[EDITORIALS]Time for labor to talkThe standoff between employers and striking workers at power plants has entered its second week. Since the power industry has a more immediate impact on everyday life than any other basic industry, people are concerned about the stalemate. Fortunately, there have been no disruptions in power so far, but workers on emergency shifts are becoming exhausted.
The union has dampened expectations for a compromise by rejecting mediation by the National Labor Relations Commission. The union turned down the commission's proposal that it set the number of full-time union workers and that the position of a union member be changed only if union and management agree. From a legal perspective, the issue must be resolved through mediation, as other disagreements involving the planned privatization of the power industry and rehiring of fired workers are not subject to negotiation. Moreover, a prolonged walkout would not work to the union's advantage because the public would press harder for privatization.
What worries us even more is that the labor-management relationship may be seriously damaged. Although gas and railway workers have ended their walkouts, legal action against union leaders has led the nation's two umbrella unions ?the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions ?to promise a strike.
Unionists claim that a privatized power industry will focus only on profits, neglecting its role as a public utility. But if privatization causes competition among power plants, leading to lower electricity prices, the public would be served. Labor and management can hold on to the privatization framework and discuss issues of privatization that concern the union, including guarantees on the status of union members.
Labor has pledged to stop public-sector privatization, seeing it as a cause for a struggle with the government. But they will not make a convincing case against privatization if they resort to illegal strikes at the public's expense. The government should have patience. The power union should end the strike and return to the negotiating table.