[FOUNTAIN]19th strike meaningless?A labor strike is a massive stoppage of operations. It is the most powerful weapon workers can use when demonstrating. The world’s first strike was in the 12th century B.C., under the Pharaoh Ramses III. Workers constructing the Necropolis, the city of the dead, refused to work, demanding improvements to the harsh working conditions. In more modern times, the crew strike in 1768 in London was the largest ever. Crews refused to board ships and overturned the merchant ships anchored in the port. It was after the Industrial Revolution, when large-scale factory work began, that strikes became the most popular form of demonstration for labor rights. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, however, when the right to strike was legalized, strikes occurred less frequently.
Strikes do not always bring violence. Sometimes they do, because stopping operations can hurt a worker’s pocketbook and the ability to pay bills and feed a family.
In Western society, strikes often involve people picketing outside their work site, carrying signs with their demands. If people take it one step further and start a sit-down strike, it becomes an illegal act. In Italy, work-to-rule demonstrations were introduced, which strictly observe safety rules.
In Japan, employees use the strategy of maximizing production so the company has a hard time supplying raw materials and component parts. This is especially effective in companies that use a just-in-time system that minimizes the stock on hand. In America, policemen and firefighters devised a “sickout” or, “blue flu,” method of calling in sick for the day, since striking is against the law for these people. This is the origin of the method used by the Korean Teachers’ Union for taking a regular yearly vacation off.
A strike in a specific business site is often called due to economic reasons. A general strike in a specific industry or an entire industry is usually due to ideological or political reasons. Throughout history, general strikes occurred during social reform or revolutions. In Korea, strikes with political purposes are illegal.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions began its seventh strike this year. It is the 19th strike since the beginning of the Roh Administration. The participation rate for the strike is below 20 percent, too low to classify as a general strike. Workers in the union showed a low participation rate and instead of social support, they are getting higher refusal. Even so, the union announced it will start another strike. In that situation, isn’t it meaningless to call it a strike?
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo