[LIFE & CULTURE]Workers must unite behind causes

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[LIFE & CULTURE]Workers must unite behind causes

The Republic of Korea is a land of 10 million workers. The history of our labor movement has now reached the point that we can be proud.

Workers are not ill-treated as they were before. Laborers do not face disciplinary action for reporting discrimination. Nor do managers try to suppress them simply because they are laborers. Except for some "special" companies, labor unions are organized and active at most businesses.

Still, the situation facing labor is far from ideal. Friction between labor and management persists. And the government, which is supposed to arbitrate, always supports management.

The Korean government brandishes a paper stick for jaebeols, while attacking laborers with an iron mace. The government has lost its way facing a tide of new liberalism. Meanwhile, it deceives people by playing with the sugar-coated word "globalization."

Laborers are put on the defensive and engaged in time-consuming fights. What is most surprising is that laborers lack the sense that they are laborers.

Statistics demonstrate that. Counting their families, half of Korea's population is made up of laborers.

But they have yet to elect a lawmaker who will represent them. Among the numerous heads of big and small local governments, not one can be considered pro-labor.

Is this because laborers are prone to regional identification rather than classification based on jobs or social class?

I feel short of breath whenever I think about this. Look where regional selfishness has driven this country and its workers.

Are laborers satisfied with the small by-products of regional selfishness? The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more aggressive of the two umbrella unions in Korea, has suspended its support of the Democratic Labor Party's candidate, another fact that is hard to fathom.

I am not saying this because I support a candidate from the pro-labor party. The umbrella union's hesitation, or looking the other way, is not so different from what the Millennium Democratic party is doing, blowing its own horn, obsessed with the possibility that its own candidate will be president. If people cast a vote regardless of who represents whose interests, and who conducts policies for whom, then what is the use of elections?

The reality is that most voters are an immature lot who follow the conservative media's misleading campaign of "let us not make dead votes by voting for a person with little chance of winning."

The propaganda is conducted with the idea that the media will maximize their interests by simplifying the election battles.

Lack of vision in political circles is a major problem, but the biggest concern is that laborers, who make up the largest portion of the population, have yet to establish themselves as a political power.

Throughout the world, there are no countries like Korea where laborers' rights are not represented.

That kills the budding laborer's culture, tramples on marginalized people and stifles the vision for equality.

We must have a base to step upon to dream our dream.

It is laborers themselves who must create the future of the labor culture.

Labor culture is not confined to ideology. It is reality and life. To express the positions and the views of workers, and to formulate a better laborer's culture, workers must have representatives -- individuals they elected with their own votes.

Every single vote counts. There is no such thing as a meaningless vote.

So what if a laborer's candidate does not make it to president? Well, if the candidate earned just 10 percent of the votes, that number would be enough to show the world the power of the workers.

To some degree it would protect laborers from government authorities.

Will the labor movement be satisfied by earning a slightly higher salary?

Every vote, regardless of for whom it is cast, is a divine vote. Laborers must not tarnish that divinity.

* The writer is a painter.

by Lim Ok-sang

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