중앙데일리

Two leaders of 1980 strike deemed freedom fighters

Aug 17,2005
On Monday, the same day President Roh Moo-hyun made a speech calling for more of the wrongs of past Korean governments to be redressed, a government commission made the controversial decision to recognize two leaders of a violent 1980 labor strike as freedom fighters.
The two men, Lee Won-gap and Shin Gyeong, led a four-day miners’ strike known as the Sabuk Incident. That strike, during which hundreds of miners briefly seized control of a Gangwon province town, is remembered as having launched nearly a decade of strikes under the military dictatorships of the 1980s.
The miners were striking for more money and better conditions, not for democratic reform. But the commission said it was a significant episode in the history of resistance to the military regimes.
“The Sabuk Incident started out as a labor strike, but because it was carried out under martial law, it can be seen as an act of resistance against the authoritarian regime,” said a staffer for the Commission for Restoration of Honor and Compensation for Democratization Movement Activists.
The commission, which was launched in 2000, is charged with investigating the history of the pro-democracy movement since 1969, redeeming the reputations of activists who were unjustly charged with crimes and providing financial compensation when merited.
The commission’s nine members are appointed by the president, the National Assembly and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. To date, the commission has awarded 22.4 billion won ($22 million) in compensation.
Its decision does not mean it has recognized the Sabuk Incident itself as a pro-democracy uprising, because the commission can only award compensation to individuals.
Some critics have urged that the commission’s mandate be extended to incidents since 1960, not 1969. 1960 was the year of what is known as the April 19 Democratization Movement, a movement that was squelched after Park Chung Hee took power in a military coup the following year. Some observers have said extending its mandate seems more likely since President Roh’s speech Monday, in which he called for changing the statutes of limitations for crimes committed by the government.


by Cheong Chul-gun, Chun Su-jin


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