[Viewpoint] Unions hold outdated monopoliesAs everybody knows, technology is important. Knowledge is a key factor in economic growth and cultural development that can help produce better products in more efficient ways.
Such physical technologies bring about different results in different societies because each society has different “social technologies,” that is, ways to organize economic activities.
Experts in economic history have discovered that social technology plays a vital role in defining a society’s destiny.
Today, labor unions are our society’s most problematic social technology. As many have long pointed out, militant labor unions cause serious damage to our society.
The recent Ssangyong Motor incident proved once again the grave damage that organized union workers can cause.
Following this incident, we need to reflect seriously on the essence and traits of labor unions and examine how labor unions - institutions that most approve of in principle - can become so harmful.
The recent situation proved so damaging that it cannot simply end by repeating the platitude that: “Both labor and management must take a step backward and compromise.”
The essence of a labor union is that of an arbitrary monopoly.
Employees of a company are given a monopolistic status to supply labor to their company.
Such a monopoly given to labor unions is inherently against market principles. It is this defect that causes the problems and harm that stem from organized labor.
There is a discrepancy between the purpose of a labor union, which is to protect “weak” employees from “strong” employers, and this arbitrary monopoly.
The most reasonable and fundamental resolution to these problems is to protect workers with both legislation and a social safety net, instead of giving labor unions arbitrary control over the situation.
In most societies, the law and safety net function well enough to protect workers’ rights and interests. We are no different. In our society, our workers are also able to protect their rights and interests without the help of labor unions.
In the past, labor unions often successfully fulfilled their obligations to represent workers and many benefited from their efforts. Many social institutions benefitted as well.
Ironically, because of their success, labor unions have now become outdated for workers.
Workers should not ignore this fact just because they are grateful for the past success of labor unions. And yet, labor unions still enjoy their monopoly. Their power is still strong.
Inevitably, that arbitrary monopoly has given rise to many social problems.
In advanced societies, labor unions’ monopolistic status has led to rigidity in the labor market, which is a major hindrance to economic growth. Making the labor market more flexible is always regarded as a fundamentally important task in economic reform.
Labor unions cannot create value on their own. They cannot create jobs. In fact, they reduce the number of jobs.
They do not help increase workers’ wages. They only move income from weak union members to strong ones.
In the end, organized labor has protected unionized members only by ignoring truly weak and poor workers, such as migrant workers or workers who move from job to job, and from place to place.
Recently, as it has been impossible to fire unionized workers, companies have had to hire irregular workers.
Unfortunately, once a social technology is devised it cannot be easily undone.
And that’s the problem. It is very difficult to negate the monopoly of the labor supply possessed by labor unions. In fact, it can be done only when a political leader makes a firm stand, based on citizens’ absolute support, and revises the constitution. In our society, it is difficult even to begin this procedure.
Perhaps a more realistic solution would be to induce labor unions to evolve into organizations that put less of a burden on society. One way is make labor unions become like companies. That way, union workers continue their fundamental functions while union damage is reduced.
To accomplish this, citizens must have a proper view of labor unions.
When it is widely accepted that current labor unions are too primitive and produce too many negative side effects, labor unions can improve as organizations.
*The writer is a novelist.
by Bok Koh-ill
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