Patience is the keyThe unprecedented prolonged strike by the labor union of Korea Railroad Corporation is testing citizens’ patience. With fewer than 80 percent of train services available, passengers have to wait patiently for their long-distance trains and ride packed subways. The strike will surely deal a heavy blow to our economy and make ordinary people’s tough lives even tougher. But the problem is there’s no end in sight for the walkout. After the government licensed a subsidiary for the high-speed KTX train service that will take passengers from Suseo Station in southeast Seoul to Gwangju and Busan, the Korail union declared it would hold a general strike together with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, an umbrella group.
As both sides travel toward a head-on collision over what the union believes will lead to a privatization of the public rail system, some people can sympathize with the union. But if they support the union’s strike, no one knows how many more inconveniences they will have to suffer down the line. Whenever the government tries to introduce a competitive system to remove inefficiencies in the public sector, relevant unions will likely resist the move, calling it a first step toward full privatization, not to mention the umbrella union joining forces, inciting a general strike and chanting for the overthrow of whatever administration tries the reforms.
Despite the KCTU’s claim that 100,000-plus protesters gathered at the Seoul Plaza to show support, nothing changes the harsh reality that the strike was illegitimate from the outset. The union’s demand for the cancellation of the new KTX train subsidiary is simply not an issue for negotiation between labor and management. And yet the union is holding the national train services hostage. There’s no need for the government to seek approval from the union to provide cheaper and better services through a competitive system. Citizens should not support the union’s preposterous demands.
Fortunately, more than 21 percent of the strikers went back to work after Korail president Choi Yeon-hye gave an ultimatum. The corporation must heavily punish the leaders of the strike after separating them from their regular supporters, including by launching a damage suit against the union. The government also must bring to justice those strikers for whom the court issued arrest warrants.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was able to resolve a yearlong strike by British miners thanks to the patience of the people, along with her spectacular leadership. Now it’s our turn. The habitual strikes by the Korail union must be brought to an end.