[EDITORIALS]Cleaning up the unionsFollowing a series of corruption scandals implicating its members, five leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, including its chairman Lee Soo-ho, stepped down from their posts on Thursday. Judging from the recent turn of events, it is likely that the umbrella union group will be led by hawkish hard liners who prefer fighting to talking as a solution to problems. If that is the case, there is the overriding concern that such a confrontational attitude will not only affect labor unions across the nation, but also seriously damage the relationship between labor and the government.
The arrest of deputy chairman Kang Seung-kyu on charges of receiving bribes deeply marred the confederation’s ethics and principles, and the organization also had to cope with internal strife over the future of its leadership. The senior officials offered to resign in January, saying they would need time to finish up unresolved issues, but the militant members demanded the officials’ immediate resignation.
The sudden resignation is a result of the leaders’ loss in their battle with the hawks. Mr. Lee, who became chairman in February 2004, has constantly had to fend off challenges from the hardliners. Earlier this year, the hard-line faction physically blocked on three different occasions a vote to determine the confederation’s participation in the Korean Tripartite Commission.
The talks between the labor union and the government have stalled, despite lingering issues such as a bill on irregular workers and creating a road map on the relationship between labor unions and management. If the militant faction within the confederation were to assume a larger role, then conflict between the umbrella union body and the administration will be unavoidable. It is likely that the group will act according to its planned agenda, such as a Nov. 1 vote on an all-out strike, a national gathering of laborers, and a protest during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Busan.
Facing its 10th year, the confederation is dealing with its biggest crisis to date. Its excessive political struggles and collective display of selfishness have brought distrust upon itself. Its leaders’ resignation, caused by corruption among labor unions, must be an opportunity for all involved to reflect on their past and come up with ways to ensure transparency in unions. At a time when many citizens are struggling to make ends meet, the labor unions must ask what they can gain from an all-out strike, and whether such action will be supported by the public.