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Sitting around round table

Korea’s candlelit rallies that started last fall are a good example of citizens acting for a better society. The people who were scattered, each busy making a living, gathered in the dark square, lighting candles. Through the candlelight, the citizens declared that this society should be changed.

Now is the time to concretely discuss the direction in which our society should go, based on the aspirations for change. And through social consensus, we need to reform our social system to enable necessary changes.
In February, I took part in an event where about 2,000 people discussed a society that we want to make. Although many citizens assembled, each discussion table consisted of 6-7 people to listen attentively to one another. It was a precious opportunity to share thoughts about how our society should change. In spite of the cold weather, participants gathered with enthusiasm. And we talked sitting around a small round table according to each topic we chose.

At our table, we talked about decent jobs and basic labor rights. Some of us thought that the minimum wage should be increased to secure a decent life. Nevertheless, one person said that a minimum wage rise was a burden. She was running a bakery employing part-timers. It was not easy for her to raise wages because she had to pay high rents to the building owner.

For a more equal society, it is possible to consider legally putting a ceiling on the gap between the lowest and highest wages so that the gap is not too wide. On the other hand, building owners make money not by working but by renting building space. Now a small number of people have excessive wealth through unearned incomes, while many people can’t prepare for old age despite hard work. However, with the upper limit on rents, the minimum wage rise will be less burdensome for self-employed people who hire employees than now. Wouldn’t a livable society be the society where we are properly paid and can make a decent living according as we work?

It is also needed to create more jobs and improve the quality of workers’ lives by shortening labor hours. Now while many people have difficulty finding a job, many workers have a hard time working too long. If legal working hours are reduced, more people will be able to share high-quality jobs beyond this polarization. In Denmark, people who have children are said to get off work at around 4 and those who don’t at about 5. I hope that more people are free from overtime and have time to recharge.

Participating in the discussion, I thought that places where we can share our thoughts like this would be necessary across society. If we aren’t careful, we can become narrow-minded. Nonetheless, if we have opportunities to talk with people with different backgrounds and opinions, we can broaden our horizons, beginning to know and understand various people’s lives. Even though some people seem to have few things in common with you at first, you may find more in common later because they are the same people as you after all.

Whether in a village or a bigger unit, if we talk about a life we dream about and act to live that life, we will be able to build a better society together.

The writer translates writings about agriculture and rural communities. Her blog address is blog.naver.com/dancinglf.


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