As Ssangyong Motors dispute dies down, criticism against Lee administration heats up
Analysts say Lee administration’s approach to South Korea’s social conflict comes at a great cost
» Employees clean up the Pyeongaek plant after reaching an agreement with management on a restructuring plan for Ssangyong Motors, August 7.
The 77-day strike at Ssangyong Motors may have dramatically ended with an agreement between labor and management, but it has left a growing number of observers criticizing the Lee administration’s lack of determination and ability to mediate conflicts. Although the need for the administration to assume the role as “mediator” arbitrating in clashes of social interests has arisen with the Yongsan tragedy and other recent major conflicts, it has been difficult to detect the presence of the administration anywhere in this situation apart from the role the police force had at the Ssangyong factory.
Experts agree that the Lee Myung-bak government is paying tremendous social costs for its reluctance participate, communicate or facilitate social consensus. They are also highlighting the need for a fundamental change in the administration’s view of social conflict as an impediment to society’s development.
The Ssangyong Motors situation serves as yet another case of the administration mustering public authority to suppress the socially disadvantaged rather than to guide an agreement among the interested parties. As a result, 96 of the 458 auto workers that voluntarily turned themselves over to police Thursday night after the strike ended have not yet been released and are facing criminal charges. In response, opposition parties, and representatives of labor, civic and social groups expressed their objections at a press conference lasting all day Friday in front of the National Police Agency in Seoul’s Migeun-dong neighborhood.
“The current administration views social conflict as a stumbling block that damages their power and has a negative effect on the economy, and they are focused only on extinguishing it,” said Park Tae-soon, the head of the Institute of Social Conflict. “Their understanding of conflict is unable to keep up with social change and is consistent to that of the authoritarian administrations of the 1970s and 1980s,” Park added.
Many other observers are commenting on how the administration’s reluctance to deal with social conflict exacerbated the situation. “During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, various mechanisms for dealing with conflict were created under the banner of minimizing long-standing social conflicts, for example with nuclear waste dumps,” explained Oh Sung-kyu, the secretary general of the Citizens’ Movement for Environmental Justice. “Whatever the results, those attempts were significant in themselves, but the Lee government shuns the very idea of creating a space for communication where interested parties can express their views,” Oh continued.
During the Roh administration, the Cheong Wa Dae’s (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) Office of the Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs was in charge of social conflict, while a special committee on conflict management operated under the Korean National Commission on Sustainable Development (KNCSD). This system contributed a fair amount to the achievement of social consensus in large and small conflicts, including the Buan radioactive waste dump case in 2003, and the campaign opposing the expansion of the U.S. Army base in Pyeongtaek in 2006.
The current administration has significantly reduced the scale of the Cheong Wa Dae office to manage social conflict and maintains the KNCSD and conflict management committee only in name. An official with the Ministry of Environment referred to the KNCSD as “basically nothing but a shell now since its functions have been suspended.”
Some experts are saying the Ssangyong Motors situation has only increased negative views on the administrations’ methods of handling conflict. “In the past, when conflicts erupted in the private sector, the administration maintained a neutral stance and worked as an arbitrator, but now it just writes them off as private conflicts and takes no measures whatsoever,” said Park. “In particular, it has demonstrated the typical Lee Myung-bak labor policy view on collective actions of laborers as ‘not helpful for improving national competitiveness,’” Park noted.
Democratic Party Lawmaker Hong Young-pyo, a veteran in the labor sector, says, “In general, people begin to exercise their individual rights and social conflict becomes more frequent when the per capita income falls between 10,000 dollars and 20,000 dollars.”<--[??tense, general description or description of current phenomena?i edited both sentences]-->People in general are beginning to exercise their individual rights and social conflict is becoming more frequent as the per capita income falls between 10,000 dollars and 20,000 dollars.
“The administration needs to set resolving social conflict as a goal in how it governs and focus effort on doing so," Hong said.
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