No way to earn respectMembers of the Ulsan Branch of the Korean Federation of Trade Unions broke into the Ulsan office of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which opposes strikes, and damaged articles inside. The union members wreaked havoc for about 40 minutes and said that was merely a warning.
The Metal Workers’ Union is staging an illegal political strike. The union is obsessed with strikes that have little cause, produce few gains and are opposed by citizens and even some unionized workers. Unreasonable strikes have resulted in violence in the past.
Relations between management and labor have worsened significantly during the past couple months.
When Lee Seok-haeng, a moderate figure, was inaugurated as the head of the Korean Federation of Trade Unions, there was an expectation that management and labor relations would be eased.
He vowed that the union would not go on strike just for the sake of striking and would do its best “to earn respect from workers and to be treasured by the people.” It was good news to people who are sick and tired of extreme and exhausting strikes.
Lee met with figures in the government and in companies, built channels for dialogue and visited companies to listen to their opinions.
The good mood changed entirely due to the illegal strike. The situation has suddenly reverted back to the previous state of confrontation.
This time, the confrontation is spreading into relations between labor and management, between labor and the government and even among workers. All members of the Metal Workers’ Union will stage a full-scale strike on Thursday and Friday, and the union at Hyundai, the major force in the federation, will likely join the strike.
A two-day strike is expected to cause a $70 billion loss to Hyundai. The government’s law enforcers will have to take action.
Is this what labor unions want?
We hope Lee will exert leadership in this matter. Although the Korean Federation of Trade Unions can’t intervene into each union’s decision-making process, he must persuade them to carry out a decent labor movement. The Federation of Trade Unions is facing a crisis with unions in big companies, such as Kolon and GS Caltex. If this strike does not get settled at an early stage, it will be hard for the Federation of Trade Unions “to earn respect from workers and to be treasured by the people.”