South Korean women labourers protest closing of YH wig manufacturing company 1979

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Worker discontent against YH company began in March 1975 and substantially heighted in April 1979 when the company laid off workers and gave the jobs to subcontractors.
9th August
11th August
Location and Goals
South Korea
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Sinmindang Headquarters (Biggest political opposition party at the time)
Retraction of closing of wig making YH company

Workers engaged in conflict with their employers, the YH wig making
company, as early as 1975. Since the founding of the company in 1966,
the executives had hired employees at very low wages, siphoned funds to
America, and illegally fired workers. The workers in response formed the
YH labour union in May 1975. While the union won some concessions, the
company started struggling with business over-expansion and debt later
that year, which prompted mass layoffs. Finally in April 1979, the
company announced that it was closing down. It listed its debt, losses
in operations, and the YH labour union’s demands for increase in wages
for its reasons. The women labourers (from this point on, all workers
mentioned are females) went on strikes to protest this move, but to no
avail. When the company shut off the water and electricity supply to the
workers’ dormitories, the union decided to move its struggle to the
Seoul headquarters of the New Democratic Party (Sinmindang)(NDP), in
hopes of generating greater public support .

The YH labour union entered the NDP headquarters on the 9 August at
9.30am. The 187 workers had received financial support from the Urban
Industrial Mission to stage the protest, and they proceeded to occupy
the fourth floor hall. They demanded the normalisation of company
operations among other conditions, and petitioned the Blue House
(executive office), government offices, and the US embassy in South
Korea. Youngsam Kim, the leader of the NDP, came out to support the
workers. He promised to bring the head of the ministry of labour, and
called for the government to hold emergency meetings. The government,
however, did not accept these calls, and simply called for the
dispersion of the protesters. The occupation itself generated wide
publicity through the press, and various civil organisations visited to
show their support.

On the 10 August, the union put out a statement restating its demands
and continued to occupy the hall despite gathering rumours of police
build-up in the area. In the early hours of 11 August, approximately
2,000 riot police entered the NDP headquarters and forcibly evicted all
the workers from the building. The police beat protesters, NDP
representatives, and journalists, and simply carried out protesters who
refused to move. They arrested the leaders of the YH labour union, and
the head pastor of the Urban Industrial Mission, and sent the rest of
the protesters home in a bus. One protester, Kyeongsuk Kim, was found
dead. None of the protesters’ demands were met.

Youngsam Kim vocally objected to the repression and called on the US
government to denounce the military dictatorship in South Korea - the
government in response stripped him of his MP status. The combination of
the police crackdown on female workers, and the following ousting of
Kim provoked widespread public opposition to Chunghee Park’s regime. The
YH incident, as this protest came to be known, served as the catalyst
for subsequent protests, such as the Pusan-Masan movement that
culminated in the downfall of the military dictatorship on the 26
October 1979.

Research Notes

YH labour union also staged strikes in April when it was revealed that the company was laying off workers and allocating the jobs to subcontractors. These protests ended when the company cut off electricity and water supply to women workers' dormitories (1).

Youngsam Kim vocally decried the government action, and the government responded by stripping him of his MP status. Mass demonstrations followed in the Pusan-Masan movement 1979 (2).

아올 (Aol). 2013. “[KBS 인물 현대사] 여공, 유신을 몰아내다 - YH 사건 김경숙 (2).” ([KBS Modern history] Woman labourer, drives out the Yushin dictatorship - YH incident, Kyeongsuk Kim (2)) Junibaum:6월의 나무. Retrieved April 5, 2015 (

아올 (Aol). 2013. “[KBS 인물 현대사]여공, 유신을 몰아내다 - YH 사건 김경숙 (1).”([KBS Modern history] Woman labourer, drives out the Yushin dictatorship - YH incident, Kyeongsuk Kim (1)) Junibaum:6월의 나무. Retrieved April 5, 2015 (

Anon. n.d. “YH사건.” (YH incident) Retrieved April 5, 2015 (

Kim, Mikyoung. 2003. “South Korean Women Workers' Labor Resistance in the Era of Export-Oriented Industrialization, 1970-1980.” Development and Society 32(1):77-101. Retrieved April 5, 2015 ( Kim.pdf).

류, 제철 (Ryoo, Jaecheol). n.d. “와이에이치무역여공사건.” (YH Trade Woman labourer incident) 민족문화대백과사전 (Encyclopedia of Korean Culture). Retrieved April 5, 2015 (

안, 재성 (An, Jaesung). n.d. “YH사건 - 여공들, 민주주의의 봄을 부르다.” (YH incident - Woman labourers call forth the spring of democracy) Retrieved April 5, 2015 (

Additional Notes: 
While the YH incident (as this event came to be known) did not culminate in any significant victory for the YH workers, it marked the beginning of the events towards the downfall of the Chung-hee Park's military regime on 26th of October.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Dong Shin You, 05/04/2015