[VIEWPOINT]Labor, managers need dialogueWatching representatives of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions fail twice due to a lack of a quorum and conflict in deciding on participation in social negotiations, I cannot help feeling heavy-hearted as a member of the labor community. Of course, the failure could be a matter of internal problems in the confederation. But the public thinks otherwise. Along with the Kia Motors bribes-for-jobs scandal, the happenings in the meeting of the confederation’s representatives made the public talk derisively about labor as a whole.
It can be understood that their efforts to maintain their doctrine and position were mistaken that way, but I don’t think the situation allows such complacent judgment. Couldn’t the meeting place be seen in the eyes of the people as a scene no better than that of a violence-ridden National Assembly? The forced occupation of the podium, the spraying of paint thinner and the representatives’ exit from the meeting greatly disappointed the people who tolerated them, believing that “even so, the labor unions are where democracy dominates.”
At present, the labor community has numerous tasks. The labor circles should at once talk with the government and business circles about the legislation of atypical workers and the roadmap to advance labor-management relations. These are issues the labor community itself said are important.
The government and the governing party think they will solve these issues this year by any means. They made their attitude clear that although there was still room for dialogue, they would push forward a solution even if the labor community opposed them. In order to cope with them to some degree, the labor community should gain support for its argument from the people.
For whatever reason, however, the labor community has lost the basis of such support little by little since the foreign exchange crisis of 1997. By now it is in danger of losing even the last footing of support.
In this situation, no solution will be found if the union is engaged only in strife. Public opinion is the basis for the popular labor movement. A labor movement that excludes the public is prone to become its own movement.
Above all, the labor community is a main actor in social movements. Therefore, the labor community has the duty to give hope to our society suffering from an economic recession. Our society today is divided and hopeless to the point of an intolerable state. Economic uncertainty could be a cause for this intolerable situation, but a more fundamental reason lies in the fact that there are no main players of our society who can shine the light of hope to the people.
There are no remedies or measures to cure the polarization of the economy and society. The political circles, which should offer some alternatives, give people stress and make them feel sick with their wrangling. Business circles, which have a great responsibility for the national economy, are also busy seeking their own interests.
Labor circles cannot suggest new alternatives to break the deadlock either. To say nothing of leadership, major economic players are being swayed by near-sighted power and interests. This worries us over whether the situation may become aggravated to the point of extreme confrontation. The situation being so, senior leaders came forward to form the “Forum for Hope” and visit labor and management organizations and political parties to appeal to “make a community of co-existence.”
That is why the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ participation in social negotiations has drawn attention from all sectors of our society. Of course, we do not expect that social negotiations will break off confrontational relations all at once and a dramatic conclusion will be reached easily.
Nevertheless, in our society where the people have run out of hope, it will be a new message of hope to them to say that labor and management will start dialogues anew.
The problem of the temporary seizure system on damage or loss from strikes ― which was raised after a worker burned himself to death in protest of the system two winters ago ― was finally solved through dialogue and agreement at the Korea Tripartite Commission.
As a result, temporary seizure has reportedly decreased by about 30 percent in industrial fields. The solution was possible because labor and management shared the same idea that the problem of the system would hardly be resolved without dialogue and compromise.
I believe that labor circles are well aware of the present situation too and are also aware that problems cannot be solved without their participation in the dialogue. I wait for a great cause of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions that can deliver hope of a new spring to the grass roots whose body and minds are frozen.
* The writer is the director of the Central Education Center of the Federation of Korean Labor Unions. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-tae