[EDITORIALS]No quarter for rail strikersThe walkout of the Railway Workers Union is illegal. The government has said it will not negotiate the union’s demands and will hold the leaders responsible regardless of whether they call off the walkout now.
The railroad union demanded the abolition of the railroad privatization bill pending in the National Assembly, a demand that lacks both justification and logic. Moreover, the union’s intention to sabotage public transportation, taking advantage of the difficult economy, cannot and should not be tolerated. Should the strike not be called off soon, Seoul could face one of the biggest traffic tie-ups ever, with roads in downtown Seoul restricted due to the construction work on the Cheonggye elevated highway that starts tomorrow. The union should pay for the inconvenience it will cause to the public.
The strike provides a timely opportunity to implement a labor policy that most Koreans can agree with. President Roh Moo-hyun has said that with freedom and rights now guaranteed to workers, they should win no more asymmetrical favors. The Hyundai Motors union withdrew its plans for a walkout in view of the negative public opinion. Foreign observers will see this rail strike as a test of how the Roh government will modify its overtly labor-friendly policies of the past. The government should not promise to use “strong measures” only to give in to the union, as it did in the Chohung Bank union walkout.
When the air traffic controllers unions struck in August 1981 shortly after his inauguration, U.S. President Ronald Reagan notified them to return to their jobs within 48 hours and fired the 11,000 or so employees who refused. The Roh government would do well to realize that this was a decisive factor that earned Mr. Reagan national support. Our government must follow through equally strongly on its order to the strikers to return to their jobs. The public must be willing to suffer certain inconveniences in order that the government authorities not give in to this illegal strike. If by enduring the temporary pain of this strike we can remedy our economy in the long term, the government and the public must join forces to do so.