In 2009, workers dismissed from Ssangyong Motor Co. protested for 77 days against the company’s decision to lay off 2,600 workers. The company lodged a suit against them, purporting that they had inflicted heavy losses during the strike. Describing the strike as “violent, illegal, and unjustified,” the court ordered the strikers to pay the claimed damages. They were helpless and powerless—until a letter arrived.
Ssangyong Motor Co.’s decision to lay off 36 percent of its labor force raged the labor union, which responded by going on a strike. Strikes are usually illegal in Korea—a situation uncommon in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In fact, Korean law stipulates not only that are illegal, but that illegal strikers must compensate their employees for any losses incurred. By Suwon District Court’s order in 2013, Ssangyong Motor Co.’s dismissed workers were sentenced to pay a compensation of 4.7 billion won.
Obviously, 4.7 billion won is an astronomical amount to auto workers, and the economic burden these workers are under is immense. As a result, 23 strikers and their families their family members committed suicide, unable to bear the mental strain.
▲ Yellow envelopes used to be a paycheck and a dismissal notice for employers. Provided by odsuministros.com
Bae Choon Hwan (39, Yongin) wrote to the Korean magazine Sisa IN after reading one of its articles about the dismissed workers of Ssangyong Motor Co. Apprehensive of the hardships experienced by the workers, Bae donated 47,000 won. It was only ten-thousandth of the total compensation due, but, as she explains in her letter, she believed that others would follow her lead as well. Inspired by Bae’s letter, Sisa IN created a fund with the service organization called Sonjabgo.
Thus began the Yellow Envelope Project. A yellow envelope is symbolic because it used to be a paycheck, and also a layoff notice. The main idea of the project is to combine the grassroot efforts of the people— each individual usually contributes 47,000 won, a ten-thousandth of the entire compensation due.
▲ Workers dismissed from Ssangyong Motor Co. protested for 77 days in 2009. Provided by hmcsb.nodong.org
The project is currently under the supervision of Araeumdaun Jaedan, or the Beautiful Foundation (BF). The BF was founded by Park Won Soon, Seoul’s current mayor, in 2000. It is a community foundation, a non-profit, public charity created and managed by and for those in the local area. The BF supported the Yellow Envelope Project by crowdfunding through its online platform, “Ants Sponsor.”
The BF plans to raise 4.7 hundred million won in ten separate campaigns. The funds raised will be used to help the dismissed workers and their families overcome economic hardships. “We are planning to help those suffering by providing them with money for basic living, medical care, and their children’s uniforms,” said Seo Kyung Won of the BF’s marketing department. She also told The Granite Tower (GT) that the funding would also be used to improve the current laws that allow companies to lodge damage suits against strikers.
So far, so good—the fundraising has been successful, raising 4.7 hundred million in February alone. Almost 10,000 people participated in 15 days. Thanks to fervor of those contributing, the second campaign began on February 25, a month earlier than the BF had originally planned. By mid-March, the second campaign was completed, making a total of 9.4 hundred million won raised, a fifth of what is due.
The Yellow Envelope Project became known to the public only when word spread that the Korean celebrity Lee Hyo Ri had donated 47,000 won, matching Bae’s original donation. It was on the sixth day of fundraising that her handwritten letter made the news, and helped the campaign gain wide attention. Prior to Lee’s participation, the fund’s collections had limped along. Her contribution catalyzed the fundraising process, and 9000 people gave in just the following week. Other famous donors, including Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Noam Chomsky, have contributed as well.
Commenting on the fund’s success, Seo said, “While people sympathized with the hardships Ssangyong Motor Co.’s dismissed workers are experiencing, they were passive to act out through petitions or demonstrations. They were more willing to donate.” Seo added, “Fundraising involves and calls for not one but many contributions, so people have been more encouraged to participate and donate.”
Indeed, Lee Hyeon Suk (47, Daegu), a contributor to the Yellow Envelope Project seemed to agree. “I thought the struggles of the dismissed workers were too great,” he said, “that we could not but neglect them.” He had given up until he read a tweet by the BF, and the Yellow Envelope Project helped him realize that he could have an impact. “I saw the hope of the people,” he said, “and it hit me that hardships can be overcome if many people come together and help out.”
Many who have already donated once have promised that they will do so again each campaign. With their contributions, and those of prospective newcomers, the fundraising is to continue until the entire amount 4.7 billion won is collected.
▲ The Yellow Envelope Project raises funds through its online crowdfunding platform. Screen captured by Song You Jin
If you want to help the dismissed workers of Ssangyong Motor Co., donate your 47,000 won at www.socialants.org. (You can call 02-766-1004, or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)