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Labor, gov`t face full-blown collision over rail union strike

Labor, gov`t face full-blown collision over rail union strike

Posted December. 24, 2013 07:06,   


Conflict between the government and the labor community is heading towards full-blown collision. The government reemphasized its determination to “apply law and principle without exception.” The labor community is countering the move with a campaign to oust the administration and boycott dialogue between labor, management and the government. Despite freezing weather, the mood of ‘winter struggle’ is escalating more intensely than ever before.

At a meeting of her senior secretaries on Monday, President Park said, “If we make compromise conveniently due to immediate difficulties without following principle, our economy and society will have no chance to have a promising future,” thus making it clear that her administration has no intention to back off in connection with the strike actions by the rail union. “It would be inconvenient and difficult, but if we endure and overcome this period, we will consolidate foundation to ensure continuous progress of our economy and society,” Park said, adding, “At difficult times, we should follow principle all the more, and resolve all problems by placing the public at the center.”

“The core issue in this situation is that the union is blocking efforts to normalize management aimed at reducing deficit at Korail, which has been filled with taxpayers’ money,” said a source at the presidential office. “We cannot afford to surrender to the privileged labor union, and we will never stop the reform drive for Korail.”

The labor community strongly protested the move. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) held an emergency meeting of representatives of its subsidiary unions on Monday afternoon, and declared that it will suspend its participation in all dialogue apparatuses between labor, management and the government, including the Economic and Social Development Commission. It is the first time in 13 years that the umbrella union has suspended activities of the tripartite dialogue since April 1999, when it bolted the dialogue channel for about a year.

“No other government would send in state forces into an umbrella labor union of a country and wield force,” FKTU said, warning that “If the government oppresses labor activities, it will end up losing the public’s trust.” The union’s head Moon Jin-gook said, “If the government fails to take a changed stance towards labor-government relations, we will start activities going beyond suspension of dialogue.” The union is considering forming an alliance for general strikes with the progressive Korea Confederation of Trade Unions depending on situations.

Although the government and the labor community are on course for heads-on collusion, they will unlikely find any breakthrough any time soon. For one, KCTU plans to launch a general strike on December 28, and stage a campaign to oust the administration. FKTU will hold an election to elect its next leadership on January 22 next year, and chances are high that the hardline mood will continue in the union until then. After all, unless the rail union’s strike ends, conflict between labor and the government will inevitably continue for a considerable period of time.

Most experts say that irrespective of justification of the rail union’s strike, the government should be more cautious. “The government’s orientation towards ‘law and principle’ is right in itself and many people support it,” said an expert on labor-management relations.” However, not a few people doubt whether the government should have pushed for it even by mobilizing state forces.” Another labor expert said, “I understand the government’s situation, but it would have more to lose than gain considering situations going forward.”