Friday, October 29, 2010

Chun Tae Il, 40 years later

One thing I really respect about key currents within the Korean labour movement is their support for migrant and irregular workers. So, for example, the 40th anniversary of Chun Tae Il's death (an act which catalysed the democratic trade union movement) includes a discussion by labour activists past and present, including activists from the Migrant Trade Union. This broadens the history of the democracy movement to include workers in the present moment. Even if they are not national citizens or workers in core firms, they get to be included in the history of democratic struggle.

The focus on the Chun Tae Il era also brings us back to the labour history of the 1970s, where it was not the blue-collar men leading the movement, but women workers and labour activists, like Chun Tae Il's mother and sister, in the garment industry. This kind of historical scrutiny can help the movement think more about how the present and the past intersect, revealing some of the neglected spaces of the present labour movement. This is a necessary exercise as the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions seems to be becoming more aligned around the interests of regular workers at large firms. Furthermore, events such as these connect politicians that articulate their legacy in relation to Minjung martyrs like Chun Tae Il to current labour and social movement struggles like that of migrant workers, the urban poor, and other struggles for diversity and equality. You can see from the graphics of next week's Chun Tae Il events and from the diverse speakers' list (if you can read Korean) that commemorate events such as these are as much about the present as they are about that past. This should alert us to a continued push for more democratization as well as the sense that these different struggles in the present should still be considered as vital parts of a comprehensive social movement; parts that need to be articulated together, rather than left to fragmentation. The difference here is between a notion of civil society as an ensemble of private actors, separately pursuing personal and sectoral interests, versus a notion of civil society as a comprehensive, social movement, which is more in keeping with the notion of civil society embraced by the groups and organization that emerged from the Korean Democracy Movement.

[UPDATE] The Hankyoreh has run a few stories on the 40th anniversary here, here, and here.

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