[OUTLOOK]Enforce the law against unionsWhen I wrote a column titled “What the Korean Confederation of Labor Unions and the Grand National Party have in common” in the JoongAng Ilbo in March last year, I received strong criticism from the confederation. In the column, I said that the Grand National Party was defeated in the legislative elections because the party refused to recognize changes in the world, being engrossed in narcissism. As the behavior of the Korean Confederation of Labor Unions was similar to that of the party, I said, the confederation might follow suit before long. People from the confederation were angry, saying the article was libelous, but it was my bitter counsel for them. I thought if the confederation kept behaving that way, leaders of labor unions or organizations might collapse sooner or later as insolvent businesses and parties fall.
What has happened over the past year since then? Regrettably, the labor community has kept making the wrong moves as if proving in reality my concern. After a series of corruption scandals of aristocratic labor unions eventually came to be disclosed, its response was impertinent at first. When the jobs-for-money scandal involving Kia Motors’ labor union was exposed, labor circles denounced the media for “exaggerating the scandal to attempt to suppress the labor union” rather than truly reflecting on themselves. They were displeased with some news outlets, saying that they were engaged in exaggerated and extravagant reports when only the labor union of a particular company happened to go wrong. What they have changed, if any, is that they began to lower their unreasonable voice as diverse corruption scandals involving labor unions cropped up one after another.
For labor unions, this is a serious crisis indeed. The suppression of labor unions under dictatorships, albeit painful, was a turning point for their consolidation and strengthening. Now when an age of powerful labor unions is opened, they show a clear sign of self-destruction as the true picture of their internal corruption is revealed in succession. It is a real pity that under these circumstances, they should continue to stage violent demonstrations, beating innocent policemen.
It is nonsense to say that there was no telling things would turn out this way. Many people already knew early on what kinds of problems the corruption of labor unions and their overgrowth would have and also expressed their concerns. Did today’s corruption scandals involving labor unions take place out of the blue one day?
The suppression of labor unions by past dictatorships deserved criticism, and as a consequence it was a natural thing that laws were corrected and labor unions became powerful. As Kim Dae-jung’s administration came into office, the power of labor unions became strong, and as it went overboard, the administration in the second half of its term returned to a policy of firm regulation against illegal demonstrations, advocating “the rule of law.”
But then, the policy was overturned again as the administrations changed. As everyone knows, President Roh Moo-hyun led in formulating the new labor policy, whose essence was to withhold enforcement of the rule of law. Explaining the so-called theory of balance of force, he said, “As labor unions are weak groups, they may violate the law to some degree when they fight strong businesses.”
President Roh’s message was clear here. When some people argued by mistake for the exercise of government power, the president reproached them that the government’s power should not be used so recklessly. President Roh clearly revealed his view of labor-management relations and overtly gave up maintaining a neutral stance. In appointing people and operating policies, he consistently acted so.
The actual power holders at the Blue House largely consist of labor union advocates, and labor union forces took the leadership in the major government-affiliated media, including broadcasters.
Educational administration is at the mercy of the Korean Teachers and Educational Worker’s Union, and even the government employees’ unions venture to hold illegal demonstrations. Bearing this change in mind, some come to call the “participatory government” “The Republic of Labor Unions.”
Recently, Labor Minister Kim Dae-hwan said, “It is time the government reviewed regulations against labor unions.” As the minister of labor of the “participatory government,” this may have been a difficult remark to make.
But this is not a problem of whether there are regulatory clauses or not. From now on, the government should stop useless talk and should only follow the law. The most effective way would be for the president to come forward directly, frankly admit his policy mistake, and enforce the law. But this is no easy job.
Reversing what he has said until now would not be easy, and the resistance from labor union supporters that have already taken up their positions at the center of power would not be simple to handle.
Nevertheless, the settlement of the labor union problem depends on the president because he has taken the initiative in labor policies.
* The writer is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Chang-kyu