New books


They are not machines

Korean women workers and their fight for democratic trade unionism in the 1970s

Chun Soonok

Ashgate 2003 228 s. ISBN 0754635457
Bogomtale fra forlaget.

The multi-faceted tensions created in developing countries between a burgeoning popular desire for democracy and the harsh imperatives of modernisation and industrialisation are nowhere more evident than in the so-called 'Asian tiger' nations. Of all those nascent economies, South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s stands pre-eminent for the magnitude and speed of its development and the extraordinarily oppressive and inhumane conditions that its labour force, mainly women and young girls, were compelled to endure. The author of this book was one of those young girls who suffered in the warren of sweat-shop garment factories in the slums of central Seoul.
With little or no support from male co-workers, and despite their political naivety and the traditionally subordinate status of Korean females, the women textile and garment workers confronted the ruling authority at all levels. The author's mother was one of their leaders, and her eldest brother sacrificed his life for their cause. Despite appalling state-directed violence, betrayal by erstwhile colleagues, the chicanery and mendacity of employers' cooperatives and countless other setbacks, these uneducated and overworked women finally succeeded in forming the first fully democratic trade union in the history of Korea. Based on compelling personal accounts this is the first published account of the women's struggle, and it throws much light on the process of modernisation and industrialisation in Korea and beyond.

Foreword, Sohn Hak-kyu; Foreword, Han Myung-sook; Introduction; Park Chung-hee and the Yushin reforms; The conventional view; The Korean textile industry and the peace market; The past meets the future; Vulnerability at work; Trade union corruption and international reaction; Individuals and collective resistance; A painful birth and a violent death; Invisible women; Bibliography; Index.

'The book is based on compelling and evocative accounts by the participants. It is woven together by the author in a way that captures both the wider picture of the political and economic events that underwrote the so-called economic miracle, as well as the very personal sufferings that enabled this miracle to occur. The book traces out the costs and the dilemmas that faced the leading participants, as well as the ordinary women who continued to labour in the sweatshops. This book is a powerful and compelling statement about industrialisation in the Asian region and it should have a broad audience.'
Professor Peter Fairbrother, Cardiff University, UK

'This impeccably researched and expertly written new book will undoubtedly assume its rightful place as the definitive history of the role of women in the democratisation of the Korean trade union movement, and will prove an indispensable reference for all students of social evolution in developing countries. Moreover, They Are Not Machines constitutes a most fitting tribute not only to the stoicism and endurance of the human spirit, but also to the memory of those who did not survive.'
Han Myung-sook, Minister for Gender Equality, Republic of Korea, from the Foreword

'In its detailed description of the daily lives of tens of thousands of Korean girls and young women, and the extraordinary suffering they had to endure in order to regain their dignity and self-respect, this book highlights in the most lucid and accessible way the human cost of unbridled capitalism. It is recommended reading to all who have an interest in democracy, in liberty and in freedom.'
Dr Sohn Hak-kyu, Member of the National Assembly, Republic of Korea, from the Foreword