[Viewpoint] Communication crisis

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[Viewpoint] Communication crisis

The Lee Myung-bak administration’s understanding of communication and its actions based on that understanding remind me of a wagon that is noisy because it is empty. As candlelight vigils continue day after day and the Lee administration’s approval rate plummets, the president has decided to speak about communication. However, the Blue House and the governing party hardly make any effort at true communication with protesters on the streets. Maybe the police are the ones who barely bridge the gap between the streets and the world of officialdom.

In addition to the beef crisis, skyrocketing fuel prices are worsening the situation as unionized truckers and construction workers have decided to strike. A nationwide transportation paralysis is approaching fast. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, including the unions of Korea’s four major automakers, has arranged a vote on whether it should begin a general strike or not. It is a sensitive time in which chaos and conflict could overwhelm Korean industry.

Yet, there is also an absence of communication regarding these issues. The government and the unions do not sit down to negotiate. The labor community is dissatisfied that it has no one to talk to from the Blue House or anywhere else in the administration. The heads of institutions under the Labor Ministry tendered their resignations two months ago, but their successors have not yet been appointed, resulting in an operational vacuum.

The business community is urging the government to deal sternly with the labor community, but the government is doing nothing but shouting, “Let’s respect law and order.”

The current situation is undeniably a crisis. The global economy is in extremely bad shape due to skyrocketing raw material prices including oil. This situation will cause everyone agony including businesses, laborers and middle-class households. When the pain becomes too great, they will scream, and the clash will become more serious. The government is responsible for soothing the nation and resolving the conflicts, but it has fallen into the trap of public distrust.

From where can we start resolving this crisis? Will the reshuffle of some officials in the Blue House and the administration be enough? A reshuffle is unavoidable. President Lee, although belatedly, has admitted his selection of officials was faulty and is preparing a reform.

What is this reform and what does he want to achieve through it? Will this crisis be resolved when the administration resolves its ethical issues?

The experiences of other countries showed that a nationwide discussion that includes all classes to collect wisdom and share pain is the only way to end a crisis. It is undeniable that a grand compromise between laborers and employers allowed Korea to overcome the foreign exchange crisis in 1997. Moreover, communication has often led to grand mutual concessions and subsequent breakthroughs in other advanced countries such as Ireland, when it faced a crisis stemming from the outside economy.

For someone who led protests and demonstrations until recently, I am amazed to see people’s passion and spontaneity in the recent candlelight vigils. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to channel this energy into the nation’s well-being by improving communication structures and encouraging self-control, instead of downplaying protestors using the standards of bygone eras?

When the Blue House and cabinet reshuffle takes place, the new officials must have an attitude of service and an ability to communicate with the people. No matter who is appointed as agriculture minister, it will be the same unless he communicates with the farmers. As long as the labor minister fails to communicate with the labor community on the eve of a general strike and transportation paralysis, the crisis will never be resolved.

In addition, the administration must find a way to improve its labor policy. The consensus in Ireland reached in 1987 was not formed overnight. The centralized negotiations between umbrella labor unions and employers’ began in 1946, and served as the groundwork for a negotiated peace. It is time for Korea to follow suit by drastically shifting its labor policy and ending its practice of government-led negotiations.

by Lee Yong-deuk

*The writer is a former head of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

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