A Call for CooperationThe labor union of the Korea Electric Power Corporation has announced an all-out strike, demanding amendments to the plan to privatize the power company by dividing it up and selling it off. The labor unions should exercise self-restraint rather than constantly resorting to radical group action in opposition to the restructuring of public utilities that are awash in debt. When we are trying to work our way out of an economic crisis, such hard measures as privatization and downsizing are unavoidable. At this crucial juncture, the unions need to think through their alternatives prudently and come up with ways in which they can contribute to their survival.
A great deal of the responsibility for the slipshod management of public utilities belongs to the government, which has introduced inefficiencies by installing high-level personnel brought in from other, unrelated fields rather than promoting experienced personnel internally. With annual profits of only 2 trillion won, KEPCO cannot even pay the interest on its debts, which total 34 trillion won. Clearly KEPCO cannot be allowed to drag on like this, and it is not alone ?the Korean National Railroad, the Korea Tobacco and Ginseng Corporation, and the Korea Heavy Industries and Construction come immediately to mind. Reform in the public utilities sector has fallen behind, and it is time for all involved to acknowledge that reform is inevitable.
The public utilities unions are not the only ones that need to exercise greater self-restraint. The Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions, the Federation of Metal Workers, and the Korean Federation of Clerical and Financial Labor Unions have all announced strikes and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions have jointly declared a "winter battle." We understand the feelings of those facing job loss, and the government must do whatever it can to minimize the ill effects of restructuring. We also urge legislators to stop their infighting and get back to dealing with the economic situation.
The labor unions must learn that there is no way around the current crisis without restructuring and that extreme actions will only make matters worse. Labor unrest speeds the withdrawal of foreign investment and results, as with Daewoo Motor, in greater job loss. This is not a time for confrontation but for labor and management to cooperate with government to resolve this crisis.
by Choe Chung-ho