[EDITORIALS]Pohang strikes backAbout 25,000 citizens of Pohang, an industrial city on the country’s east coast, held a protest against illegal and violent demonstrations and urged workers to help revive the local economy.
The protest was the result of a 49-day walkout by construction workers in the city that infuriated the residents. The number of travelers to Pohang’s beaches has plunged and the 100 construction firms that hire the union members are on the verge of going bankrupt because they can not proceed with their building projects.
The labor dispute started when the union members demanded better working conditions. However, the situation steadily worsened, as the workers occupied the headquarters of the country’s top steelmaker, Posco, one member was killed during a demonstration and an increasing number of union members were injured and arrested by the police. Despite this, the government has failed to quell the riot, which led ordinary citizens to take action.
The leaders of the Pohang construction labor union carry the biggest blame for the conflict. Negotiations with the union bargaining team reached a tentative agreement on a wage hike and improvements in working conditions a few days ago. However, the union leaders rejected the agreement and refused to let the union vote on it. So long as the leaders continue to reject the agreements of its own negotiators, a breakthrough will be unlikely. The union even criticized the citizens’ demonstration yesterday, arguing that it was instigated by the government. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is now said to be thinking of joining in the strike, or even staging a general strike.
No labor movement that angered citizens has been successful. The Japanese public labor union, which had enjoyed great confidence in the early 1970s, experienced a sudden downfall once ordinary citizens started to resist its frequent illegal strikes.
The construction union, before the citizens turn completely hostile to it, should hold a vote on the tentative agreement between its negotiators and the construction companies, and resolve the matter rationally. Unions cannot exist without companies. Many union members are already saying that their lives have been made harder by the strike.
The government should also step forward to settle the labor dispute. It should investigate the cause of death of the union member and begin working on eliminating the illegal multilevel subcontracting practices that have emerged from the strike.