Kick against the pricks
Kicking an employee is probably not the best way to boost productivity, or boost morale, but I suppose when Sam Won supervisor Kim Jaeoak got up from his desk to plant his foot in Jorge Alberto Zamora Esparza back (three times!), he had some kind of rationale. One assumes.
Burro Hall was undoubtedly right in waxing snarky over his local media’s “wall-to-wall” coverage of what appear on camera to be more just an angry boss acting like a total dickhead. The Burro may even be somewhat correct in detecting a whiff of anti-Korean prejudice in the media coverage, but considering Kim Jaeoak’s employer — Sam Won — is a subsidiary of Samsung, perhaps Mexico is fortunate that what has brought attention to the company and their labor practices was not a more serious incident.
I was bothered a few weeks back, reading what was meant to pump Mexico to business investors that one factor in Mexico’s favor was rising wages in … China. There seems to be an assumption that wages either would not correspondingly rise in Mexico, or… perhaps worse, that Mexican labor standards would become more like those in China. In other words, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. Enter the Koreans.
Hardly the most labor-friendly country on the planet, South Korean manufacturers are notorious for abusing their workers, especially immigrant ones. Having run low on cheap, easily exploitable labor in their own country, manufacturers like Samsung have increasingly turned to China… where they’ve engaged in things they might not try at home… like using child labor, along with the usual mandatory unpaid overtime, and the always popular physical and verbal abuse of their employees. The scandals at Samsung plants in China have been well-publicized, embarrassing the leaders of a country claiming to be a Proletarian state into appearing to take some action and forcing the company to at least make public relations statements to the effect that it’s changing its ways. Whether it will or not, that’s another story.
While the People’s Republic of China seems to have given up on any pretense of power to the proletariat some time ago, the assaults on worker’s rights in
Mexico is something fairly recent. I don’t pretend that the all-important Article 123 of the 1917 Constitution — the first such document to include a labor code — ended abuse, nor that worker’s basic rights are always protected, or even usually honored in full, that same Constitution recognizes something Mexicans just take for granted, whether it’s constitutionally protected or not… the right to “struggle for their collective rights”. It’s not like Mexico is new to manufacturing (and certainly not new to foreign owned manufacturers), and that the rules are flexible… they’ve been around since 1917, and so has the “official” permission for workers to defend themselves. As they have, in labor courts, through the Secretariat of Labor, on the streets, and in the media.
Yeah, it’s easy to say that Mr. Zamorra should have been physically capable of taking care of himself (although, for cultural reasons, hitting the employer back would be a highly unlikely outcome), but there aren’t a lot of jobs out there in Queretaro (or anywhere else in Mexico right now), and my guess is that the security tape didn’t end up in the hands of “Noticias On-line” without someone in the Sam Won plant joining in the “struggle for collective rights” of the plant’s workers.
It also may not be by accident that all this came up just as the Calderón Administration — having been thwarted in ramming a labor bill through Congress that would severely weaken workers’ rights is being reconsidered after labor and opposition parties raised serious objections to the original bill, even after concessions were made to preserve the facade of Mexico as a pro-labor state.
Less accidental might be the attention focused on this particular labor violation due to the nationality of the offending supervisor and his employer. Koreans in Mexico are — as Burro Hall touched on — viewed much differently than other immigrant groups. Although Koreans have been emigrating to Mexico since about 1900, and were generally assimilated into the mix-n-match ethnicity of Mexico in general, there has been a tendency over the last few years to see the Koreans — unfairly, of course — as “clannish”… settling in ethnic enclaves, avoiding any but the most superficial interaction with the general Mexican community, presumed to think of themselves as “better” than their Mexican neighbors, and having more money and possessions.
In other words, like the Americans and Canadians in the gringo ghettos.
But then the bulk of people in the gringo ghettos are not employers of more than perhaps domestic staff, who can — and do — have ways (legal and otherwise) to get their own when they are exploited. Those gringos that are here for commercial reasons, especially those with operations on the scale of Samsung’s Queretaro operations (12,000 employees) is going to have Mexican managers, and run their business by Mexican rules.
Kim Jaeoak may have literally kicked Jorge Alberto Zamora Esparza, but figuratively he kicked up a hornet’s nest… the State Department of Labor closed Sam Won while it investigates labor conditions at the plant, Jaeoak is up on criminal charges (and is likely to be deported), Samsung is busy issuing denials of any corporate responsibility — claiming Sam Won was only a supplier (it just happened it only supplies to Samsung… okie-dokie) and the Korean government was forced to issue apologies to all offended parties.