Translated from the 22nd Commemoration Ceremony for Martyrs and Victims for the Nation and Democracy June 8, 2013, Seoul, South Korea
Since the time of the Gabo (Tonghak) Peasant Revolution[i] through Japanese colonial rule and then military dictatorship until today in the 21st century, the worker’s and people’s progressive social transformation movement has continuously been marching towards national and social liberation. Our martyrs have always been at the frontlines sacrificing their lives.
Our martyr’s frontline struggles have always lent great moral authority to the workers and peoples[ii] struggles. Unlike the few who ruled for their interests, the noble deeds of our martyrs were dedicated to the progress of society and history.
Yet, the noble struggle of our martyrs should also serve as a model for our own day-to-day living – to maintain self-giving behavior for the progress of society and history no matter how large or small the struggle – so that their deaths would not have been in vain. The martyrs have inspired and urged us to work unceasingly towards a liberated world where we can live as human beings.
In this 22nd commemoration, we face a period of intensifying global contradictions between capital and working people and between empires and small and weak nations brought about by the recession of this century. In far away Europe, worker’s struggles in Greece and Spain have burst forth in a blaze, and its flames are expanding towards Asia’s Turkey. Imperialism’s reckless attacks on small and weak countries in North Africa, Libya and Mali are spreading to Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.
Our land is also thus affected. Within the reality of an ever more permanent US Wartime Operational Control[iii] and the ROK-US Combined Forces Command, the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle war games continue year after year; the threat of nuclear attack persists with the mobilization of B-2, F-22, nuclear-powered aircraft super carrier USS Nimitz, and state-of-the-art weapons; economic sanctions choke the North Korean people; and villagers are pushed out of Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island to make room for a naval base.
Faced with a crisis, our land’s government and capital attempts to overcome capital’s crisis by more severely repressing workers and working people. President Park Geun Hye’s campaign promises of economic democratization are nowhere to be found and in its stead is economic growth as the cure all. In response, a people and youth, trapped in despair, are taking their own lives.
Under a false legal government take-over of Ssanyong Auto, workers were violently expelled from the factory. Now, one by one Ssanyong Auto’s accounting manipulation and fabrications are being exposed. 4 years later, 24 Ssanyong Auto workers have taken their own lives. Despite 171 days of high-altitude occupation on top of an electric pylon, the issue still remains unresolved. The presidential campaign promises for a national governmental investigation into Ssanyong Auto are quickly revealing themselves empty promises.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling that employment of in-house subcontracted workers[iv] is illegal and mandating a switch to regular worker status,[v] Hyundai Motors has not budged. As a result, Hyundai irregular workers are continuing on their high altitude occupation of a high voltage electric pylon for over 6 months. The basic worker rights of public workers and teachers are also being threatened. And for the nearly 90 percent of workers who are employed as irregular workers in small-medium, and small-scale (5-10 employees) enterprises, their basic rights as workers are completely denied. In this way the rights of workers are being completely deprived by the dictatorship of the capitalist class.
The tyranny of capital and the government is not only attacking wage workers but also farmers and the urban poor. Farmers are becoming the rural poor and the urban poor are stripped of their rights to feed and clothe themselves through work as street vendors. On the other hand, the rights of people to a home are being trampled on for the sake of capital’s real estate speculation. Due to the avarice of monopoly capitalists even the existence of small-business people is being threatened.
Workers and people’s livelihood and civil rights are being threatened, deprived, and denied. Within this context, democracy is being replaced with maintaining public peace and order[vi]. Immediately after coming into office, Park Geun Hye administration violently expelled workers and farmers from their peaceful occupations. The government, through the police, prosecution, and National Intelligence Service creates incidents of public peace and order to repress the people’s movements. The first 100 days of the current regime has been referred to as the “Lee Myung Bak Geun Hye”[vii] regime.
24 years ago, breaking through the Roh Tae Woo administration’s efforts to corral and isolate us and while clutching the photos of our martyrs, amidst tear gas, we held the first ever commemoration for the martyrs and victims for our nation and democracy. Now, looking back at our workers and people’s living conditions and the current state of our movements, we cannot but humbly acknowledge our inadequacy in carrying on and fulfilling the noble sacrifices our martyrs made to create a world of human liberation. Henceforth, in the occasion of the 22nd National Commemoration, as we remember each of the lives and struggles of the approximately 600 martyrs and victims for our nation and democracy, we re-examine and straighten our own selves up and rededicate ourselves. Above all, imbued with the noble spirit of those martyrs that sacrificed it all to realize true democracy, self-determination, and reunification[viii] and build a world of worker’s and human liberation, we commit to overcoming our divisions and building a strong and unified struggle. Together, we resolve to go out and struggle true to our progressive transformation movement’s great cause, untouched by reformism and careerism.
June 8, 2013
22nd Commemoration Ceremony for the Martyrs and Victims for Our Nation and Democracy
[i] A Peasant’s Revolution in 1894 calling for equality of all against the injustices of the ruling class.
[ii] In this case “people” refers to the “common people,” the other oppressed groups in society such as farmers, the disabled, the urban poor, etc.
[iii] During “wartime,” operational control of the US ROK Combined Forces Command is held by the US. The first date for the transfer of wartime operational control from the US to South Korea was 2012, which has been postponed to 2015.
[iv] Workers that while they do the same job as factory employees under the company payroll, nonetheless, are treated differently as they are hired not by the company but through a subcontracting company.
[v] Regular workers are those hired directly by the company and do not work on a contract basis.
[vi] During Korea’s period of dictatorship and even afterwards, peace and public safety have been used as pretexts to severely repress movements calling for democratization, worker’s rights, peace, and reunification.
[vii] Lee Myung Bak Geun Hye is a play on the fact that in Korean both Lee Myung Bak and Park Geun Hye share the Bak/Park (which in Korean is written the same way), Lee Myung Bak as the second syllable to his first name and Park Geun Hye as her last name. This is to point out that Park Geun Hye’s administration is merely a continuation of Lee Myung Bak’s.
[viii] In Korean, self-determination and reunification are combined into one word as an indication of their inseparable nature.