|It was a casual yet noteworthy event. Michael Sandel, the Harvard political theorist famous here for his book “Justice,” visited a scene symbolizing the cruel injustice of modern capitalism: a group memorial altar for 22 former Ssangyong Motor employees and their family members who have died in the past three years.
Some killed themselves amid extreme post-traumatic distress syndrome following the brutal police crackdown of a 77-day strike in 2009 and the financial strain from a long period of unemployment. Most of the other deaths were also due to stress-related diseases such as severe depression. Landing jobs at other companies were all but impossible, as their past records branded them “militant unionists.”
One can understand why the surviving unionists call the layoff “social murder.” “Firing (us) was firing (guns to us),” they say. The automaker’s case shows society can hardly leave mass layoffs in the name of restructuring to employers and employees.
Above all, the management of the nation’s fifth-largest carmaker should be held accountable for breaking the promise made upon the settlement of the walkout. Three years ago, the company vowed to rehire about 450 employees on unpaid leave within a year. Yet it has postponed the deadline to 2014, citing the automaker’s bottom lines have yet to recover to pre-strike levels. No third parties, including the government, have taken issue with the change of words.
This is a brazen breach of labor-management accord, especially considering Ssangyong Motor’s output and sales have more than doubled during the period if the company’s own advertisements are any guide.
We urge the government to step in if for no other reason than it was one party in the trilateral agreement representing the public sector.
No less responsible are the political parties. In this election year, both the ruling and opposition parties are competing to put forth policies for workers, vowing to reduce non-regular workers and make layoffs more difficult for employers. They did so four or five years ago, too, but workers’ lives have not improved much but rather become aggravated, as politicians painted rosy pictures for the future. The key words for them should be “here” and “now.” Few can say for sure the Democratic United Party’s special committee on Ssangyong Motor will be activated.
It’s been decades since economic globalization, aided by breakneck technological advance and industrial sophistication, tilted the balance between capital and labor toward the former one-sidedly.
Unlike Anglo-American capitalist models based on near-tyrannical market forces and unlimited competition, however, most European countries have dealt with this industrial restructuring with equal emphasis on workers. So they have maintained work councils in which the employers discuss and explain corporate situations and reasons for trimming the work force if necessary as well as how to minimize difficulties for fired workers.
It should be obvious which model Korea should benchmark.
Both competition and competitiveness are important but Ssangyong Motor’s tragedy shows a society should have a modicum of courtesy to workers, or people. And this decides whether it is savage or civilized.
Working-class voters have only to watch how rivaling parties deal with this urgent issue in making their decision this December.
6월 5일 (화) The Korea Times 사설