Unity between students and janitors fills up university festivals
Unity between students and janitors fills up university festivals
  • Yang Su-bin
  • 승인 2011.06.04 16:21
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Irregular workers participate in university festivals as members of campus
▲ Students are playing a game of tying students’ legs and janitors’ legs to cooperate and run the field together at “One Spirit Atheletic Meet” during the Daedong Festival on May at Ewha (up). Kyunghee University students are cleaning the campus as “One-day janitors” during their festival on May (down).
The beginning of this semester in most Korean universities was louder than ever before with demonstrations by janitors and security guards on temporary contracts, calling for pay increases and improvements in working conditions. The strikes were mostly carried out by janitors alone at the start, but as students got interested in on-going campus issues, they supported the janitors and joined them in protest. Moreover, this solidarity was not fleeting, for it continued on in several universities’ festivals throughout May.
Issues concerning minimum wage and working conditions for janitors first emerged in demonstrations held at Dongguk University last December. These were followed by protests at Hongik University, Ewha Womans University, Korea University, Yonsei University, and other universities.
At Ewha, the janitors successfully negotiated a 400-won increase, from 4,200 to 4,600 won. In the case of Yonsei, from 4,320 won from 4,600 won. During these continuing protests, students’  indifference changed to support as the protestors handed out leaflets with information on the schools’ temporary worker issue and raised their voices through megaphones in demanding their rights.
To strengthen solidarity between students and temporary workers, students at various universities came up with events to spend time and have fun with workers during the university festivals.
At Sogang University, which is awaiting resolution of its temporary workers’ pay settlement, a process that will start this June, the Student Government Association (SGA) came up with an event for cooking rice to make chungmu gimbap (rice rolled in dried seaweed) and yooboo chobap (rice wrapped in a fried tofu bag) with the janitors and security guards.
“The janitors, who are mostly middle-aged women, really enjoyed their time with us,” said Kim Joon-han (Sogang University, 3), the president of Sogang University’s SGA. “We were also happy to have an opportunity to get acquainted with these adults who were about the same age as our parents.”
At Ewha, the janitors, security guards, and students worked together to make bibimbap in a large bowl, and even held a “One Spirit Athletic Meet.” They also joined together to color a huge sheet of paper on which appeared a big sketch of two large hands reaching toward each other in a symbol of solidarity.
“We kicked around a jegi (Korean shuttlecock) together,” said Kim Ji-young (Philosophy, 3), the vice-president of Ewha’s SGA. “The female janitors made a lot of kimchijeon (kimchi pancakes), which was popular with the Ewha students. We felt happy to see the janitors and security guards having fun during Ewha’s Daedong Festival, which is usually one of their busiest days of the year, with them occupied in cleaning up enormous amounts of waste.”
At Kyunghee University, the SGA came up with a “Beautiful Together Three-Day Project” that provided programs for students to work as one-day janitors, cleaning the campus and burning the trash. They also set up traditional medicine clinics, providing massage to janitors.
But some people say that the events sometimes had too few students participating, mainly just students from the SGA in most of the schools.
To continue efforts to strengthen solidarity with school workers, students are trying hard to make this unity more than a one-time occasion for embracing janitors and security guards as fellow members of the school. In the case of Kyunghee SGA, the events carried out with the irregular workers were filmed for showing not only to Kyunghee students but also to people off campus. Similarly, Sogang’s SGA plans to invite the workers to the Sogang Culture Festival this fall.
“University students will become ‘workers’ in the near future,” Kim Ji-young said. “I think it is good for students to take more interest in the working conditions and pay of the temporary workers around the campus. Since they clean and maintain the campus behind the scenes everyday, we ought to be more grateful and friendly to them.”

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