Korean visitors see Suma in action
On Thursday 16th October we were very lucky to host 16 visitors from South Korea, here as part of a trip around Europe to find out how Europeans run social enterprises and worker owned businesses.
The group was made up mainly of workers at the WOOJIN bus company. The company had previously been privately owned, however the owners were not paying wages and other benefits, so the union took them to court. The result, after years of legal battles, was that the business was confiscated and given to the workers.
I spoke to Hyungsik Eum, who along with Bob here at Suma arranged the visit. Hyungsik works for the World Federation of Worker Coops (CICOPA), in Brussels, and keeps in close touch with worker coop developments back home in Korea. Recently CICOPA helped draft a new law in Korea giving worker coops a legal status for the first time.
The bus workers will be registering under this new law, as they have currently been operating as an unofficial worker coop since 2004.
Bob represents CICOPA for Northern Europe, and organised for the workers to visit CT Plus in Leeds, a social enterprise providing school buses and community transport, and training for people with disabilities to use public transport independently.
They then came to Suma to see a full workers coop in action. After a guided tour round the building we served them a Suma favourite lunch, Thai curry with tofu and salad. They took a lot of photos and videos of Suma workers beavering away without managers. Unlike Suma, WOOJIN is not equal pay, however they are run democratically and don’t have a highly paid chief exec telling them what to do all the time.
Finally they visited First Bus depot in Bradford to see a UK bus company the same size as theirs.
After all the touring excitement they took a stroll in Lister Park through the Autumn trees, a novelty for most of them who live in densely packed apartments. Bob then treated them to a good old English boozer with traditional pub grub which they loved; the real ale however was not as well received.
They finished their jaunt with a trip to Manchester Community Transport, and lunch with our friends at the Handmade Bakery in Slaithwaite. I’m assured by Bob that the trip was hugely enjoyable and beneficial for them, and that they even learnt some Yorkshire slang…they were ‘reet chuffed’.