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[Op-Ed] Umbrella Union’s Sex Scandal

Posted February. 09, 2009 04:03,   


The official Web site of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the nation’s second-largest umbrella union, has been flooded with complaints over a sexual assault scandal by a key union member. Despite the confederation’s public apology which pops up upon entering the site, the organization’s Web bulletin board is filled with criticism. Some even question the sincerity of the apology. This may be the confederation’s biggest scandal since its foundation in 1995. Despite calls for the “civil use” of the site, the board has seen a rash of condemnatory posts from angry union members and citizens.

The comments include, “We want you to be civil before you lecture us,” “I thought you opposed a new law on preventing cyber insults,” and “Are you trying to say my affairs are beautiful, but those of others are ugly?” Someone even nicknamed the accused member a “sexual assault martyr,” using sarcasm to note the tendency of aggressive groups who pay respect to their dead colleagues in violent protests by calling them “martyrs.” The comments began appearing Thursday and has reached 800 in number in just four days, with 229 new posts Friday, 342 Saturday and more than 150 yesterday.

The people and union members agree that the confederation’s moral paralysis is at the heart of the scandal. Members have expressed great disappointment and fury over the incident, with one saying, “I’ve never been so ashamed of being a confederation member and protesting under its name.” They say the organization’s code of conduct and logo, which has three face profiles overlapping one over another, represent “dignity and human equality.” Such symbolism means nothing, however, when a member sexually assaults a female teacher, who is also a union member. Her devotion was so deep that she even provided shelter to confederation chief Lee Seok-haeng while he was on the run.

It took two months for the umbrella labor group to release a public apology after the assault occurred Dec. 6. What is more enraging is that the confederation tried to have the victim assume all charges for harboring a fugitive (Lee). Nonetheless, rumors are also known to have begun circulating possibly as a result of a secret feud within the confederation. If it tried to take advantage of the victim instead of soothing her emotional trauma, this is beyond disappointment. The incident also makes many wonder why the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers` Union kept its mouth shut. Unless both labor groups get to the heart of the matter, they might never recover their bruised morality.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)