Turning a blind eye to violence

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Turning a blind eye to violence

In a democracy, violence is strictly forbidden. When people’s lives and a nation’s security are endangered, the government can exercise state violence — in a limited way. Yet in Korea, even when labor union violence exceeds a permissible level, the government sits on its hands without taking any action to punish it.

On Wednesday, union members of the Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) in Geoje, South Gyeongsang — a local chapter of the militant umbrella Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) — occupied the office of Mayor Byun Kwang-young and turned violent to protest the government’s selling of the insolvent shipbuilding company to Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), one of its competitors.

The union members threw out couches, tables and documents, and plastered the office walls with leaflets and stickers reading “No to the government-enforced merger!” and “We cannot accept the merger with our rival!” What makes us dumbfounded is the attitude of Mayor Byun and city officials, both of who simply looked on with folded arms.

The unionists raided the mayor’s office on the grounds that he did not clearly express opposition to the sale. Last August, the government-owned Korea Development Bank (KDB) decided to hand over its entire 55.7-percent stake in DSME to HHI. DSME has so far been bailed out with 13 trillion won ($11.5 billion) of government funding.

DSME union members were certainly embarrassed to hear the news about the sale despite their painstaking efforts to stay afloat over the last four years. “All our workers and contract workers feel like they’re hanging from a cliff!” a unionist shouted. Yet violence cannot be justified no matter what.

This is not the first time the combative KCTU has resorted to violence to make its demands heard. Only three months ago, union members of YPR, a supplier of Hyundai Motor, detained an executive in charge of labor relations and collectively used violence against him. The executive suffered an injury, but the police did nothing at the time, which triggered public outrage. Last year alone, the KCTU raided and staged sit-ins in seven government buildings, including the headquarters of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul.

We are deeply concerned about our law enforcement authorities’ laid-back stance toward the unfettered use of violence by the KCTU. The only solution to break out of this vicious cycle is to root out the violence once and for all according to the law.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 15, Page 30
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