Hitting the self-destruct button
A devastating scandal in one of Korea’s major unions has been rumbling on for a couple of weeks now. Basically, union leaders at Kia’s massive car plant in Kwangju, Chôlla Province were found to have been doing deals with management over who should be employed in the plant with the usual envelopes of money changing hands all round. Quite a bit has been written about this at Oh My News and elsewhere, which, to be absolutely honest I haven’t had time to read yet, but you can if you like. (other articles in English: Joongang Ilbo, Hankyoreh editorial)
Antti has said that he will write something about this and so I will await his (much better-informed) post with baited breath…
In the meantime I'll make one or two observations. More than anything else, this scandal seems to demonstrate the dangers that face the workers’ movement (and social movements in general) in a country like Korea where petty corruption and clientilism are the norm. The important issue for organisations like unions, NGOs and of course, perhaps most importantly, parties like the Democratic Labour Party (민노당) is how to avoid getting sucked into this world, because the pull must be very strong. Getting co-opted into the existing system, either officially and legally, or unofficially and illegally (as in this case) must really spell the beginning of the end for progressive unions.
Fortunately, on a slightly more positive note I am confident that the vast majority of ordinary rank and file unionists in South Korea are upstanding types who know where their priorities lie. I’m also sure that the workers’ movement as a whole there is robust enough to withstand the odd storm. Let's remember that it has a lot of work to do - a recent report found that South Korean workers do the longest hours of any OECD nation and despite advances they still get paid wages at the lower end of the scale (Koreans apparently work an average of 2390 hours per year as compared to European averages of between 1300 and 1700).