Gwangju’s gamble

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Gwangju’s gamble

*The author is an industrial news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.



“We must do something,” we used to say shortly before graduating from college. We had to find a job but didn’t know what to do. It seemed that nothing would help. After a few idle days, someone would say, “We should do something.” We didn’t have an answer, but we felt like we must do something.

I heard the words again earlier this year, and it was about jobs again. I was researching a story on “Gwangju-style job creation,” a new joint effort between Hyundai Motor and Gwangju to build a car factory which would nearly halve its workers’ pay to create jobs in the city. The method of realizing and maintaining an appropriate wage level was, in short, social compromise. For the greater good, all involved parties need to make a concession.

Frankly, I doubt whether it will work. Even with a written contract, promises are often broken and people can have changes of heart. My questions must have reflected my suspicion. As Gwangju Mayor Yoon Jang-hyun emphasized the efforts of the city to create local jobs, he said, “We must do something.” He continued, “What’s more urgent than the matter of making a living? It may sound unrealistic, but we have to do something rather than being idle.”

Other parties involved that I met while investigating the case also did not seem to be convinced that it was going to be successful, but they believed that they must do something. Thanks to their willingness to act, the project is gaining traction. Hyundai Motor will likely take responsibility for some of the investment and its first commissioned production volume. On June 4, Hyundai Motor employees made a field visit to the factory site offered by the city. It was action, not just words.

There still are more concerns than hopes, as many obstacles remain. Everyone I met said it would be a challenge if the labor union resists. Hyundai Motor is especially prudent. Even a project with guaranteed success won’t work if the union resists. Construction of a new plant in Gwangju is a challenge with no guaranteed success.

Now, Gwangju and Hyundai Motor have taken the first step. The central government won’t give assistance for this project that would create jobs. The local economy welcomes the new move. Now the ball is in the court of the workers, especially the Hyundai Motor union. The union strongly protested the plant construction citing various issues.

The union’s concerns are understandable. But in reality, young people are in great pain in their job search. Now is the time to do something. As a significant part of the community, the labor union must seriously study the challenge and take a stance that benefits the local economy.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 5, Page 29
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