[Viewpoint] Ssangyong’s survivalThe crisis at Ssangyong Motor is getting out of control. Last weekend, a physical clash occurred between striking union workers, who refused a revised restructuring plan proposed by the management, and company employees. The clash left many from both sides injured before company employees withdrew voluntarily in fear of the clash worsening. But the confrontation between labor and management intensified afterward, and it has become more difficult to reach a compromise.
As civic organizations, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, join the Ssangyong labor union’s strike and protest layoffs for the revival of the company, the case goes beyond the company itself and spreads into society. The labor union has declared it will protest together with outside organizations, and it is becoming more militant.
The Ssangyong case started when the international financial crisis broke out last year. The automobile market around the world was hit by the financial crisis. Giant American automakers have failed to overcome the crisis because of their lax management practices and militant labor unions, and have already gone bankrupt or are in the course of restructuring. Automakers in Europe and Japan are also struggling hard to survive. We cannot be an exception. In particular, Ssangyong Motor is standing at the crossroads between collapse and survival, as its deficit has increased amid the financial crisis. The court ruled that the company must go through restructuring to survive. Therefore, layoffs seem to be the only choice available to revive the company.
Layoffs are painful. For workers, workplaces are like their lifelines. It is thus understandable that they refuse layoffs and choose a strike in order to protect their rights and interests. But for Ssangyong Motor, survival is important. It needs to resort to all possible measures to stay afloat and survive. Time is running out for Ssangyong Motor. It must resolve problems in a short time and if the company focuses on the interests of individual workers, perhaps all employees will be required to make a sacrifice in the end. In these circumstances, outer civic and social organizations’ interference does not help resolve the case. They are not capable of taking responsibility for the future of Ssangyong Motor, nor are they in such a position to do so. As time is running out, their behavior could make the situation worse and make Ssangyong forever miss a chance to revive itself.
The Ssangyong Motor case is not the first time that civic and social organizations have stepped in. They have frequently interfered in disputes between labor and management and other social issues. Their interference sometimes helped to resolve issues and ease conflict but they often worsened disputes because they are not directly concerned. As outside organizations approach issues from their own perspectives, without fully understanding internal matters, and when issues must be resolved as quickly as possible, they can delay the resolution of issues, causing damage to all involved. When a dispute occurs, those who are directly concerned must, in principle, resolve it. It is reasonable for those who are concerned with disputes and conflict to resolve issues with understanding and tolerance.
For the current Ssangyong Motor case, labor and management must resolve the conflict. The militant labor movement takes its toll. As production has been on hold for so long, losses have snowballed and trust in the company has fallen into a bottomless pit. If this persists, even if the company’s business goes back to normal, there might be no chance for revival. Guaranteeing maximum workers’ rights is a duty for both the country and the company. However, it is essential that the pain required for the company’s survival amid the financial crisis be shared. Outside forces’ interference may intensify conflict, instead of helping to resolve it. Now we need to make a prudent judgment on what is best for the workers’ and the company’s coexistence. That is the only way to revitalize both parties, and advance our society to the next level.
*The writer is a professor of Constitutional studies at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
By Kim Sang-kyum