Union disunityThe Korea Confederation of Trade Unions is teetering with a chain of key members pulling out from the progressive union body.
Unions of the Incheon Subway and Incheon International Airport became the latest to break from the umbrella group, following Youngjin Pharm. Co. Ltd., Naphtha Cracking Center and three other member unions in March. One of its most militant members, the Seoul City Railway, is also poised to follow suit.
The bedrock of the country’s second-largest union group is collapsing.
The consequences for the KCTU were foreseeable as it veered into the path of self-serving political protest and corruption instead of sticking to its primary role of improving the welfare of unionized workers.
The Incheon Subway Union had been its strongest and most loyal vanguard, standing at the forefront of militant protests.
Yet it voted twice to confirm its repudiation of its parent union. Withdrawal votes were overwhelming: 68 percent from the subway union and 83.9 percent from the airport union.
What was the basic reason for Incheon Subway Union’s rebellion against its umbrella organization? It could not stand the KCTU’s wrongdoing any longer.
An Incheon Subway Union leader summed up the present situation by saying that members were disillusioned and disappointed by demands for political rallies every three days and a union executives’ sex scandal.
These developments are likely to bring about changes to Korea’s labor landscape.
But labor leaders must change first with great determination in order for labor activism to be reborn and grow with the public’s support. Leaders should recognize that unions are owned by the workers, not the other way around. They also must listen to the voices of the market.
More important, they won’t gain understanding and support from inside and outside of the union unless they are morally upright.
Without meeting these terms, no labor union would be sustainable, no mater how much they try to reorganize themselves with declarations of a more pragmatic approach. That would be simply replicating the failed KCTU.
Fourteen years ago, the KCTU launched itself with a rallying cry as a union group working for the workers.
But look where it has gotten today.
The Incheon Subway Union promised to be reborn as a union that concentrates on keeping jobs stable and improving working conditions - instead of striking for political aims.
It is on the right track.
The people’s eyes will be on them, watching with hope that with this new declaration the union won’t derail itself.