The first attempt led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions on a “cross-society strike” out of the four scheduled this year has turned out to be a failure in essence. Given that the confederation was derived from the confederation of workers at Hyundai Group, it can be said that the root organization betrayed it. To be sure, only one occasion does not signify a complete change. However, some form of shift is obviously happening.
Here is what would happen with labor strike. Collective bargaining talks proceed with both parties divided over critical issues. Rather than negotiating over the gap, the labor union takes to the street, raising its voice over “coalition across the country.” Although the government sometimes takes stringent stance for illegal demonstration, management appeases the union in most cases. Next year, collective bargaining and negotiations over income rises start all over again.
It may have been the case in the era when the Korean economy enjoyed considerable growth. GDP rose an average of 7.1 percent and 4.7 percent in the 1990s and 2000s, respectively. Companies would consider that profits made by production activities with an end to strikes are larger than costs they pay to appease laborers. That is, both labor and management reacted in favor of each of themselves.
However, things have changed. The auto industry, which has led the Korean economy with semiconductors, is currently being hit hard by some significant shifts in the market. Car sharing companies allow users to borrow a vehicle whenever and wherever they want. Uber and Grab provide easier and more instant mobility to users than taxis. It even has been expected that the U.S. auto market, one of Korea’s major car export destinations, will shrink by 1.4 percent this year. Hyundai Motor has suspended some factories and rearranged production manpower in China, one of its major markets.
Heavy industries are showing some signs of improvement with the recent order increases in LNG carrying vessels following several difficult years. However, no one is sure of continuous progress after two to three years from now.
Management and labor are well aware that things are changing too fast to guarantee their future security. Thus, those blinded by aggressive strikes should face the reality. They are supposed to learn that what was right then has turned out to be wrong. In this new era, we should make new rules to ensure survival of individuals, organizations and nations.