* Texts in English and Japanese fwd by Kim Seong-Hean, Chairman of the Samsung General Labor Union on March 18, 2011
* 아래는 삼성 일반 노조(클릭) 김성환 위원장님께서 2011년 3월 18일 보내신 영문, 일어 글들입니다.
“Suggesting a boycott against Samsung here and now!”
There is an ongoing boycott against Samsung in Korea. It is because Samsung, wielding great power over the whole state as the “invisible hand”, has been covertly suppressing civil freedom. The term “Samsung” has long since become a taboo among the public sphere in Korean society. Even progressive media feel some uneasiness with making critical remarks about Samsung. Major dailies do not even allow an ad for books with critical posture against Samsung. In a situation like this, the following is the article which triggered the boycott against Samsung. I call for your attention and participation.
The book Thinking about Samsung, written by Kim Yong-Cheol who once worked as a lawyer in Law Department and Financial Department in Samsung, brutely exposes internal corruptions that have been going on in Samsung. That what this book says is not ungrounded or false, is clear from the fact that Samsung or Lee Gun-hee has not yet given any response.
However, we will not be able to get to the heart of the problem, if we only rage against internal corruptions of Samsung. Probably almost every company would more or less have been engaged in irregularities. The real problem is not that Samsung has committed irregularities, but that the very group covertly holds a control over Korean society.
Throughout the harsh period of financial crisis, Korean society has undergone serious changes. Everyone became inclined to think that money rules. Correspondingly, the capital became a dominating power in Korean society. When Roh Mu-hyeon, the former president of Korea, said that the power was yielded to the market from the government, his remark reflected the reality at that time.
Yet his remark was not accurate, although not incorrect. If he had been more honest, he would have said that Samsung, not the market, took over the power. What dominates is the capital, not the market. Precisely speaking, people with the capital rule over us. If everyone had equal power, no one would be able to keep anyone under his/her control. Every power arises from unequally concentrated resources. Likewise, the power of the capital arises from unequal possession of the capital. Samsung's portion increased at a rapid rate, which enabled Samsung to eventually override every other company and become the dominant power.
The wave of so-called “neo-liberalism” re-structured the whole state to be an enterprise, so that even the president refers to himself as the CEO of the (stock company) Korea. Most people find it all fine and good that the government, avowing itself to be a company, offers a job for each of them. But we had better not forget that under a capitalist society like this, the essential raison d'etre of an enterprise is profit, not human being. A job offered by such an enterprise, is not to enhance the quality of human lives, but only to take human as a means to secure its own profit.
Furthermore, an enterprise is the most despotic organization. Have you ever seen an enterprise whose president is elected by employees? What it means for a state to be assimilated to an enterprise is for it to become a despotic state. An enterprise state is a state under the enterprise-dictatorship. Of course, we vote for the CEO of the state every 5 years. Unfortunately, he is just a deputy. There is a “chairman” who really has control.
What has shown us the real power structure, is the fact that Lee Gun-hee, the former chairman of Samsung, got pardoned under a special amnesty, greeting winter Olympic team with president Lee Myung-Bak at the dinner party. Democracy of a state is under a serious threat when there exists an unelected power behind the scene. This is the reason why we cannot but face up to Samsung and the Lee family.
Some might question the point of the boycott: Why pick out only for Samsung? Are other major conglomerates any better? But these questions arise from ignorance about the power structure. It is as absurd as asking why Park Jung-Hee was the sole enemy, notwithstanding the existence of other military authorities or the Repulicans 40 years ago. Only after expelling Park from power could we bring an end to the “Yushin” dictatorship. Only after bringing Jun Doo-Hwan from the power were we able to abolish dictatorship of the military authorities. Correspondingly, we cannot envisage the end of enterprise-dictatorship without expelling Samsung from power. It is because Samsung and Lee Gun-Hee are at the top of the hierarchy of our time. Today, Samsung is not merely a company, but the invisible hand which wields power over the state. If major conglomerates of our time can be likened to the military authorities of at the time of dictatorship, Samsung can be likened to Hanah-circle which was the actual power of the authorities and likewise, ‘the chairman’ can be likened to ‘the president’.
This is why we oppose to Samsung and the Lee family. It is not that Samsung is a major conglomerate, nor that Lee Gun-Hee is the richest capitalist. We are not saying, blindly, that caplitalism or the market economy is the root of all social evils that has to be overthrown. The reason why we criticize Samsung and the Lee family and insist on kicking out the Lee family from Samsung is not merely that Lee Gun-Hee is a capitalist and Samsung is an enterprise. Rather, it is that they are autocratic who oppress our liberty and ruin the justice of the state.
As long as an enterprise, keeping its place, contributes to improving the economy and welfare of the society, we are ready to support such an enterprise. However, when an enterprise exploits its capital only to secure its own profit, bribes public officials to throw state organizations into corruption and threatens the publicity and democracy of the state, such an enterprise and such a capitalist cannot help but be overthrown. All depravity of Samsung is not merely unlawful acts that all enterprises commits under a capitalist society, but something that has its distinctive source in the privileged power of Samsung. It is Samsung's power that make Samsung anti-social in the way that other enterprises are not.
If you want to see how anti-social Samsung is, ask one of the disabled whether Samsung fulfills its obligation of hiring 2% of disabled people. How about this? 3 Years ago, off the coast of Taean, a ship of Samsung corp. crashed against an extra-large oil tanker, which made the west coast of Chungnam province a sea of death. What Samsung did in the first place after this tragic accident was manipulating the ship's log in order to evade its responsibility. Although the local national Maritime police did give an alarm, Samsung pretended as if they had never received one. When millions of people were busy wiping off the oil at the coast of Taean, Samsung kept on pretending not to know anything, being reluctant to issue an apology. When Samsung finally issued one 50 days after the accident, they were at the same time appealing to the court for a lower amount (5 billion won) of compensation.
Even the court was on Samsung's side. On the 24th of January this year, They ruled that Samsung was not responsible for any more than 5.6 billion won(≒4.6 million U. S. dollars), which Samsung had already deposited. This is surely more than the money Samsung had put in Kim Yong-Cheol's borrowed-name bank account secretly, (5.2 billion won) but less than the price of an apartment that Samsung corp. has built. Considering that the operating profit of Samsung was 11 trillion won, 5.6 billion won is as little money as coins in a pocket. Samsung is an enterprise with astronomical amount of slush fund, which is exploited for illicit political funds and bribery of public officials, nonetheless an enterprise without any money to compensate for an accident for which it is responsible.
The kinds of affairs mentioned above make us feel hatred toward Samsung emotionally, but that is not the real problem. Like every other autocratic power, Samsung stands outside the law and order. Samsung both establishes and eliminates laws for its own profit, bribes political official if that is not feasible, or blatantly ignores the law when both possibilities are blocked. When the fraudulent book was handed over to the court, they bribed the court so as to take it back and burn it. An employee of Samsung once snatched away and tore into pieces the record that Fair Trade Commission had secured.
It would be misleading, however, if we supposed Samsung to be a crime organization of some sort. The problem of Samsung is not that it frequently evades the law or that it commits irregularities, but that it takes national organizations as its own means of profit and that it attempts to incapacitate all public functions that the government is supposed to perform.
Protecting the poor and the weak is the essential raison d'etre of the state. Many countries established and has been enlarging the social security system regardless of their difference in ideology. When Korean government tried to broaden the scope of the national pension, Samsung was the first and foremost enterprise to oppose to the plan. It was because Samsung life insurance Co. would no longer be able to sell their insurance if the government did its job. What is it to live in the world that Samsung dreams of? It is the world where the rich is treated like a king in a VIP room in Samsung hospital, even for a trifling flu, while the poor with fatal disease cannot but let the disease to slowly lead him to death. It is the world where the rich swims in his own pool which is filled up with imported spring water, while the poor, being unable to pay the expensive water utility fees, has to use public restroom and live upon rainwater.
In order to prevent this misery, we have to de-structure Samsung as soon as possible. Just like we became able to enjoy civil freedom and democracy after, and only after banishing Park Jung-Hee, Jun Doo-Hwan and military authorities from the power, it would not be possible to bring an end to the enterprise-dictatership without depriving the power of ‘the chairman’ and destructing the organization of Samsung.
Boycotting against Samsung's products is the first step towards the abolition of the dictatorship. That the government is no longer able to control Samsung became obvious, given the trial which was little more than a name and the special amnesty that even made the trial come to nothing. To expect of the state organizations, which has already been bribed by Samsung, to correct Samsung to be a good company, is as unrealistic as to expect of a secretary to scold at his/her chairman's illegal deeds in order to rectify his conduct.
Then, who is it to de-structure Samsung and get it on the right track? No other than customers. The well-known saying that a customer is a king, is not a mere self-congratulation. Although it is admitted that money is transformed into the capital once it starts to propagate itself, the capital can never be accumulated by itself. It is accumulated by exploiting the labor force of workers on the one hand, by emptying customers' wallets on the other. Even without the state can the capital propagate itself. It is also the central reason why the capital is not controlled by the state. But without workers and customers, the capital, not to mention the impossibility of its propagating itself, cannot even come into existence. Therefore, it is workers and customers who are potentially able to take control of the capital. However, there is no labor union in Samsung, because establishing a labor union in Samsung is viciously interfered and oppressed. It is not at all strange that such a power, which has no one to hold it in check, cannot avoid being corrupt.
Now that neither the state nor the a labor union can correct illegal act of Samsung, it is up to customers' direct action. In spite of Samsung's enormous power, it cannot force customers to purchase its products. That, I say, is the Achilles' heel of all capitals. The day when nobody turns out to use the products by Samsung, is the last day of Samsung. Moreover, Samsung produces and provides a vast variety of products and services that makes up for our ordinary life: kitchen utensils, a vacuum cleaner for a bedroom, a telephone and computer for an office, a laptop for a briefcase, a cell phone for a pocket, a credit card for a wallet, etc. If we, without reflection, fill up our lives with products by Samsung, we will become prey for Samsung, just like a fly caught in a spider's web.
However, we have plenty of thing to dispense with, only if we make up our minds to get rid of the products by Samsung. Let's get rid of things of which we are not in need. Let's change what is to be changed. Let's cancel whatever contract or insurance that is not in need. Although it is true that tiny ants have survived ever since there was a life on earth, it took only a moment for massive dinosaurs to become extinct. Nor any tremendous effort is required to make a dinosaur named ‘Samsung’ extinct. Rather, it suffices that we don't do anything. It suffices that we do not purchase products by Samsung. Isn't it easy to do something, compared to doing anything? Only thing that we need to do is to change our minds. Whether to make one's life a dry desert or to make it a green grassland hinges upon his/her mind. Hence, what we need to do right now is to realize what sort of an enterprise Samsung is and to get rid of both our blind attachment to Samsung and groundless fear of Samsung.
Of course it is not easy all the way. Everybody thinks that it is a right of customers to take advantage of a better product and service. On this standard, Samsung is indeed an enterprise to be preferred. Needless to speak of the quality of its products, Samsung provides so perfect a after-sale service that it is possible to get one's refrigerator repaired in two and a half hours even in the evening. But if we ignore what lies behind such a perfect service, namely, a perfectly inhuman labor management, we will not be able to go against fate of becoming a gear of a capitalist society. Not until we take it seriously that the employee who came to fix my refrigerator for me to enjoy a dinner with my family had no choice but to give up a decent dinner with his family, will we be able to find a way out of this inhuman capitalist society.
What is demanded of us at this moment is a new philosophy, new ethics concerning our economy and everyday consumption. Whether the whole process of production and consumption of a product is just, environment-friendly and desirable for all of us, should be the ethical standard of choice for us customers. In this sense, to boycott against Samsung is not only to stand up to external suppression, but also to resist our inner greed and egoism.
Changing our way of thinking in this manner is by no means an ideal. Many customers purchase organic food and fair trade coffee, in spite of their higher price. Of course that is not the end of the problem. What is to be noticed from this example is the good will of human being, which tells us to endure our personal loss and inconvenience. It is through the good will that our history has exhibited gradual progress.
I will leave the question of what to do after de-structuring Samsung until later. It is not just because I believe that the question is to be pondered and deliberated by every one of us, who is responsible for reforming the corrupt and inefficient economic system of Korea. It is because I believe that our first and foremost task for now is to start de-structuring Samsung immediately. Just as ‘bringing down Park Jung-Hee’ was the top priority under Park's rule, banishing Jun Doo-Hwan was the priority agenda under Jun's rule, de-structuring Samsung (and the Lee's) through the boycott is, I believe, the historical task for us to put before everything else at this moment.
In any case, one thing is clear. Not using Samsung laptops and cell phones will not lead to the collapse of the state inasmuch as bringing down Park did not lead to the collapse of the state. So let's say: no more Samsung. Let boycotting against Samsung be the sign of human nobility and Bildung. For a world where human beings win over money!
｢サムスン｣が批判的な公論の場で禁句になって久しい。革新的なメディアでさえサムスンに批判的な記事を載せることに無言の圧迫を感じているのだ。最近「京郷(キョンヒャン)新聞」に韓国 全南チョンナム大学 金相奉キムサンボン教授のコラムが載せられなかったことがその良い例だ。
h 15, 2011