KCTU must return to dialogueKim Myung-hwan, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), announced that the contentious umbrella union group will join the Economic, Social and Labor Council — the tripartite platform representing the government, employers and workers whose decisions have a binding force. The group, which had boycotted the tripartite committee under past conservative governments, would “actively join” various reform movements in society to address deepening wealth discrepancies, reform large conglomerates and reinforce social security.
It is a relief that one of the country’s two largest umbrella unions has agreed to share responsibility for the challenges on the labor front amidst a job crisis and conflict from rapid hikes in the minimum wage and cut in working hours.
In 2005, KCTU leadership attempted to take part in the tripartite dialogue, but its efforts were halted by militant members in the group. The leadership called for an assembly in October to vote on its participation in the tripartite committee, but no decision was made due to a lack of attendees. The new tripartite committee took off in November without the KCTU.
Kim organized another assembly on Jan. 28 and promised to gain endorsement from its representatives. The leadership claimed that it has already coordinated the matter with regional head offices. The KCTU will lose public confidence if it does not keep its word this time. Kim said the union group will continue on with street rallies and a general strike regardless of the dialogue. Protest is another legitimate form of labor movement, but it must be accompanied by dialogue efforts.
Sweden has one of the most organized trade unions — the Labor Organization — which was founded in 1898. Its motto is “boxing and dancing,” suggesting that it does not entirely adhere to contentious campaigning. The union should be willing to dance with unlikely partners if it is for the good of the nation and broader workers. The KCTU currently has almost as many members as the other umbrella group, the Korean Federation of Trade Unions. It must act with dignity and responsibility as a trade union representing the nation.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 10, Page 30