May 1 is International Workers’ Day, also referred as May Day or “Workers’ Day” in Korea, that celebrates laborers all around the world. Worker’s Day is designated as a paid holiday by the Labor Standards Act in Korea and has been the center of many street marches and demonstrations regarding workers and their rights.
On April 30, a day before Worker’s Day, students gathered to stand up for worker’s rights and voice their own opinions. 430 Youth and Student Culture Festival is an annual event that commemorates International Worker’s Day. The event has addressed subjects like job instability, minimum wages, labor conditions of Korean workers, but it has also touched upon subjects that are not directly linked to Workers’ Day, such as feminism, hierarchy problems in college, social discriminations and much more.
This year’s festival was hosted by the Collective Action of University Students for Universities Without Temporary Workers, which are consisted of students and student associations from schools such as Seoul National University, Incheon National University, Dongguk University and Ewha. A total of 743 students, around 600 of them coming from Ewha, signed the letter of protest that was delivered by members of the collective action to Seoul Regional Employment and Labor Office.
After holding a press conference in front of Government Seoul Complex, students marched from Seoul Regional Employment and Labor Office to Insa-dong where they held dance performances, short speeches, and road surveys to raise awareness on temporary workers’ rights and call for government action. After a few hours, they moved to Sejong Chamber Hall where the rest of the 430 Youth and Student Culture Festival would take place.
The theme of this year’s festival is temporary workers, which has been the center of conflict between universities and its employees since the current government announced an “era of zero irregular unemployment” that started with plans to eliminate all contract and temporary jobs in the public sector. Ewha has not been an exception, since university custodians has been demanding for better working environments since last September when President Moon Jae-in promised the establishment of a new Special Law on Preventing Discrimination against Non-regular Workers.
“The start of 430 Youth and Student Culture Festival goes back to 1994 when students of Yonsei University lent their school’s football ground for employees who back then weren’t granted permission for Workers’ Day marches,” said Choi Won-Jung, Head Executive of Movement Ewha. “Although events held on May Day are usually organized around workers, the culture festival was made by and for students.”
Movement Ewha is one of the host organizations for the 430 Youth and Student Culture Festival. Other student groups such as body art club Tuhon and student club union Donghari participated in the promotion and operation of the event.
Gathered under their common interest in betterment of worker’s rights, students have voiced their opinions through dance, music and performance arts in the 430 Youth and Student Culture Festival.
“People say that university is a place for ‘learning.’ But often times talking with a friend, attending a discussion, or holding a seminar teaches you more than a class in your major. Discussing social issues and taking action is a very important experience you can have during one’s university life,” Choi said. “We hope that Ewha students, whether you are in a socially active club or not, would also take action regarding the many issues that surround ourselves.”