[EDITORIALS]Stand firm, don't blink

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[EDITORIALS]Stand firm, don't blink

The crippling effect of the railroad and power utility strikes is spreading through the nation. Labor is pressing an all-out attack, with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joining Tuesday the strike by unions at public corporations. Hyundai Motor's labor union also called a job action. Strikes staged illegally, taking innocent citizens as hostages, cannot be justified, nor can their cause ever be convincing. Since the bad side effects of strikes spread as they drag on, they should end immediately.

Rail transport of industrial goods has fallen to 10 percent of normal volume and is having a debilitating effect on the nation's export industries. The walkouts have dealt a damaging blow to exports and investment, which have not been at normal levels and which are critical to Korea's economic recovery.

What is of greater concern is that labor's actions have pushed the effort to reform public companies into a corner. If labor gets its way, failure of the privatization of public corporations will be a foregone conclusion.

What is at the center of the problem is the patch job that the government has been resorting to. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy stepped into the gas utility strike Monday, offering to reconsider the reorganization plan with labor in seeking a strike settlement. With that one gesture, the government's determination not to make privatization a subject of negotiation with labor was thrown out of the window.

If this retreat was to be the solution, why was labor not consulted before the corporate reorganization bill was introduced in the National Assembly last year? This kind of response to a crisis situation is not new for this government.

Politicians have also failed to make an earnest effort to make privatization work; they have been busy tossing the ball into someone else's court. The plan to privatize the railroad industry was initiated in the 1980s, and the lack of constructive discussion to push it through is as much the politicians' fault as it is the government's. Claims that the move is premature are ludicrous.

Rather than coming up with more excuses, they should put their heads together to draw up workable plans. A retreat from the plan to privatize public corporations would bring overall reform policies of this administration to a grinding halt, something that would have a negative impact on the country's credibility in the eyes of international observers.

Labor, management and the government need to pool their efforts to end the strikes. Reasonable demands by labor must be accepted. The work environment for railroad workers, for example, is a serious problem; they work 24-hour shifts for low wages. A compromise should accept what needs to be improved and prevent further damage to the plan to privatize public corporations.

What is unforgivable in the process of staging this strike is the government's and labor's actions, which hold hostage the people who depend on the utilities. Labor has used the obvious reality of the people's suffering in their effort to win demands. The government hid behind the people, believing that the worst would not happen.

We as consumers are dealing with the inconveniences and problems generated by the strike. Our role is to be patient with the difficulties and help the government push through its plan, just as it set out to do. Discipline will be sacrificed if the government buckles now and lets labor sweep the privatization plan under the rug.

We urge the government to stand firm on the plan to administer the critical policy decision.
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