[Editorial] DP’s helpful about-face on strike

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[Editorial] DP’s helpful about-face on strike

The ongoing strike by Cargo Truckers Solidarity takes a new turn after the Democratic Party (DP) changed its earlier position supportive of the hard-line union. In a press conference on Thursday, the opposition party holding a supermajority in the National Assembly agreed to accept a proposal by the government and the People Power Party (PPP) to extend the freight rate system for another three years. That’s a remarkable turnaround from the party’s insistence on making the new fare system permanent. The developments took place 15 days after the combative union refused to transport freight last month.

The conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration and the PPP battled fiercely with the union and the DP over extending the fixed rate system for a certain period of time or making it permanent. If the legislature does not pass the bills, the three-year-old freight system will end by the end of the year. After the DP scrapped its earlier position, an obstacle was removed.

But other variables remain after the DP proposed to establish a legislative body to discuss expanding the scope of items for the freight rate system as demanded by the union. But the government and PPP oppose it. In fact, research shows the number of traffic accidents and casualties increased after the introduction of the new rate system. Stakeholders, including the Korean International Trade Association, claim that the rate system only helped increase transport cost without positive effects on safety. That heralds another battle over expanding the scope of the rate system. The dilemma calls for a thorough discussion on real effects of the rate system.

In a Cabinet meeting Thursday, the government decided to enforce an administrative order to force strikers return to work. It expanded the scope of the order to steel and petrochemicals following cement earlier. The government is concerned about the possibility of delayed shipments affecting their production from this weekend if truckers refuse to go back to work. Losses from the strike are estimated at 2.6 trillion won ($1.97 billion). If the strike continues, it can inflict a critical damage on the production and export of cars, vessels and semiconductors.

The strike by the trucker union poses a big challenge to the economy. The government must sternly deal with any violations of the law by unionized members while opening the door to dialogue with the union at the same time. As the dramatic shift of position by the DP shows, unionized truckers must stop their strike and return to work. It will be desirable for the union to accept the extension of the rate system for another three years as the second best choice. The union’s belligerent chants such as “Stop the world by stopping transport!” do not work anymore.
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