[OUTLOOK]Of Buddhas, Labor Unions and Police

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[OUTLOOK]Of Buddhas, Labor Unions and Police

Hyeam, the head monk of Chogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in South Korea, said in his special message for this year's celebration for the Buddha's birthday, "All sorts of demons and all sorts of Buddhas are intrinsically of one body." This means Buddhas can see nothing but Buddhas.

A Buddha is a person who has ascetically trained himself to the stage where he does not discern demons from Buddhas any more.

Ordinary people would die, without exception, after toiling strenuously at the stage of "discerning wisdom." If there is one thing even the Buddha can do nothing about, it is the very foolishness of ordinary people. Enlightenment cannot be done on behalf of others. It cannot be doled out either. I am wondering if there is a special meaning in the fact that May Day coincides with the Buddha's birthday.

The weather of the Korean economy this spring is very dry. Unemployment is increasing again. The incident in which workers of Daewoo Motor were beaten by riot police has and turned into an inferno. The police argue that they were beaten first by the labor union and put to shame.

The fire started with the Daewoo union members is not likely to die down easily. Labor unions usually fight against employers. However, in the case of Daewoo Motor, there are no employers to fight against. They are up against the creditors. The creditors, the commercial banks, are in fact run by the government. That is why the fire is raging around law enforcement authority, in other words, the government.

Labor unions picked the Buddha's birthday to fight, not to celebrate. Political leaders tend to bow to religious leaders. But union leaders do not seem so inclined. Buddhism orders in South Korea would not send messages criticizing labor unions by saying all are demons, even though the unions' fight would be a slap in their face.

According to specialists on the police, there are similar characteristics between riot police and violent members of unions. Riot policemen are under working conditions worse than those of union members.

They are working as riot policemen as a way of fulfilling their compulsive military service. To their eyes, labor unions are the distressing enemy that they have to fight. The recent clash between the riot police and labor union can be construed as labor unions' lighting a match in the midst of a gas cloud of riot police in order to ignite a reason for their fight.

Many high-ranking police officials believe that the ultimate target of labor unions' May Day operation is the police. In other words, they seem to aim at the destruction of law enforcement authority.

Conservative characteristics of the police and its tradition of protecting law enforcement authority are well known. They live in the strong belief that the police are the symbol of law enforcement authority and even the authority itself.

However, the real target of labor unions is not the police. Their demand to dismiss Lee Moo-young, commissioner general of the National Police Agency, is nothing but a midway goal of their May Day plan.

President Kim Dae-jung knows this too well so he is not willing to let him go. (His leave would make no difference, anyway) Radical leaders of labor unions are in fact trying to destroy "reforms" not the police.

They are desperately trying to hold back corporate reforms that they once welcomed so much, not to mention labor reforms for bringing flexibility into the labor market.

In the case of Daewoo Motor, corporate reform means nothing but finding a new owner. Such corporate reform would require labor reform, the flexibility of labor, as a prerequisite.

We can see that Buddhas and demons are of one body once we realize everything is a void. This level of enlightenment is so high that only the Buddha can experience it.

However, acknowledging the market economy will make everyone able to see that business and labor are a coexisting relationship, even though we cannot say they are one body. It is as if the Buddha's birthday and May Day are on the same day this year.

Even some realistic members of labor unions know that they will lose their jobs if companies fail. Corporate reform and labor reform are intrinsically of one body. And reform and the market are of one body too. Reform is about changing something against the market into something for the market.

Without flexibility of labor, corporate reform is impossible. Without corporate reforms, companies cannot survive. When the companies fail, workers lose their jobs. Radical leaders of labor unions know this well. But they are still against market and labor reforms. Who will counter their "discerning wisdom"?

We are realizing again that Kim Dae-jung's reform has not started yet, since there has been no labor reform in earnest. Whether you are President Kim or the opposition leader, it is time to cry out for reform, not for support for either labor unions or the police.


The writer is the publisher of the monthly magazine, 'Emerge.'

by Kang Wee-seuk

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