[Viewpoint]Look up and down to move forward

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[Viewpoint]Look up and down to move forward

A Korean businessman was working at his company’s Tokyo branch when he got promoted to a high-ranking executive job at the company’s head office in Seoul. His Japanese friends gave him a farewell dinner. At the dinner, a senior Japanese friend gave him this advice: “If you only look up, you cannot see down. However, if you only look down, you cannot see forward. ”
Although I heard this more than 10 years ago, I still think about what it means.
A business owner, for example, with no one above him must look upward at profits. If he only pursues that goal, however, he might easily see the company’s executives and employees down below just as tools to help him earn more profit.
In such a situation, harmonious labor-management relations would not happen. Ultimately, the forward future of the business would be lost.
The “up, down and forward” vision can also apply to the large labor unions.
If the union’s leadership keeps indulging in its own egotistical interests, it will not only lose the support of its union members, but also the people.
In the end, they will not be able to work for the company’s future business prospects or even the future of the union itself.
The labor union at Kia Motor staged a strike demanding a 200 percent bonus, even though the company recorded 230 billion won ($250 million) in losses during the four previous consecutive quarters.
And Hyundai Motor Company’s union filed a libel lawsuit against a civic organization that asked the union to stop its strike. The union demanded indemnities of 1.1 billion won. I think these unions are only seeing “up,” not “down” or “forward.”
These days, I don’t have a bad feeling anymore when I see imported cars on the streets. The number of them has drastically increased due to the unreasonable behavior of the unions at Hyundai and Kia. My friends also feel the same way.
The image of the Japanese auto-maker Nissan Motor Company was once similar to that of Hyundai and Kia Motor. Nissan, which was established in 1933, was the center of Japan’s labor movement after World War II. Its union was the largest in Japan, with 230,000 members, including the employees of its affiliates.
During a spring wage struggle in 1953, the Nissan Motor union demanded a raise according to “market basket” method. Raises would have to match the same amount of price increases as the goods randomly put into a basket by a union member at the market.
It followed the communist idea that everyone should work as hard as they can, then receive the fruits of their labor.
During a struggle in the spring, a new faction decided to fight the existing leadership. The new faction established another union, promising to pursue cooperation with the management. After a fierce struggle between the two unions, the new faction won.
Ichiro Shioji, who was president of the Federation of Nissan Motor Workers’ Union for 24 years, starting in the 1960s, and widely called the “Emperor of Nissan,” was an active leader of the new faction.
Shioji maintained cooperative relations with the management. In 1966, when the Prince Motor Company union fought against a merger with Nissan, Shioji helped Nissan’s management by playing a key role in the collapse of the union. His power got so high that he even intervened in the personnel appointments of Nissan’s business executives. He used to cruise in a yacht with young women and boast, “Why shouldn’t a unionist have a yacht?” He visited the luxury bars of Ginza almost every night.
While the management and labor of Nissan colluded with each other, their cars lagged far behind Toyota’s in the market.
While the company showed signs of going into ruin, no one but Takashi Ishihara, the former president of Nissan, dared to say “no” to Shioji. Ishihara himself later complained that “about 60 to 70 percent of the chief executive’s workload involved union-related matters.”
In the end, the union members gave Shioji a no-confidence resolution. He was forced out to a small travel agency affiliated with the Nissan Group.
The novel “Labor Aristocrat,” written by Ryo Takaski.
I do not think the leaders of the unions at Hyundai and Kia are labor aristocrats.
But there is a yellow warning light in place because a former president of the union is in court on charges of accepting bribes worth 200 million won while wage negotiations between the labor and management were going on.
In the later part of the 1970s, diaries of laborers, such as “Shouting of a Pebble” or “Burning Tear Drops,” moved many people’s hearts.
If the current union leaders of Hyundai and Kia were to write a diary, would it be closer to “Shouting of a Pebble” or “Labor Aristocrat”?
I think it will stand somewhere in between. I also would like the leaders to choose where they stand.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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