over various parts of their contract with management for more than year. Since early February of this year, the 2100 workers of Disneyland hotels have begun a week of actions, including a 7-day hunger strike.
The fact is that affordable health care for oneself and one’s loved ones, full-time job security, and many other working rights are under threat. As workers are relieved and as layoffs continue, the workloads of remaining workers increases greatly, to the detriment of their health.
Sometimes, these very protections – for a regular working day, for health insurance coverage, are not even mentioned, nor even dreamed of, when US companies choose to outsource abroad.
While the specific demands of each of these struggles might be different, at the core of it, the passion for justice is the same. Despite the actions of multinationals and corporations, workers are not disposable. Work that is difficult and backbreaking, whether changing hotel beds repeatedly or making the neck of a guitar, is work that requires breaks, health insurance , workers’ compensation, and adequate safety protection.
Today, a familiar ally and supporter of the Cort guitar workers performed for Disneyland union. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Night Watchman and Street Sweeper Social Club.
And back in Korea, at Club Bbang in the neighborhood of Hongdae, musicians again turned out to support the Cort guitar workers. Bands and musicians like Sohee, Playgirl, and Cosmic Hippie performed.
Sohee even sang a song she had composed FOR the Cort guitar workers’ struggle : “There is Someone on top of the Electric Tower on Han River,” (you can hear it here) referring to the workers’ 30-day hunger strike on a high-wattage transmission tower along the banks of a river in Seoul, as she watched people chatting, jogging, strolling by, oblivious or indifferent.
The lyrics ask: How can we be that different – the workers struggling for their rights, fighting for a chance to breathe on top of the electric tower – and the person below, jogging along the Han River?
We have a chance to prove again that we really are NOT that different – that we are united- musicians, workers and ordinary citizens – when a Cort worker returns to LA in March. That’s right- mid-March! Stay tuned to this blog for more details! MARCH 11th – 19th!
Pictures from the show at Club Bbang Jan. 27th, 2010