WHY KOREAN WORKERS PLAY FOR KEEPS
In ''Korea Inc. Wimps Out Again'' (International Business, Sept. 7), Moon Ihlwan makes observations typical of an outsider armchair economist's analysis. Moon asserts that the auto workers' strike at Hyundai Motor Co.'s Ulsan plant shows that the Korean people are massively resistant to change and that the government intervention in the potentially ''bloody confrontation'' sends a signal to the chaebol that mass layoffs are off-limits.
Moon seems to advocate that Korea's blue-collar workers should take the brunt of the economic crisis and assume all responsibility--for the good of the country, of course. What he does not seem to understand is that Korea does not have the social support systems that the U.S. and Sweden have. In Korea, once workers are laid off, they have no income. There is no social net, no Social Security, no unemployment insurance. Additionally, as typical Korean families are structured, the male head of household is the only source of income. Laying off 1,500 workers, therefore, marks the end of subsistence for 1,500 families with wives and children. Why is it wrong for these workers to protect their means to survive?
I believe that the expression of anger and protesting against what is deemed injustice is healthy for a country like Korea. In the 50 years of the republic, Korean workers were exploited beyond imagination by the chaebol and the government. It is only in the last decade that the government allowed them limited free expression. For the government to thwart the people-led protest, using police and military force, would be a giant step back for Korea.
Updated Sept. 17, 1998 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1998, Bloomberg L.P.