Keep Public Interest in Mind

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Keep Public Interest in Mind

Korea''s labor unions are stepping up their so-called winter struggle, intensifying the public''s anxieties amid growing concern that another economic crisis is about to hit the nation. While the public recognizes that the unions are battling for their members'' jobs, they also fear that the nation could really plunge into a renewed crisis if the labor movement continues with its struggle.

The labor unions of mammoth public enterprises staged a joint protest rally Sunday at Seoul Station. Since they included the unions of the Korea Electric Power Corporation, Korea Telecom and the Korean National Railroad, their threatened strikes could bring the nation''s entire infrastructure to a halt and even jeopardize national security.

The unionized workers of KEPCO have already declared that they will start an all-out strike on Thursday, and workers on irregular contracts, such as golf caddies and insurance salespersons, plan to stage a demonstration Tuesday. The Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions will hold a rally on Thursday, followed by a joint protest by the unions of state-run corporations and the Federation of Metal Workers on Friday. A series of protests by other unions are also planned for early December, including a joint strike by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions on Dec. 5, meant to be a warning to the government.

We do not entirely blame the labor unions for threatening to wage a "winter battle." Just as the government declared that the financial crisis was over and companies announced all-time-high net profits, the nation was gripped by rumors of another economic crisis, prompting the government to ask the labor sector to refrain from carrying out any struggles for a year.

The dissatisfaction of workers is only natural, especially in view of the government''s failure to properly appraise corporate insolvency. Nevertheless, we also believe their sense of betrayal cannot justify strikes. Anyone could see that the Daewoo Motor union should not have rejected the restructuring plan put forward to save the company. Its refusal led to the bankruptcy of the company and its application for court receivership, casting doubt on the future of the car manufacturer, not to mention that of its countless subcontractors.

The restructuring of the public sector is an urgent task. And in fact, the workers cannot deny that they colluded with the government and their employers to a certain extent to secure their interests, thus putting off much-needed reform. The workers enjoyed high wages and retirement compensation and in return they turned a blind eye to the government''s appointment of high-level figures from the administration to the management of their companies. They also benefited from disproportionately high welfare benefits and in return tacitly overlooked irrational management by the executives.

The cost of allowing such inefficiency to go unchecked has been ballooning debts in the public sector that have now reached 400 trillion won, or 3.5 times those of the state.

Soaring unemployment is unavoidable when a crisis is intensifying. Labor unions should not be thinking only of their members, but also of the hardship the entire public would be forced to endure as a result of their collective action.

If they do not put the interests of the public first, the labor movement itself could end up as a target of reform. For its part, the government must also take the workers'' complaints of unfairness seriously.

by Jung Myung-jin

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