Citizens chipping in to help Ssangyong Motor and railway workers who face financial penalties for strike damagesBy Song Ho-kyun, staff reporter “I’m embarrassed to be sending so little, but I just hope my 47,000 won can be a pat on somebody’s shoulders.” The message was part of a handwritten letter by singer Lee Hyo-ri, 35. “I hope there will be no more people throwing their lives away because of money, while the rest of us pretend not to see their struggle,” she continued. “Stay strong.” Lee’s letter, along with 47,000 won (US$44.10) in cash, arrived on Feb. 15 at the offices of the Beautiful Foundation in Seoul’s Ogin neighborhood. It was the singer’s contribution to the Yellow Envelope Project. The project is a campaign to raise funds for unionists at Ssangyong Motor and the Korean Railway Workers’ Union who have been faced with lawsuits from their employers demanding payment for strike damages. The final goal is to raise 4.7 billion won (US$4.4 million) through 100,000 individual donations of 47,000 won. As a first step, the foundation has set the target of raising ten percent of the final amount, or 470 million won. Last year, a court ruled that the Ssangyong Motor union owed 4.7 billion won in damages to the automaker and police. In addition to the financial toll the ruling has had on the workers - who have had their wages, severance pay, bonuses, houses, cars, and bank accounts seized - it has also had a heavy emotional toll, with some of them being driven to divorce and even suicide. “I felt really ashamed when I read a letter written by the mother of a small child,” Lee said. “For the past few years, I had been watching the difficult struggle of these layoff victims and just hoping that things would all work out. Not being able to help them really weighed on me.” “She said that if we can find a hundred thousand people who are willing to pay one hundred-thousandth of the 4.7 billion won in damages - sending 47,000 won by cutting back on her child‘s private academy payments - then we’d be able to save those workers and their families,” she explained as a reason for her participation in the campaign. “The letter was so decent and genuine that it brought tears to my eyes.” The letter in question met with a strong online response after being printed by one of the country’s major current affairs weeklies. As of the afternoon of Feb. 18, the project had raised 73 million won (US$68,500) from around 1,300 people. It is currently being managed by the online funding platform Social Ants (socialants.org).
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