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[Editorial] Labor Strike Dampens Economy

Posted June. 16, 2008 05:54,   


Lee Seok-haeng, chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), said, “We have decided to stage strike consecutively, just as in baseball games.” He meant that the umbrella union will implement a strategy in which each trade union, such as the truckers’ union, the construction union, the Hyundai Motor labor union and the railway union, walk out one after another. Lee cited mad cow disease, the grand canal project and high commodity prices as reasons for the strike, saying, “The KCTU’s role is to serve the candles lit by the public.” That suggests that he would stage strike for political purposes, putting the nation’s economy and the people’s livelihoods at stake.

The planned relay strike concerns the nation even more because the economy is in a bad shape. With almost all economic indicators sounding an alarm bell, the situation is bordering on crisis. Investment in machinery in the first quarter declined 0.9 percent year-on-year for the first time in seven years. Facility investment growth also stood at a mere 1.4 percent, compared with 10.9 percent in the same period last year. Net foreign credit, the amount of foreign credit less foreign liabilities, recently plunged to $15 billion from $35.5 billion in just three months.

The government is considering revising downward the economic growth outlook from 6 percent to 5 percent amid soaring global oil prices, while raising the consumer price growth target, which is currently at 3.3 percent. Its job creation target is also highly likely to be revised downward from 350,000 to about 200,000 new jobs. Moreover, there are problems of 1.02 million unemployed heads of a household, snowballing household debts amounting to 38.4 million won per family and the sufferings of ordinary citizens from high living expenses, which jumped 6.7 percent within a year.

Probably galvanized by the candlelight vigils, which pressed the government hard, the KCTU is saying that its annual summer struggle will continue until snow falls. In the case of the Hyundai Motor labor union, its leadership is pushing ahead with the strike, while many rank-and-file members pleaded that the union should not stage strike for political purposes. It seems that the KCTU is turning a blind eye to the public worried about the economy.

The government should be tough on illegal strikes. The public also needs to oppose the KCTU’s political strike. It is time to remember that Pohang and Ulsan citizens’ “anti-strike” rallies successfully stopped the strike by the POSCO construction union in 2006 and the Hyundai Motor union last year.