For nearly two years, Chang Kwan Shik (not his real name) worked quietly among 170 other hard-working Koreans in an auto parts factory in the industrial city of Inchon. Last August, along with hundreds of thousands of other South Korean workers, the men at Mr. Chang's plant went on strike demanding a fairer share of what is called the Korean economic miracle. For five days, Chang led the strike for higher wages and the right to form a trade union. Only during the strike did he reveal to his fellow workers the truth he had so carefully concealed.
He was a former university activist, sent in as a underground organizer.
The government refers to activists like Chang as ``disguised workers,'' accusing them of spreading ``leftist'' and ``subversive'' ideas in the factories.
Unquestionably, Chang appears to belong in the book stacks of a library, not alongside a metal press. The soft spoken, bespectacled young man entered a Seoul university in 1980, where he became involved in the student movement. In 1983 he was jailed for organizing antigovernment demonstrations on campus. He was released the following year.
Chang was barred from completing school but was determined to continue in the cause of what he calls ``social change'' and ``economic self-determination.'' Because of his appearance he was advised to play a role as a teacher in the widespread network of campus study circles which recruit students by teaching from banned neo-Marxist and Western radical books.
Chang instead chose to be a labor organizer. ``In order to change society, you have to work with the masses,'' he says.
The Korean government forbids such ``outside'' organizers and any open activity along these lines brings immediate arrest. There are a number of loosely linked underground groups - many affiliated with Christian churches, others with Marxist sects.