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Stand up against Samsung! Save Gangjeong village!

By Kungsoo Park

It's very difficult to stand up against the chaebol, the large conglomerate companies. In the past decades, such conglomerates have been gaining ever greater power. Through its pro-market reforms, the government has provided much support for their growth. The law even protects big conglomerates from getting prosecuted for abuse of power or corruption. While I understood these realities intellectually, I only began to personally experience the significance of the current situation during the peace action against Samsung C&T.

7 March, 2012 was an unforgettable day. It was the first round of blasting of the Gureombi rock in order to construct a naval base. Gureombi is the name of the volcanic rock formation on Jeju Island where the naval base was to be constructed and it quickly became the symbol of the peace campaign. For millennia, Gureombi had been a place of gathering and pray for the villagers. It was a spiritual place for the religious, and it was a school for peace loving people who came to Jeju Island. Since 2007, activists and peace-loving people had been involved in a campaign to stop the construction of a new naval base in Gangjeong village The naval base would be used by the United States and that it would involve the removal of the inhabitants from their home town. Many people also wanted to protect Jeju’s natural reserves.

Massive blasting, however, completely changed the situation. Every day more of this precious volcanic rock formation – home to various endangered species – was being blasted away. We needed to do something new in order to stop the destruction. The villagers and activists resisted extensively as the government sent more riot police to Jeju Island. People resisting in Gangjeong village faced hefty fines and arrest. We all realized that action and protest needed to be directed towards Samsung C&T, the company sub-contracted to build the naval base and an affiliate of the Samsung Group.

Samsung is Korea’s largest company: it has 20% market capitalization of the stock market. Their power and influence in the country is omnipotent. Samsung prevents the formation of labour unions, which would fight against work-related deaths due to leukaemia. Such deaths keep increasing within Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor plants. Yet, these deaths are never recognized as industrial accidents. How could Samsung succeed in maintaining its no union policy? How does Samsung stand above the law? The reason is Samsung’s great power and connection through such clubs as the Samsung Scholarship Members. Under that scholarship an elite corps attains power in politics, the media , and the judiciary Many high officers in the police force, the law , and the military become members of Samsung after retiring. In addition, Samsung C&T has not only constructed the Jeju naval base, but also many other US bases and houses under the relocation plan for years. Samsung Techwin, also a subsidiary of the Samsung Group, is a major defence related company that produces many artillery systems such as the K9 self-propelled howitzers. Samsung is a war profiteer. And they have the law in their favour.

World Without War activists prepared a nonviolent direct action against Samsung C&T. We wanted the public to know that Samsung was responsible for destroying Gureombi rock and asked Samsung C&T to stop construction. On 29 March 2012, we WWW campaigners headed for their headquarters with several cans of red paint. We planned to take pictures of the Samsung C&T office covered with red paint, symbolising the blood of the Gangeong villiagerswho died in the work-sites on Gureombi rock. Three of us pretended to be Gureombi rock and wore white clothes with name tags. Another three pretended to be Samsung C&T officers (identified by name tag) and would pour the paint on us. The idea originated from the action by a Spanish group at a general meeting of the BBVA bank. However, there were many security guards of S1, one of the Samsung subsidiaries, around the building. As we arrived near the gate in a car, several guards came to us in a threatening manner. We had to decide quickly either to continue or just stop. Some of us chose to continue and ran out of the car to stand in front of the logo of Samsung C&T, others following with the red paint. Some reached the logo area, but the others were stopped by the security guard’s violent attack on them.security guards. The guards managed to drag us to the road. We in turn managed to finish our action successfully.

This year (2013) I received a letter from a District Court. We, activists who had taken part in the action, were each summarily fined 700,000 won (approximately $600 ). We were prosecuted for the violation of such laws as Interference with business, joint housebreaking, joint property damage, the Law on Assembly and Demonstration. Moreover, Samsung C&T claimed damages valued about 20 million won (approximately $18,000 ) for their clothes, shoes, belts and cost of cleaning! They also demanded millions of won in compensation for the cleaning of the ground surrounding the building.

We applied l to the District Court for a formal trial. If we just accept the results of the summary trial, what is left for us to do to stop construction or to fight for peace? We had planned a nonviolent direct action in front of Samsung C&T building; however, the violent behaviour of the S1 security guards escalated the situation that has resulted in a dangerous situation for us.. We believe that the right to resist and protest is an essential tool in struggling against war and the destruction of a community. Now we will face Samsung’s large and strong legal team and their powerful arsenal to stop opposition to the company.

We need your help and support to fight Samsung in the court and we appeal to you to write letters of support, this will help us greatly . Send letters to us by email to (peace@withoutwar.org) and we will submit them to the District Court. We will also keep you informed regularly of what happens. These solidarity letters will be much appreciated and valued.

http://www.withoutwar.org/