Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"I'm Not Fine" Movement: The Self-Immolation of Jeon Tae-il

Coming from poverty, Jeon Tae-il at the age of 16 began working in the textile sweatshops of the Seoul Peace Market(서울평화시장; Seoul Pyeonghwa Sijang). He both witnessed and experienced the horrid working conditions including the poor ventilation that lead to the rampant spread of tuberculous and the forced injections of amphetamines into employees.  

First he tried to make improvements from within the company by becoming a cutter (a type of de-factor manager) and using his position to try and take care of the young factory workers.

After experiencing and collecting information on the conditions in the Peace Market he appealed to the Ministry of Labour and demanded that they enforce the Labour Standards Act. By protesting against such conditions he was also protesting against the President/Dictator Park Chung-hee and his administration's support of the employers. 

He protested and struggled actively against the oppressive forces against reform of working conditions. Although Jeon was able to briefly create some awareness about the problems he soon met with government resistance, which almost entirely ignored labour regulations and frequently sided with the exploitative employers. Scornful Labour Department officials told Jeon and his colleagues that they were unpatriotic for complaining, and the employers simply cracked down harder. 

In response to the protest efforts going unnoticed he decided on committing an extreme act to force attention on to the labour issues. On November 13, 1970 Jeon Tae-il set himself on fire and ran through the streets of downtown Seoul shouting slogans such as "We are not machines, enforce the labour codes!" After his collapse he was transported to a nearby hospital but did not survive the burns. His self-immolation shattered the media blockade and sparked public outrage and protest. 

His death was not in vain. It mobilized and motivated other workers to take up the struggle and this eventually led to the creation of labor unions that were gradually about to secure worker's rights. 

You can download his biography in PDF form Here

The "I'm Not Fine" Movement Series:
   Part 1: The Letter
   Part 2: The Privatization of Korail 
   Part 3: President Park Geun-hye's Election Scandal
   Part 4: The Self-Immolation of Jeon Tae-il


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