North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Workers’ Organizations

revised and updated January 16, 2018

The Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee [CC] Workers’ Organizations’ Department is the central management and administrative agency of the DPRK’s official (state sanctioned) social organizations.  There are at least 20 social, cultural, religious, students, trade or professional organizations and institutions, whose leadership (taking the form of a chairperson or committee secretary) report to and receive guidance from the Workers Organizations’ Department.  At least six (6) of these organizations technically constitute a workers’ (labor) organization. Membership of DPRK citizens is usually compelled in one or more workers’ organizations.

Workers’ Organizations serve a number of functions for the regime.  Workers’ Organizations members are mobilized to participate in indoctrination and education, agricultural or construction projects, and for media appearances and other public events.  The presence of social organizations in DPRK media allows the regime to convey the impression of an active social and cultural life technically removed from party control, and telecast feelings of a kind of solidarity to counterpart social and labor organizations in the ROK.  Several of the Workers’ Organizations (such as the Kim Il Sung Youth League and certain trade unions) link their membership to the DPRK’s paramilitary reserve training units or to the country’s competitive sports leagues.

Articles 56, 57 and 58 of the WPK Charter outline the role of Workers’ Organizations.

56.  The organizations of the working masses are political and supporting organizations of the party that inherit the glorious revolutionary tradition of the anti-Japanese guerrilla struggles.

The organizations of the working masses are ideological training organizations of the masses and the party’s faithful helpers that tie the party to the masses.  The Kim Il Sung Youth League is the revolutionary organization of young people that directly inherits revolutionary tasks and is the party’s fighting rearguard unit.  The organizations of the working masses operate under the direction of the party.

57. The organizations of the working masses consolidate the strength of their member around the monolithic ideological system of the party, strengthen their members’ party life and ideological work, unite their members around the party by revolutionizing them as the revolution conscious working class, actively participate in the 3 Revolution Red Flag Movement and competitive socialist movement directly mobilize their members to the revolution and construction.

58.  Each party organization must strengthen the rank and file of the working masses, establish the working system of the masses of the organizations of the working masses, correctly devise methods for their activities in accordance with special characteristics of the masses and lead them to voluntarily participate in completing their duties.

Worker (labor) organizations and social organizations under the CC KWP Workers’ Organizations’ Department include:

Kim Il Sung Youth League [Pak Chol Min, 1st Secretary] has a membership, ages 14 to 30, dispersed into chapters based on educational institution (school or university), economic sector, or military service.  The KISYL also is responsible for the DPRK’s various secondary and university student groups, KISYL chapters at the provincial, city or county level and the Korean Children’s Union.  The Korean Children’s Union membership consists of DPRK children and students ages 5 to 13.  The KISYL also operates various extra-curricular activities, projects and facilities (schoolchildren’s palaces).

The Kim Il Sung Youth League is  a feeder organization to the Korean Workers’ Party, and the primary institutional means for KWP recruitment.  According to one clause in of article 3 of the KWP Charter:

In case of the admission of a member of the Kim Il Sung Youth League the recommendation of the city or county committee of the league can stand for the recommendation of a party member.

Korea Democratic Women’s Union [Jang Chun Sil, Chairwoman] has a membership of women, ages 31 to 55, who do not hold membership in another labor organization.  The KDWU participates in cultural and construction projects.  It has also advocated for DPRK women working in the country’s heavy industry.  It has a membership of 200,000 to 250,000 and conducts two official central committee plenums (CC KDWU) per year.

General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea [Ju Yong Gil, Chairman] has a membership of DPRK workers over the age of 30 who work in one of 9 industries : metal and chemical; power and coal; commerce and light industry; machine building; forestry; fisheries; transportation; logistics (post); education, culture and public health.

Union of Agricultural Workers’ of Korea [Kim Chang Yop, Chairman] consists of personnel in the DPRK’s farming and agricultural sectors.  Its membership consists of farmers, laborers, office workers and other employees in the country’s cooperative farms, and other agricultural production sites.  There are approximately 1.5 million UAWK members.

Other workers’ and social organizations include:

General Federation of Unions of Literature and Arts

General Federation of Science and Technology

Korean Social Scientists’ Association

Korean Architects’ Union

DPRK Olympic Committee

Korean Journalists Union

Korean Democratic Lawyers’ Association

Institutional Ties

The Workers’ Organizations Department links with the WPK Organization Guidance Department [OGD].

Workers’ organizations are used as one tool of population surveillance and social control.  2011 reports in North Hamgyo’ng have identified provincial, city or county chapters of workers’ organizations (KISYL; KDWU) participating in internal security control, as well as mobilizing members to participate in public works’ projects in remote locations.  Workers’ organizations at agricultural production sites now reportedly link to local offices of the Ministry of Public Security and the Military Security Command.  Several workers’ organizations operate SOEs or foreign trading corporations.  In April 2012, DPRK media reported the delivery of multiple-launch rocket systems [MLRS] to South Hamgyo’ng Province.  The presentation ceremony was conducted by the KISYL and KDWU, which DPRK media reported, contributed to the assembly and production of the MRLS vehicles.

The workers’ organizations also link to the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces [MPAF], the KPA General Political Department, the KPA General Staff, the WPK Central Committee Civil Defense Department and the WPK Military Affairs Department to contribute and fulfill its commitments to the DPRK’s paramilitary reserve training units. (such as the Young Red Guards, the Worker-Peasant Red Guard, etc.)  RMTU personnel are allocated and their training plans by the KPA General Staff Operations Bureau.  The KPA General Staff submits orders and planning documents through MPAF channels which passes them onto WPK Military Affairs Department which then passes these onto province-level Military Affairs Departments which call up RMTUs based out of Workers’ Organizations in their geographic area.

In the event of a declaration of war by the DPRK or a national emergency, RMTUs are mobilized to serve in the KPA’s rear echelon and protect critical infrastructure.  Workers’ Organizations also participate in civil defense training which is coordinated by provincial, county and city People’s Security Departments based on planning and personnel allocation directed by the KPA General Staff Operations Bureau.

Management and reportage

Choe Hwi [Ch’oe Hwi], a former musician and official of the WPK Propaganda and Agitation Department, was appointed WPK Vice Chairman for Workers and Social Organizations during the 2nd plenary meeting [plenum] of the 7th WPK Central Committee in October 2017.

Ri Il Hwan [Ri Il-hwan] has served as WPK Workers’ Organizations Department Director since 2014.  Ri led an internal publicity drive and authored indoctrination and political education materials promoting Ko Yong Hui [Ko Yo’ng-hu’i] as the “mother of So’ngun [military-first] Korea] from 2001 to 2006, the first phase of an effort to promote one of Ko’s sons [Kim Jong Chol or current leader Kim Jong Un] as hereditary successor to Kim Jong Il.

See also:

Chong, Bong-uk (editor).  A Handbook on North Korea Seoul: Naewoe Press, December 1996)

Hunter, Helen-Louise. Kim Il-song’s North Korea Wesport, CT: Praeger, 1999

Oh, Kongdan, Ed., DPRK Policy Elites (Joseph S. Bermudez; Ken Gause; Ralph C. Hassig; Alexandre Y. Mansourov; David J. Smith) Alexandria, VA: IDA,  2004

Savada, Andrea M. (ed.) North Korea: A Country Study (Washington DC: Library of Congress Federal Research Division, 1994)

Yonhap News Agency. North Korea Handbook Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003

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