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[Editorial] Protracted rail strike

[Editorial] Protracted rail strike

The key is to dispel distrust among unionists

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Published : 2013-12-17 19:40
Updated : 2013-12-17 19:40

The rail workers’ strike has entered its 10th day and still shows no sign of letup. The walkout, the longest ever of its kind, is already taking a heavy toll on passengers and industries that depend on rail transport.

The government is stepping up pressure on the striking workers of Korea Railroad Corp. to end their illegal action. Prosecutors are tracking down the 10 union leaders for whom the court has approved arrest warrants.

They applied for the warrants after President Park Geun-hye denounced the workers on strike. Defining their walk out as “unjustified,” she criticized the union for going on strike despite the government’s repeated promises not to privatize the state-run rail service.

Reaffirming that the establishment of a KORAIL subsidiary had nothing to do with privatization, Park said that it was designed to harness internal competition as a means of raising managerial efficiency of the state rail operator.

Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok also declared that the government would not pursue a compromise just to avoid the damage and inconvenience that a prolonged walkout would cause to the economy and the public.

But the striking unionists are determined to continue their walkout. They are encouraged by the low number of strike participants who have returned to work. Among engine drivers, strike participation has increased, rather than waned. On Dec. 11, 41 percent of drivers participated in the collective action. That figure rose to 56 percent on Dec. 16.

This suggests that the strike is likely to drag on for a considerable period, hurting not just rail-dependent industries but the national economy as a whole.

One cannot help wondering why the unionists refuse to believe what the government says. Top government officials, ranging from the transportation minister and the finance minister to the president, have stressed that the government is not pursuing privatization.

Yet the union is convinced that the newly created subsidiary is a first step toward privatizing the state-run rail monopoly. Union leaders point to the case of the four-river restoration project. The Lee Myung-bak government strongly denied that the project was intended to create a grand canal. But the Board of Audit and Inspection recently concluded that it was in fact designed to build the canal.

What has led the unionists to turn a deaf ear to ministers and even the president is a deep-rooted distrust of the government. To end the walkout, the government needs to think about ways to dispel the unionists’ distrust. For this, genuine talks are necessary between the two sides.

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