Jan. 23  2020
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Christian's Photo Column 

Labor Cultural Festival--celebration of spirit and struggle

This year's rally slogans were "Halt the retrogressive revision of the labor law! Abolish irregular work! Carry on the spirit of Chun Tae-il!"

Source  :  Base21

by Christian and Terry Park/Base21 Media Activist

Seoul, Korea--After a stormy week in South Korea's resurgent labor movement that saw mass demonstrations, mass arrests (over 600 unionists, mostly government workers, still in prison) and a victory for the KCTU and KGEU, last weekend provided a moment to pause, celebrate the achievements and reflect on the challenges for workers and other progressives struggling for social justice.

Kyonghee University's stadium was the site for the annual Labor Cultural Festival. On Saturday, more than 6,000 workers, migrant laborers, students, activists, and others enjoyed a great night of dancing, fiery speeches, and radical musical performances. A small demonstration also spontaneously occured in the university뭩 neighborhood. The atmosphere got more and more explosive as the evening transpired, ending with a rousing, improvised performance of the classic Korean song, "Arirang." Soon after, thousands fell upon the front of the stage, danced, and shouted revolutionary slogans.

After the official performance hundreds of spontaneous small and large parties started. On every corner, music was played, food was eaten, and drinks-- mainly the Korean working-class wine, soju--was drunk in abundance. Different organizations sold the food and drinks to support labor union activities. In particular, All Together, the radical youth group, offered excellent traditional Korean dishes to support the struggle of imprisoned unionists and their relatives. The food, drink, and good spirits led to many heated discussions. The festival slowly died down in the early morning hours.

The next day, about 35,000 (bleary-eyed) workers, students, and their supporters participated in a large labor rally took place in Daehang-no, near downtown Seoul, to demand a better life for South Korea's working-class. This year's rally contained traditional slogans as well as those recognizing new labor forces on the horizon as well as the need to link seemingly-disconnected struggles for justice and peace on the peninsula:

- Stop repression of labor
- Stop the retrogressive revision of work conditions
- Stop the privatization of key national industries
- Do away with discrimination against irregular workers and make irregular workers' status permanent/regular,
- Remove the ban on the government workers' union, guarantee government workers the 3 basic labor rights
- Overthrow conservative politics, struggle for progressive politics
- Throw out the US military who murdered middle school girls, oppose the US military and their scheming maneuvers towards war

Many of the speeches also recalled the early days of the struggle for labor rights in the early 70's, when the ruling class vis-a-vis Park Chung-hee's military dictatorship heavily oppressed the labor movement. During that dark period, hundreds of workers and activists lost their lives, including labor martyr Chung Tae-Il, a young textile worker who burned himself in protest of inhumane factory conditions and the government's refusal to uphold labor laws.

After the rally more than 15,000 people marched downtown to Jong-myo Park to show their opposition to governments plans to establish "special economic zones." After some minor scuffles with riot cops, the weekend's events ended very successfully for both organizers and participants.

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