Labor unions led by millennials and Gen Z (Generation MZ) decided to set up the ‘Refresh Labor Council.’ Eight labor unions, including Seoul Metro’s the right labor union and LG Electronics’ human-centric labor union for office workers, will participate in the new council. It consists of members across a wide range of ages, but those in their 30s are the key members. Labor unions led by young people aspiring for a labor movement of fairness and coexistence are raising their voices beyond the two large unions, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions.
The MZ labor unions’ alliance is garnering attention as they reject ideological bias and strive to focus on the fundamental function of labor unions, which is to promote the rights and interests of their members. The MZ labor unions are led by young office workers who did not have much voice compared to established labor unions led by older workers on manufacturing sites. Their movement started with complaints about the process of determining performance-based pay. However, they are now evolving to oppose aggressive strikes, such as political walkouts in connection with outside forces, and promote the practical interests of workers.
Their response to current issues differs from those of the established labor unions. Regarding the government’s request to disclose the account books of labor unions as part of its efforts to reform the labor sector, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions are strongly opposing it by claiming that it is a violation of the labor union’s autonomy. However, the MZ labor unions say that accounting transparency is a matter of course and disclose how union dues are spent. When the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ cargo union refused to transport at the end of last year, Seoul Metro’s labor union ended its strike early in consideration of its young members’ opposition.
Young people now see labor unions differently. According to a survey conducted by The Dong-A Ilbo of Generation MZ, 74 percent of respondents said political activities by labor unions are inappropriate, and 65 percent said established labor unions have a negative impact on creating jobs for young people. The head of the MZ labor council said coexistence with the company and fair evaluation are key values, which is in line with young workers.
There are only about 5,000 members of the MZ labor council, which is less than one percent of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions’ 1.238 million and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ 1.213 million. The young labor union members are pushed back by the two large labor unions and can’t even find a seat at the discussion table for salary and group negotiations. However, it is expected that more young workers with similar ideas will join the labor council. I hope they will be able to bring new changes for coexistence and cooperation between the management and the labor, which have been in conflicting relations for decades.