[Viewpoint]KCTU must clean up its actThe Korean Confederation of Trade Unions faces a predicament over a sexual assault scandal and its alleged cover up.
At first, the scandal was focused on one high-ranking KCTU official, but allegations have surfaced that the organization had attempted to conceal the case. Public criticism of the KCTU has reached a new high.
The group’s mass leadership resignation is probably not enough to assuage public anger because people have long been disappointed in the organization.
The KCTU’s actions have often contradicted its slogans.
Whenever it has an opportunity, it argues that it speaks for society’s weakest members, but time and again, it shows this isn’t the case.
Social polarization about wealth, poverty and irregular worker issues are some of the KCTU’s favorite agenda.
However, it is doubtful that the umbrella union has done much to solve the problems.
People have suffered from the disconnect between the KCTU’s arguments and its actions.
Let’s think about income polarization. Behind the problem are the labor unions for regular workers at conglomerates, who are represented by the KCTU.
The unions often demand wage hikes that outpace productivity.
They employ strong-arm negotiating tactics, and the conglomerates resort to stopgap measures to meet union demands.
The costs of wage hikes are passed down to small companies, which are paid less for the supplies they provide. The small companies then have to cut wages or fire some of their own workers.
Such wrongful labor-management relations and industrial structure has created the income gap between conglomerates and small companies.
They have been the main reason behind the growing income gap in Korea.
Therefore, the issue cannot be resolved unless conglomerate labor unions’ excessive negotiating power, with the KCTU at the center, is curtailed.
The KCTU also said it is very interested in the irregular worker issue.
The KCTU has protested the government’s attempt to revise the law governing employment of irregular workers. It said protection for irregular workers should be improved.
It is, however, important to think about whether a labor union has contributed to improving the treatment of irregular workers or not. If the union has done so, the wage gap between a regular worker and an irregular worker at a company with a labor union should be smaller than at a non-unionized company.
However, a recent survey showed that the gap is actually twice as large at companies with labor unions.
An irregular worker at a company with a labor union does not receive a higher wage than an irregular worker at a company without a labor union.
What does this mean?
It means that despite the KCTU’s argument, the labor unions of regular workers only concentrate on increasing their own wages and provide no substantial help to irregular workers.
The KCTU argues that it exists to protect the weak.
We do not question the organization’s integrity, but it is time for it to actually act on its words.
If it becomes a slave to the interests of its member unions, the KCTU’s slogans will only be regarded as selfish, empty words.
There is no need to mention the organization’s morality, such as the sexual assault scandal in which it is entangled.
The KCTU has argued that it promotes human rights, but a woman’s rights were oppressed and abused. Such self-contradictions must end.
The KCTU must be reborn.
It should serve as an umbrella union benefiting workers at small companies.
It should serve as an umbrella union improving the treatment and wages of irregular workers.
Most of all, the KCTU must re-establish its basic ethical principles and nurture a healthy organizational culture to cleanse itself after the embarrassing scandal.
The KCTU must step out of the box concerned with only protecting its members and think about the nation’s economy.
The nation will overcome the economic crisis and the Korean economy will leap to the next level only when the KCTU functions properly.
*The writer is a professor of economics at the University of Incheon. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee In-jae