samsung cuts and runs
WORKERS, FEBRUARY 2004 ISSUE
SAMSUNG, the Korean electronic manufacturer, intends closing its state-of-the-art manufacturing unit in Billingham, Middlesbrough and to ship production to China and perhaps Eastern Europe. This is despite the £44 million that Samsung has received since 1995, despite its global turnover of £17.8 billion, from local authority, central government and regeneration funds, with the result that the creation of the 425 jobs in Billingham has been paid for many times over by the British taxpayer. Samsung boasts of record British profits through "unit cost reduction". The company pays its workers just £4.50-5.50p per hour -- the minimum wage.
The Billingham factory is the recipient of Samsung's internal international gold medal for productivity -- their best factory in the company worldwide. According to its 2003 mission statement for last year, it intended to be the leading British producer of electronic goods such as PC monitors and microwaves. So why the decision to close down the factory? Because, Samsung says, it is too expensive. In China they can pay 0.50p per hour. The deputy managing director of manufacturing, John Slider, said: "The problem is the expense of the UK."
A recent Guardian investigation into the death in Britain in October 2001 of an illegal Chinese worker, who had stamped the word "Samsung" on microwaves for 24 hours solid, has revealed the sweatshop reality of Korean manufacture. British workers refused to work the minimum 72 hour week for minimum wages in the South Korean factories so Chinese workers were recruited through a North Korean refugee, who runs a manpower office in New Malden, south-west London, near to Samsung's UK corporate headquarters. The minimum shift length is 12 hours and in busy periods workers might do 16 or 24 hours. Many work seven days a week and have no contracts or sick pay. The manpower company also runs the workers' hostel -- after deductions for rent, food and travel, workers might clear £2.48 an hour.
The closure of the factory and the death of the worker raise important questions for British workers and suggests three lines of approach. Firstly, pressure needs to be put on the government to stop our assets leaving the country -- hand-wringing is not good enough; secondly, we must consider how to deal with the undermining of pay and conditions by the use of illegal workers or those from less developed economies who are not union members. This will become a pressing concern shortly as the 10 new accession countries join the EU and their workers will be entitled to work here. The British government has decided to allow workers from these countries in immediately, whereas other EU members have not. Lastly, we need to organise a boycott of all Samsung goods made outside Britain.