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Accueil du site > 20- ENGLISH - MATERIAL AND REVOLUTION > Three uprisings in South Korea

Three uprisings in South Korea

dimanche 10 juillet 2022, par Robert Paris

Three uprisings in South Korea INTRODUCTION

Let us first recall that it was British and American imperialism that demanded that Stalin militarily occupy northern Asia and notably northern Korea while they occupied the south. Let us also remember that this had no military purpose because the war was then won in Japan crushed under the bombs and which only asked to capitulate. What motivated these imperialisms was the fear of a social revolution. In Korea, struck by misery and feudalism, the social revolution was a striking evidence and the population was preparing for it in an undisguised way. The working people were counting on putting an end to social and political suffering along with Japanese domination.

The opposition between the government of the north and the south, between Stalinism and imperialism was completely exploited in order to serve as a justification for crushing the social revolution and it still is today.

In 1945, in Korea as in Vietnam and throughout Indochina, uprisings followed the departure of Japanese troops. People’s committees have been formed everywhere, organized in Soviet form and preparing for power. The American army had to crush them in blood before putting at the head of a military dictatorship in the south its straw man Sungman Rhee(who immediately distinguished himself by also crushing in blood the powerful general strikes of 1946 and 48) while the north was occupied by Russian troops who placed at the head of the country Kim Il Sung, a leader of military guerrilla against Japan. In the south, the military have rebuilt both the State and the economy and they have established privileged relations with the trusts, the chaebols, relations which institutionalize corruption : a real system of mutual aid which has enabled the chaebols like generals to prosper. Samsung owes everything to the first president, the fierce dictator Sungman Rhee, and Daewoo would be nothing without President Park. In return, some have made a fortune like Roh who made up the modest kitty of 650 million dollars ! This country which was ruled dictatorially by teams of military leaders was forced to withdraw them from the political scene : Generals Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo who governed respectively from 80 to 87 and from 88 to 92 were forced to resign from the army. General Roh was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for corruption. General Chun was sentenced to capital punishment (commuted to life imprisonment) for leading the military putsch of 1979 and bloodily repressing a student demonstration. Both were also declared responsible for the massacre of the commune of Kwanju in May 1980. This shows to what extent the army is currently politically completely sidelined from the direction of affairs. generals Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo who ruled from 80–87 and 88–92 respectively were forced to resign from the military. General Roh was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for corruption. General Chun was sentenced to capital punishment (commuted to life imprisonment) for leading the military putsch of 1979 and bloodily repressing a student demonstration. Both were also declared responsible for the massacre of the commune of Kwanju in May 1980. This shows to what extent the army is currently politically completely sidelined from the direction of affairs. generals Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo who ruled from 80–87 and 88–92 respectively were forced to resign from the military. General Roh was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for corruption. General Chun was sentenced to capital punishment (commuted to life imprisonment) for leading the military putsch of 1979 and bloodily repressing a student demonstration. Both were also declared responsible for the massacre of the commune of Kwanju in May 1980. This shows to what extent the army is currently politically completely sidelined from the direction of affairs. General Chun was sentenced to capital punishment (commuted to life imprisonment) for leading the military putsch of 1979 and bloodily repressing a student demonstration. Both were also declared responsible for the massacre of the commune of Kwanju in May 1980. This shows to what extent the army is currently politically completely sidelined from the direction of affairs. General Chun was sentenced to capital punishment (commuted to life imprisonment) for leading the military putsch of 1979 and bloodily repressing a student demonstration. Both were also declared responsible for the massacre of the commune of Kwanju in May 1980. This shows to what extent the army is currently politically completely sidelined from the direction of affairs.

It was in the 1980s that the Korean bourgeoisie began to find the price of military dictatorship too costly. The country becoming rich and developed, she preferred another form of political leadership, without coups, without repression and permanent revolts. And that’s also where the explosion of ’87 came from. Indeed, the military clung to power and for years we saw not only the poor classes and the workers but a whole section of the sons of the bourgeoisie and of the petty bourgeoisie to fight to end the military dictatorship, participating in demonstrations, arrested, tortured, murdered, choosing a militant life in clandestine organizations rather than social integration, to fight against this hated power. From there was born the movement of workers and young people.

THREE REVOLTS

1- 1945-1948

2- April 1960

3 - May 1980 Korea 1945-1948

In Korea the allies had decided on an apparently absurd system of occupation which was to give rise to the worst confrontation of the Cold War in 1950 but which, at the end of the world war, corresponded to the different zones in this region. Indeed the Korean peninsula was divided in two, a part under Russian occupation and another under American occupation, the two being separated by the 38th parallel. In fact by saying this we forget a large part of the problem, we attributed to China the part of mainland Korea, the Kan Do, taken during the military conquests and this would prove to be very important thereafter.

Initially this division discussed at the conferences of Tehran in 1943 and Yalta in 1945 was to be provisional. The first to arrive on the spot were the Russians in the north on August 24, 1945. Then the USA arrived a month later in the south in September 45. Everything was planned on both sides and neither side had the intention of asking the people to decide. The Russians have in their luggage Kim Il Sung whom they intend to impose as a leader under the Communist Party label. Yet there exists in Korea an underground communist party of which Kim is not the leader but he is the man of the Russians and in the atmosphere of social effervescence the Russians are wary of it as they are wary of all the democratic militants or trade unionists who will very quickly populate their prisons. To get rid of the real Korean Communist Party, the russians are going to have great difficulties because they have to be rid of them both in the north and in the south. In the north this will be done under Russian military occupation, the former leaders will go to prison as well as all the opponents of Kim Il Sung. In the south, it will be much more difficult, especially since traditionally the leadership of the Communist Party resided in the south in Seoul and the party will remain a single party despite the division of the country.

On both sides, there is the same catastrophic situation for the population which immediately translates into a social explosion. The misery of the workers is catastrophic. The number of dead is considerable. And, in addition, the population comes out of many years of Japanese occupation where they suffered atrociously. It is not to easily accept another military occupation. Finally, very quickly the problem of dividing the country in two, which seems to be temporary and lasting, will become a political problem of the first order, preventing the two powers from stabilizing and gaining credit.

Indeed, on Stalin’s orders, Kim Il Sung in the north will defend the division of the country in the same way as in the south the American puppet Syngman Rhee, a corrupt and ultra-violent far-right dictator. On both sides, the working class will oppose this division and in particular the unions of rather anarcho-syndicalist origin with militants of the far left and which are not yet controlled by the Communist Party. The pressure is such in the south that the South Korean communist party takes its political independence from the leadership of the north in August 46. But at the same time it does it on bases that are less revolutionary, at least in a proletarian sense. The August thesis which underlines this political independence at the same time no longer accepts the division of the country but affirms that a bourgeois revolution must be carried out with a view to reunification, a revolution which will have the countryside and not the cities as its base. And this also means that the CP in the south is calling on the workers and peasants to go to the mountains to organize the guerrillas there. The southern workers’ union will violently oppose these proposals. Indeed, the workers are very far from feeling powerless in their struggles in the factories to the point of going to take refuge in the mountains. The thesis of the bourgeois character of the revolution is no better accepted. And this also means that the CP in the south is calling on the workers and peasants to go to the mountains to organize the guerrillas there. The southern workers’ union will violently oppose these proposals. Indeed, the workers are very far from feeling powerless in their struggles in the factories to the point of going to take refuge in the mountains. The thesis of the bourgeois character of the revolution is no better accepted. And this also means that the CP in the south is calling on the workers and peasants to go to the mountains to organize the guerrillas there. The southern workers’ union will violently oppose these proposals. Indeed, the workers are very far from feeling powerless in their struggles in the factories to the point of going to take refuge in the mountains. The thesis of the bourgeois character of the revolution is no better accepted.

In fact, in the factories it is a workers’ offensive that we are witnessing in South Korea. The workers’ insurrection started from two cities : Taekou, a large city in the south east, and Busan, the large port in the south. It was a spontaneous uprising which began with a strike by the railway workers and which ended in real armed clashes, the workers having organized themselves into a workers’ militia. Strike committees were set up everywhere and the strike spread to many other towns. The reaction of the American troops is very violent. The repression extends to all the country against the trade unions and the radical militants. The CP of the south which had nothing to do with the movement is banned. Syngman Rhee’s dictatorship becomes fierce. Political opponents and trade union leaders are assassinated like the anarcho-syndicalist leader.

Kim Ku and Social Democrat leader Yo Un Hyong. The Communist Party was forced to go completely underground. The political leadership of the CP took advantage of this to succeed for the first time in establishing its domination over the entire Communist Party.

In 1946-47, far from stabilizing, the South Korean regime was attacked on all fronts : military mutinies, peasant uprisings, political movements in the cities against the Syngman Rhee regime and social movements. The central power of Seoul is so weakened that it is forced to let the peasants occupy an entire so-called liberated region. The CP of the south decides to invest itself in this peasant revolution and it calls again the workers to follow it. Most of the workers and intellectual militants who followed this call were massacred before they could even reach the region or arm themselves. The CP of the south will nevertheless take the political direction of these insurgent peasants. He advises them to leave the agricultural lands to reach the mountains and indeed this guerrilla will hold out there until the Korean War in 1950, when it will join the North Korean army. Paradoxically, this is what will be fatal to it because the North Korean regime had no desire to support the peasants of the south and will abandon them by ceasing to arm them as soon as the American offensive begins.

In the aftermath of the Liberation, the placement of Korea under the tutelage of the Soviets and the Americans, on either side of the 38th parallel, was the occasion to implant the embryos of the antagonistic regimes that we know today. In the south, the preconceived economic ideas of the American occupation administration (the USAMGIK) translated into a liberalization of the grain market which caused frightening speculation on the rice market. Indeed, largely agricultural South Korea was Japan’s breadbasket during colonization. However, as the shortage was felt in the archipelago, some producers renewed old relations with Japan, which was then short of rice, due to the massive mobilization of peasants for the army and the loss of its colonial empire. The price of rice soared in Korea, and the cities were no longer supplied, because the speculators preferred to sell to Japan, at the highest price. The American authorities immediately reversed course and imposed restrictions not only on the sale of rice, but also on that of other cereals, according to standards so harsh that some producers regretted the time of the Japanese. In Taegu, in the south of the country, a furious revolt pitted peasants and “leftist” sympathizers against the authorities. Several hundred police and demonstrators were killed before American troops restored order. The American authorities immediately reversed course and imposed restrictions not only on the sale of rice, but also on that of other cereals, according to standards so harsh that some producers regretted the time of the Japanese. In Taegu, in the south of the country, a furious revolt pitted peasants and “leftist” sympathizers against the authorities. Several hundred police and demonstrators were killed before American troops restored order. The American authorities immediately reversed course and imposed restrictions not only on the sale of rice, but also on that of other cereals, according to standards so harsh that some producers regretted the time of the Japanese. In Taegu, in the south of the country, a furious revolt pitted peasants and “leftist” sympathizers against the authorities. Several hundred police and demonstrators were killed before American troops restored order. The Stalinist regime in North Korea

The sudden collapse of the Japanese colonial administration led to a popular explosion. Coming out of hiding, the Communist Party formed a coalition with all the nationalist movements. Korean Independence Preparation Committees sprang up across the country. On September 6, 1945, a national conference of these committees, meeting in Seoul, proclaimed the birth of the People’s Republic of Korea (PRC).

Following the line defined by Moscow, the Korean Communist Party, which was by far the most powerful current in this movement, endeavored to contain the explosion of social demands among the exploited masses. Claiming that the time was for national emancipation and not for social emancipation, under the false pretext that any other policy would divide the "Korean nation", the Communist Party put the poor masses of Korea in the political tow of their own exploiters as did the communist parties all over the world during this period and used their mobilization to guarantee the continuity of the capitalist order.

But this respect for the capitalist order is not enough for the Korean CP to win Washington’s favor. Of course, what the United States feared was neither the political program of the PRC, with its call for the establishment of universal suffrage and the creation of democratic institutions, nor its defense of nationalizations and reform. agrarian : after all, most major Korean businesses and farms had no owners since the expulsion of Japanese settlers. No, what worried American imperialism the most was that the PRC regime had been put in place without its prior agreement, thanks to popular mobilization, and that it therefore had no need imperialism to stay in power. This regime would therefore not be docile to the interests of the United States. Also,

The American leaders then undertook to implement their own conceptions of democracy in their zone of occupation. The old colonial police force was restored to its functions, with practically the same personnel (their uniforms were not even changed !) as under the Japanese occupation. The positions of responsibility in the new institutions were entrusted to politicians who had collaborated with the Japanese occupier or who had found protection with the Chinese nationalist dictator and US ally, Chiang Kai-shek. These were viscerally anti-communist individuals who had strong ties to the Korean landlord class. As head of the new regime, Washington put Syngman Rhee, a well-known right-wing nationalist politician, who had friends both in the United States and within the Chiang Kai-shek regime. In February 1946, they put in place a provisional government of South Korea chaired by Syngman Rhee, half of whose members were appointed directly by the American occupation authorities and the other half by the wealthy classes, according to the electoral system based on property. force under Japanese occupation.

The political orientation of the new regime proved to be as reactionary and socially conservative as might be expected given the social composition of the government. Calls for comprehensive land reform were met with contempt as regime officials amassed colossal fortunes by appropriating land from former Japanese farms and landless peasants starved to death. Corruption and the black market became the rule. So that in the end, the poor population of the American zone of occupation saw little difference between the new Republic of Korea, which was officially proclaimed there in August 1948, and the old Japanese colonial administration, except in the language of the occupying troops.

Faced with the repression aimed at it in the South, where it was very quickly banned, the executive committee of the PRC elected in September 1945 took refuge in the Soviet occupation zone. There, the occupation authorities accepted this executive committee and the preparation committees for independence as partners in the day-to-day administration of affairs on the ground.

Unlike the United States in their zone of occupation, the USSR applied the 1945 protocol to the letter in its own, refraining from setting up permanent institutions likely to prejudge the final form of the state. At least that is what it did until the creation of institutions specific to the South under the aegis of the USA. A Provisional People’s Committee was then set up in Pyongyang, this time under the leadership of Kim Il Sung, a young CP leader recently back in the country, who seems to have been chosen less for his links with Moscow than for the opposite reason : unlike Like many communist leaders, Kim Il Sung had spent the previous years not in Moscow, but in a Korean maquis against the Japanese in Manchuria, in liaison with the Chinese resistance. He could thus be presented as a hero of the national resistance against Japan, without being associated, like the former leaders of the clandestine CP, with the mobilization of the masses of the year 1945, to which he had no participated. In all respects, Kim Il Sung was the perfect spokesman for a "national" government.

As soon as it was formed, the new regime implemented a two-year program providing for the nationalization of industries previously captured by the Japanese and a radical agrarian reform entailing the confiscation without compensation of large farms and their free redistribution to the landless peasants. Laws on working conditions and an embryo of a social system completed the whole.

It was only after the turning point in US-Soviet relations and the beginnings of the "cold war" that, in September 1948, three weeks after the proclamation of the Republic of Korea in the south of the country, a People’s Democratic Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the north. Soon after, Soviet troops withdrew from Korea, leaving only a few hundred military advisers.

Before arriving there, the Korean CP had merged in August 1946 with various radical and nationalist groups to create the Workers’ Party of North Korea. Movements that did not join the new party were first marginalized, then those that tried to maintain a political existence were persecuted.

The regime that settled in the North was undoubtedly repressive, bringing together the traits of many Third World military dictatorships of the time. As in the people’s democracies set up under the protection of the Red Army in Central and Eastern Europe, the first victim of the new regime was the working class both politically and physically, because of the superhuman efforts demanded of the workers in the name of the necessities of economic reconstruction. But at the same time, Pyongyang’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, its nationalizations and above all the radical land reform it had implemented made the regime very popular, not only in the North but also in the South, where resentment against the parasitic oligarchy of landowners. The 1946 general strike in South Korea

The railway workers’ strike started in Busan on September 23, 1946 and led to the Daegu uprising on October 1, 1946.

The strike was controlled by a National Council of Korean Workers. The first council strike began on September 23 by more than 7,000 railway workers in Busan. Around 40,000 railway workers soon joined the railway workers’ strike, which quickly spread across the country. Between 250,000 and 300,000 workers on strike in all industrial sectors, including metals and chemicals. The general strike began with demands such as rice rationing, wage increases, opposition to layoffs, freedom of labor movement and the release of democratic figures. Fifteen thousand students from vocational schools and colleges in Seoul also took to the streets on September 27, demanding the abolition of colonial education. Some South Korean Defense Forces (now the Republic of Korea Army) and Maritime Security Forces (now the Republic of Korea Navy) joined the strike, and in Seoul dozens of members of the US Communist Party of the US Army in Korea called for the withdrawal of US troops from Joseon. The sixth meeting of the Central Committee of the Provisional People’s Committee of North Korea adopted a statement affirming the legitimacy of the strike and supporting the strikers in the south, but the committee did not tolerate the violent struggle. dozens of Communist Party USA members in the US military in Korea called for the withdrawal of US troops from Joseon. The sixth meeting of the Central Committee of the Provisional People’s Committee of North Korea adopted a statement affirming the legitimacy of the strike and supporting the strikers in the south, but the committee did not tolerate the violent struggle. dozens of Communist Party USA members in the US military in Korea called for the withdrawal of US troops from Joseon. The sixth meeting of the Central Committee of the Provisional People’s Committee of North Korea adopted a statement affirming the legitimacy of the strike and supporting the strikers in the south, but the committee did not tolerate the violent struggle.

USAMGIK sent more than 2,000 armed officers to Seoul Railroad, the center of the general strike, on September 30. Around 1,000 protesters, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (now the Federation of Korean Trade Unions), the Korean People’s Bureau and the National Assembly press, also joined the eight-hour street battle led by Kim Du- han. Three people were killed and hundreds were injured.

A demonstration organized on October 1 by strikers in Daegu came under fire from the police and a railway worker was killed. Thousands of protesters (including students) carried his body through the city streets the next day, despite police attempts to arrest them. The strike then evolved into the broader Autumn Uprising, in which dozens were killed, thousands were arrested, and martial law was imposed.

1946 Autumn Uprising

The 1946 Daegu 10.1 Uprising in Korea was a peasant uprising in the southern provinces of Korea against the policies of the United States Army Military Government in Korea led by General John R. Hodge and in favor of restoring power to the people’s committees that made up the People’s Republic of Korea. The uprising is also called "Daegu Revolt" or "Daegu Resistance Movement". South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission chooses the neutral name "October Daegu Incident", making it a real uprising .

The uprising was preceded by the Korean General Strike in September, by the end of which more than 250,000 workers took part. The strike was declared illegal by the US military government and the strikers were attacked by the police. On October 1, a protest by strikers in Daegu was fired upon by the police and a railway worker was killed. The next day, thousands of protesters, including students from schools and universities, carried his body through the city streets, despite police attempts to arrest them. The strike then evolved into the more general Autumn Uprising (or Daegu 10.1 Uprising).

The uprising itself started in Busan and eventually spread to Seoul, Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Gyeongsangnam-do, Chungcheongnam-do and Jeollanam-do and ended in mid-November. Other demands expressed during the uprising were for better working conditions, higher wages, the right to organize and the release of political prisoners.

Depending on the conditions, the United States military government responded in various ways, including mobilizing scabs, police, right-wing youth groups, sending in American troops and tanks, and declaring martial law. , and succeeded in suppressing the uprising. The uprising resulted in the deaths of 92 policemen, 163 civilian workers, 116 civilians and 240 rioters. 2,609 people were arrested by the police and the army. Some analysts say the uprising, which was partly a reaction to October’s elections for South Korea’s Interim Legislative Assembly, organized by the US military government, is a better gauge of public opinion than the election itself.

The defeat of the uprising is seen as a turning point in establishing political control over Korea, as the People’s Committees and the National Council of Korean Trade Unions were weakened by the repression. For Americans, the Fall Harvest Rebellion added new urgency to the effort to find a formula to unify Korea’s two occupation zones under an elected government.

In 2010, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented its findings, there were 60 victims whose families it suggested the government should provide compensation, and there were approximately 7,500 other people who suffered from the incident. Some victims were arrested and tortured, and then police and far-right groups damaged or confiscated their homes and property. The families of the victims had to endure the shame of being considered criminals.

The October Uprising, October 1st Incident, Yeongnam Riots and October Riots, according to historical perspective. From a partisan point of view, it’s called the October Uprising, a critic calls it Yeongnam Riots and October Riots, and from a neutral point of view, it’s called the 1st Incident. october. From the standpoint of asserting the agitation and initiative of the Communist Party of Korea, it is sometimes called the October Riot. In the past, the terms October Riot, Yeongnam Riot, and October Riot were used interchangeably, and officially, the term was referred to as the more neutral October 1 Incident. .

After liberation, life for Koreans under the USAMGIK of the United States Military Command in South Korea was starving. Because USAMGIK’s rice ration policy failed. Hunger in Daegu, where cholera outbreaks occurred during this period, was particularly severe. After 2,000 cholera patients arose in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do, the government blocked Daegu without taking proper measures for treatment saying it was preventing transmission. As a result, vehicles and people could not cross the city limits and the supply of crops and basic necessities was cut off. Above all, rice was scarce.

In addition, the police of the former pro-Japanese who were hired as the national police robbed rice farmers in the same way as during Japanese-ruled Korea. Citizens’ anger against the pro-Japanese policemen has increased a lot, and the police have retaliated against them here and there. Amidst this, public sentiment in Daegu and Gyeongsnabuk-do was very chaotic.

Meanwhile, in May 1946, in the case of the counterfeit Jung Pan-sa notes, USAMGIK announced the "illegalization of communist activities" and issued a mass arrest warrant for Communist party officials.

Workers’ unrest did not wane with the repression and they staged a massive strike by railway and transport workers in September 1946, which is the September General Strike.

The September general strike spread across the country, beginning with the strike by railway workers in the Busan area. In this way, the Communist Party and Jeon-pyeong led a general strike in September and hit USAMGIK hard for good. The general strike in September quickly spread across the country and workers went on strike. USAMGIK brought in national police and anti-Communist youth groups to crush the strike, but there was an unexpected situation here. When the police fired on workers’ strikes in Daegu, labor and grassroots reaction grew in response. In April 1960, the April 1960 Uprising ended the Syngman Rhee regime

The April 1960 Revolution in South Korea marked a decisive step in the fight against authoritarianism. If the victory of democracy was then only ephemeral, following the military coup of May 16, 1961, the uprising of April 19, 1960 brought down the Syngman Rhee regime and, more fundamentally still, marked the eruption of masses in the history of South Korea. The April 1960 Revolution also consecrated the alliance of young people and workers.

1959 : the autocrat Syngman Rhee, in power since 1948 and then aged 84, prepares for his third re-election to the presidency of the Republic, while his political formation, the Liberal Party, nominates Yi Gi-bung as his candidate for vice -presidency.

In December 1959, Syngman Rhee announced his intention to advance the date of the presidential election to March 15, 1960, normally scheduled for May 1960, on the grounds of avoiding the busy harvest period... although the month of May corresponds to no harvest date. This choice was in fact linked to the state of health of the candidate of the Democratic Party (opposition) in the presidential election : on February 15, eight days after the submission of candidacies, Jo Byeong-ok died, and the demands of his party to present a new presidential candidate were rejected. Syngman Rhee thus became the only candidate for the post of President of the Republic. On February 13, the head of state declared, without constitutional basis, that the vice-president should belong to the same party as the president. From then on, the election was locked,

The spark of the revolutionary movement was ignited by the students of Daegu University who decided to demonstrate against the decision to set February 28, the day of a rally in their city of Jang Myeon, as the date for the end-of-semester exams. . After the students of Daegu, it is the turn of those of Seoul then Daejon to demonstrate, respectively on March 5 and March 8, before the generalization of student demonstrations, between March 10 and 14. Two demands are on the agenda : to the recurring demands to respect the freedom of campuses is added the refusal of electoral trickery.

On March 15, ballot box stuffing, public votes in groups of three or even the expulsion of Democratic Party supervisors gave the official results expected of power : Syngman Rhee won more than 9.6 million votes (88.7 % of the votes cast) and Yi Gi-bung obtained an overwhelming success as vice-president (8.3 million votes, or 79% of the votes cast, against 1.8 million votes and 21% of the votes cast for Jang Myeon).

Faced with the scale of the fraud, violently repressed demonstrations took place on election day itself, in particular in Masan, near Pusan, where the toll among the demonstrators resulted in 8 dead and 70 injured. As throughout the uprising, the Syngman Rhee government accused the Communists of being behind the events. In Masan, the uprising had led to the sacking of police stations, a pro-government newspaper and the headquarters of the Liberal Party’s campaign committee.

On April 11, the body of a missing 17-year-old student, Kim Ju-yeol, was found in Masan Bay (photo above, source : Korea Times). The same day, at 6 p.m., a demonstration brings together 30,000 participants in Masan. During the night, two people were shot dead by the police. The students would henceforth take an essential part in the demonstrations which were to bring about the downfall of Syngman Rhee.

On April 18, students at Goryo University in Seoul staged a sit-in in front of the National Assembly. An attack orchestrated by thugs supported by the Liberal Party caused a dozen injuries. The next day, the incident made headlines. The media dissociated itself from power, henceforth reporting in detail on the student demonstrations.

The new student demonstration, on Tuesday, April 19, had an unprecedented scale, bringing together students of letters, sciences, law and art of the Seoul National University, those of educational sciences and management of the University from Konkuk, high school students from Dongsung, students from the Universities of Goryo, Dongguk, Yonsei and Chungang. At 11:50 a.m., some of the students marched on the Capitol, seat of government, and the presidential palace, jeering at the head of state. The police forces of the presidential palace opened fire around 1:40 p.m., resulting in 21 deaths. Around 2:30 p.m., the demonstrators were 200,000 in Seoul, opposing the police forces. Twenty-six buildings were destroyed, including the headquarters of Seoul Sinmun and the House of Anti-Communism. The results of the fighting in Seoul were established, on April 21,

On the same day, martial law was declared in Seoul at 2:40 p.m. (retroactive to 1 p.m.), then extended to the main provincial cities, where mass demonstrations had led to deaths in Gwangju and Pusan. The total toll of the repression reached 186 dead, including 77 students, college and high school students and 66 peasants.

Under Song Yo-chan’s leadership, martial law troops entered into talks with the protesters, leading to the release of the imprisoned students. This turn of events surprised Syngman Rhee and his ministers, especially - unique in the history of South Korea - that they had lost the support of the American government. Initially, the United States did not criticize the March 15 election fraud, even confirming an official visit by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But in the aftermath of the April 19 uprising, the US Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on April 20 calling for the democratization of South Korea. On April 21, the government and Liberal Party leaders collectively tendered their resignations. But Syngman Rhee remained in place,

On April 25, 300 professors gathered at Seoul National University and declared that the protests reflected the spirit of the nation. They demanded the resignation of the president, the deputies and the judges of the Supreme Court. Leading a protest calling for revenge for dead students, they were joined by more than 40,000 protesters, as martial law troops awaited instructions. Syngman Rhee proceeded to the appointment of interim Prime Minister Heo Jeong as Minister of Foreign Affairs, called to exercise the functions of Head of State if he resigns.

The demonstrations of April 26 began at 5 a.m., at the end of the curfew. Protesters rode on the tanks of martial law troops, while the bronze statue of Syngman Rhee in the middle of the Pagoda Park was toppled. Syngman Rhee had no choice but to submit his resignation, announced at 10:20 a.m. by Martial Law Headquarters. On April 28, Yi Gi-bung, his wife, his eldest son—also the adopted son of Syngmann Rhee—and his younger son committed suicide in the presidential palace. On May 29, Syngman Rhee went into exile in Hawaii, where he died in 1965.

The April 1960 revolution had overcome twelve years of authoritarian rule. It remained for the victors of the day to organize themselves, divided between the former opposition on the right and the left decapitated after the execution of Cho Bong-am, less than a year earlier. If, in this context of dissension, the military coup of May 1961 was soon to put an end to the first period of democracy in South Korea, it was nonetheless to shape the history of contemporary Korea.

Sources :

- Seo Joong-seok, South Korea : 60 years of contemporary history. Origins and Stages of the Democratic Movement, Korea Democracy Foundation, Seoul, 2007, pp. 85-108.

- Kang Man-gil, A History of contemporary Korea, Global oriental, 2005 for the English version, pp. 238-240.

The popular movement against poverty, dictatorship and the division of the country From the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee to that of Chun Doo Hwan

Throughout Park’s dictatorship, despite repression, large protest movements chronically broke out in which students played a leading role. This is particularly the case of the great demonstrations in 1965 against the signing of the treaty between Japan and Korea and in 1972 against the proclamation of martial law and the new Constitution which grants the dictator to remain in office until his death. Student demonstrations were harshly repressed in the city of Pusan ​​in October 1979, triggering a crisis of the regime which ended in the assassination of Park Chung Hee on October 26. Park falls under the bullets of his closest collaborator, Kim Jae Kyu, then director of the KCIA (South Korean Central Intelligence Agency). A large student demonstration in the industrial city of Pusan, on October 16, escalated into a confrontation with the police the following day. The Park government immediately declared a state of emergency in this city, sending an infantry division. Despite this measure, the protests spread to other cities like Masan, another industrial city, where many exporting companies are located. Many workers engaged in street actions. Park also declares a state of siege on Masan. During the four days of confrontation, 4,207 people were arrested. Student protests spread to the capital, Seoul |25|. The head of the KCIA judges that by getting rid of Park, it is possible to save the situation. The day after General Park’s death, the army was divided : one sector held out the prospect of a certain “liberalization” of the regime. Mobilizations continue. At the beginning of December 1979, most of the political detainees (some of whom were serving very long prison sentences) were released. On December 12, major-general Chun Doo Hwan succeeded in a putsch within the army, he had his main rival General Ching arrested and took total control of the army. Mobilizations continue. On April 14, 1980, Chun Doo Hwan, who retained his duties as head of the army, was appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. At the beginning of December 1979, most of the political detainees (some of whom were serving very long prison sentences) were released. On December 12, major-general Chun Doo Hwan succeeded in a putsch within the army, he had his main rival General Ching arrested and took total control of the army. Mobilizations continue. On April 14, 1980, Chun Doo Hwan, who retained his duties as head of the army, was appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. At the beginning of December 1979, most of the political detainees (some of whom were serving very long prison sentences) were released. On December 12, major-general Chun Doo Hwan succeeded in a putsch within the army, he had his main rival General Ching arrested and took total control of the army. Mobilizations continue. On April 14, 1980, Chun Doo Hwan, who retained his duties as head of the army, was appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. most of the political detainees (some of whom were serving very long prison sentences) are released. On December 12, major-general Chun Doo Hwan succeeded in a putsch within the army, he had his main rival General Ching arrested and took total control of the army. Mobilizations continue. On April 14, 1980, Chun Doo Hwan, who retained his duties as head of the army, was appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. most of the political detainees (some of whom were serving very long prison sentences) are released. On December 12, major-general Chun Doo Hwan succeeded in a putsch within the army, he had his main rival General Ching arrested and took total control of the army. Mobilizations continue. On April 14, 1980, Chun Doo Hwan, who retained his duties as head of the army, was appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. Major-General Chun Doo Hwan succeeds in a putsch within the army, he arrests his main rival General Ching and takes total control of the army. Mobilizations continue. On April 14, 1980, Chun Doo Hwan, who retained his duties as head of the army, was appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. Major-General Chun Doo Hwan succeeds in a putsch within the army, he arrests his main rival General Ching and takes total control of the army. Mobilizations continue. On April 14, 1980, Chun Doo Hwan, who retained his duties as head of the army, was appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. Chun Doo Hwan, who retains his duties as head of the army, is appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination. Chun Doo Hwan, who retains his duties as head of the army, is appointed director of the KCIA by the head of state. Mobilizations continue. The return to the open military dictatorship takes place on May 18, 1980. A brutal repression is triggered : all the leaders of the opposition are arrested. This causes great social explosions of which the urban uprising in Kwangju is the culmination.

Immediately after the proclamation of a new martial law on May 18, 1980, several thousand students from Chonam University in Kwangju took to the streets. Parachute regiments are sent in and assassinate demonstrators, including young girls, with bayonets (see box at the bottom of the article). The next day, more than 50,000 people begin to confront the soldiers. During the fighting, more than 260 of them were killed. After four days of fierce fighting, the number of insurgents reached 200,000 in a city with a population of around 750,000. They finally took control of the entire city. Radio stations are set on fire by protesters enraged that no information has been given about their struggle due to martial law censorship. The insurgents seize the weapons abandoned by the troops folded up outside and organize themselves into committees of control and administration of the city. On May 23, the province of Cholla in southern Korea was entirely in the hands of students and the insurgent population. The students of Kwangju seized buses and trucks and, arms in hand, went from one city to another, thus allowing the extension of the movement. As new government troops approach Kwangju, the insurgents form a crisis committee to negotiate with the authorities responsible for imposing martial law. They demand that these authorities apologize to the people of Kwangju for the atrocities committed, that they pay compensation for the injured and dead, that they do not retaliate after the events, that military leaders do not move troops before a settlement is reached. Despite these negotiations, the troops, about 17,000 men, stormed the city at dawn on May 27 and occupied it. The number of deaths among students and residents of the city exceeds several hundred |26|. The repression was carried out with the blessing of the American army and Washington |27|. In the months that followed, the repression affected the whole country. According to an official report dated February 9, 1981, more than 57,000 people were arrested on the occasion of the ’Social Purification Campaign’ undertaken since the summer of 1980. Nearly 39,000 of them were sent to military camps for ’physical and psychological re-education’ |28|. In February 1981,

Thirteenth observation : A powerful anti-dictatorial social movement headed by students is confronting the dictatorship. After the assassination of Park (October 1979) and a short democratic interlude, a new ferocious dictatorship is installed by triggering a bloody repression in May 1980 supported by Washington and Tokyo.

The economic policy of dictator Chun Doo Hwan (1980-1987)

After the assassination of the dictator Park Chung Hee in 1979 and the installation of the dictatorship of the general Chun Doo Hwan, the economic orientation does not fundamentally change. Korea, which ran up a lot of debt during the 1970s with foreign banks, mainly Japanese, suffered the shock of the sudden rise in interest rates harder than other developing countries because it borrowed largely at variable rates. In 1983, South Korea was fourth on the list of the most indebted countries in absolute figures (43 billion dollars), it was preceded only by Brazil (98 billion), Mexico (93 billion) and Argentina (45 billion). But, once again, its geostrategic position entitles it to a different treatment from that of other developing countries. Japan came to the rescue by paying Korea $3 billion (in war reparations) which the latter used to maintain the repayment of debt to Japanese bankers. This saves it from having to call on the IMF and comply with its draconian conditions |30|. For its part, the Japanese government thus avoided the bankruptcy of some of its banks and obtained greater investment facilities from South Korea. Fourteenth observation : Contrary to the World Bank’s version, the massive recourse to external debt from private banks almost cost South Korea dearly. If it had not occupied a geostrategic place of prime importance in the eyes of the United States and Japan, it could have known the fate of countries like Argentina, Brazil and Mexico which had to submit to IMF conditions. As will be seen in the sequel, it was able to continue following a partially independent path of development until the 1990s.

Korea was also affected by the second oil shock of 1979 (rise in the price of oil caused by the Iranian revolution and the overthrow of the Shah) but took the hit. Authoritarian control over the economy is maintained : the government forces industries to manufacture one product rather than another. He decides to restructure the transport vehicle production industry and instructs two chaebols to produce automobiles. The World Bank opposes this orientation and recommends instead that Korea abandon the production of finished vehicles by concentrating on the production of spare parts for export. The Bank explains that Korean cars will not sell. The Korean authorities are standing up. Result : in the mid-1980s,

At the time, the Bank definitively turned the page on the concessions with regard to the model of industrialization by import substitution. In 1981, under the Reagan administration, the last economists in favor of state intervention were replaced by hardline neoliberals with Anne Krueger as chief economist. She had written a book on Korea a few years earlier to demonstrate the superiority of export substitution over import substitution |31|. Seoul’s drive to produce automobiles for export is part of an aggressive export substitution drive and, in principle, should be strongly supported by the Bank. This is not the case because Seoul’s decision threatens the US auto industry. The limit of the great flexibility of the Bank’s economists is quickly reached when the interests of the United States are at stake. Fifteenth observation : The regime of Chun Doo Hwan once again refuses to follow the recommendations of the World Bank and wins its bet against her. However, the Bank maintains its support for the dictatorship because it wants to try to influence it at all costs. For their part, the United States are beginning to be wary of the appetite of South Korean companies.

Towards the end of the Chun Doo Hwan dictatorship (1980-1987)

In 1979-1980, in many companies, workers sought to set up unions. What is at stake is the formation of new “independent” unions, openly defying the FKTU leadership’s policy of collaboration, while being obliged to join in accordance with the law. Following the repression unleashed by Chun Doo Hwan, a hundred local sections of the FKTU were dissolved, 191 permanent staff were dismissed and some were sent to camps. In this movement to create independent unions, the driving role was played by protesting young people, workers or students, who chose to establish themselves in the factory to continue the political struggle begun at the university. The student movement began to raise its head in 1983-1984 and experienced a process not only of radicalization but also of deep politicization. From early 1986 to May 1986, 166,000 students took part in demonstrations |32|. The importance of movement in universities |33| is reflected in the fact that it is students who constitute the vast majority of political prisoners (800 students out of 1,300 political detainees). In the factories, the workers took up the fight again from 1985. For the first time, a major strike broke out in a chaebol, the Daewoo Motors company. It is successful and a new independent union is created. On February 12, 1986, a petition campaign is launched in Seoul by the New Democratic Party of Korea (NKDP) to change the Constitution (the objective is to allow the election by direct suffrage of the president and not by an electoral college). In the following months, a series of rallies mobilized tens of thousands of people in major cities across the country. The students participate autonomously in the democratic movement by putting forward radical slogans such as ’Down with the military dictatorship’, ’Against the presence in the country of 40,000 US soldiers’ and for a ’Popular Constitution’. On November 29, 1986, the regime invaded the city of Seoul with 50,000 police officers in order to prevent the holding of an NKDP rally. The regime applies the force of the State against the opposition but this policy fails because a groundswell crosses all the layers of the company for the democratic claims. Negotiations between dictatorship and opposition on electoral procedures are unsuccessful. The government is weakened by the political consequences of the murder of a student in a police station. In this situation, all the opposition forces, including the new coalition resulting from a split in the NKDP, called for a demonstration on June 10, 1987. The day before, the police arrested 3,000 people, put 140 leaders of opposition, deployed tens of thousands of police. Nothing helped : on June 10 and the following days, the protest spread to the whole country, massive clashes reached such a level that the regime began to back down : direct presidential elections were won |34|. This time, Washington ended up putting pressure on the dictatorship to let go.

On the side of the factories, the movement is not limited to the perspective of the ballot box. South Korean workers are engulfed in the breach opened by the victory of the mass movement of June 1987, spearheaded by the students. The summer of 1987 saw South Korea shaken by an unprecedented wave of strikes. Between July 17 and August 25, there were 1,064 labor disputes |35| while the annual average for the previous ten years was 200 conflicts |36|. All sectors of the economy are affected, including the chaebols (24,000 Hyundai shipyard workers, 15,000 coal miners, etc.). The struggles are marked by a strong combativeness : occupation of companies and even of management premises, blocking of railways and occupation of stations, refusal of the tactics of the employers’ lockout... The disputes result in significant wage increases and the recognition of independent and democratic trade unions. In 1988, there were already 2,799 democratic unions. In 1989, the number exceeded 7,000. In January 1990, the Congress of Korean Trade Unions was founded, which a few years later became the Confederation of Korean Trade Unions (KCTU). However, until the 2000s, the creation of a trade union confederation was an illegal act. Gwangju uprising and refugees in South Korea

On May 18, 1980, one day after the application of the state of siege in the province of Gwangju, students demonstrate in the city center of Gwangju (southwest of the country) in defense of democracy after the arrival the power of dictator Chun Doo-hwan during a coup d’etat in 1979... This uprising in Gwangju was severely repressed by the army, which regained control of the city on May 27, 1980. The official report of this massacre is uncertain, between 170 and 2000 dead depending on the sources...

The city of Gwangju has since been dubbed "the memorial of Korean democracy" and a national cemetery was inaugurated there in 2002 to pay tribute to the victims of this massacre. On May 18, 2010, Korea Post issued a pre-stamped picture card (220 won) to commemorate the 30th anniversary of this student uprising.

On December 4, 2000, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution instituting World Refugee Day, celebrated every year on June 20 since then.

This international day aims to raise awareness among as many people as possible about the cause of refugee populations around the world (estimated at 34 million people) who have fled their country after conflicts or religious, ethnic, social or political persecution. The women and children who are part of these displaced populations are the most vulnerable (deprivation, hunger, rape, crimes...). To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the institution of this World Refugee Day, the Korea Post issued, on June 18, 2010, the stamp on the FDC above (thank you very much Kim !), available in a sheet of 12 stamps with illustrated margins. On this stamp, children and women form a roof with their arms, reminiscent of the emblem of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

the South Korean working class destroyed, through remarkable mass strikes during the years 1987-1990, the foundations of a military dictatorship that had been raging for decades. For a brief period (1990-1994), strikes resulted in the creation of radical democratic trade unions and thus high and general wage increases. But, as in the other cases cited above, the working class was relegated to the role of a battering ram facilitating “democratic” political change that quickly sang the anthem of globalization and neoliberalism in favor of the market economy. . In fact, before the wave of strikes but especially after, South Korean capital was already investing abroad and seeking to impose a policy of neoliberal austerity inside the country. In 1997-98, the Asian financial crisis forced South Korea to come under the tutelage of the IMF, which greatly accelerated the precariousness of the Korean working class, which had been the main capitalist response to the advances of the late 1980s. at least 60% of the workforce live in the most brutal precariousness. Subject to instant layoffs, precarious workers receive salaries and benefits that are at least half the status of the 10% constituted by permanent workers. The bureaucratic remnants of the radical democratic unions of the early 1990s are now nothing more than corporatist organizations representing this working class elite, Chronology of the revolt started in Gwangju

May 18 to May 21, 1980

On the morning of May 18, students protested the gate of Chonnam National University against its closing, paratroopers throwing stones blocking the gate. Paratroopers, skilled in unconventional warfare and uncivilian riot control, responded by beating the protesters with bayonets and clubs. After the incident, students entered the city center and continued protesting abolition, demanding martial law and the release of Kim Dae-jung. Paratroopers soon followed and again opposed with demonstrators.

The suppression was marked by violence. Witnesses say soldiers bludgeoned demonstrators and spectators. The first known fatality was a 29-year-old deaf man named Kim Gyeong-cheol, who never participated in the protest but was bludgeoned to death on May 18 while passing through the stage. Some testimonies and photographs even suggest the use of bayonets. As citizens were angered by the violence, the number of protesters quickly increased and exceeded 100,000 by May 20.

It was inevitable that accidents would occur in the military and police during the conflict with civilian demonstrators. As the conflict escalated, the army suddenly began to use fire, killing unknown numbers of citizens immediately near Gwangju station on May 20. That same day, angered protesters burned down a local MBC post which denounced Gwangju civilians as rioters as well as fabricated facts on the situation in Gwangju at the time. Four policemen were killed at a police barricade near the provincial government building after a car rammed into them[1].

On the night of May 20, hundreds of taxis led a large parade of buses, large trucks and cars towards the Provincial Office to meet the protest. As the drivers drove in the demonstration, the troops used tear gas, pulled them out of the cars and beat them. These "democracy drivers" showed up to support the citizens and the demonstration because of the gang brutality witnessed early, as well as out of anger after many taxi drivers were mobbed when trying to drive away. helping injured and while carrying people to the hospital. Some were even shot after drivers tried to use the vehicles to block soldiers or as weapons. [2]

The violence peaked on May 21. At around 1 pm, the army fired at a protest crowd gathered in front of Jeonnam Provincial Office, causing many casualties. Citizens began arming themselves with M1 rifles and carbines taken from armories and police stations in nearby towns for their own defense. Later that afternoon, bloody gun battles between civilian militias and the army broke out in the provincial square of Office. By 5:30 PM, the militias had acquired two light machine guns and used them against the army, which began to retreat from the town centre.

May 22 to May 25

At this point, all troops retreated to suburban areas, awaiting reinforcements. During this period the army blocked all routes and communications leading in and out of the city. Even though there was a lull in the fighting between the militias and the army, more casualties were incurred when soldiers set fire to a passing bus in the Jiwon-coup, killing 17 of the 18 passengers on 23 may. The following day soldiers set fire to the boys swimming in the Wonje Reservoir and killed some of them. Later that day the army suffered its heaviest casualties, when troops mistakenly fired at each other in the Songam-coup.

Meanwhile, in the "liberated" city of Gwangju, the Citizens’ Settlement Committee and the Student Settlement Committee have been formed. The elder consisted of about 20 preachers, lawyers and teachers. They negotiated with the army demanding the release of arrested citizens, compensation for victims and the prohibition of revenge in exchange for the disarmament of the militias. The latter was formed by college students, and took charge of burials, public campaigns, traffic control, weapons removal, and medical aid. Order in the city was well maintained, but negotiations came to an impasse as the army urged the militias to disarm immediately. This issue has caused division among the Rules Committees ; the doves wanted immediate surrender, while the hawks called for continued resistance until their demands were met. After heated discussions, eventually the Falcons took control.

As news of the massacre spread from Gwangju, other protests against the government erupted in neighboring areas including Hwasun, Naju, Haenam, Mokpo, Yeongam, Gangjin, and Muan. While the protests ended peacefully in most areas, in Haenam there were gun battles between protesters and armed troops. By May 24, most of these protests had died down, except for Mokpo where the protests continued until May 28.

May 26

By May 26, the army was ready to re-enter the city. Members of the Citizens Settlement Committee unsuccessfully tried to block the advance of the army by lying down on the street. As news of the impending attack spread, civilian militias gathered in the Provincial Office, preparing for the last stand.

May 27

At 4:00 a.m., troops from five divisions entered the city center and defeated the civilian militias in just 90 minutes.

There is no exact death toll from the 1980 Gwangju uprising. "Official" figures released by Martial Law Command put the death toll at 144 civilians, 22 troops and 4 police killed, with 127 civilians, 109 troops and 144 police wounded. Individuals who attempted to challenge these figures were responsible for arrest for “spreading false rumors”.[3]

According to the May 18 Private Family Association, at least 165 people died between May 18 and 27. Another 65 is still missing and presumed completely. 23 soldiers and 4 policemen were killed during the uprising, including 13 soldiers killed in the friendly-fire incident between the troops in the Songam-coup. Figures for police accidents are likely to be higher, due to reports of several policemen themselves being killed by soldiers to free captured rioters.[4]

According to the 2007 Korean film May 18 (Hwaryeohan Hyuga), directed by Kim Ji-hun, "The incident resulted in 207 deaths, 2,392 wounded, and 987 missing persons, but the exact number of casualties has been subject to considerable conflict. Members of the military government have been charged with the rebellion but the culprit of ordering open fire against the citizens has yet to be identified".

The government denounced the uprising as a rebellion instigated by Kim Dae-jung and his followers. In subsequent trials, Kim was convicted and sentenced to death, although his punishment was later reduced in response to international outcries. A global 1394 people have been arrested for some involvement in the Gwangju incident and 427 have been charged. Among them, 7 death sentences and 12 received received life sentences.

The Gwangju movement had a profound impact on South Korean politics and history. Chun Doo-hwan suffered popularity problems because he seized power through a military coup, but after the Special Forces expedition was authorized on citizens, his legitimacy was significantly damaged. The United States was previously seen as a liberator and protector, but the Gwangju democratization movement changed the image of the United States because it was assumed the United States knew ahead of the time about the dispatch of special troops and sat idle while civilians were killed. The American image was further damaged when the United States continued to support Chun Doo-hwan through the 1980s. However, the movement also set the stage for later movements in the 1980s that eventually brought democracy to South Korea. The Gwangju democratization movement has become a symbol of South Koreans’ struggle against authoritarian regimes and their fight for democracy.

At the Mangwol-coup cemetery in Gwangju where the bodies of the victims were buried, survivors of the massacre and bereaved families have held an annual memorial service on May 18 every year since 1983. Many pro-democracy demonstrations in the 1980s have demanded official identification of the truth of the massacre and the punishment of Gwangju for those responsible. The official reassessment began after the reinstatement of direct presidential elections in 1987. In 1988, the National Assembly held a public hearing on the Gwangju massacre, and officially withdrew the incident as a move to democratize Gwangju.

In 1995, as public pressure mounted, the National Assembly passed the Special Democratization Act May 18, which allowed the prosecution of those responsible for the December 12 coup and the Gwangju massacre despite the fact that the statute of limitations had expired. Later 8 politicians were indicted for high treason and massacre in 1996. Their punishments were settled in 1997, including a life sentence for former President Chun Doo-hwan. But all condemnation was forgiven in the name of national reconciliation on December 22 by President Kim’s Jeune-Sam.

In 1997, May 18 was declared an official memorial day. In 2002, a law favoring private families came into force, and the Mangwol-coup cemetery was elevated to the status of a national cemetery. The wave of workers’ strikes

From June 1987 and significantly until 1990, the wave of strikes known in Korean as "Nodongja Taettujaeng", the Great Workers’ Struggle, represents one of the main episodes of the class struggle during the 1980s. , as well as Solidarnosc in Poland (1980-81), the Iranian workers’ councils (shura) (1979-1981) and the Brazilian wave of strikes of 1978-1983. The wave of strikes shook the foundations of a dictatorship that had reigned almost interrupted after the end of the Korean War.

These strikes made it possible for important sectors of the Korean working class to benefit from significant wage increases, and for the appearance, during a brief period (1990-1994), of radical democratic unions which formed the National Congress of Trade Unions (ChoNoHyop) , a group that defended an anti-capitalist policy, at least verbally.

As soon as this wave of strikes had triumphed, its gains began to be seriously attacked.

The ChoNoHyop was destroyed by the government repression which hit its best militants. On the other hand, the government encouraged more conservative activists to form the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (Minju Nochong or KCTU) which was created in 1995 ; in December 1996, the government attempted to forcefully impose a casualization of labor law, which the KCTU reluctantly opposed during the January 1997 strike. In the fall of 1997, the Asian financial crisis forced South Korea to under IMF tutelage in exchange for a $57 billion bailout, and the IMF explicitly demanded casualization of the labor force and mass layoffs to implement its restructuring program. In December 1997, Kim Dae Jong, leader of the democratic opposition for decades, was elected President of the Republic ; in February 1998, he led the KCTU to sign a "historic agreement" and to accept hundreds of thousands of redundancies and redundancy plans in accordance with IMF demands, all in exchange for the definitive legalization of the union.

Part One : Historical Context

Beginning in June 1987 and continuing significantly through 1990, the wave of strikes known in Korea as the Great Workers’ Struggle (Nodongja Taettujaeng) sided with Polish Solidarnosc (1980-81), Iranian workers’ councils of (1979-1981) and the Brazilian Strike Wave of 1978-1983 as one of the main episodes of the working class struggle of the 1980s. The wave of strikes broke the foundations of an almost uninterrupted dictatorship after the end of the Korean War, won large wage increases for large sections of the Korean working class, and briefly (from 1990 to 1994) established radical democratic unions in the National Trades Union Congress. (ChoNoHyop), committed at least verbally to anti-capitalism.

No sooner had this wave of strikes triumphed than its gains began to be seriously compromised. The ChoNoHyop was destroyed by government repression of its best activists. On the other hand, the government was ready to tolerate the more conservative militants of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (Minju Nochong or KCTU), from 1995 ; in December 1996, the government attempted to pass a casualization of labor law, which was lip serviced by the KCTU during the January 1997 general strike. In the fall of 1997, the Asian financial crisis placed South Korea under IMF tutelage in exchange for a $57 billion bailout, with the IMF explicitly demanding casualization of the workforce and mass layoffs as part of its restructuring program.

As a front, Kim Dae Jong’s government also established in 1998 the Tripartite Commission of State, Capital and Labor on Corporate Principles, a meaningless body which, of course, only acted in the name of the state and of capital.

Despite this bleak picture and an almost endless series of setbacks, the Korean working class had to be beaten bit by bit, with long and bitter strikes, and recent events show that this militancy is far from being eliminated.

Today, twenty years after the Great Labor Struggle of 1987, the labor situation in Korea has become one of the most successful capitalist casualizations in the world, certainly in any advanced industrial country. About 10% of the Korean workforce is organized in KCTU unions with regular jobs and wages, while 60% is casualized, outsourced and downsized. At Hyundai Motor Company, for example, one of the strongholds of industrial activism in 1987-90, regular and casual workers worked side by side, doing exactly the same jobs, with casuals earning 50% of regular workers’ wages. (the latter earning between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, plus bonuses and overtime). The KCTU is widely hated in the precarious working class as the corporatist mouthpiece for highly paid regular workers, and regular workers on their side have even physically assaulted casual workers when the latter went wild ( as happened for example at Kia Motor Company in August 2007). In the recent elections (December 2007), a large number of workers voted for Lee Myoung Back, the far-right candidate of the One Nation Party (Hanaratang), former CEO of Hyundai and mayor of Seoul, in the vain hope of a return to the expansive economy. of the 1970s and 1980s.in the vain hope of a return to the expansive economy of the 1970s and 1980s.in the vain hope of a return to the expansive economy of the 1970s and 1980s.

How the Korean working class went from offensive struggle and victory to precariousness and retirement in just two decades is therefore the subject of this article.

Part two : democracy sells austerity ; Class struggle in an authoritarian development regime

We would do well to situate the experience of the Korean working class within the larger cycle of transitions from dictatorship to (bourgeois) democracy, beginning in Spain and Portugal (1974-1976) and continuing in countries like Poland and Brazil. It can also be noted that after the Iberian “transitions”, the explosions that followed took place during a period of retreat and retreat of the North American and European working classes.

Indeed, they took place in the general context of global economic crisis after the end of the post-war boom. In Iberia, Poland and Brazil, as in South Korea, major working class intervention in politics and society was preceded by a long period of intensive "economic growth" (of highly variable quality) and intensive repression of activity, organization and wages. In each case, workers’ struggles were at the heart of the battle of the broader "democratic opposition" against the dictatorship, and in each case the broader "democratic opposition" seized power and implemented (still in close collaboration with

international capital) severe austerity programs that fragmented the labor movement. One could conclude that “democracy sells austerity” and that is indeed my conclusion.

The Korean case, of course, has many details that should not be overwhelmed by a general comparison.

Korea was, in 1960, considered an economic “basket case”, as poor per capita as India or Tanzania. In 1996, with great fanfare, it was welcomed into the OECD as an “advanced economy” and only a year later (as noted) fell under IMF control.

Nevertheless, Korea, one of the Asian "tigers" alongside Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, imposed itself in the period 1960-1997 as one of the rare successes, in the face of a hundred failures and regressions of beneficiary Third World countries. of Western "aid" and the tutelage of the IMF and the World Bank.

What makes Korea different ? We can immediately cite its special status (like the other tigers) as a "showcase" outpost of American imperialism, whose economic success was an important propaganda counterweight to the (so-called) socialist regimes in the immediate vicinity, to namely North Korea, China. and the Soviet Union. The United States, with tens of thousands of troops in South Korea after the end of the Korean War, tolerated state development policies there that it routinely opposed or reversed in the rest of the underserved world. developed.

Secondly, South Korea, like Taiwan, is distinguished from almost all other Third World countries by the agrarian reform which definitively eliminated the pre-capitalist "yangban" aristocracy between 1945 and 1950. (This reform took place under the intense land reform pressure in the north, one expanded to the south when Kim Il-sung’s armies briefly captured nearly the entire peninsula in the early months of the war.)

Third, South Korea, poor in natural resources and crushed by the hostilities of 1950-1953, is the country par excellence of “human capital”, with a strong emphasis, not to say madness, on education. Even in 1960, the adult literacy rate was 90%, which was barely the case in comparable Third World countries at the time.

The country was divided at the 38th parallel in 1945 by the occupying armies of the United States and the Soviet Union. Japan’s defeat in World War II ended 35 years of Japanese colonial rule, the latter having been an important moment in laying the foundations for a modern capitalist economy (the exact legacy of this period is disputed at this time). day).

When the Japanese occupiers fled in August 1945, one to two million American Zone workers built workers’ councils (Changpyong, or National Choson Workers’ Council) in the abandoned factories, minus any specific commitment to self-management workers (the Korean left was mostly Stalinist) than out of the simple need to produce the basics of daily life. This system of workers’ councils was duly closed by the American occupation authorities in December 1945.

As in the European countries occupied by Nazi Germany and whose bourgeoisies had also been collaborators, the Korean yangban and the petty capitalist class were politically and socially discredited. From these motley forces, the American occupation had to cobble together a viable government capable of defeating the awakened workers and peasants, many of whom were strongly in favor of Kim il-Sung and his guerrilla forces, and generally in favor of a radical change. The United States seized on the figure of Rhee Syngman and oversaw and participated in the merciless crushing of the left in the southern zone during five years of partisan warfare and massacres before the outbreak of war with the North Korea in June 1950. What remained of a serious left in 1950 was physically eliminated during the war years or fled to the North (where many of them were also eliminated). Continuity with the pre-1945 Korean left in the south was completely broken, a factor that played a significant role in the revival that began in the 1970s.

Rhee Syngman ruled a generally inept and economically stagnant South Korea until 1960, supported entirely by American military support and aid. It was finally overthrown in student-led riots in 1960, and South Korea enjoyed a brief democratic opening. This opening was closed by Park Chung-hee’s coup in 1961, and a new era began.

Park Chung-hee was not, or at least not only, the typical post-World War II American-backed puppet dictator. He is widely believed (although to my knowledge no definitive proof has come to light) to have been a communist as early as 1943, and in 1948 he was arrested as part of a communist study group of young officers. When he took power in 1961, the United States was initially reluctant to recognize him, and on several occasions during his dictatorial rule (1961-1979), the United States was suspicious of his nationalist impulses (as in its independent nuclear program) and its occasional diplomatic flirtations with North Korea. .

Additionally, Park had been educated at a Japanese military academy during World War II and was very much in love with the Japanese model of economic development, which he soon attempted to emulate in South Korea, with some success. As the Japanese model was in turn copied from the Prussian model in the late 19th century, South Korea acquired a certain "German" veneer that is usually overshadowed by the much-contested (and often overshadowed) Japanese heritage. Park’s constitution, for example, was written by a Korean jurist who studied law in Germany in the 1950s and fell in love with the theories of Carl Schmitt ; therefore, "the state of emergency" was the cornerstone of Park’s ideology. Ahn Ho Sang,

More fundamentally, Park suppressed the parasitic capitalists of the Rhee period and either eliminated them or drew them into productive investment. He implemented the "new village" (Se Maul) policy in the countryside, designed to fully capitalize agriculture and force large rural populations into cities and into industrial employment. Through the Anti-Communist Federation of Korean Cold War Trade Unions (FKTU), the regime exercised draconian control over labor, with seven-day, 12-hour shift weeks not unusual, and enforced if necessary with police terror and torture. At the time of the Park, the famous chaebol (conglomerates) rose to prominence, under state control of credit and selection of "national champion" industries,

Korea, like other tigers and unlike most Third World countries at that time, developed by moving forward, with an export-oriented strategy, up the international "commodity chain", starting with textiles and other light consumer industries, moving on to manufacturing (automotive, shipbuilding) and finally high technology, capturing major global markets for computer components in the 1990s.

The economic success of Park Chung-hee’s decades, of course, cannot be separated from either his dictatorial methods or the international conjuncture of the time (two realities largely ignored today in debates about South Korea’s growing economic problems). South ; the victory in December 2007 of the extreme right in the presidential elections is inspired by a nostalgic and rosy vision of the time of the Park). In addition to benefiting from its high profile in US Cold War geopolitical strategy, the South Korean economy also benefited from the growing wave of industrial investment that from ca. 1965, began looking for locations outside of North America and Europe. The remuneration of Koreans abroad also played an important role,

Given the centrality of light manufacturing in the "take-off" period of the 1960s, the revival of the Korean workers’ movement therefore did not begin by chance in the textile industries, nor by chance (since labor was mainly composed of young women) led by female workers.

The contemporary Korean labor movement marks its symbolic beginnings on November 13, 1970, when Jeon Tae-il, a young textile worker, set himself on fire during a small protest in one of Seoul’s sweatshop districts. Jeon had previously pursued all legal forms of redress for the sweatshop workforce, to no avail.

The movement of the 1970s was characterized by an increasing number of strikes carried out under the most extreme conditions by female textile workers. The demands were simple and straightforward, aimed at the inhumane working hours, low wages, overbearing foremen and forced dormitory life of women, who were usually recruited directly from the countryside and from the slums that were springing up around Seoul and other cities. The strikes were almost without exception met with brutal repression by factory security personnel, police, soldiers and Korean underworld thugs. The struggle for a democratic union at the Dongil Textile Company in Inchon from 1972 to 1976 was exemplary in this respect.

The 1970s also saw the beginnings of involvement in the labor movement by religious groups (mainly Christians) and student radicals (the latter called “hakchul”, or “coming from the university”). Religious groups were inspired by Catholic liberation theology and similar Protestant social doctrines. Church groups and students formed evening schools for textile workers, teaching literacy and secretarial skills, but also basic labor rights.

Finally, the 1970s saw the rise of the minjung (popular culture) movement, closely linked to the religious and hakchul movement. The largely middle-class minjung movement reached into Korean popular culture, rapidly eroding under the impact of forced-march modernization, and attempted to use it in the creation of a "counter-culture of struggle” using the music and dance of Korean and rural shamanism. peasant traditions, creations that succeeded in solidifying the group’s determination to fight against vicissitudes and repression. To this day, the chant, reminiscent of the American IWW, remains an important part of the Korean labor movement, with protests and strikes singing dozens of songs that everyone knows by heart.

The Korean movement of the 1970s, whether labor or Hakchul or Minjung or religious, remained very much within the framework of liberal democratic ideology and tended to sympathetically view the United States as a force that would steer the Korean dictatorship towards democracy. This all changed with the Kwangju uprising and subsequent massacre in May 1980.

Korea has historically been a country of intense regional loyalties, loyalties that have persisted into the era of modern capitalism. The province of Cholla, in the southwest, is traditionally a region of agriculture and backwardness. Park chung-hee, on the other hand, hailed from the southeastern province of Gyeongsang, and his industrial policies were mainly directed there, giving rise to the major centers of Ulsan, Pohang and Pusan. The inhabitants of the province of Cholla resented this neglect.

In 1979, mass protests swept the country, demanding democracy. Workers were at the forefront of many of these protests. In October of the same year, Park chung-hee was assassinated by the head of Korea’s Central Intelligence Agency, allegedly after a dispute over how to contain and quell protests.

Part Three : The Kwangju Uprising and the Turn to “Marxism-Leninism”

A brief democratic opening, similar to 1960, took place, but Park was replaced by another military dictator, Chun Doo Hwan. In May 1980, the army fired on a demonstration in Kwangju, the largest city in Cholla province. The result was an uprising in which the people of Kwangju took control of the city, armed themselves with weapons from a military arsenal and fought against forces of suppression, including an elite unit withdrawn of the DMZ with North Korea, for days. Estimates of the total number of dead on both sides (most of them evidently from the revolt suppression) in Kwangju range up to 2000.

Kwangju was sealed off and extreme censorship prevented any serious information from leaking out. (Korea’s draconian national security law, dating back to 1948 and still in effect today, made it a serious crime until the 1990s to discuss the Kwangju uprising in public.) . However, it was widely believed that the US government, from the recent overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, amid the Tehran hostage crisis, and no longer wanting mass radical movements against pro-US dictators, had been deeply involved in the decision to use extreme force (a belief greatly reinforced by the more recent release of documents on government-to-government communication during the crisis).

From then on, the Korean movement quickly moved away from the liberal democratic and religious ideologies of the 1970s towards a more radical, essentially "Marxist-Leninist" revolutionary orientation.

This ideological turning point shows the importance of the whole previous period : the almost total discontinuity with the left which emerged after the collapse of Japan in 1945 and which was destroyed by US government and military repression between 1945 and 1953 ; the decades of post-Korean War dictatorship that characterized most moderate social criticism as Northern-inspired ; South Korea’s isolation from the global turmoil of the 1960s and beyond. (When Korean students joined underground opposition groups in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the first tasks was often to learn Japanese, in order to read any political (and especially Marxist) books that could not be published in Korea. ) Thus the decades-long erosion of Stalinism as it was experienced in Europe and the United States, the impact of 1968 and the Western New Left, the radical critique of Leninism, the revival of Hegel and the impact of the popularization of the Marx of the 1840s were all unknown or seen through dark glass in South Korea. (In the early 1980s, an underground study group was formed to read the writings of Lukacs and Hegel on aesthetics - in German - and was discovered ; its members were sentenced to six months in prison.) As a result, the The radicalization of the Korean movement after Kwangju proceeded almost invariably along Stalinist, "Marxist-Leninist", pro-Soviet, pro-China, pro-North Korea, but Stalinist lines at all levels. Trotsky was little known until the late 1980s, not to mention left-wing critiques of Trotsky. A clandestine study group formed to read Lukacs and Hegel’s writings on aesthetics – in German – was uncovered ; its members were sentenced to six months in prison.) As a result, the radicalization of the Korean movement after Kwangju almost invariably proceeded along Stalinist, "Marxist-Leninist", pro-Soviet, pro-China, pro-Korea lines. from the North, but Stalinist on all levels. Trotsky was little known until the late 1980s, not to mention left-wing critiques of Trotsky. An underground study group formed to read Lukacs and Hegel’s writings on aesthetics – in German – was uncovered ; its members were sentenced to six months in prison.) As a result, the radicalization of the Korean movement after Kwangju almost invariably proceeded along Stalinist, "Marxist-Leninist", pro-Soviet, pro-China, pro-North Korea, but Stalinist lines on all levels. Trotsky was little known until the late 1980s, let alone left-wing critiques of Trotsky, to say nothing of left-wing critiques of Trotsky, to say nothing of left-wing critiques of Trotsky.

Some of the Marxist-Leninist factions that emerged in the 1980s were the starting point for the two major trends in the organized Korean movement today (both within the previously mentioned KCTU and the Korean Democratic Labor Party or KDLP) . These factions are the pro-Korean "National Liberation" (NL, or juche-ists, so called because of North Korea’s doctrine of "juche" or self-reliance) and the large minority "People’s Democracy" (PD , more social democrat). As the December 2007 presidential election approached, Jucheists took full control of the KDLP apparatus and purged some PD members. (It is also important to note that the NL and PD factions have their base mainly in white-collar unions, such as banks, teachers and other civil servants, while blue-collar workers are largely indifferent to both. Under NL’s leadership, the nationwide KDLP vote fell, compared to 2002, in the December 2007 elections by 5 to 3%, and in Ulsan, the stronghold of the Korean working class, by 11 to 8%. .)

Nationalism is endemic in Korea, including in the labor movement. The reasons are to be found in the centuries of foreign domination (Chinese, then Japanese, then American), the division of the country after 1945, and the geopolitical position of Korea at the “crossroads” of Chinese, Japanese, Russians and Americans. spheres of influence. The Korean Peninsula, or its hegemony, was the price of foreign intrusions centuries ago, most recently the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, and most recently the Korean War. "When the whales fight, the minnows take shelter" is an old Korean proverb expressing this reality. The Japanese attempt, over 35 years (1910-1945) of colonial domination, to virtually eliminate Korean culture further reinforced this nationalist impulse. Finally, myths of ethnic homogeneity, reinforced by mythical populist history textbooks or more recently television historical dramas about eras of Korean greatness, complete the picture. (A different, even more virulent version of this nationalism is promoted in North Korea.) In this context, even sporting events, such as the Seoul Olympics in 1988 or the Korean team’s successes in the 2002 World Cup, become events in the forging a national identity. complete the table. (A different, even more virulent version of this nationalism is promoted in North Korea.) In this context, even sporting events, such as the Seoul Olympics in 1988 or the Korean team’s successes in the 2002 World Cup, become events in the forging a national identity. complete the table. (A different, even more virulent version of this nationalism is promoted in North Korea.) In this context, even sporting events, such as the Seoul Olympics in 1988 or the Korean team’s successes in the 2002 World Cup, become events in the forging a national identity.

For the same geopolitical reasons, any emergence of a serious class struggle in South Korea immediately takes on an international dimension.

Nationalism was therefore unchallenged in the revival of the left in the 1970s and 1980s. of Lenin’s imperialism, monopoly capital theory and dependency theory, popularized by Marxist-Leninist groups and by influential underground newspapers.

The 1980s also saw the acceleration of the Hakchul movement in the factories, as widespread as any comparable "turn to the working class" in Western countries by middle-class radicals after 1968. At the peak of the movement, thousands of former students had taken factory jobs, and on occasion even led major strikes.

The Korean movement of the late 1980s rightly saw South Korea as a “peripheral” country of the American imperial system, from which only “socialism” (in the Stalinist sense) and national reunification could eradicate it. There was thus a tendency to underestimate the depth of Korean industrial development and especially the elasticity of the system which would allow significantly higher wages in a capitalist framework after the workers’ revolt of 1987-1990. Such theories have been bolstered by the fact that South Korea only caught up with and overtook North Korea economically. 1980.

The convergence of all these factors meant that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, coinciding with the downturn in workers’ struggles after 1990, had a far greater psychological impact on activists in Korea than anywhere else in the West, where the prestige of the Soviet Union has been deflating since at least 1956 and certainly since 1968. The mood had already turned bleak in the spring of 1991, when a student in Seoul was beaten to death by the police and the candidates of the Democratic left were crushed in the June 1991 municipal elections, as if to underscore a sense of defeatism and futility after years of mobilization and struggle. It can be added that the Korean economy, in a phase of boom in the period 1986-88 and the first phase of the Great Labor Struggle,

Much like comparable developments in the West after the late 1970s, thousands of activists gave up, retreated into private life, attempted to pursue middle-class careers, or, in academia, succumbed to the appeal of post-modernism.

Part Four : National Politics and the Great Workers’ Struggle, 1987-1990

A discussion of the political background of the class struggle course is also indispensable. From the 1980s, workers’ struggles for democratic unions shifted (along with the Korean economy itself) from light industry to heavy industry. The military dictatorship of Chun Doo Hwan who succeeded Park chung-hee was forced to loosen controls in the mid-1980s, under mounting pressure from wider democratic opposition in the run-up to the Pan-Asian Olympics (1986 ) and the Seoul Olympics (1988). In particular, the June 1987 “declaration of democratization”, made in response to the threat that the working class would join pro-democracy demonstrations, was the immediate trigger for the Great Workers’ Struggle of that summer. For the first time, the movement moved from the Seoul-Inchon area to the southern new industrial areas of Ulsan, Masan and Changwon. In total, there were more than 3,000 strikes in 1987, winning unionization, 25-30% wage increases, and the abolition of hated military discipline (enforced hair length, mandatory morning drills) in factories. . Ulsan, in particular, the city of the Hyundai company, saw massive street mobilization and street fighting that lasted until 1990. compulsory morning exercises) in the factories. Ulsan, in particular, the city of the Hyundai company, saw massive street mobilization and street fighting that lasted until 1990. compulsory morning exercises) in the factories. Ulsan, in particular, the city of the Hyundai company, saw massive street mobilization and street fighting that lasted until 1990.

The 128-day (December 1988-April 1989) strike at Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) culminated in a coordinated military attack on the occupied Hyundai shipyard by 9,000 soldiers and police, from sea, air and of the earth. This was followed by ten days of street fighting (mobilizing not only the workers but their wives and children) in the working-class neighborhoods of Ulsan. This struggle was in turn followed in 1990 by the Goliat strike, still at HHI, which ended in a crushing defeat. (Hyundai built vast high-rise buildings for workers in response to these struggles.)

Part Five : Decline and Beginning of the Backlash, 1990-1997

The ebb from the offensive mass struggles of the period 1987-1990, and the general atmosphere of defeat that followed, opened a new phase in Korean workers’ organizations. The wage increases won at the end of the 1980s briefly reinforced the illusion of the possibility of a coexistence of capital and labor, and therefore the reformist currents. In particular, within the National Congress of Trade Unions (ChoNoHyop), the right-wing and openly reformist (pro-North Korean) National Liberation faction began to gain the upper hand over the weakened radical faction. (The NL faction’s Korean name, Kukminpa, literally means ’Work with the Nation’). This faction has always been oriented towards bureaucrats and politicians. As previously mentioned, a government policy of repression targeting the best NCTU activists and the tolerance of outspoken reformers destroyed the NCTU in 1995 and led to the consolidation of the KCTU under right-wing leadership. (Indeed, when the NCTU was itself founded in January 1990, most of its leaders were in prison or in hiding.) The long experience of dictatorship and cronyism also made some workers initially sympathetic to bourgeois democracy. and neoliberalism. Ulsan remained in intense turmoil, however, and in June 1991, when Park Chang Su, a labor leader, was killed in prison, 20,000 HHI and 30,000 HMC workers attacked Ulsan City Hall, with the struggle finally lasting. a month.Most of its leaders were in prison or in hiding. ) The long experience of dictatorship and cronyism also made some workers initially sympathetic to bourgeois democracy and neoliberalism. Ulsan remained in intense turmoil, however, and in June 1991, when Park Chang Su, a labor leader, was killed in prison, 20,000 HHI and 30,000 HMC workers attacked Ulsan City Hall, with the struggle finally lasting. a month. Most of its leaders were in prison or in hiding.) The long experience of dictatorship and cronyism also made some workers initially sympathetic to bourgeois democracy and neoliberalism. Ulsan remained in intense turmoil, however, and in June 1991, when Park Chang Su, a labor leader, was killed in prison, 20,000 HHI and 30,000 HMC workers attacked Ulsan City Hall,

In 1992, South Korea joined the International Labor Organization (ILO), around the same time that capitalists were banding together for a crackdown on wage gains. During this period, low-wage workers in the public sector began to organize, with Korea Telcom (KT) workers being the most militant, although their struggles tended to be mainly over wages, although linked to a push for democracy in the workplace.

In 1993–94, debate raged in the movement over the way forward, including a felt need for political strikes. The more radical currents wanted to move unions from enterprise unions (the dominant form of Korean unions to this day) to industrial unions, and create an umbrella organization. As the NCTU continued to decline under the blows of repression and the machinations of the NL faction, the way was opened for the creation of the KCTU, officially created (but not legalized before the IMF crisis) in November 1995. Some strikes successful strikes continued into 1995.-96, including a strike at KT, which won major wage gains. As a result of these strikes, blue collar salaries exceeded civil service salaries. At the same time, Korean employers were increasingly moving from the chaebol model to an orientation to the benefits of globalization. Both sides were preparing for the 1996-97 showdown over the casualization of labor law. In the fall of 1996, grassroots pressure and preparations for a general strike intensified. Under this pressure, the KCTU had to withdraw from discussions leading to the infamous Tripartite Commission (State-Labour-Capital) which, once again, would be created amid the IMF crisis in the spring of 1998. -rejection case of the NL group. An important countermeasure by radical militants was the formation of "hyung-jang jujik", or shop organizations, which attempted to counter the degeneration of the unions and the KCTU with an alternative organization, not ’outside’ the unions but as a shadow power both within the unions and with ’horizontal’ links to activists in other unions, fighting against a parochial tendency to ’company. The arc of the hyung-jang jujik extended from 1990 to 2005. Under different circumstances, the hyungjang jujik succeeded in taking power in the main trade unions and then often succumbed to bureaucratization ; in their later years, they fell prey to various groups seeking a circuitous route to power in the unions, and eventually fell apart. But at best, in a generally defensive situation, they maintained continuity with the radical momentum of the 1987-1990 period, and eventually collapsed. But at best, in a generally defensive situation, they retained continuity with the radical momentum of the 1987-1990 period, and ultimately collapsed. But at best, in a generally defensive situation, they retained continuity with the radical momentum of the 1987-1990 period.

Part Six : The General Strike and the IMF Crisis, 1997-1998

Just after Christmas 1996, the Korean government of Kim Young-sam, in a special nightly session of parliament without the presence of the opposition, pushed through the first of a series of casualization of labor laws aimed at bring the South Korean economy fully into the era of “globalization” and facilitate dismissals for employers, as well as the introduction of multi-level contracts. Employers, as noted earlier, had steadily cut workers’ earnings from the late 1980s, and the economy weakened further until 1996 as bankruptcies accelerated, but this was the first confrontation directly with the newly won workers’ power. .

The KCTU, firmly in the hands of the rightists who had defeated and supplanted the NCTU, called an immediate general strike under intense grassroots pressure, a general strike that was widely followed. Even the conservative Cold War-era “yellow” FKTU joined in. White-collar workers also bought into it, and at its peak three million workers were on strike. (The original legislation was withdrawn, but a virtually identical law was passed in March 1997, with no significant response from the KCTU.) Again, the historical experience of the Korean working class and the novelty of casualization made the strike more “anti-fascist” than anti-neo-liberal. The KCTU did everything in its power to avoid a confrontation with the government and actively demobilized where it could. The base, for its part, showed great spontaneity, as at Hyundai and Kia Motor Company. It was said that the KCTU met secretly with the capitalists to assure them that the strike was under control and was winding down. They came up with the helpless tactic of the "Wednesday strike", a tactic repeated again and again over the following years. The general strike died down at the end of January, with (as noted) nothing resolved. Following the general strike, the Korean Democratic Labor Party (KDLP, or Minju Nodong Tang) was founded in the spring of 1997, with the same right-wing elements dominating in the majority KCTU. The failure of the January 1997 general strike, however, was in turn overshadowed by the devastation of the Korean economy during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998. They came up with the helpless tactic of the "Wednesday strike", a tactic repeated again and again over the following years. The general strike died down at the end of January, with (as noted) nothing resolved. Following the general strike, the Korean Democratic Labor Party (KDLP, or Minju Nodong Tang) was founded in the spring of 1997, with the same right-wing elements dominating in the majority KCTU. The failure of the January 1997 general strike, however, was in turn overshadowed by the devastation of the Korean economy during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998. They came up with the helpless tactic of the "Wednesday strike", a tactic repeated again and again over the following years. The general strike died down at the end of January, with (as noted) nothing resolved. Following the general strike, the Korean Democratic Labor Party (KDLP, or Minju Nodong Tang) was founded in the spring of 1997, with the same right-wing elements dominating in the majority KCTU. The failure of the January 1997 general strike, however, was in turn overshadowed by the devastation of the Korean economy during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998.or Minju Nodong Tang) was founded in the spring of 1997, with the same right-wing elements dominating in the majority KCTU. The failure of the January 1997 general strike, however, was in turn overshadowed by the devastation of the Korean economy during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998.or Minju Nodong Tang) was founded in the spring of 1997, with the same right-wing elements dominating in the majority KCTU. The failure of the January 1997 general strike, however, was in turn overshadowed by the devastation of the Korean economy during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

Beginning in Thailand in July 1997 with the collapse of the Thai currency, the crisis spread across Asia over the following months as every country that had embraced the "free market" and therefore relaxed capital controls saw massive capital flight and the fall of its currency. , with Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea being the hardest hit. The Korean won fell 40% in November 1997, when the government of Kim Young Sam secured a $57 billion bailout from the IMF. The four candidates for the December 1997 presidential elections had to sign an acceptance of the IMF agreement as a condition of disbursement. Thus Kim Dae Jong, finally elected president of Korea after decades in the desert of the democratic opposition, had to devote his tenure to implementing the draconian package of layoffs, cuts to government services, the leveraged and deregulated takeover of Korean industries and banks by foreigners, and the casualization of the workforce work. Korean democracy, like Korean organized labor before it, triumphed just when the fulfillment of its earlier apparent promise became impossible, and triumphed as the necessary fig leaf for such harsh medicine. Bankruptcies are on the rise and suicides are skyrocketing. The IMF first demanded that Korean banks lay off 50% of their staff (the figure was later lowered to 30%) and a similar number of civil servants. The unemployment rate tripled in 1999 and millions of people were pushed back into poverty. triumphed just when the fulfillment of its previous apparent promise became impossible, and triumphed like the necessary fig leaf for such harsh medicine. Bankruptcies are on the rise and suicides are skyrocketing. The IMF first demanded that Korean banks lay off 50% of their staff (the figure was later lowered to 30%) and a similar number of civil servants. The unemployment rate tripled in 1999 and millions were pushed back into poverty. triumphed just when the fulfillment of its earlier apparent promise became impossible, and triumphed like the fig leaf needed for a medicine so hard. Bankruptcies are on the rise and suicides are skyrocketing. The IMF first demanded that Korean banks lay off 50% of their staff (the figure was later lowered to 30%) and a similar number of civil servants. The unemployment rate tripled in 1999 and millions of people were pushed back into poverty.

In this situation, Kim Dae Jong and the KCTU played their part. As mentioned earlier, Kim dragged the KCTU leadership into the February 1998 tripartite agreements, with the KCTU approving mass emergency layoffs. The KCTU rank and file revolted against such an abject surrender and overthrew the leadership that had signed the agreement. There were a few large-scale strikes against layoffs in 1998, such as the Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) strike, but new KCTU leaders were jailed and the strikes were generally defeated.

During the IMF crisis, many small factories were wiped out, including those with an activist workforce originating from the strike wave of the late 1980s and previously sympathetic to the NCTU. For the first time, in line with IMF requirements, agency workers have become a major phenomenon in the Korean workforce. In response to the forced sale of Korea Telcom shares to Wall Street investors, for example, a strike broke out. This strike showed more and more the gap that was developing between regular and casual workers. In addition to earning higher pay for less work, older regular workers lacked the computer skills of younger casuals and felt increasing job insecurity. The union leaders spoke tough but did nothing. In the end, regular and casual workers went on strike, but not at the same time. The KT strike ended with the layoff of 10,000 casual workers. The February 1998 agreement between Kim Dae Jong and the right-wing KCTU leadership for mass layoffs led to a grassroots revolt within the KCTU, and the entire leadership was ousted after labor activists occupied the KCTU offices armed with steel pipes. . A new leftist leadership took control, as mentioned earlier, and tried to relaunch a general strike against the new labor law in May, June and July, but to no avail. The old leadership remained rooted in the heavy industry unions and opposed militant action. In June–August 1998, a 28-day strike took place at HMC, resulting in the layoff of 10,000 regular workers. Within two years, 10,000 casuals had been hired to do their job. KT and various banks also fired regular workers and rehired them as casuals. The February 1998 agreement between Kim Dae Jong and the right-wing KCTU leadership for mass layoffs led to a grassroots revolt within the KCTU, and the entire leadership was ousted after labor activists occupied the KCTU offices armed with steel pipes. . A new leftist leadership took control, as mentioned earlier, and tried to relaunch a general strike against the new labor law in May, June and July, but to no avail. The old leadership remained rooted in the heavy industry unions and opposed militant action. In June–August 1998, a 28-day strike took place at HMC, resulting in the layoff of 10,000 regular workers. Within two years, 10,000 casuals had been hired to do their job. KT and various banks also fired regular workers and rehired them as casuals. The February 1998 agreement between Kim Dae Jong and the right-wing KCTU leadership for mass layoffs led to a grassroots revolt within the KCTU, and the entire leadership was ousted after labor activists occupied the KCTU offices armed with steel pipes. . A new leftist leadership took control, as mentioned earlier, and tried to relaunch a general strike against the new labor law in May, June and July, but to no avail. The old leadership remained rooted in the heavy industry unions and opposed militant action. In June–August 1998, a 28-day strike took place at HMC, resulting in the layoff of 10,000 regular workers. Within two years, 10,000 casuals had been hired to do their job. KT and various banks also laid off regular workers and rehired them as casuals. The old leadership remained rooted in the heavy industry unions and opposed militant action. In June–August 1998, a 28-day strike took place at HMC, resulting in the layoff of 10,000 regular workers. Within two years, 10,000 casuals had been hired to do their job. KT and various banks also laid off regular workers and rehired them as casuals. The old leadership remained rooted in the heavy industry unions and opposed militant action. In June–August 1998, a 28-day strike took place at HMC, resulting in the layoff of 10,000 regular workers. Within two years, 10,000 casuals had been hired to do their job. KT and various banks also laid off regular workers and rehired them as casuals.

Part Seven : Post-1998 : Regular vs. Casual Workers Become the Issue of the Labor Movement

Since the IMF crisis, the issue of casual workers has become increasingly prominent in the Korean movement, along with the antagonism between regular and casual workers, with regular workers seeing casual workers as undermining their jobs. (In 2000, a National Union of Casual Workers was founded and is now an umbrella organization with over 50,000 members.)

As early as 1999, a 32-day nationwide strike by 4,000 tutors from Jaenung schools (hakwon, or private after-hours education academies) won the right to collective bargaining. The government denied that they were workers, calling them “independent contractors” instead. The strike was important in showing that organizing casual workers was possible, against resistance from the state and employers.

In 2000-2002, another KT strike lasted 517 days. In the aftermath of the defeat, the casual workers’ union KT was dissolved. Regular KT workers were generally hostile to irregular workers. After the strike, KT hired people as "indirect contract workers". In 2002, 49% of KT shares were sold to US investors, with increased severance pay in return, as well as shares given to regular workers. In 2000-2001, an air-conditioning factory strike lasted over a month and was betrayed by regular workers, against and against the activism of casual workers. A counterexample, however, was the Lotte Hotel workers’ organizing campaign in 2000, which showed that a union of regular workers could, in certain circumstances, organize irregular workers. After a terrible crackdown on hoteliers and the incarceration of strikers, the hotel agreed to regularize the workers over a two-year period. During these same years, however, the KDLP was moving to the right, and the dominance of the NL line, oriented towards KCTU bureaucrats and KDLP politicians, prevented organizing casual workers. (In 2004, the KCTU even helped a Hyundai CEO in his election campaign as an independent.) In the view of some activists, the KCTU was an integral part of neoliberalism, almost to the point of forcing outsourcing. In 2003, for example, truck drivers in Pusan ​​successfully went on strike, but the government, the employers, the KCTU and the KDLP sabotaged it. In the same year, a major strike broke out at the LG Caltex (now GS Caltex) refinery, but the KCTU did nothing to help the strikers. In 2005, 10,000 casual oil and chemical workers in Ulsan went on strike for 83 days over working conditions. The complicated hiring structure imposed by labor laws and company strategy hampered the strike. A "committee for the Ulsan region" was set up to settle, comprising capitalists, CEOs, smaller businessmen, NGOs and the Ulsan branch of the KCTU. An agreement was limited to the recognition of the union. The workers went back to work for six months of “discussions” in committee which came to nothing. The return to work was prompted by small business concessions, but after the KCTU and KDLP pulled out, no part of the deal was ever implemented. In the summer of 2005, a battle raged again at Ulsan HMC over casualization. A worker set himself on fire in protest and the union refused to link his death to the labor situation. Casual workers tried to shut down the assembly line, but regular workers refused to cooperate. Company bosses and scabs restarted the line while regular workers stood, doing nothing. All casual workers involved in the struggle have been fired. no part of the agreement was ever implemented. In the summer of 2005, a battle raged again at Ulsan HMC over casualization. A worker set himself on fire in protest and the union refused to link his death to the labor situation. Casual workers tried to shut down the assembly line, but regular workers refused to cooperate. Company bosses and scabs restarted the line while regular workers stood, doing nothing. All casual workers involved in the struggle have been fired. no part of the agreement was ever implemented. In the summer of 2005, a battle raged again at Ulsan HMC over casualization. A worker set himself on fire in protest and the union refused to link his death to the labor situation. Casual workers tried to shut down the assembly line, but regular workers refused to cooperate. Company bosses and scabs restarted the line while regular workers stood, doing nothing. All casual workers involved in the struggle have been fired. A worker set himself on fire in protest and the union refused to link his death to the labor situation. Casual workers tried to shut down the assembly line, but regular workers refused to cooperate. Company bosses and scabs restarted the line while regular workers stood, doing nothing. All casual workers involved in the struggle have been fired. A worker set himself on fire in protest and the union refused to link his death to the labor situation. Casual workers tried to shut down the assembly line, but regular workers refused to cooperate. Company bosses and scabs restarted the line while regular workers stood, doing nothing. All casual workers involved in the struggle have been fired.

In June 2006, the Metalworkers’ Union voted to form an industrial union to try to overcome the fragmentation of workers in the myriad of spin-off subsidiaries with different contracts, but HMC is still negotiating with the HMC company union. Many militant workers opposed the initiative of the industrial union because of its corporatist agenda.

Later that summer, the casual building workers of the giant POSCO steel mill in Pohang escaped and were defeated. In August 2007, Kia Motor Company casual workers looted and occupied part of the plant, where they were physically assaulted by regular Kia workers and forced back to work.

On a positive note, in November 2007 regular and irregular workers at Hyundai Motor Company in Ulsan organized a grassroots movement together for the first time.

Part eight : The E-Land strike illuminates the social horizon

The still ongoing E-Land strike (at the time of this writing, March 2008) is the latest and in some ways the most important struggle of all to bring the issue of casual workers to the fore in South Korean society. .

In November 2006, the Korean government passed another set of casual labor laws, known in Orwellian fashion as the Casual Workers Protection Act. The law was designed to create the illusion of “doing something” about a condition now affecting more than 60% of South Korea’s working population. The law provided that after two years of work, all workers would automatically become regular workers. The law took effect seven months later, on July 1, 2007, and left huge loopholes for employers who wanted to lay off casuals before the deadline. Some companies complied with the law, but many others did not and laid off their casual workers in June. The whole process was worked out at a department store chain known as E-Land, with a related struggle at a similar chain known as New Core. E-Land had started as a small, family-run business under a fundamentalist Christian owner and had grown into a $58 billion annual business with 61 outlets across the country. She had taken over the stores of the French chain Carrefour. The company was known for its particularly harsh employment conditions, with mostly casual workers earning $800 a month for 36 hours a week, often forced to work 12-hour shifts without even going to the bathroom. Additionally, the company required all employees, Christian or not, to attend the on-site chapel. The CEO of E-Land paid his church $10 million in 2006. Just before the new law took effect, E-Land and New Core laid off 1,000 workers who would be considered regular workers in under its provisions. The immediate response was a strike now (March 2008) in its 9th month, and now facing almost certain defeat. But in the early days of the strike, thousands of casual workers from other sectors across South Korea came to help shut down E-Land stores. The KCTU sprang into action, doing everything to stifle the strike with abundant rhetoric while diverting the energies of the rank and file and its “outside” supporters into meaningless symbolic actions. On July 20, however, 200 E-Land employees occupied an outlet in Seoul and shut it down. The government’s response was to send 7,000 soldiers, police and hired thugs to evict and violently arrest 200 people. The declining government of Noh Moon Yon (very unpopular and due to leave office in February 2008) benefited greatly from the success of the new law. But he was hardly the only one to perceive the importance of the strike. Many large chaebols have come to the aid of E-Land with millions of dollars in loans. The KCTU, for its part, promised to lend money to the E-Land and New Core unions when their strike funds ran out at the end of the summer, then reneged on its offer. The KCTU constantly pressured the company’s unions to come to the bargaining table while E-Land’s management offered no concessions. In Pohang, in November, E-Land even tried to open a new outlet with only casual workers. 500 E-Land employees and other casuals not only blocked the entrance to the store, but also attacked and disarmed the police and thugs protecting it. Similar actions, including store blockades and occupations, occurred intermittently throughout the fall. Perhaps most notable in the E-Land strike, unlike many previous strikes with casual labor as the main issue, was the broad sympathy and support for the strike among workers in the same precarious situation. A nationwide boycott reduced sales by 30% nationwide in December 2007, and even the media gave coverage generally in favor of the strike, at least in the first weeks. Whether or not the E-Land strike gets the strikers’ jobs back (at this point it looks like it won’t), it will be a victory for the labor movement as a whole in finally making work more precarious. in South Korea an issue that can no longer be ignored. In December 2007, far-right Hanaratang (One Nation Party) candidate Lee Myoung Back won the presidential election with strong working class support, a political development that probably sealed the fate of the E-Land strike, since the new government (now in place) would support the management of E-Land even more openly than the outgoing center-left government, largely despised, which had disappointed so many. E-Land’s leadership continues to enjoy financial support from other major Korean chaebols, while E-Land’s strikers have been abandoned by almost all of their allies, KCTU in the lead. The new government promises an all-out offensive of privatizations and "free market reforms" and must necessarily disappoint its working-class supporters, who expressed more distaste for the old government than support for the new one, as well as vain dreams that ex-Hyundai CEO Lee Myoung Back would bring back the glory days of Korean capitalism, which ended 20 years ago. Lost strikes in Korea have been known to last for years with a shrinking core as most strikers find other jobs or return to old ones. But, again, because of the E-Land strike, the growing precarious work crisis in South Korea can no longer be silenced. Seoul, South Korea March 2008 the growing precarious work crisis in South Korea can no longer be silenced. Seoul, South Korea March 2008 the growing precarious work crisis in South Korea can no longer be silenced. Seoul, South Korea March 2008

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(I learned far more in conversations and collaboration with Korean activists and pro-worker intellectuals for the above article than in any book except Korean Workers (2001), the The only comprehensive view available in a Western language of Korean working-class history. I am of course greatly hampered by the lack of command of Korean. The following is a cursory bibliography of works that I have found useful.)

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