The Korean government issued an additional decree ordering some 10,000 steel and petrochemical truckers of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, who have been on strike for almost two weeks, to return to work. More workers have been subject to the order compared to the first decree issued to some 2,500 cement truckers last Tuesday. The government has made it clear that there would be no further talk until the truckers get back to work by adhering to its principle of “first return-to-work, then talk.”
The increase in the number of truckers subject to the order is due to the mounting damage caused by the truckers’ strike. Even after the resumption of inventories in some regions, transportation of steel products remains half of what it was before the strike. Petrochemical manufacturing factories have started to slow operations with the volume of shipments having plunged to 20 percent of the average. Tire manufacturers have cut production to 30 to 50 percent of the average. Oil refiners, alarmed by an increasing number of gas stations having run dry of fuel, are asking for the government to issue an additional order.
Considering that cement shipments have almost recovered to the daily average after issuing the first order, it is expected that steel and petrochemical shipments will soon recover. The government is taking follow-up measures to accuse cargo truckers who have disobeyed the order, speeding up the dissolution of union members. The Cargo Truckers Solidarity, which refused to accept the government’s suggestion to extend the basic freight rate system for three more years and instead argued for the perpetuation of the system and expansion of the coverage of the system, is now at a dead-end. On the other hand, with the public’s support at its back, the government is strongly demanding workers return to work “without condition.”
The justification for the truckers’ refusal to transport cargo and the nationwide strike has already lost its force, as the public has turned its back against the rather unreasonable request of the Cargo Truckers Solidarity and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. While some unionized POSCO workers left the KCTU and the shipbuilding industry ceased participating in the strike, the unionized truckers seem to have lost the power to continue the strike. However, the KCTU has vowed to continue the fight, forewarning a nationwide strike next Wednesday.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, which has been supporting the Cargo Truckers Solidarity, announced Thursday that it would amend the relevant law to expand freight rate system coverage instead of accepting the government’s proposal for the extension of the system for three more years. Another reason for the unionized truckers’ strike has lost ground. The Cargo Truckers Solidarity must stop refusing to return to work and start negotiating with the government before they lose both justification and practical interests.