Angry union members attacked GM Korea's headquarters Thursday, forcing their way into the CEO's office and destroying furniture, according to a several media reports.
For all of its many successes, General Motors' Korean venture has often been at the center of labor violence. And it began at the beginning.
As Automotive News' Asia editor at the time, I was in Seoul in April 2002 for the final negotiations that led to GM's purchase of the effectively bankrupt Daewoo Motor Corp. When the talks concluded, I along with other reporters prepared to cover the signing ceremony. Then the union protesters arrived, wearing red headbands, throwing chairs and in no mood to talk.
We reporters were left in the dark. Would the signing take place? Where? By the time I learned where the parties were meeting -- at one of Daewoo's creditor banks -- it was too late for me to get there. I had to interview the GM executives, including then-Chairman Jack Smith, by phone after the fact.
Only later did I learn all the details. In fact, Smith had to be hustled through a secret trap door in the floor of the room originally scheduled to hold the signing ceremony, as I reported for Automotive News in a special supplement on GM's 100th anniversary.
In that report, I cited the many ways in which GM Korea, at that time still known as GM Daewoo, had helped the automaker expand successfully in China and elsewhere in Asia. I reported that the U.S. automaker eventually made its peace with a feisty autoworkers union in Korea that was prone to strike not only at its plants, but Hyundai's and Kia's, too.
I noted that GM originally placed Daewoo's Pupyong, Korea, plant on notice, saying it would keep it open only if it met quality and productivity targets. The plant did so, and GM rewarded it by giving it enough work to necessitate a second shift.
I concluded, perhaps too optimistically, "GM Daewoo never looked back."
Today, GM Korea says it needs to undergo a thorough restructuring or face bankruptcy. I bet we haven't seen the last chair thrown.
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