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Union Pledges of Product Quality

Posted March. 18, 2010 11:01,   


Lee Gyeong-hun, head of the Hyundai Motor branch of the Korea Metal Workers’ Union, said, “It was shocking beyond description to see all of Detroit turned into a devastated city because of the shutdown of GM auto plants.” He visited Hyundai factories and industrial complexes in the U.S. and China Feb. 1 – 10. In an article published in the company’s union journal Feb. 25 after his return, Lee wrote, “Only two plants are operating (in Detroit) now, and the city’s functions have come to a halt,” adding that labor and management must change for Hyundai not to repeat the mistakes of GM and Ford. In a contribution headlined “Production of Quality Vehicles Equals Employment Guarantees,” he presented a strategy for co-prosperity between labor and management to enable Hyundai to emerge as a name brand in the wake of the massive recall of Toyota vehicles.

LG Electronics’ union will guarantee the quality of the company’s products for domestic and overseas customers, and cultivate employees as “onsite managers.” Union chief Park Joon-soo said, “Toyota is struggling due to a global quality crisis, but its union has no role to play,” adding, “We will seek a future-oriented labor movement.” The union’s pledge of guaranteeing product quality is unprecedented in the history of the Korean labor movement, and deserves praise.

The unions of Hyundai and LG have learned valuable lessons from a devastated Detroit and the Toyota recall fiasco. They have realized that excessive demands from United Auto Workers led to the demise of the Motor City. Witnessing the recall of Toyota vehicles, they also recognized that only when labor does its best in quality management can employment be guaranteed. Unions themselves have started to assert that a militant struggle involving political strikes and massive rallies will not result in real gains for workers.

It is fortunate that unions at private companies are shunning political ideologies en masse, a trend that took off last year. More unions are leaving the progressive Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. Hyundai union chief Lee was elected because of his pledge of stability and practical gains instead of struggle, a first in 15 years. Ssangyong Motor’s union has also pledged never to strike to ensure the normalization of managerial operations. Early this month, the unions of more than 40 companies nationwide, including those of Hyundai Heavy Industries, KT and Seoul Metro, launched the Labor Coalition for New Hope, and are pursuing a new labor movement.

This year will see major changes in labor-management relations, including a ban on wages for full-time union leaders. If more Korean unions develop a sense of responsibility like those of Hyundai and LG, the Korean economy has the hope of a brighter future.