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Steel Workers Vote on Larger Industry-level Trade Union

Posted June. 27, 2003 21:42,   


Thirteen members of the Steel Workers Alliance under the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), including workers at Hyundai Motor, will soon decide whether to join the `Steel Workers Union`. A vote was held on June 25 through 27 and the results are expected to come out in the morning of June 28.

Once steel workers decide to form an industry-wide trade union, they will most likely emerge as a core force of the KCTU, leading labor campaigns against management. If members vote against the scheme, however, it will end up throwing the wrench in the steel workers` strike set for July 2.

Industry-wide Union

Unionists at eight companies, including 38,917 workers at Hyundai Motor, 7,100 at Daewoo Shipping and Maritime and 2,400 at Daewoo Machinery, voted on June 27 to decide whether they will form an industry-wide trade union, following workers at Kepi Co., Rotem and Changwon who voted on the 25th and the 26th. 3,314 union members at Hyundai Shipbuilding are set to vote on the issue on June 30.

Under the law, setup of an industry trade union requires a member vote attended by a majority and two-thirds support.

The trade union at Hyundai Motor, therefore, will find it hard to join an industry union if any, with only 54.8% of their registered members participating in the vote. Having seen their demands met on a business level, quite a few workers also remain skeptical about the plan to form a larger group.

Steel Workers Alliance and Steel Workers Union

The Steel Workers Alliance (SWA) comprises unionists working at large companies. It has some 124,000 members working at Hyundai Motor, Daewoo Shipping and Hyundai Shipping. The Steel Workers Union (SWU), which compasses some 160 businesses luring 36,000 or so members, is seen as one SWA unit.

To be precise, SWA covers some 160,000 unionists from 84 businesses. SWU established in February 2001 comprises workers at smaller companies except a few big names.

If 13 unions under SWA decide to join an industry-level union, therefore, SWU will become a huge trade union that commands some 100,000 workers.

Joining Forces

Steel workers are considering forming an industry union so as to mobilize more organized power rather than maintaining the current loose ties.

Under the SWA, unions need to apply for arbitration and hold a vote on a business level. Once they agree to join an industry union, they will not have to take actions separately. And they will be able to go on strike with majority support even if some of businesses oppose the plan.

“Once we switch to an industry union, we will be able to negotiate for better institutional arrangements for workers in general, as well as wages and working conditions,” said Baek Sun-hwan, Chairman of SWA.

Kyung-Joon Chung news91@donga.com