[EDITORIALS]Hats off to this union headLee Yong-deuk, head of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, has written himself a scathing reflection note. In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, he sharply criticized current labor movement tactics, saying that union organizers have become rigid and selfish, and are only concerned with “filling up their own pockets.” He also criticized current radical unionists for reflexively opposing things.
Mr. Lee also denounced the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions for occupying the National Assembly’s conference room and preventing the National Assembly from passing the draft bill to protect non-regular workers. Taking his stance a step further, Mr. Lee said that labor unions should sense the speed of industrial change and take the future into consideration. “Even if it is difficult, labor movements must become rational,” he said.
Mr. Lee’s words were especially powerful because he is the current head of one of the two umbrella labor groups, overseeing 780,000 members. He correctly grasped the problem as well as the direction in which to proceed. Look at the recent case in which the railroad labor union ignored public opinion: They conducted a political strike and then gave up after four days. Hardball combative methods no longer work these days. Very rarely in the rest of the world will you see unions playing hardball the way they do here. These hard-core strikes hinder the economy and wound the labor union as well.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions should rethink its plans to hold a strike from April 3 to 14 to prevent the passage of a bill to protect non-regular workers’ rights, as well as to stop talks for Korea’s free trade agreement with the United States.
The economy is already in a difficult situation. Will people sympathize with another general strike? The labor union should instead open up discussions. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions made a good move in recently deciding to participate in the labor commission. They should also re-enter the tri-party committee between labor, management and government. It would be desirable for them to begin unraveling the accumulated agenda ― such as creating a roadmap for better laws involving labor-management relations and strengthening protection for non-regular workers.
For Mr. Lee’s self-criticism on labor movements to become a turning point, the government must refrain from intervening and support labor talks. Industries must also abandon pre-modern habits of trying to overturn unions. We applaud Mr. Lee’s words and hope unions put them into practice.