[EDITORIALS]An overdue lesson for laborIt was a pleasant surprise that Kim Seong-tae, secretary general of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, participated in a recent Korea-U.S./U.S.-Korea Business Council meeting in Washington. Mr. Kim said he would go anywhere if it were helpful for inviting foreign investment that would create employment and bring benefit to labor. We evaluate that labor, which once pursued hardline struggles only, has shown a willingness to work for the national interest.
Mr. Kim said he was embarrassed at the negative view of the American business community on Korea’s unions. He confirmed that American businessmen have a preconception that radical and militant unions dominate Korea’s workplaces; that there is no flexibility in the labor market and that demanding higher wages is commonplace. Especially on labor’s participation in management demanded by the Hyundai Motor Co. union, the Americans questioned whether anyone would be willing to invest in Korea since labor’s participation would delay swift decision-making and harm a company’s competitiveness. Some participants said the reason Korea suffers from unemployment of young people stems from its failure to create new jobs due to overprotection for regular workers.
Mr. Kim said he was embarrassed at such criticism, but it is nothing new. There has been criticism from within and outside the country over excessive demands for wage increases and better working conditions by the unions of big businesses. Korean labor has been blind to such criticism.
In this global age, labor should change. The thinking that labor does not care what happens to the nation and businesses as long as labor’s interests are served should be changed. We recommend that other labor leaders also go abroad and see for themselves what Korea’s status is and how other countries evaluate us. We suggest that they judge themselves as to whether the behavior and way of thinking of Korea’s labor meets global standards. Labor leaders must understand that the nation is sinking, and like frogs in a well, we cannot see the big picture.