[VIEW 2035] Understanding the plight of the janitor

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[VIEW 2035] Understanding the plight of the janitor

Yu Sung-kuk
The author is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo
I have a habit of tapping the railings when I walk down the stairs. One day, in the middle of summer, someone was coming up in a sweat when I was going down. She was a janitor cleaning the rail. At the same time, an elderly person was coming down the stairs. Seeing the janitor cleaning, I realized why our hands don't get dirty as we go through our days grabbing on to railings.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic I overheard some cleaners chatting. 
“I didn’t tell my children that I work as a janitor," one said. "I told them I work at a restaurant. My kids and their husbands will definitely worry about me when they come across a cleaner at a restroom in their company. Working at a restaurant sounds better.” 
From that conversation, I learned that people might not want to tell their family what they do for a living. Working as a cleaner is arduous and could make their family members feel bad for them.
About a decade ago, janitors working at a university went on a strike for a few days. As the examination period had started, trash cans in the library and toilets were overflowing. I saw a piece of paper attached on the wall. “I’m sorry that we can’t clean up the trash,” it said. They didn’t ask students to relate to them or fight for them. I could see that they were feeling sorry for the students, even as they exercised their labor rights. While some felt uncomfortable about the demonstration and strike, more and more students began to push the university to settle the issue. As a result, the labor union and university managed to compromise.
Recently, some students at Yonsei University filed a civil and criminal lawsuit against school janitors and security workers, claiming that their right to education was violated due to a labor demonstration. The labor union required the university to raise wages, supplement the personnel and install a shower room. 
I hope the accusers think again about the reason why the workers — people who may want to keep what they’re doing at work  a secret to their family and who think about students first even during demos and strikes — are taking action. Students could have been using tidy facilities thanks to their labor. I want people not to blame the accusers who revealed their real names, although they can be a target of criticism. 
The students who filed the lawsuit might not have had a chance to interact with others in school communities as they attended the school during a pandemic. A college is a place where there is learning and reflection. I hope our society become a warmer place to each other. 

BY YU SUNG-KUK [yu.sungkuk@joongang.co.kr]
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