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Hyundai Motor, Hanwha Ocean, HD Hyundai unions shun massive protest

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Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions chant during a rally in downtown Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions chant during a rally in downtown Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap

Militant umbrella union loses popularity among younger workers of profitable firms

By Park Jae-hyuk

The Korean Metal Workers' Union's (KMWU) nationwide strike on Wednesday failed to win support from most of its members, according to the labor ministry, Thursday.

The union, which is under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), was able to attract around 30,000 participants to take part in the nationwide strike among its 190,000 members, as unionized workers of Hyundai Motor, Hanwha Ocean and HD Hyundai Heavy Industries declined to join the protest.

Amid the poor participation rate, the KCTU also canceled its march at night after its massive rally in downtown Seoul on Wednesday afternoon and dispersed voluntarily at around 8:30 p.m.

Seeing as the KCTU also failed last December to convince the unions of major conglomerates to join the nationwide strike by unionized truck drivers, speculation is growing that the militant umbrella union's protest may continue to lose momentum.

Before the KMWU went on its latest nationwide strike, the Hyundai Motor and HD Hyundai unions expressed skepticism about the plan.

Last month, Hyundai Motor union leader Ahn Hyun-ho warned in a statement that the KMWU's decision will cause conflicts among unions.

"None of the former leaders of the KMWU ever decided to strike without consent," he said. "The KCTU's leaders also turned down the proposal to go on a nationwide strike in May."

HD Hyundai's union cited its lack of legal right to strike as the reason for its refusal to join the nationwide strike. Hanwha Ocean's labor and management held a ceremony to declare mutual cooperation, a day before the KMWU's strike.

When the KCTU carried out an all-out protest last December to support the truckers' strike, unionized workers of the shipbuilders also declined to strike, as they reached agreements with their management in their negotiations concerning wages.

Hanwha Ocean's union even tried last year to leave the KMWU, although its attempt ended in failure as only 52.7 percent of its members supported its withdrawal. The shipbuilder's union needs agreements from at least two-thirds of its members, in order to leave the KMWU.

Other members of the KMWU, such as POSCO's union, have also sought to withdraw from the umbrella union. In addition, younger workers have been skeptical about the KMWU's method of protest, believing that its actions are purely political in nature, instead of protecting the rights of workers.

As a result, some of the young workers have organized so-called MZ generation-led unions, which do not belong to the KCTU.

Industry officials expect employees of profitable firms to focus more on negotiations with management for higher wages, rather than political protests against the incumbent administration.

"If the KCTU continues to protest on the street as before, it will face difficulties in winning support from the public," said Choi Young-ki, a visiting professor of Hallym University, who previously led the Korea Labor Institute.

Park Jae-hyuk


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