Continued from Part 2


Many credit the miracle of the Korean economic expansion to the sweat, blood and tears of young women who worked in the export industries during the 1960’s and 1970’s — textiles, garments, electronics, chemicals. The textile industry which dates back to colonial days especially has been the central engine for creating exports, and exports have consistently expanded and earned the foreign currency needed for new investments. Eighty three percent of the employees in the textile industry are women. They are 16 to 25 years of age, and have  come  primarily from the countryside. As agriculture declined, according to EPB plans, both men and women were forced to leave home and seek employment in the cities. That process still goes on. Skills used in the textile industry can be learned quickly. Once the machines are in place a steady supply of cheap, diligent labor is all that is needed. The country girls provided that labor. In 1970 there were already 600,000 female employees in manufacturing. That was about 30% of the entire labor force. Most of those were in textiles. As the decade moved on, the numbers expanded. By 1980 there were about a million and a half female workers employed in mining and manufacturing. Percentage-wise women made up about forty percent of the employed work force in manufacturing.

Working Conditions

Patterns and attitudes set in place by the Japanese when they established the textile industry back in the 1920’s still remained intact fifty years later. Recruiters would go to the countryside to hire workers. The employment contract was understood to be as much with the  family as with the person who was actually employed.  The family, as it were, stood responsible for its daughter’s work and behavior at the factory. Once employed the young women were housed in a company dormitory that was usually located within the company wall. A house mother was provided to supervise the “girls.” While the more affluent mills provided adequate dormitories, in the smaller shops  they were often nothing more than rat traps.

Beginning in the sixties the dormitory system began to break down. Too many women were being recruited to supply housing for them all. Consequently, the new hands coming into the city were forced to find their own housing.  Often this meant that the women were crowded into hakabans (shacks) jammed up against each other in the most dilapidated part of town.  Four to six persons to an eight by eight room was not unusual. Frequently they would rent such quarters on a part time basis, sleeping in shifts according to the time they worked in the factory. Their meager earnings at the mill would permit nothing better. And though the textile industry has become modernized and highly automated, changes in the living facilities for the female employees have not kept pace. Indeed the dormitories that still are being provided by some employers today are probably more crowded and less well kept than those of earlier days.

Conditions inside the shop are parallel to the meanness of the workers’ housing. Though attitudes are changing, it must be remembered that Korean society is heavily male dominated. Women traditionally have had no intrinsic value. Their function was to reproduce and serve the male members of the  family. Beatings were, and still are, administered when for some reason the man becomes irritated. An old Korean proverb says “Like a globe fish you have to beat a woman to make her soft.” The author remembers coming upon an old cemetery in the mountains not far from the city of lncheon. Here and there a grave stone would merely have engraved on it Lee from the town of Andong, or Kim from Jeonju, or the like. Upon enquiry I was told that in the old days when the woman died, her grave was marked only with the family name and the home town of that family. When Korea was forced into the so-called modern industrial age, this attitude and behavior were not automatically changed. They just became expressed through different channels.

In the factory setting women are usually supervised by men. The men expect traditional style obedience. They assume a traditional style superiority. They speak in commands of traditional “low talk” and when irritated, they may well respond with a traditional crack on the head or a slap to the face.  Forced to meet demands for increased production, supervisors and foremen live lives of high tension. Their threshold of irritation tends to be low. Under the best of circumstances, factory life is a high-stress situation. Conflict and friction are unavoidable, everyday events. When, however, the company and its supervisors persistently express a disdain for the worker, anger builds up. Even women used to traditional ways begin to think new thoughts and young women who are partly in the world of tradition and partly in the “modem” world of equality and democracy begin to react in an untraditional manner.


Women at Pangrim Textiles, one of Korea’s largest firms, had taken more than enough abuse at the hands of male management.  From  docile, obedient farm girls they became self-assertive persons who formed a labor union. Following is a public  statement they wrote in 1978.

Pangrim boasts about its 6,000 workers; its net profit in 1976 of 8,000,000,000 won (U.S. $16,000,000); and the fact that they were one of the pioneer spinning and weaving factories in  Korea.

In the dark shadows of this pride and glory, we, women workers, have for too long worked too hard, and experienced too much pain. Our one reason for working is to help our poor parents. We want to wear a student’s uniform, but instead we have left our  home town in the country and have come to the strange surroundings of Seoul to work in a factory. We came to earn money, but it has been more difficult than we thought possible.

In our factory we work three 8 hour shifts, but from when to when we do not know. We are forced to come early and leave  late. We must start 30-60 minutes early and work until the job is finished — 1or 2 hours  — it  doesn’t matter. (If we are supposed to finish  by 10 p.m. we often get home just before curfew at 12 p.m. If we live in the company dormitory we sometimes work until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. If for some reason a worker comes at the scheduled starting time, then the foreman and lead girl worker give her a hard time. From that time on, the work for this girl is harder and the increasing pressure means that she eventually leaves. The contemptuous eyes of the foreman and lead worker are fixed upon her. Each worker does not want to be last to arrive and so tries to  arrive before her friends. When work is finished no one wants to be the first to leave and so all stay longer. Those who work the longer hours are looked upon favorably and may receive wage increases in the future. Because we work for our daily food, we must work like this. Several years ago when the company started this policy of extra work it was justified in terms of the “saemaul” (New Village) movement. (This is a movement started by President Pak Chung Hee to supposedly increase the diligence and improve  the spirit of the Korean people.)

We do not receive a weekly holiday. We work continuously throughout the year with only some of the public holidays off per year. When special public holidays come we want to visit our parents, but we must stay in Seoul and work by our machines.  It is a crime that workers cannot fulfill their traditional filial duty to their parents. Animals have a rest time.  Why must we work harder  than the animals?

Because we have no holidays, night shift is too tiring and so our bodies are exhausted . Therefore we take “Timing,” a medicine, to keep awake. Some of us have eaten too many and are now addicted to these pills.  If we fall asleep we are reprimanded, beaten and shaken. There are many examples of this. Last night a worker was beaten by the supervisor. In our eyes this means that the company is in fact the one doing the beating. What work do we do? We make many different types of yarn and cloth. Because the machines run continuously we are so busy that we cannot have a meal break. If the machine needs fixing we must do it immediately or suffer the consequences of a reprimand . We are ashamed to say that sometimes we cannot go to the toilet and so must use the factory floor.  The machines never stop!!

Such stories do not exaggerate the conditions under which females worked in the seventies — and to a large degree continue to work in the eighties.  One imaginative employer set up his wage system on a piece work  basis.  Each month the top five producers were given a bonus. The bottom five were fired. The women workers were forced into such a system of competition and long hours that within a few months many collapsed from fatigue.

In the Masan Free Export Zone managers and police regularly meet together to exchange reports on the conduct of the workers, most of whom are women. In the case of Masan not only did all the conditions of Pangrim exist, in addition there was the nationalistic tensions  added by the heavy concentration of Japanese employers.  The long standing animosity between the two peoples was aggravated by  the  superior attitude of the Japanese supervisors and the use of the Japanese language in the shop. The Japanese, it is reported, seldom learn Korean.  The very success of the Japanese owners in the Zone rubs salt inthe wounded pride of the Korean workers who earn meager salaries and endure the usualinsults.

Women workers, unlike their male counterparts, often responded to the harshness of the enforcement system by direct resistance. Most of the disputes registered in the decade were registered by women and the few cases of work stoppages were all by women. Earliest and most  famous of the strikes was that which took place at the Dongil Textile Company in Inchun.


The Dongil Company was originally a Japanese firm. Korean capital took over after liberation in 1945. At the time of the American  military government Chun Pyung organized the workers at Dongil, but soon thereafter No Chong, with company support and money,  was  able to defeat Chun Pyung.  From then on a union organization existed at Dongil, but it was always a “kept” union, always run by men, even though ninety percent of the workers were  women.  Working conditions at Dongil were no better than at Pangrim.  Wages kept  one alive as long as there was no emergency.  The young worker could make it as long as she lived in a hakaban and wasted not her income on  eating too much, or buying clothes. The young woman from the countryside also had to guard the treasury of her meager wages from the swarm of young men who cruised around the factory area for the purpose of detaching the women from their paychecks.

In 1972 about 1300 people were employed at Dongil. 1100 were women. A number of the women came to be associated with the Reverend  Cho Wha Soon, a woman Methodist minister assigned to a church organization called Urban Industrial Mission (UIM). The young workers gathered for worship, recreation and talk.  During the talk each person would relate her own story, tell of her background and share her hopes for the future. Gradually out of those discussions came a plan to take over the union at Dongil. It was decided that the only way the conditions of the work place could be resolved was to have a union led by women. Their work hours were long and unpredictable. Forced overtime without pay was common.  The work was dangerous. Wages were miserably low and they were treated with contempt  — even beaten.   The union as it  then existed was useless. It was run by a few men who were in the pay of the company and cared nothing  about the women, or how they had to live.

With the help of Reverend Cho the women from Dongil began a quiet campaign to capture control of the union. When elections for union officers took place in 1972, they were handled as usual by a few company men. The women, however,  had planned well.  Voting delegates  to the meeting had  been elected from each section of the plant floor. Without fanfare the workers had been persuaded to vote for delegates who would support a woman  president for the union. When it came time to nominate, two names were put forth one man, and for the first time, one woman, Miss Choo Kil Ja.  The vote was taken by secret ballot,  Lo and behold, Miss Choo was elected, the first woman in Korean history to become the president of a union. A second vote on an executive committee to share the task of running the union had a similar result.  All those elected were women.  The  male domination of the union was ended.

The company was put into a difficult position. Legally, union officers had a tenure of three years. The company could not refuse to bargain  about wages and other conditions of labor, but there was no law that made them like it. For three years they put up with the women, but it was a humiliation to have to bargain with young women, and from the outside pressures must have come to the company to get its house in order. Three years later, however, the same thing happened. The company used its influence to persuade, to transfer, to dismiss and to “buy” but to no avail. Miss Lee Yong Sook was elected and the executive committee was once more all women.  The company now determined to end the matter,  It had lasted too 1ong. The union leaders and their small group were put under close surveillance inside the factory and outside. The leaders were threatened. Some were fired, and all the workers began to receive warnings that Reverend Cho Wha Soon might be a communist. Reverend Cho’s arrest and imprisonment by the KCIA for several months gave the charge a ring of authenticity.

In 1976 new floor delegates were to be elected in April. The company had spread around money to force a vote of non-confidence in the newly elected president, Lee Yong Sook, but once more the company was out-smarted. The women delegates had indeed accepted the company’s bribe money, but they brought it to the union meeting. When the motion for non-confidence was put on the floor, the women stood up and threw their money at the men, disclosing the sorry efforts of the company to bribe them and buy the union presidency. In the confusion that followed the union meeting was postponed until July. By then, the company had coordinated its plans with the police. The  union president, Miss Lee, was arrested on charges of inciting to riot. The company candidate, a man named Ko Doo Yong, then managed to gather a majority of the floor delegates together and have himself elected as president of the union.

A demonstration resulted. The women workers gathered on company grounds and demanded the release of Miss Lee and the other eight who had been arrested with her. The next morning the police were sent in to clear the grounds. The women, tired and discouraged, lay down. As the police approached, taunting the women as they came, one of the women jumped up and took off her clothes and threw them at the advancing men. Others followed suit standing half naked before the men in defiance, thinking to shame them.  It did no good, the men laughed, and swore and beat them with their clubs. Seventy two women were arrested.   Fourteen were sent to the hospital.

The final scene of drama was yet to come. For nine months the struggle for control of the union went on. In April of 1977  there was finally  a binding vote and for the third time a woman won  — but the end of these heroics was not far away. Both the company and the government had had enough of women’s liberation.

February 21, 1978 was the date for election of new floor delegates. The union hall is on company property located right beside the factory gate. When the women went to prepare the hall for the meeting, they found that someone had preceded them. Everything was covered with human excrement.  Men workers were in the hall breaking up the ballot boxes. As the women came in, the men began to throw the  excrement at them and to rub it in their faces.

The company announced that 124 of the union women had been discharged for causing damage to company property. The  National  Textile Union (FKTU) then declared that the charter of the local union was rescinded and all officers of the local were dismissed. The officers were, of course, among the 124 who were fired and subsequently blackballed by union, government and employers. The battle had been waged for almost six years. It was unique. Women had struck a telling blow. They had not only come of age, they were the leaders of a movement that in another ten years would become nationwide. From the courage demonstrated by the women at Dongil other women workers in other plants took strength and acted to improve their own lot. Sygnetics,  Bando Songsa, Pangrim, Hankook Mobang, Dongsu, Yanghaing, and Y. H. are names of a few companies where, in the 1970’s, the women refused to accept the Yushin system of oppression. When in the mid-eighties the male workers began to take action of their own, they found that they were standing on the shoulders of women who had been struggling for justice for more than ten years.


Central to the Dongil conflict was Reverend Cho Wha Soon from the Urban Industrial Mission (UIM).  She worked as a laborer  in the mill and then as a  pastor to the young women  textile workers for the next twenty years.  Many of the struggles of workers in the 1970’s are closely intertwined with Reverend Cho and the UIM.

Worker Priest

Urban Industrial Mission (UIM) took root among Korean workers back in the 1960’s when a democratic air was in the ascendancy. In those days the excitement of democratic freedoms became intermixed in some Christian circles with the examples of the Worker Priests, in World War II France, who took up their ministry among the working classes. The Gospel of Christ was discovered in the midst of factory and dock workers.  From the perspective of a priest working in a factory, biblical theology took on new meaning and new energy.  In South Korea the Worker Priest discoveries were revisited by a small number of Methodist, Catholic, and Presbyterian clergy. For periods of time from six months to five years they labored in factories or on the docks.  Through the pain and injuries of their bodies and spirits they re-examined  society.  Rev. Cho Sung Hyuk, the Director of UIM, and a colleague of Reverend Cho Wha Soon, worked in a plywood factory. He tells this story of how he was converted to a “new” Jesus.  One day as he was helping unload a truck of plywood, he got into a fight with the truckman.  The latter was on the top of the load lifting the wood down to other men below. Instead of taking his time and lowering it carefully,  he threw the wood down as fast as he could with some force and cursed the guys when they missed. After getting his head jolted by a missile from above, out of pure anger Sung Hyuk yelled, “Do that one more time and I’ll come up there and knock your teeth down your throat.”  The truckman cursed him soundly, but did as Sung Hyuk told him. Through that mundane experience, new worlds were opened to the spiritual eyes of Reverend Cho. It dawned on him that his comrades would live all their lives being dumped on by guys like that truckman. Religion and salvation were not a sermon or ritual, but a fight with a truckman to ease the pain of the man at the bottom. Justice for the worker became the key to understanding religion. Workers and those who struggle for justice were seen as reflecting the image of Jesus.  Sung Hyuk’s ministry with UIM was thereafter different from that of other clergy who never stood up to a truckman.  His life ever since has been involved in the lives of Korea’s industrial workers, especially in their efforts to organize and gain respect from management and government.  This has put him in the middle of many controversies, and on several occasions has also put  him in jail.

Conversions similar to those of Cho Sung Hyuk’s were experienced by other clergy who entered factories during the 1960’s. The numbers were never great. Total figures probably did not exceed twenty five over the decade. In industrial areas of Inchun, Seoul, Chungju and Pusan UIM pastors set up their ministries.  Those who worked in the mills gathered small groups of their fellow workers together after work either in someones’ home or at a winehouse.  A close comradely grew up among them as they would talk over their mutual problems in the plant. After they completed their factory work, UIM staff were assigned as “factory pastors.” They visited unions and management offices; they made house calls on families of workers; and when accidents in the plant sent workers to the hospital a UIM person would be there to pray with them and their families.

At night workers gathered together to talk and sing and think about their legal and human rights. UIM offered courses in how to organize  and run a union. In the 1960’s that could be done.  It could be done with the cooperation of the labor department of the city and national government. Workers were forming unions. UIM cooperated with them. As a staff member of the UIM, the author received, on several occasions, commendations from the government’s labor department for his work with the unions of the Inchonarea.


The UIM was primarily a Protestant operation. The Catholic Church had its own ministry among workers. It was called the JOC, or Young Christian Workers. Like UIM, the JOCs accept Jesus as the savior from the underside of society, i.e., Jesus of the poor. JOC was begun in Korea in 1958. The young workers, most of whom are women, are trained to act as individual apostolates to see, judge, and act within their places of employment. First look and see who is being hurt and why; then judge as to what can be done to remedy the hurt; and finally act to help bring about a change.  In this way individual Christian laity are to give witness to Christ in the work place.  In the atmosphere of Korea’s Yushin, however, such action by an individual, or group of individuals, was considered subversive. One JOC experience is representative.  Kim Myung Ja is a Catholic from the country-side who came to the town of Anyang in 1978. She was hired on at a textile mill. At the parish church, where she quickly attached herself, she met other girls who worked in the mills of Anyang. They were members of JOC so Myung Ja also joined and took orientation in the “see, judge, act” method. As part of the training, she had to relate the facts of her work place and share her judgments and actions with the others. From the very first day she saw that some of her co-workers  were walking around in a daze and one woman actually fell into the machinery, injuring her shoulder and the side of her face. Myung Ja judged that the cause behind this behavior was lack of sleep. The work was too hard and the required overtime too long. Everyone was so fatigued they could hardly stay awake. The act that Myung Ja contemplated was to persuade several others to go with her to the supervisor to ask for more relief time.

Myung Ja never got to the third step. An informer reported to the police that .Myung Ja was an “organizer” with the JOC. She was arrested. Her room was broken into and searched. She was fired. The police and company apparently thought such tactics would subdue the JOCs. The effects, however, were just the opposite. Anger at having a KCIA spy among them, and outrage at the treatment given to Myung Ja strengthened the JOC resolve. Her story spread through JOC groups everywhere. Instead of shrinking back they became more  active.  Along with UIM, JOC played a significant role throughout the 1970’s in educating the female workers as to the goals and methods of unionism. They gave the women a religious motivation for their actions. It was this, the religious foundation, that the KCIA could never quite comprehend, but it was probably that religious dimension which accounts for much of the close community that has grown up among women workers of Korea.

So it happened that in dispute after dispute, the participants were found to be either UIM or JOC. The famous labor conflicts of the decade were mostly related in some way to these two movements — Signetics,  Dongil  Textile, Hankook Mobang, Pangrim, Wonpoong, and Y. H. The conflicts were not initiated by UIM or JOC, but workers who had received education and communion with them frequently were in places of leadership and called upon UI M or JOC for succor when the company refused to bargain, or the police began to attack.

The author Reverend George Ogle with women workers at a prayer meeting in 1974

When in the mid-seventies, being related to UIM or JOC could cost a worker his/her job, UIM and JOC adjusted by going “underground” as it were. Workers would meet at irregular times and places, not in large numbers, not in the UIM offices, and usually late at night. The subjects studied were union organizing, labor law and scripture. Stories from the strikes of the women workers circulated throughout the  groups. These combined with their own experiences and the courage that grows out of participation in secret and dangerous undertakings gradually changed the consciousness of many and helped set the scene for what was to become the democratic labor movement of the 1980’s.

The women from Dongil introduced a different course of action. After their defeat, the dismissed workers continued to meet at the UIM offices under Cho Wha Soon’s guidance. At first they met only to protect and heal each other, but later on they became an advisory group to women in other factories who were facing problems similar to the ones they had  faced in Dongil.  It became a pattern that continued on into the 1980’s. Today, in 1989,  groups of dismissed workers, many of whom have spent years in prison, have become major actors on the  labor scene.

KCIA Attack

Attacks against UIM and JOC began immediately after Pak Chung Hee’s declaration of emergency in 1971. KCIA agents suddenly became daily visitors. Staff were questioned as to what they were doing, who they were seeing. Education programs were interrupted or  forbidden.  In mid-1974  Cho Wha  Soon was detained by the KCIA for three months. Cho Sung Hyuk and others were arrested. Workers related to UIM or JOC were  threatened  away.  A barrage of propaganda was let loose on the public.  Radio, T.V. dramas were used to warn the nation and especially the workers that UIM and JOC were “impure elements” (euphemism for communist) in religious clothing. One of the chief vehicles used by the KCIA in its attacks was the FKTU. A speech by the Chair of the Chemical Workers’ Union to a gathering of the FKTU in 1978  illustrates the nature of the KCIA attack.

Some rebellious elements have infiltrated into the labor unions under the cloak of religion and have stimulated separation and are fomenting social unrest. This is a great problem in the light of national security. From now on we have to fight against religion. The Vietnam war also ended in failure because of religion.  I appeal for a resolution to be passed to sternly destroy those religious forces that have infiltrated our million members and intend to destroy our unions.  Let’s eliminate them from the roots!

After the chairman’s motion was duly passed and he had finished his remarks to the assembled members of FKTU’s “Committee for the Program to Improve the Working Environment,” another gentleman arose to lecture the workers and union people on the dangers of outside forces. His topic was “What is UIM aiming at?” The content of his message was this: “The Christian movements involved in social issues are outgrowths of the international communist party. The UIM and JOC are red. You workers best beware of any organization whose name begins with ‘Ki’ (In Korea, Christianity is Ki-dok­ kyo). They are dangerous things. This impure force has infected 75% of the  textile  unions  and 70%  of the chemical  unions.”

The FKTU spent much energy, time and budget in its effort to stigmatize UIM and JOC. The KCIA and police haunted, hassled and even tortured people in futile attempts to destroy the two Christian groups. They failed because they were blinded by their own narrow vision. To them everyone who spoke or acted contrary to their commands were communists. To call them communist they thought would be the end of the matter. KCIA people never comprehended the absurdity of calling South Korean Christians communists. They had no mental framework within which they could understand that UIM and JOC were grounded in a theology that interprets history in terms of social justice and liberation for the poor. KCIA’s efforts at suppression instead of stamping out JOC and UIM helped spread their theology to areas and people who had no direct contact with either.

After Pak Chung Hee’s death and the seizure of government by another military dictator who committed as his first act a massacre of several hundred people in the city of Kwangju, the mood of the people changed. It was as though everyone began to say, “Enough is enough, and this is too much.” Opposition to the Chun dictatorship that began in 1980 became more open, more brazen. The labor education groups sponsored by UIM underwent this same type of metamorphosis. They again began to meet in the open, but now the attitude was more aggressive. Anti-government slogans became part of the menu, and sentiments of anti-Americanism began for the first time to be expressed. Art, drama, music and dancing that related young workers to the past struggles of their nation became part of the educational content. History of the labor  movement was opened for the young to see. Stories of Chun Pyung and the Peoples’ Committees of 1945-47 were regained and compared favorably with the current FKTU and its captivity to the KCIA. Furthermore the new educators began to make connections between the oppressions against human rights and the division of the nation. Both North and South were military camps. Therefore democracy and human rights were always being violated in the name of national security. Demilitarization and reunification came to be seen as necessary roads toward a just society. From these roots a new and radically different analysis of  the worker’s  plight  began  to take shape.


The 1970’s was primarily a time of change and metamorphosis. The economic achievements were monumental. At the same time changes were being wrought in the minds, attitudes and actions of the nation’s working class. Increasingly they were being made conscious of their own subordinate and even oppressed situation in society.  The innovators never seemed to be alert to any of these  changes.  Instead they  kept applying greater and greater doses of manipulation-intimidation-violence. Not even President Pak, so astute in many other areas, gave any evidence of adjusting to the changes that were taking place in the nation’s work force.

In a Liberation Day speech, August 16, 1979, President Pak Chung Hee said, “In time of hardships like this, entrepreneurs and employees  are advised in sharing difficulties and rallying their resources to deepen their mutual trust in the realization of interdependence so as to overcome the current impasse.  Only then, a family-like atmosphere of brotherhood can be created in management-employee relations, generating a firm potential for further growth of enterprises capable of overcoming difficulties of any magnitude.

Three months before Pak’s exhortations about a “family-like” atmosphere, a corporation called Y. H. Trading Company had closed its gates because the company president had run off to the U.S.A. with all its assets. Five hundred women employees were thrown out of work. When they took over the plant in protest, police were sent against them. Two hundred of the young women were beaten mercilessly. Five were sent to the hospital for prolonged, intensive care. Five days before Pak’s speech Y. H. women fled to the offices of the opposition political party for protection. Again police attacked. The women were again beaten by truncheons and dragged bodily out of the office into the street.  One waskilled.

Pak included nothing about this little “family conflict” in his speech. Two days later three Y. H. women were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly– a crime that carries a sentence of seven years  imprisonment.


The violence against the Y. H. workers in Seoul incited  riots as far away as Masan and Pusan. President Pak and his close friend Kim Jae Kyu, head of the KCIA, were discussing ways to handle the riots when Kim ended the discussion by shooting Pak in the head. Kim later claimed he did it to save the nation from a blood bath that Pak intended to rain down upon Masan and Pusan. Thus the eighteen years of rule under Pak Chung Hee ended abruptly on October 26, 1979. The Yushin system had established Pak as dictator for life. Not his enemies, but his friend, ended that life at the age of fifty-four.


Following the assassination of Pak Chung Hee, martial law was declared for most of the country, and Prime Minister Choi Kyu Ha became

Acting President. There were no public uprisings and no demonstrations in the streets, but there was the widespread hope that the time had come for a transfer of political power to civilian hands. Surely the military, with their chief now dead, would return to their posts as defenders of their nation and give up their ambitions for political power. That, however, was not to be the case. Having experienced the benefits of governmental power, the military was not about to retire, and the citizens were not yet strong enough to force them back into their proper role.

Continued in Part 4



George Ogle spent twelve years with Korean industrial workers in Incheon as a “factory chaplain” of Urban Industrial Mission but was deported in 1974 for speaking out on behalf of eight men, accused of being part of a communist conspiracy then tortured and executed by the Park Chung-hee government. He returned to Korea in 1989 to write South Korea: Dissent within the Economic Miracle about the history of worker struggles that gave birth to South Korea’s modern labor movement.  As we strive to understand the current labor-management standoff in South Korea, Ogle’s historic account sheds light on the origins of South Korea’s labor repression and dissent.

With the author’s kind permission, ZoominKorea reproduces select chapters from South Korea: Dissent within the Economic Miracle as a special series. Part 3 of the series is from Chapter 4 of the book.

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