Kim Jin-suk, “One thing that saved me from feeling like suicidal was …”

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an interview (appeared in the daily newspaper <The Hankyoreh> on November 15, 2011) by Kim Jin-suk who came down from Hanjin Heavy Industry and Construction Youngdo shipyard crane 85 after 309-day long high place protest on November 14, 2011. This will relay especially important personal recollection of things regarding her struggle for life that lasted almost a year. Rights regarding this post still stay with authors of original article or by <The Hankyoreh> and it will be scrapped immediately by their requests accordingly. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

Kim Jin-suk, “One thing that saved me from feeling like suicidal was …”

허재현 기자 기자블로그 기자메일

Bedside interview with Kim Jin-suk who is in hospital ending 309-day long crane protest

“Consoled through Twitter .. want to have ramen and spicy fish soup someday”


» Kim Jin-suk during an interview with reporter Hur Jae-hyun. Below are 3 final defenders on crane; Hong Hyeong (49), Korea Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) organization manager and Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction (HHIC) laid-off workers Park Sung-ho (50) and Park Young-je (53). (Photo @ziyo16)

When reporter visited Kim Jin-suk (51) on 14th, a member of director committee Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) Busan branch, in OK Oh Hospital, Saha-gu, Busan, ‘punk’ citizens from all over Korea crowded the hospital room. Those self-claimed ‘punks’ who had been laughing and clamoring to cheer Kim up under crane 85 where Kim had been staging a protest were now laughing with Kim in the same room besides her. The ‘salt flower’ who had not been able to feel the warmth of human body for 309 days was holding them with all her hearts and ‘laughter flowers’ blossomed on her face.

Kim who stepped down from 35m high crane 85 in HHIC Busan Youngdo shipyard on 10th was first hospitalized in Busan Dong-A University hospital but moved to OK Oh hospital in Dangri-dong, Saha-gu, Busan, in 14th morning, the next day her arrest warrant had been rejected in court.

Buth, that morning, Kim would not answer the phone. She hung up soon even if she answered one. Although reporter has been calling her several months so far, this kind of thing never happened before. All that curiosity finally resolved when I visited her hospital in Busan.

“I did that because too manu reporters were calling me on the phone. Even sports newspaper reporters did that too. On the crane, I had to do interviews but, now, it’s not like that. I want to do interviews as little as possible. I hope that time passes by fast and people do not pay much attention on me anymore.”

Kim, then, stood from her bed and hugged reporter.

“But you, reporter Hur Jae-hyun, are welcome here. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Kim has been communicating with reporter over Twitter. Besides complicated things involving HHIC, one human being was staging a high place protest putting her life on the line and to save her by any means was a ‘problem as a human being’. All netizens who communicated with her over Twitter hoped for the same thing. “S comes down alive by all means.”

Then, she really came down, alive. That, with full smile.

Reporter asked her condition first.

“Still dizzy. I’ve been on crane for so long and the ground feels like shaking now.“

She did not divulge any detailed symptoms herself. But, her not so good condition is already quite well known. Acute hemorrhagic gastritis and hepatitis B have been bugging her all the time and pains from rheumatism became her daily companion at joints here and there. Crane iron dusts that have been flying for 309 days around her have made her body rusty.

Looking at her hands and feet, left middle fingernail and left thumb toenail have already discolored and are getting crumbled. “It’s not because I bumped to something; maybe because I did not each properly” Kim laughed. Right now, her body weight is 52kg; height about 165cm.

She threw up whenever wind blew

Any time I asked her “anything troublesome” for months Kim repeated “nothing in particular” over and over. The truth of this transparent white lie could be actually witnessed that day. She revealed her deep inner thoughts of her life on top of the crane after getting down to the ground.

“I slept on the floor by the control seat. It was such a cramped space that I bumped into the iron board of control panel when I tossed and turned. I got bruises. When it rained, water crept in and the blanket got completely soaked.”

Kim even said she threw up as if like her daily job. Crane was not a stationary house. It was a space which shook incessantly by the wind. At early times of protest, she threw up as if like a seasick all the time.

“I felt like suicidal as well”

She worried about union members all the time. Even a person like her felt like suicidal on the crane. Hope bus was organized to stop her from committing a suicide. If it had not been for the hope bus, she might have followed suit after Kim Ju-ik. (Kim Ju-ik hanged himself on crane 85 after 129 days of protest against massive layoff by HHIC in 2003.)

“Frankly I felt like suicidal several times. When union officials clashed against union members (during the directorship of Chae Gil-yong), when they blamed me for my extreme struggle was causing troubles to negotiations, I really felt like killing myself. But I calmed down myself thinking of Hwang Ee-ra because I promised her ‘I would never kill myself’.”

Hwang Ee-ra, KCTU consultation manager, has been KCTU colleagues since 2005 when she met Kim Jin-suk for the first time. Hwang has been like an ‘umbilical cord’ to Kim for those 309 days during which she has lifted up meals and clothes she prepared herself to Kim. Even that day, Hwang was assisting Kim in the hospital room.

Reporter asked Kim. “You never revealed any hints of hardship over the phone. How was that possible?” “I did that on purpose for you not to worry about me. You might have told me to come down if I said so. I, at any rate, went up there expecting any things were possible up there.”


» Hwang Ee-ra, KCTU consultation manager (left) and novelist Gong Ji-young on both sides of Kim Jin-suk.

Twitter was a ‘thread of communication’ that linked her to outside world

It was the Twitter that gave her the strength to hold out. During about 300 days of protest, she breathed through the Twitter (@JINSUK_85), yelled through the Twitter, and got consoled through the Twitter. To her, Twitter was a thread of communication that linked her to outside world.

“I twitted all day long. I twitted after breakfast, I twitted after lunch. After a short exercise, I waved to visitors, called them, and then twitted again. Every evening at 7:30, cultural festival took place across the street outside the crane. After watching it, I twitted until I fell asleep. If it had not been for the Twitter, I could not have made such a long protest.”

It was manager Hwang who taught Kim about Twitter. Suggesting Twitter, Hwang sent up iPhone to Kim who is not so familiar with electronic equipments thoughtlessly last February. Kim, out of curiosity, started Twitter and was amazed by hundreds of fellow Twitterians who said hello to her.

“If Twitter was available to Kim Ju-ik in 2003, he would not have hanged himself like that. At that time, the number of union members shrank from 2500 to 60 during the 129 days of protest. Kim Ju-ik could not have bear the desperation I guess.”

When she came down on 10th and was hospitalized in Dong-A University hospital, Kim Ju-ik’s sister brought me a rice porridge. The first thing she tole me was ‘how glad it would have been if Ju-ik came down alive’. I could not say anything.”

Out of sorry, Kim looked down for a while.

“Korea Employers Federation (KEF) and government objected my reinstatement; That’s what I heard.”

Kim Jin-suk entered the Korea Shipbuilding Corporation (KSC) in 1981 as a welder. She lost favor with the company while trying to transform the company-guided union into a real union and displaced her to job training office in 1986 where union members were scarce. Kim, protesting this, was fired on the ground of disobedience to a senior order but continues reinstatement struggle until now. In 1989, under managerial hardships, KSC was taken over by HHIC.

“In 2003, HHIC union and company discussed my reinstatement issue. But, HHIC was heard to decline that issue as if they were imploring. I heard KEF and government forced HHIC, ‘not Kim Jin-suk’ by any means. Obviously a 3rd party intervention. But, since the reinstatement of other union members was the utmost priority at that time, I agreed to lift the strike accepting the promise of ‘discussing Kim Jin-suk’s reinstatement later’.”

2003. That was under Roh Moo-hyun’s government. Kim was not reinstated even during the ‘participatory government’. President himself was her exclusive lawyer when she was arrested in 1990.

“Of course, I was very disappointed with former President Roh. I witnessed despair from the limitation on labor issues of him who was even very close to me. Even under new leadership, anti-labor sentiment bureaucrats were still there. But, I still feel the pain of the death of former President Roh. If I didn’t know him, I would have simply ended up with cursing him. But since I know he was a righteous person, it hurts me so bad.”

6 years later in November 2009, The Commission for Democratization Movement Activists’ Honor Restoration and Compensation determined “Kim Jin-suk was unfairly fired”. But HHIC still does not follow the commission’s decision yet.

“I was moved by citizens who turned up in support”

During interview, Kim Jin-suk drank traditional beverage known beneficial for arthritis. A resident of an apartment near HHIC delivered it to her several days before. Kim expressed her gratitude to citizens who supported her protest.

“It was touching. People from all over the country continued to come to see me under the crane to cheer me up. When it rained, they came because of the rain; when it was cold, they came because it was cold; when it was hot, they came because it was hot. There were people even from Germany or Finland only to see me. One student studying abroad in Philippines was known to ride 8 hours and to stage a solo protest in front of ‘HHIC shipyard in Subic Philippines’ to show support for me. How I cannot be touched by people like these. And Kim Yeo-jin who came down to Busan to see me whom she did not have any acquaintance with.”

In the middle of interview, punk citizens who were staying in the hospital room went back home. Kim, helped by manager Hwang, came to elevator and saw off every citizen one by one. People asked her “not to see them off” but Kim just smiled. One woman said “I will come gain in the weekend”. She flied back to Seoul that night.

“I would like to have ramen and spicy fish soup” 

Novelist and power Twitterian Lee Oi-soo, through Twitter, wanted reporter to ask ‘the most precious one thing and the least precious one thing’ to Kim Jin-suk. Reporter handed Lee Oi-soo’s question to Kim instead.

“He asks such a tough question to me. Well. All living things that bear lives. Even a flower or a drop of dew is so precious. The least valuable thing is probably the greedy to wealth. Our society is so tilted to it. The thing that we should make money by all means makes me sad.”

She is not married. “I spent my 20s and 30s mindlessly and lost my chances. But I do not regret that”. She said she had dated 8 years ago and that that was the last time. Reporter mischievously asked her about it in detail but she burst into a laughter and said “it was such a painful experience. Let’s not talk about it”. Her gray hair piled up on her head came into reporter’s eyes at that moment.

Reporter wanted to go nearby Korean dry Sauna together if things permitted. Reporter wanted to comfort her worn down shoulders in a dry Sauna she had wanted to go so eagerly. But her frail body condition did not allow her to go outside. That police and prosecution tried to arrest such a person made reporter indignant.

Kim, responding to interview over an hour smiling, suddenly said “let’s call it a day. It’s too tough.” She had been putting it up as a consideration for reporter from far away, revealing arduously after an hour.

Reporter could not ask her things like how she could write such nice prose, if she felt any hard feelings against media coverage, where her other families are and what they do any more. But, she told me she would return to her own place as a member of director committee of KCTU Busan branch.

Wrapping up the interview hastily, I asked her, as the last question, what food she wanted to have.

“I would like ramen and spicy fish soup if my stomach heals.”

Kim grinned so heartily. She came to the elevator again to see reporter off.

Final defenders of crane middle deck “It’s good not to sleep on soaked styrofoam any more”

Besides Kim’s hospital room were hospitalized ‘final defenders on crane middle deck’ that stayed with Kim until the end, Jeong Hong-hyeong(49), organizing manager of KMW, and HHIC laid-off workers Park Sung-ho(50), Park Young-je(53). After staging protest under Kim for 137 days, they were taken to police station on last 10th. Arrest warrants prosecution had filed were rejected on 13th and they were receiving medical treatments with Kim. Their faces looked rather fine.

Reinstatement of Park Sung-ho and Park Young-je after 1 year was confirmed. They expressed their aspiration to help other unions on struggle for remaining one year. Since they got help from hope bus, they think they have to pay it back.

In the middle of interview, nurse came in to measure Shin Dong-soon’s blood pressure. “130mmHg~80mmHg.” quite normal. Shin smiled. “On crane, I had 160mmHg~110mmHg, possibly due to stress. Now, it comes back to normal.”

Reporter asked Park Sung-ho who were watching all this beside “What is the best thing to finish the strike.”

“It’s good we don’t have to sleep on soaked styrofoam any more. Also the fact that Kim Jin-suk came down alive.”

Article Hur Jae-hyun 허재현기자 (catalunia@hani.co.kr)
Footage Cho So-young 조소영 피디 (azuri@hani.co.kr)

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