In order to prevent people from leaving their jobs, the government had imposed tight punishments such as detention and short-term forced labor. The government was afraid that one of the most important governing systems in North Korea, “associational life”, would lose its importance.  [*Note 3] [ Note: “associational life” will be explained in the next chapter]

However, officials of work places understand that it is necessary for the workers to join black market activities since there is no food supply or wages.  They started to charge money to those who would like to earn “time” for doing other business.  It was profitable and reasonable not only for the workers but the officials since the work places at that time had financial difficulties and a shortage of cash. So the workers could skip their jobs without being criticized by higher ups, but they would have to pay.


Transferring foreign aid, food, from the goods wagon to a truck. Those people are “freelancers” and are paid per piece. August 2008, in a suburb of Pyongyang. Taken by Chang Jeong-gil (ASIAPRESS)


Contrary to women, men are not allowed to open stalls at markets.  Therefore, they have to try to find a job which does not catch the eyes of state authorities.  There are various types of jobs, it is common for a man in a city to become a “Taegori,” carrying and selling for wholesaling things such as rice and agricultural products from farm to city.  Furthermore, privately-hired manual labor such as loading heavy baggage, working at construction sites, and also buying one’s own bicycle-drawn cart to carry things are all favored by male workers.  Due to the end of the “governance based on the food supply” and the inability of the Party to manage the workers, a number of “freelancers” have emerged.
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[*Note 2]: There are many cases in which joint ventures between North Korean and Chinese companies provided workers with a certain amount of food.  Also, the North Korean government orders some domestic factories and restaurants to obtain the raw materials and the financial resources for their operations by themselves.  Workers at such workplaces may find access to food.  However, it is not the traditional food supply, but just a benefit from collaborating with the black market. [*Note 3]: For up to a year, a “labor training camp” (rodong danryeondae) detains those who have committed minor crimes like violating the dress code and or leaving one’s job.  They are considered as a force to disrupt the social order and enforce a moral discipline.  The police can imprison citizens without even having a trial.


Barber stalls exist all over the country. In many cases, barbers used to work for state-owned companies but have quit due to the worsening economic condition. Now they are “freelancers.” March 2013 in South Pyongan Province. Taken byPaek Hyang (ASIAPRESS)

Next page: 5-2People leaving their jobs and disregarding the “associational life”