Migrant Workers Movement at the Crossroads Between ‘Movement’ and ‘Welfare’

Migrant Workers Movement at the Crossroads between ‘Movement’ and ‘Welfare’

Park Kwang-soo (volunteer)

 I have a friend who graduated from college and joined a disability movement group. I was very interested in the issue of the disabled, and eventually jumped into sports. He studied social work in college, but he said that he didn’t like the ‘welfare’ that he had learned for 4 years as a habit. When I asked the reason, it was because of the idea that ‘welfare’ meant unilaterally supplying various services after excluding the person who is the subject, objectifying them as an object of benefit. I never thought that welfare could be bad, and when I heard the word welfare, I was reminded of the Nordic welfare state that takes responsibility for “from grave to cradle”. .
Brecht’s poem “Temporary Night Accommodation” describes the creation of shelters for the homeless to spend their cold, snowy winter nights, saying: “In that way, the age of exploitation is not shortened,” he said. Wouldn’t we be able to say the same thing about well-being as Brecht? “That way the world doesn’t change,” he said.

Friends of the book, do not put this book down.
A few men will get a makeshift night lodging, the
wind will deflect them for one night, and the snow that would fall on them will fall on the road. But that doesn’t change the world. In that way, the era of exploitation is not shortened.

– Brecht, from 「Temporary Night Accommodation」

Dorothea Lange’s White Angel Bread Line  deals with the lives of the poor during the Great Depression . Lang photographed the poor living inhumane lives “so that others could feel the compassion she felt deeply.” said to have been filmed. Brecht criticized this and wrote a poem called “Temporary Night Accommodation”.


I first brought up the topic of welfare because I thought that the migrant worker movement, which I had been interested in for a long time, was at a crossroads between the movement and welfare. Migrant workers began to flow into Korean society in the early and mid 1990s, but until 2003, they were ‘existing but nonexistent’ in this society. Unknowingly and unknowingly, he was establishing himself as a member of Korean society, but he was a (non) existence that he did not want to accept or acknowledge as a member of the same society. Meanwhile, in the winter of 2003, the protest against forced deportation at Myeongdong Cathedral was a turning point in the migrant worker movement. After the demonstration, social interest in migrant workers increased, and a social space was opened for them. The government began to use a strategy of ‘subscribing’ to the movement groups, thinking that it could no longer be suppressed by coercion. It is as if the Japanese government-general adopted a cultural policy after the March 1st Movement in 1919. In addition, companies have started to offer support, saying that they make a social contribution. Is this really the right direction?
I think it was just a transition in which migrant workers, who were (non)existent in Korean society, can now receive ‘welfare’ benefits confidently as ‘members’ of social minorities, nothing more, nothing less. The fact that the perspective on undocumented migrant workers has not changed at all proves this. This is because undocumented migrant workers are still legally non-existent (non) entities, making it difficult to enjoy workers’ legal rights and being treated as ‘illegal persons’ who must leave Korea as soon as possible. Can people who came to Korea in their late teens, well past their 30s, and who are designing their future on Korean soil, simply kick them out just because they don’t have a visa?

_ The image imprinted on us in the media is smiling brightly after receiving ‘service’ at festivals, free clinics, and Korean language classes. But behind the scenes there are still people who suffer from violent crackdowns and deportation. Maybe we don’t like seeing things that are uncomfortable.

As such, since 2003, the Korean government has changed the policy direction so that the ‘inevitably widened space’ is not expanded any more, but it can be said that the essential part has not changed. So, by ‘subscribing’ to the migration movement groups that demand change from the government, they prevent them from doing the movement, and they are ‘forced’ to only play a welfare role. Perhaps getting government money or getting corporate money is the dilemma of all NGOs. You may be thinking, “No, you can protect your identity with just money, right?” But it is not as easy as it sounds. This is because it is difficult to get out of being dependent on the organization’s finances once on the ‘big hands’, and in order to continue to receive such support, it is necessary to constantly keep an eye on the government and corporations.
That’s why I cherish the Korea Migrant Workers’ Human Rights Center, which I sponsor. We don’t have a decent building or space, and we don’t get introduced to the media as often as other organizations or run a fancy business like a migrant festival. However, even in a difficult financial situation, they are protecting their own identity, such as uncovering the process of migrant workers coming to Korea through on-site surveys, or fighting and protesting to revise laws that are like evil laws related to migrant workers. is. Couldn’t the “age of exploitation be shorter” because there are civic groups such as the Korea Migrant Workers’ Human Rights Center, who abandoned the easy path of welfare and took the difficult path of movement for the survival of the group? So, I have a wish that many people will participate in sponsorship or volunteer activities. We are together~!!

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