[EDITORIALS]Applause for an oil unionUnion workers at LG-Caltex Oil Corporation have said that they will part with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a militant labor umbrella group. The company’s labor union has been considered militant because in July it staged a month-long strike to demand a pay rise. Now the same union has come forward to say that it will no longer toe the line with the confederation, marking a second departure by a large business union from the umbrella labor group. Prior to LG-Caltex Oil, unionized workers of Hyundai Heavy Industries walked away from the confederation.
These steps illustrate that Korea’s labor movement and its labor unions are slowly but surely on the way to change. To date, there have been many distortions about Korea’s labor unions. Unionized workers ― who account for just 11 percent of the nation’s wage earners ― have spoken for the entire labor movement. Their impact on the economy was huge. Employed at large sound businesses, where both pay and the work environment were better than other businesses, the union workers often engaged in militant demands for a pay increase.
At times, they did so to protect their jobs. At other times, they raised political issues, or even intervened in management affairs, acting on behalf of the confederation. As a result, the negative image spread that South Korean unions are militant, and both Korean and foreign businesses left, with the observation that it was hard to do business in Korea. So the economy worsened, and laborers who had no power to form unions suffered more than they had to.
It is refreshing to witness that labor, though belatedly, is taking a good look at itself. Another encouraging development took place recently: An official with the Federation of Korean Trade Unions worked together with provincial government officials to attract foreign investment.
We urge the nation’s labor sector, not only the confederation, to embrace these changes. The militant hardline stance of the past has run into limits. For the Korean economy to climb out of the pit, the labor sector’s role is crucial. A good economy creates jobs, which then leads to welfare for the workers. There should no longer be struggles led by elite union workers or struggles for the sake of struggle. It is time for the labor sector to embody change. When more and more workers embody change is when the Korean economy has a chance at revival.