[Viewpoint]Hyundai strikes a hard habit to break

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[Viewpoint]Hyundai strikes a hard habit to break

I had the chance to go to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, more than a decade ago. While I was having great fun sightseeing downtown, I felt stunned for a moment. It was not because of the pollution, but because of the cars in the streets. I was amazed to see all of the Japanese-made cars. Cars made in Japan, including Toyota, Honda and Nissan, and not just new ones but old, secondhand ones were everywhere. An ethnic Korean tour guide said, “Japanese cars account for roughly 80 to 90 percent of the cars in Indonesia. Indonesians are crazy about Japanese cars.”
Japan did some notorious things in Indonesia during World War II and was expelled from the country after being defeated in the war. But Japan did not really leave. Half a century after its defeat, Japanese cars have become Indonesians’ feet. I felt cold seeing all the cars.
When I arrived in Washington, D.C. as a new correspondent early in 2003, I unconditionally bought a Sonata made by Hyundai. I ignored an acquaintance’s advice that I should buy a Japanese car and sell it later for a good price. Of course, the Sonata was inexpensive. But rather than the price, I was reminded of the cars in Jakarta. Though I did not hate Japan, I hated to join the line of Japanese cars on highway 66 heading to Washington, D.C. to go to work.
I don’t mean to brag that I am a patriot. Moreover, I don’t mean to argue, either, that we should use only domestic products. Now is the global age. We should open up domestic markets. We live in a world where Korean companies make inroads into other countries and compete with foreign companies. We also know that we should not discriminate against foreign companies based on their nationality. But in a world of victory or defeat, wouldn’t it be good to see Korean companies win?
This could be our natural wish as Koreans who were born here and raise our children as Korean nationals.
But I recently felt betrayed seriously by both management and labor at Hyundai Motor Company. I also regretted having bought a Sonata when I went to Washington.
I was dumbfounded to read the JoongAng Ilbo on Jan. 4. The article said union members of Hyundai Motor Company at Ulsan attacked the president and made a mess of the opening ceremony of the year, spraying fire extinguisher foam.
In the picture in the newspaper, the staff were standing wretchedly, covered in white to protect the president from the union members. Let’s not use the big word “justice,” because there are so many people behaving outrageously while talking about history and justice at every opportunity.
But there is at least good sense in the world. If one laughs at a mourning place, he will be treated as though he has lost his mind. If one always blames others, his character will be questioned. In the same way, no one can attack the president by spraying foam at a year-opening ceremony unless he has lost his mind.
The citizens also got angry. They said, “Hyundai Motor should not overlook the union’s behavior this time.”
But instead of apologizing, Hyundai’s union began an illegal strike on Jan. 15. We know this trick well. They have bad manners, like screaming and swearing when people are involved in a car accident.
For just two days, management and labor at Hyundai “pretended” to negotiate. As it always has, Hyundai quickly ended the dispute by giving the union “encouragement money” on Jan. 17. No one knows whether there was collusion behind the scenes. After all, only the citizens who supported Hyundai Motor are disappointed that the dispute ended without any positive results.
After the illegal strike at Hyundai ended, citizens began a campaign to boycott Hyundai cars. As many as over 30,000 people signed on to the cause within a week. Many posted protests on Internet Web sites, saying, “Now, I’m going to buy a foreign car.” Frankly I feel it serves the company right. I’d like to say, “Me, too.”
But I am also concerned that if the image of Hyundai cars is ruined like that, and if Hyundai Motor collapses, what will become of the Korean economy, workers and our children in the future?
Let me ask some questions of both management and labor at Hyundai Motor Company. Are you really at this level? Is it fine to betray people who are glad to see Hyundai cars on the street in a foreign country, which seem like people from our hometown? Can’t you break this habit?

*The writer is the city news senior editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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