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[Editorial] Umbrella Union Lights Candles for Whom?

Posted June. 07, 2008 08:39,   


The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is threatening to hold a general strike from June 16, taking advantage of the candlelight vigils protesting U.S. beef imports. The confederation will also mobilize more than 100,000 members to a candlelight vigil Tuesday. The umbrella union is riding the wave of public anger to show off its power and pressure the troubled administration to take the upper hand in major labor issues, such as downsizing the public sector and revision of the temporary workers’ bill. Confederation members are even distributing fliers saying “No American beef” and “Stop privatization of public corporations.” Will their attempt to brainwash the public into joining the anti-privatization drive work?

The confederation should have first explained to its members why the resumption of U.S. beef imports is a reason to hold a general strike, instead of simply asking whether to strike. Jumping on the bandwagon of the anti-American beef movement, the cowardly group is going against the will of the people by pushing its collective selfish demands and threatening a general strike. How many participants of the candlelight vigil, if any, oppose public sector reform?

Damage to national credibility seems the least of the confederation’s worries. It is losing trust among labor groups because of its reckless illegal protests. In a move separate from the general strike, the confederation will stage another large rally from late June to early July. Korea’s economy and the people’s livelihood will suffer if the government and the people are swayed by the umbrella union’s ill-conceived scheme to thwart national reform with the help of public fury against U.S. beef imports.

A general strike also goes against the interests of the confederation’s member unions. If the beef issue continues to hamper the ratification of the free trade agreement with the United States and causes a serious trade conflict with Washington, Korea’s exports to the United States, especially cars, will suffer immensely. This will probably result in massive layoffs in Korea.

The Korean economy is suffering from inflation, stagnation and a worsening trade deficit. If the economy worsens because of a general strike, the first and most severely hit victims will be low-income earners. The leaders of the confederation must be also aware of this. As the beef issue is no excuse for a labor dispute under Korean labor law, a general strike is clearly illegal. The more a society is in confusion, the more sternly the government should deal with illegal strikes. Both the government and the people should differentiate between the good intentions of the general public and politically motivated illegal strikes.