[FOUNTAIN]A True Statesman Is Needed

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[FOUNTAIN]A True Statesman Is Needed

Which country is the workers' paradise? Surely it must be the country where people work the least but are paid the most. That is a good definition of heaven.

People often say Germany is the closest. In 1999, the average work week was 37.4 hours, the average monthly worker's wage was 6,772 marks ($3,093) and the average vacation was 29.5 days. This vacation period includes only working days, so by adding Saturdays and Sundays, the average vacation amounts to six weeks. Simply put, Germany's advanced technology, symbolized by Mercedes Benz, made it possible for the nation to score high in all three criteria for a workers' paradise - working hours, wages and vacation. The economy has worsened since German reunification, but workers' conditions have more or less remained the same. Of course, workers had to make great sacrifices in the past to achieve this state of affairs.

Although a strike by French unions is attracting a lot of attention at the moment, it cannot eclipse the fame of the German unions - and in particular the IG Metal union, which is worshiped by unions around the world. Many Germans consider strikes routine and accept them. When bus and subway unions walk out, Germans commute by bicycle without complaining.

With one exception. When the German Lufthansa airline's pilots went on strike last month, they were roundly condemned. The media took the unusual step of reporting the strike by airing passengers' complaints. Even the German service sector umbrella union, Verdi, criticized the pilots for their selfishness. All the complaints had a common theme, "Their wages are so high already and they strike for a raise?"

Lufthansa's pilots were calling for a 35-percent wage increase. They argued that their wages were the lowest among pilots in Europe and only two-thirds of the salary that Delta's pilots get. But their complaints fell on deaf ears - even Lufthansa's ground staff called them impudent.

The dispute finally ended last Friday. Hans Dietrich Genscher, with 18 years' experience as deputy chancellor, brought the pilots and management together and brokered a great compromise.

In Seoul, Korean Air pilots, who receive more than 10 million won per month, walked out, and the pilots were criticized round. Even though the walkout has ended, the problems underlying the strike are still unsettled, but there is nobody with experience who will volunteer like Mr. Genscher to try to solve them. And there are differences in the people's resolve. Our people, who have been fighting drought day and night, are not only feeling angry, but empty.

The writer is Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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