Go to contents

Bolting From a Militant Umbrella Union

Posted March. 09, 2010 09:59,   


The Changwon Industrial Complex in South Gyeongsang Province is the cradle and core production base of Korea’s machinery industry. The complex was developed into a giant industrial park under the government’s policy to promote the heavy industry and chemical sectors in 1974 as part of the country’s third five-year economic development plan. More than 230 companies in machinery are housed in the complex, including those in power generation, precision machinery, defense and auto part. They have made important contributions to the enhancement of domestic industrial structure and Korea’s rise as export powerhouse.

The city of Changwon is also a power base for the left-leaning labor movement. The Coalition of Masan-Changwon Labor Unions, which was formed by organized labor at 19 companies in the complex and the Masan Export Zone in December 1987, was the ancestor of the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. Former Democratic Labor Party Chairman Kwon Young-ghil, whom the confederation backs, was elected in the 17th and 18th general elections in Changwon. In a by-election to elect members of South Gyeongsang Province’s council for Changwon in June 2008, a party member enjoyed an overwhelming victory. Considering that the election took place amid massive anti-government demonstrations against the resumption of U.S. beef at the time, two progressive parties, namely the Democratic Labor Party and the New Progressive Party, earned more than 74 percent of the vote in the election of the council members.

Several unions based in the complex, however, have left the confederation in succession. The union of machine tool maker Doosan Infracore bolted Thursday and that of Volvo Construction Equipment Korea Friday. The move came after defense contractor Doosan DST defected from the confederation Feb. 26. Lee Jeong-hoon, chief of Volvo’s union, told Yonhap News Agency, “Union members strongly distrust the umbrella union, who engages in political protests having nothing to do with the company, while foreign stakeholders have shunned investing in the company due to Korea’s hostile labor culture.” Lee pledged friendly labor-management relations for co-prosperity. It might be premature to call the move a trend, but the bolt of three major unions in Changwon from the confederation in less than 10 days is also nothing to sneeze at.

An additional 10 or more unions have joined the Labor Coalition for New Hope, which was set up by 42 unions Wednesday. The coalition has pledged to end ideological strife and pursue a labor movement trusted by the public. Member unions include those of Hyundai Heavy Industries, Kolon and Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, which were key member unions of the confederation but left due to the group’s anachronistic left-leaning ideology and excessive use of strikes. Unless the confederation ends its policy of violent struggle and recovers its ethical base, more member unions could defect en masse. It is time for Korean unionists to change the outdated practice of militant labor strife, a practice found nowhere else in the world.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)