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Monday, January 24, 2022

‘Squid Game’ sheds light on plight of South Korean workers sacrificed for country’s economic benefit

Critics have noted that squid game Criticism of capitalism and inequality. Producer Hwang Dong-hyuk has said that it is about how people get into debt to survive.

squid game An escapist addresses this problem in a dystopian story, suggesting that people may go to extreme lengths to rid themselves of debt.

As one of us argues in research about neoliberalism, escapism, and the quest for utopia, the tension between the traumatic experience of work and the need to survive drives escapism, precisely because wage evasion for most people Is impossible.

squid game The real violence of South Korea’s labor history indicates the need to address the real inequalities of income and living conditions in South Korea and globally.

questioning capitalism

Many people were questioning capitalism before squid game Debut in September.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 2,000 billionaires controlled the same amount of wealth as 4.6 billion people, which is 60 percent of our global population. During the pandemic, American billionaires added US$2.1 trillion to their hoardings.

In squid gameIn the first episode, protagonist Seong Gi-hun amputates his limbs to pay off his loan shark. The show highlights how South Koreans have an extraordinarily high level of personal debt, brought on by a toxic combination of unemployment, easy loans and high interest rates.

‘Squid Game’ official trailer on YouTube

Sacrifice of workers for economic gain

In the wealth of NationsIn 18th century economist Adam Smith, argued that property rights require the protection of the state because they create resentment among “those who are not”. Many political scientists, such as Cornelia Baer, ​​have explored how poverty and exclusion lead to crime and social breakdown.

These tensions can be seen in the plight of South Korean workers, who were sacrificed for the country’s economic prosperity.

Labor historian Chun Sunok writes of how, in the 1970s, in the textile district of Seoul’s Peace Market, girls under 14 were forced to work non-stop in small rooms amid dust, harmful chemicals, and physical abuse from supervisors. was put together.

Detail from the cover of ‘They Are Not Machines: Korean Women Workers and Their Fight for Democratic Trade Unionism in the 1970’ by Chun Sunuk.
(routledge)

choose book, They Aren’t Machines: Korean Women Workers and Their Fight for Democratic Trade Unionism in the 1970s, describes how the modern South Korean labor movement emerged from women-led in this period.

Activist abuse prompted Chun’s older brother, activist Tae-il, to commit suicide in protest, an act that gave rise to the modern South Korean labor movement. Workers first joined official unions and later formed their own, independent organizations.

pro-worker democracy movement

This trade union was prone to violence. Chun details police and strikebreaker attacks on factory strikes in the 1970s and 1980s, when state-led torture and killings of workers and activists took place. As sociologist Paul Y. Chang demonstrates, in the 1970s, there were more than 1,000 arrests, 130 forced shootings, 348 violence, six kidnappings and two murders.

In 1975, the South Korean state imprisoned and tortured 23 people they accused of violating national security law, with eight of them executed the day after their sentencing.

This repression continued in the state’s response to pro-democracy movements during the 1980s, from the 1980 Gwangju Uprising to the 1987 June Democracy Movement. In 1987, police killed student activist Park Jong-chol by drowning him in water.

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People are seen on the screen while the crowd watches.
Artists sing during a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the May 18 Democratic Uprising at May 18 Democracy Square in Gwangju, South Korea, in May 2020.
(Jung Yeon-jae/Pool Photo via AP)

mass strike wave

As sociologist Hagen Koo points out, the demand for political liberalization by the democracy movement led directly to the “Great Workers’ Struggle”, a wave of mass strikes that created 4,000 new unions with 700,000 new union members.

Despite the victory, state repression of the labor movement continued, despite unions being recognized and easing of harsh workplace disciplinary measures. In April 1989, writes Koo, police launched a military-style attack on striking employees of Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan, using boats, helicopters, and 15,000 riot police.

In 1991, the president of the Hanjin Heavy Industries Workers’ Union died in prison during interrogation by the police.

This systemic violence developed in the neoliberal era. Sociologist Lee Eunkyung shows how South Korean family-run groups fund their subcontractors by hiring union-busting private security firms, most notably against the Metal Union Federation, the country’s strongest union group.

squid game refers to this history when Gi-hun is revealed to be an ex-worker at Dragon Motors – a reference to the real-life South Korean automaker SsangYong Motors.

Workers at Ssangyong Motors fought for forced retirement and dismissal in 2009. Lee noted that his defeat drove many people into depression and that eight workers died by suicide.

Workers are seen above a manufacturing plant.
Ssangyong Motors Co. Striking workers are seen during a rally against management’s restructuring plan at the Ssangyong Motors factory in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, in July 2009.
(AP photo/Lee ​​Jin-man)

Poverty and inequality gathering pace

squid gameThe director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, had development of the series for more than 10 years and was unsure of how the series could be received. He notes that today, “violent survival stories are really welcome.”

Today’s world is marked by increasing inequality; As sociologist Hagen Koo points out, as of 2016, “the ratio of Korea’s income from the top 10 percent to the bottom 10 percent was 4.78,” very close to the United States (4.89), the nation’s highest organization in economic cooperation and development. For.

This final conflict, as VIPs watch Gi-hun and Sang-woo’s final battle from the safety of a viewing box, reflects the survival game of capitalism, where owners rationalize their production processes and lay off workers. The fight to save costs and maximize profits sends the system into turmoil from time to time. This was seen in the 2008 global economic crisis, when the working people were victims.

In the final episode of Season 1, Gi-hyun leaves a case full of cash for Sang-woo’s mother, on the condition that she take care of Sae-byeok’s younger brother. When touched, it meant despair; Even though all competitors survived, they could not alleviate the low wages and high debt of South Korean workers.

change, not escapism

squid game Signs that individual solutions to poverty and debt are inadequate: workers are subject to the whims of the labor market and economic crises.

Upcoming national strikes are being planned by the Confederation of Korean Trade Unions against precarious employment. The activists are pushing for union rights and better working conditions.

These improvements are necessary to protect the front line of living conditions. But they are only a step toward changing the problems with neoliberalism: as long as wages, housing and other essentials are bought and sold in the market, inequalities remain the same. squid game The live depiction will continue.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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