Thousands of South Korean workers in 'Squid Game' costumes rally to improve workers' rights

Some union workers said they could relate to the characters in the popular Korean survival drama as "they too are struggling to make a living".

Alfie Kwa | October 23, 2021, 11:34 AM

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Tens of thousands of members from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a major umbrella labour group in Korea, took to the streets across cities in South Korea on Wednesday (Oct. 20) to demand better working conditions.

The KCTU staged simultaneous rallies at 14 locations, including Seoul and Busan, to put a spotlight on labour issues ahead of next year’s presidential election, Korea JoongAng Daily reported.

Inspired by the popular Netflix series, "Squid Game", many workers were dressed in the iconic red jumpsuit and wore a black mask with either a white square, circle, or triangle logo on it.

Rallies across various cities in South Korea

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The rally called for the rights of workers, part-time or contract workers, to receive the same labour protections as other workers.

It also called for the government to give workers more power as the country's economy transitions from industry to services and to strengthen public transportation networks, medical care, housing, and education.

There were reportedly about 80,000 KCTU members who joined the rallies, and half a million workers who joined in the one-day general strike, according to The Straits Times.

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There were 27,000 people who took to the streets in Seoul alone.

12,000 police officers were deployed to set up fences and "bus walls' to stop the large gathering in Gwanghwamun Plaza, reported The Straits Times.

Image via @yunsukCNA/Twitter.

Why wear the "Squid Game" costume?

Lim Yun Suk, the Korea Bureau Chief for Channel News Asia, tweeted on Oct. 20 that some union workers dressed in the "Squid Game" costume said, they could relate to the characters in the drama as "they too are struggling to make a living".

In the video posted, the union members were seen dressed in either a red jumpsuit or black hoodie with the show's iconic mask, banging on drums and performing amid the rally.

The union took the opportunity to make the show the theme of the strike. The show's plot – numerous characters overwhelmed with debt, fighting to the death for a large sum of money – resonated strongly with many workers in South Korea.

The group even produced a "Squid Game" promotional campaign on social media featuring actors in an outfit inspired by the show.

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A post shared by 민주노총 (@kctu_official)

The "Squid Game" was apparently inspired by the conditions of  South Koreans following the global economic collapse in 2008, said CBS.

In an interview with ABC, a former worker at South Korea's Ssangyong Motors said, "some scenes were very hard to watch".

He struggled from depression and financial difficulties when he and thousands of employees were laid off while the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.

Although he and many others have returned to the job in recent years, he is still haunted by the string of suicides among co-workers and family members who were plunged into financial misery during that period.

Rallies violated Covid-19 restrictions

According to Reuters, Seoul has filed a complaint with the police against members of the union for organising illegal protests that violated Covid-19 restrictions.

Only one-person protests are allowed in the capital and surrounding areas under current social distancing rules in South Korea.

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Top image songkun87/Instagram and @yunsukCNA/Twitter.