What if the public stages a strike? With recent continuing strikes and demonstrations, these words are spreading among the public. It is no simple laughing matter. To that extent, our society would undergo a general crisis with many collective actions. We had doctors’ strike who belong to a privileged class in any society, bank strikes which had great financial influence and a strike of hotel workers which continued for a long time until recent ending. In all sectors of our society, strikes of different working groups are lasting. Our views about them are not good. The government regarded them as collective egoism and mobilized riot police into a private enterprise, the Lotte Hotel. The public is critical about strikers because of the resulting inconveni-ences and confusion. But, alas, citizens in a democratic society! You have to think why these collective actions ceaselessly happen rather than criticize them without proper reason. You are in their place in any part of the society, aren’t you?
Two views about strikes The two most different groups regarding strikes are the govern-ment and strikers. At first, the opinion of the government is as follows. The doctors hold the public health as hostage because of the prospect of their income being reduced, the bank employees stage a walkout in the most important part of the national finance system, and a strike of Lotte Hotel unionists delivers a severe blow to its foreign image as well as national financial status. The government insists that strikers give priority to the group’s interest rather than to the public. But, how do strikers feel about it? They say that the collective actions are a just right in a democracy and they criticize the government’s methods of ending the strike by unionists at Lotte Hotel. Lotte Hotel workers have charged the police with drinking alcohol before clamping down on the protesters, some of which were pregnant women. These opposite attitudes between the two make the public even more anxious.
What are the problems? Nobody can stand to be treated discriminately. The value system of society must be fair. The reason that the public resents that sons of a member of the National Assembly are exempted from military service and performers enter a university as an exception is the inequality. As an example, the government acted unfairly in using force against hotel workers fighting for better working conditions while neglecting the strike by doctors. Lack of equality means loss of confidence. Many people accuse the government of displaying a weak image to the strong and a strong image to the weak.
The role of the government has great significance in the adjust-ment of conflicting interests and providing solutions to labor unrest. To perform that role, a rational institution is necessary, but it is more important to lead the public’s confidence on the government. If the government fails to earn people`s trust, it is not a true government.
Another problem is that many people think drastic measures are more efficient than dialogue and compromise. Dialogue and com-promise are the most important ways in decision-making in the democracy. If they are not develop-ed, it means the absence of a fair institution for establishing it in the first place. Because dialogue and compromise are impossible, the interest groups take a firm attitude whenever there is antagonism between labor and management, and later it causes labor strikes.
However great the policy may be, if there is no proper institution for supporting the policy, the policy will never succeed. In fact, with medical reforms that separate the traditional overlapping roles of doctors and pharmacists, a problem is not the policy itself, but the way it is implemented. Same with our finance policy. If a government integrates financial institutions without efficient measures, they do not get the support of bank employees regarding the policies. These policies are good-for-nothing.
Above all, the most fundamental problem is in our attitude. We support reforms, but dislike to be negatively influenced by them. Medical reforms to separate the roles of physicians and pharma-cists are aimed at preventing drug misuse and abuse among Koreans and helping the public maintain their health in the long run. The purport of the policy is good. But, the people reject it because of the inconvenience. They can not endure to be prescribed in hospital and buy the medicine in a pharmacy. In the Lotte Hotel walkout, the public did not understand their strike over wages, retirement age and the status of temporary employees. This is the opposite phenomenon compared with other developed countries. If a strike happens in other countries, they endure the inconveniences because they understand them.
What do we need now? Although the collective actions have just reasons, they are still blamed for bearing problems as we know from the doctors?strike. The public health is not something that can be taken as hostage in the contest for power. In a democracy, a collective action itself is not the problem. Rather, it can be a process for our country to advance into a better democratic country. A point that the government and strikers only agree on is that collective action is a just right in a democratic society. The problem is whether it works right or not.
But, if a collective action itself is right, the reason it has become an issue is because of its surround-ings. The government which is bound to be fairer is already reversing decisive facts, and it has no existing passages to establish dialogue between each other. And the public are sometimes critical of strikers because it is not related to their affairs.
So, improvement of the environ-ment should be the first priority. At first, dialogue is necessary in a democratic society. But, whenever a strike happens, it disappears with hostility towards each other. When the government and bank clerks first negotiated during bank strikes, bank employees said that they actually negotiated with the government for that first time. Lotte Hotel workers later negotiated with hotel management after a very long time. The most fundamental principles of the democracy are dialogue and compromise. It is counter to democracy without them.
Secondly, the government must take a consistent attitude. The doctors?walkout was blamed for the deaths of patients who were unable to obtain timely treatment. But, the government took a passive view about them and took strong measures to avert the strike at Lotte Hotel. This unfair attitude brought about public repulsion. If the government wants public support in enforcement of policy, they have to change their attitudes first.
Thirdly, the most important point is our attitude. Of course, when strikes happen, the public is very incon-venienced. If the doctors stage a strike, we can not be treated even when we are very sick, and if bus drivers stage a walkout, we can not go anywhere. But, what we accuse strikers because they have a different point of view is not right as a citizen in a democracy. As in the past, if there were no people to struggle against the dictator-ship, today’s democracy probably would not exist. Their collective actions served as a stepping-stone for a better democracy.
“The scream of the poor and have-nots is not always right. But, if you do not listen to their crying, you will not know what the eternal truth is.” Haword Jean, a pro-gressive historian of America, said, of course, it is not always right that strikers get more private interests than the public interest and unionists use violence against company executives. However, as Jean said, if we do not hear their screams, we will not know what the eternal truth is.