A vote by truckers to call off their strike and return to work can be attributed to the government's strict adherence to the law and principles in responding to their walkout.
Cargo Truckers Solidarity, a division of the Korean Public Service and Transportation Workers Union affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, withdrew its strike Friday. The withdrawal came 16 days after the strike began Nov. 24, demanding the abolition of the sunset provision of the "Freight Rates for Safe Driving" system and the increase of cargo items covered by it.
The system sets a sort of "minimum freight rates" for two kinds of trucks -- container and bulk cement trailer trucks. It expires at the end of this year unless extended.
Their strike lost much of its momentum after a few days, which was reflected in a vote of its membership -- a low turnout (13.6 percent) and high approval rate (61.8 percent) for strike withdrawal. Before the vote was held, truck owners increasingly resumed work after receiving "back-to-work" orders from the government.
Union members went on strike in a rejection of the government's proposal for a three-year extension of the freight rate system, then called off their strike without getting what they demanded. With economic damage snowballing due to their strike, the government, which made the proposal in order to prevent their strike, now is in a position to reconsider it.
The union underestimated the government after the first strike. In June when truckers went on their first strike under the Yoon Suk-yeol government, the administration was preoccupied with ending the situation quickly, so it promised to discuss the continuation of the system and expansion of cargo items covered by the system. Truckers returned to work.
Then five months later, they went on strike again with the same demands.
However, with damage mounting, the government issued back-to-work orders to owners of bulk cement trailer trucks on Nov. 29 and to steel and petrochemical truck owners on Dec. 8. It hauled in strikers who obstructed truck owners who wanted to work and charged them with crimes.
The government dealt with the strike by the rules -- legal provisions empowering authorities to issue back-to-work orders if the truckers' refusal to work incurred great losses to the national economy.
With the government showing no signs of backing off, members of the union increasingly stepped out of the line.
People supported the government's principled response. In a Gallup poll from Dec. 6-8, 71 percent of respondents said truckers should first return to work then negotiate with the government.
Isolated and under mounting criticism from the public, the union could not keep up their strike.
Unjustifiable demands and illegal threats against those willing to work must not be tolerated. To abide by this principle is the solution to eliminate the bad habits of labor that take the national economy and people hostage to meet their excessive demands.
In this vein, the union must take due responsibility for the huge economic damage its strike caused, estimated to top 3.5 trillion won ($2.6 billion). The government should not treat this matter as if it is a price to be paid for their return to work. Such a practice must not be repeated.
The majority opposition Democratic Party of Korea never urged the truckers union to refrain from going on a strike that was certain to cause tremendous economic losses. As the situation turned against the striking truckers, the party unilaterally passed a bill to extend the safe freight rate system by three years through the related standing committee on the day of the members' vote on whether to call off the strike.
The party was too hasty. The government, which already vowed to reconsider the system after the strike began, was in a difficult position. The union took the party's side quickly, demanding the government keep its proposal. The Democratic Party's move goes against the government's efforts for a course correction in labor relations on the basis of the law and principles. The safe freight rate system in question should be reviewed.