Violent end to a strike; a controversial painting

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Violent end to a strike; a controversial painting

Aug. 11, 1979
At 2 a.m. on this date, about 1,000 armed police attacked the headquarters of the opposition Sinmin Party, led by Kim Young-sam. Mr. Kim later became president, but during the military regime of Park Chung Hee he was only considered a troublesome figure for the regime.
The target of the nighttime attack, however, was not Mr. Kim but 172 young women factory workers from YH Trading Co. The workers, who were on strike, were in the party's building, where they felt they would be safe from the police.
YH Trading Co., with its sewing factory and synthetic fiber products such as wigs, specialized in exports, and was the 15th largest exporter in the country in the early 1970s. The company, run by a U.S. citizen of Korean heritage, Jang Yong-ho, and his family, was far from being an ideal workplace for the women.
Pay was delayed even when business was good, and when the workers formed a labor union, the company had a number of shutdowns, assigning work to its other, nonunion, factories.
When the company closed, amid rumors that the owners had used the capital for private purposes, the union members did not remain idle. They went on strike in their dormitory, but when the company cut off the phone connections and food supply, they moved to the party's building, asking for normalization of the company’s management and their rights.
The factory workers, all young women, said in their statement, “We don’t want a struggle, either. But we’re going to fight to the death if our just demands are ignored.”
Mr. Kim also asked the regime to come up with appropriate measures, but what the group encountered was an attack by the police. The workers were determined to commit suicide by jumping off the building if the police tried to force them out.
Party members, lawmakers and reporters set up a barricade, but it was in vain as the police broke the windows on the second floor and gained entry to the building.
The police also used violence against the reporters and party members, using bricks, chairs and desks, which caused more than 10 people to be hospitalized.
The police were even more violent with the factory workers. While the police dragged the stiffly resisting workers out of the building, Kim Gyeong-suk, one of the workers, fell off the building and died. After every worker was pulled out of the building, nothing was left but a ruin.
After the forcible breakup of the strike, the police arrested activists who were involved, and investigated the Sinmin Party members.
Some historians say that the surprise attack had a purpose other than the simple suppression of the strike, namely to crack down on the opposition party.
The strike of the young women factory workers under the military regime, later dubbed the YH Incident, had a big impact on society. This led to large-scale uprisings in Busan and Masan in the Gyeongsang provinces in October, which the regime suppressed by declaring martial law.
The series of uprisings and strikes were signs of the Park regime’s deterioration. The regime finally met its doom when Mr. Park was assassinated by a subordinate in October.

Aug. 13, 1999
Shin Hak-cheol, 55, a painter, was sentenced to serve 10 months in prison by the court on charges of violating the National Security Law with one of his paintings.
The court deferred the sentence on this date, however, saying that while Mr. Shin’s guilt was recognized, he had been suffering through the trial for the last 10 years.
The painting at issue was titled “Monaegi” (Rice Planting), in which Mr. Shin drew two groups of farmers, one smiling and having fun in the background of the painting, while in the foreground farmers are shown planting rice with iron implements.
The court ruling said, “The drawing is praising North Korea and aligns with the North Korean insistence on reunification based on the popular-based democratic revolution.” Backers of the painting, however, protested the court’s decision, saying that there were no evident signs of admiration for North Korea in the artwork.
The painting remains controversial to this day.

by Chun Su-jin
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