KCTU hasn’t changed its spots

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KCTU hasn’t changed its spots

While campaigning in a leadership election for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) last December, Kim Myeong-hwan vowed to regain public support for the umbrella union group. The union has been losing public confidence for its defense of the rights of unions at large companies and public enterprises. Kim’s campaign pledge raised expectations that he might be different from past hard-line union activists.

But little has changed. The group continues to encourage strikes at large factories to get what they want. Even the progressive members of the ruling party and government are shaking their heads at their selfish and stubborn ways. The KCTU plans to go ahead with a general strike on Nov. 21 even as it is suspected of condoning and encouraging nepotistic hiring at public enterprises. It demands revision in the union law, reform in the National Pension Service, acceleration of upgrades of irregular workers and a stronger social safety net. Most are in tune with the liberal government’s policies, although the pace has been moderated due to economic difficulties. There is no justice in the upcoming general strike. At the same time, the KCTU refuses to participate in legitimate tripartite dialogue among the government, employers and labor. The main point of the general strike is unclear.

KCTU’s vow to protect weak laborers has become meaningless. It has been involved in the illicit hiring by public institutions that enraged jobseekers. It opposes an experimental project in Gwangju in which the city has joined with an automaker to create a factory that could make hundreds of jobs and save labor costs for the company. Unions insist their prerogatives stay exclusive to them. Regardless of how they package their slogans, their demands are all self-serving.

The government has indulged them because the group was its avid supporter. Most of its positions — a higher minimum wage, conversion of irregular workers to full-timers and cuts in working hours — have been made policy.

The group represents a mere 4 percent of Korean salaried workers. But its power has become mighty. The prime minister and ruling party head also criticized the strike plan. Moon Sung-hyun, chairman of the Economic, Social, and Labor Council, said he was shocked that the KCTU was snubbing the tripartite dialogue channel even when he, a former KCTU member, is heading it. KCTU must be aware that it is testing the public’s patience.

JoongAng Sunday, Nov. 3, Page 34

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