[EDITORIALS]Up against the wallThe five leading business associations’ joint statement on the series of labor strikes is a signal to the nation that their patience has run out in face of the extreme social and economic chaos. “If the strikes, ruinous to the state, continue, we will have to close down and relocate overseas,” declared the associations. While it is very strong language from the people whose mission is to pursue prosperity for the nation, their statement resonates with the people, who share the fear that the Korean economy could really fall into a bottomless quagmire.
We do not need to repeat the difficulties businesses are experiencing, with increasingly reluctant investors and sluggish exports. Relieved of the SARS panic and uncertainties over the war in Iraq, labor struggles are now inflicting damage, sidelining efforts to resolve economic issues.
As far as the labor issue is concerned, our belief in the government has long been lost. The government’s resolution of the Chohung Bank crisis failed to convince the nation of its capabilities. The expressed purpose of the merger was restructuring and workforce cuts. Then why approve a merger that concedes a pay raise and no layoffs?
The deputy prime minister for economy not only appeared at the negotiating table with the illegal strikers but also said, with no shame, that even illegal strikes should be resolved through talks and negotiation. With their inconsistent and mixed message, President Roh Moo-hyun and the highest-ranking economic policymaker failed to make clear how illegal strikes will be dealt with in the future.
Aside from yesterday’s subway strikes in Busan and Incheon, there are other walkout plans, with the two umbrella labor organizations competing to demonstrate their power to cause even more chaos. In this atmosphere, how can the economy revive, how will Korea compete with China, the rising giant in the neighborhood, and how will the country fare with falling international competitiveness?
The graver concern is the administration’s false confidence on the economy. The government continues to boast that there is a bigger share for everyone when the pie itself is not growing. No investment means no jobs and declining competitiveness. In this kind of labor environment, businesses say they have no choice but to relocate overseas. Making new investments cannot be considered.
Build an environment where businesses are inspired to invest. That should be the goal of reform. The labor unions must realize that they, and the Korean economy, will have to pay the price of their ill-conceived struggles. Businesses are clinging to their last hopes, calling for efforts to save the drifting economy before it is too late.