Original Korean editorial/column (May 14, 2019) in The Hankyoreh Online
Novelist Kim Hoon
Official statistics were aired through television that deaths from a fall in new construction site for tall buildings reached to 270-300 every year. It is reported that around one hundred fell to death from January to April, this year. The number of the wounded will be much larger.
I was thunderstruck while watching TV news. Although human lives could be counted in figures, you shall term it nor great tragedy where a big number of people die, neither small tragedy where a small number of people perish. Would it be great tragedy should hundreds of people get killed at the same time, and be insignificant accidents if one or two people die by a similar accident on a daily basis.
Construction workers who labor at a high altitude fall like leaves. Once they fall, they get broken, crushed. At a funeral their families lament while slapping the ground; governmental officials who manage labor pay a visit shedding crocodile tears; in the following day workers fall again. Every three days two fall, and they keep falling every day. They fall and again fall.
Why they fall. In order to tile or paint outer walls of tall buildings, a scaffold must be set up; and it is this scaffold which is weak. They mentioned one of the followings: a toehold collapsed; guardrail was not established around a scaffold; a scaffold was poorly bolted to an outer wall; the equipment which was supposed to connect the body of a worker with an outer wall was poor.
Does all of this make any sense. Once I looked into the cause of an accident, it turned out that correcting it needed nor a good deal of money neither technology. All that is necessary is to bolster the floor of a scaffold and to bolt securely a scaffold to an outer wall by screwing properly.
Is this because of the lack of money and technology to rectify this problem for a country, which retains national income of around $30,000 as well as produces the finest automobiles, airplanes, Galaxy, and state-of-the-art homing weapons.
While being flooded with money and technology, the Korean society is not able to correct this issue. Another 270-300 workers would fall next year. This is evident. A new worker goes up to the place where previous workers fell to death, only to fall again. They did last year and the year before last; would it not be the case in the following year.
How come it is not redressed. I know the reason. If young gentlemen hailing from families of wealth and high authority, have constantly labored and fallen to death at that altitude, the Korean society would have solved it beforehand. It would have by no means been difficult. The government could have employed its wherewithal such as pressing enterprises, bringing supplementary budget, or giving administrative orders, in a bid to solve this problem. But workers who fall from higher stories are always the ones with no money, no power, and no strings to pull.
I am not able to substantiate my argument of this sort based on evidence. That young gentlemen hailing from powerful or rich families have never fallen from the top to death in recorded history makes me unable to submit even circumstantial evidence. Be that as it may, I believe what I think is right. My thought is never biased by classism. I base my view on the empirical rule of a person who has lived on in this society more than at least 70 years. The society in which I have lived on is the same as it was 50 years ago. Hence, would it be making any difference next year.
Another major reason by which the Korean society is never able to rectify this issue is the question of management as well as structure of production, i.e. the pyramid-shaped problem. Once chebol or major company places an order, construction company takes it on, subcontracting hard and dangerous works to primary contractor to subcontractor to sub-tier supplier; hostile relations transpire at every level of this food pyramid. Those workers belonging to the lowest level go up to higher stories only to be falling from there. Whereas responsibility goes down to be terminated, profit rises up to be accumulated. That all men are equal in the eye of the law is true only in beautiful sentences of the Constitution; by watching TV news I realize that the current Korean society is equal to an ancient country where one’s status is hereditarily passed down.
I regard that there is no need to rush regarding the Fourth Industry, electronic and hydrogen cars, sunlight [generation], and artificial intelligence, as long as this state of affairs lasts. People are rustling down to the ground to be crushed like falling leaves every day; where the heck does the Korean society want to go letting it unnoticed. As it moves forward, the massive sinking happens in the back.
While mumbling alone against a wall in the room watching TV news, I jotted down a few words and sent them to a newspaper.
Translated by Donghyun Woo