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Hyundai Union Could Leave Umbrella Labor Group

Posted September. 10, 2009 08:27,   


The progressive Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is suffering a major crisis with the potential bolt of the Hyundai Motor union following the departure of the Ssangyong Motor union from the umbrella organization.

The Hyundai branch of the Korea Metal Workers’ Union under the confederation will hold an election to choose its leadership next Tuesday. If a moderate is elected, the Hyundai union could also leave the confederation.

○ 2 hardliners vs. 2 moderates

Of eight to 10 factory units belonging to the Hyundai union, four are fielding candidates for the election. Lee Gyeong-hun is representing the Union of Forward-moving Factory Workers; Hong Seong-bong the Unionist-driven Solidarity of Factory Workers; Kwon Oh-il the Struggle Committee for a Democratic Factory; and Kim Hong-gyu the Society of Democratic Factory Workers.

The Struggle Committee for Factory Workers, to which leaders of the Hyundai union belong, did not field a candidate.

In a brochure, Lee criticized the metal workers’ union, saying, “Without changes to the Korea Metal Workers’ Union, the Hyundai Motor branch will collapse.”

He also compared the carmaker’s wages and welfare benefits to those of Hyundai Heavy Industries, which he said improved welfare for factory workers via a moderate and rational labor movement since it left the confederation in 2004.

Hong also blasted the metal workers’ union, saying, “We cannot unconditionally follow the Korea Metal Workers’ Union, which fails to consider the thoughts of unionists and instead pursues factional politics and gives imprudent orders.”

Kwon promised to reform the metal workers’ union by emphasizing unionists, raising the retirement age a year, forming an employment stabilization fund of one trillion won (814 million U.S. dollars), and starting a daytime dual-shift system.

Under the slogan “Strong leaders, strong struggle,” Kim promised to renegotiate the daytime dual-shift work system.

Hyundai Motor unionists and labor pundits categorize Lee and Hong as moderates and Kwon and Kim as hardliners.

○ Will the election overhaul the labor circle?

Many experts say the chances of a moderate winning the Hyundai Motor union election are quite high. The carmaker’s unionists have opposed the militant attitude of union leaders. Every year since its establishment in 1987, the union has either been at odds with management over wage negotiations or gone on strike for political reasons, with the only exception in 1994.

The average age of 41 for Hyundai Motor unionists is also a factor. If a moderate wins the election, he or she will definitely clash with the metal workers’ union. The maintenance committee of 2,700 unionists under the Hyundai Motor branch strongly opposes the idea of a “regional branch” as suggested by the metal workers’ union in July. The committee said regional branches could fuel job insecurity.

Hyundai Motor’s sales committee comprising 6,700 unionists nationwide also opposes the regional branch idea.

Moreover, three factory organizations say Hyundai Motor’s union should bolt from the metal workers’ union. That means Hyundai Motor’s new leaders will have no reason to reestablish relations with the metal workers’ union.

The Hyundai Motor union has 45,000 unionists and forms the majority of members of the metal workers’ union (150,000). If the automaker’s union bolts in following the lead of the Ssangyong union, the labor confederation will suffer a serious blow.

The election is hard to predict, however, since unionists could vote for hardliners due to job security fears resulting from the economic crisis.