Most of Pyongyang’s state-run enterprises ceased operations earlier this month, leading to concerns for the laborers employed at these sites who have suddenly lost their jobs amidst increasing signs that North Korea’s economic troubles are worsening.
“Most of the factories that have a numeral in their names shut down during the first week of March,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK by phone. “The thousands of people who worked in these state-run factories have all lost their jobs.”
There are an estimated 300 enterprises located in Pyongyang. Factories with numerals in their names include the Pyongyang 326 Electric Wire Factory, the May 7 Factory, the August 17 Parts Factory, the July 28 Ilyoup Factory, the June 1 Youth Electronic Device Factory, the October 5 Automated Device Factory, the September 27 Chicken Factory, the Taedong River Battery Factory (No. 245 Factory) and the Pyongyang Coal Machine Factory (March 30 Factory).
The numbers refer to a date that Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il paid an on-the-spot visit to the factory or are dates commemorating an event. These enterprises are critical sites of production for the North Korean state so their shutdown indicates the seriousness of the country’s economic situation.
“The enterprises managed to survive until the end of February, hoping that something would come out of the US-DPRK summit, but the summit’s failure has led to a loss of hope,” said the source. “The authorities ensured the state-run enterprises continued to operate, but now they have no way of continuing.”
“Most people now know about the failure of the US-DPRK summit,” he continued, explaining that the regime “had wanted to boast of its success in the summit to the people, but all that’s happened is that employees at state-run enterprises have lost their jobs.”
North Korea has invested most of its resources in Pyongyang and enterprises located in and around the city, which means that enterprises located outside of these areas are likely much worse off.
Daily NK found that most of the enterprises in Hyesan are dysfunctional.
“Around 20 state-run enterprises and forestry-related enterprises are unable to pay their workers properly or provide them with food rations,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source.
“Even the Masan Mine, which was jointly operated with China, has stopped production and the future of the miners there looks bleak.”
Recently, North Korea has been suffering from such serious economic troubles that even security agencies tasked with maintaining order in the country – and usually the first in line for state rations – are failing to receive the level of supplies they received in the past. Now that state-run enterprises are shutting down, this means that the food they produce is also disappearing.
Ordinary North Koreans are expressing heightened levels of discontent toward the authorities due to the situation.
“People who worked in the factories are very unhappy,” a separate source in Pyongyang said.
“The Marshal (Kim Jong Un) spoke as if he was going to give up some of his power during a propaganda rally for workers, but people are saying that he really meant that North Koreans have to fend for themselves because he can’t do anything anymore.”
In a letter sent to the Second National Party Elementary Propaganda Worker Rally held in Pyongyang recently, Kim said, “If the revolutionary activities and appearance of the Suryong is idolized then the truth is buried,” later adding that ‘The Suryong is not a being who is far away from the people; he experiences the same joys and sorrows the people do and is a leader of the people who devotes his time to the people’s happiness.”
The North Korean authorities are closely monitoring the situation on the ground to ensure that the discontent felt by workers does not turn into active protests, the source said.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reported that the Pyongyang Textile Factory, Pyongyang Film Factory, Pyongyang Grain Factory, Pyongyang Tire Factory, Pyongyang Bearings Factory and other major factories in Pyongyang had shut down earlier this month due to a lack of electricity and materials.