The Cons Are Running the Prison: Why Is S. Korea Subsidizing Violence?

[Updated and bumped up]   To the astonishment of absolutely no one, union goons  affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions  are (yet again)  unleashing a wave of  violence:

We saw 47 arson and vandalism cases around the nation suspected to have been committed by Korea Cargo Transport Workers’ Union members,” Lee Taek-soon, head of the National Police Agency, said yesterday. “Thirteen cases were reported in North Gyeongsang province, seven in Ulsan and six in Busan.”

It would surprise me even less to see absolutely no one prosecuted.

When you  hear “union violence,” you tend to think “Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.”  And when you hear “Korean Confederation of Trade Unions,” think “North Korean ideology” and “North Korean infiltration.”  And when you hear all of those things, what a responsible government should be thinking is, “receivership.”  This is, after all, South Korea’s largest labor organization that’s fallen under the control of spies and thugs. 

Naturally, that won’t happen in South Korea’s hyperpolarized, winner-take-all political system.  Instead, the KCTU will run the streets its way until the GNP takes control, and the current ruling class flees to Pyongyang, one step ahead of the prosecutors.  A good start, however, would be for the governments that are responsible for maintaining law and order to quit giving the taxpayers’ money to groups —  such as  the KCTU — that routinely disrupt it.  That inspired idea comes from, of all places, Gwangju:

The Gwangju Metropolitan Council plans to pass an ordinance to stop providing subsidies to civic groups that have been involved in violent rallies, the first move of its kind by a municipality. It said it is unacceptable for civic organizations financed by taxpayers to stage illegal and violent protests, which inconveniencing citizens and damaging public buildings. This is the right decision to make and we hope other municipalities will take similar actions….

[K]orea’s civic groups receive 180 billion won, or $190 million, in subsidies every year from the central and local governments. That is why some criticize the civic groups, saying they serve as running dogs of the political powers. Many bogus civic groups have been said to be established to get money from the government….

I wonder if there’s a KCTU angle to this story, too:

Even pro-North Korean groups and groups that frequently stage violent protests have been receiving subsidies…. The Gwangju and South Jeolla branch office of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions staged a violent protest opposing the free trade agreement with Washington and damaged Gwangju City Hall. It was later revealed that the office of the labor union had been given 300 million won for a lease and 9.6 million won as a subsidy. It is hard to understand why the city of Gwangju gives such subsidies to a labor union.

Ah, right.  And this is not the first time we’ve heard of the ROK government supporting violent groups.  In May, the same newspaper reported that another recipient of government funds was  the “Pan South Korea Solution Committee Against U.S. Base Expansion,” an umbrella organization for the carefully organized and extremely  violent Camp Humphreys protests.  Prosecutors and investigators have since  alleged that two protest leaders (one, two)  were working for the North Koreans.  I raised the specific issue of government support to violent groups in my testimony to the House International Relations Committee, because it’s certainly not fanciful to imagine that some of that state-sponsored violence has been directed against Americans (f’rinstance, our Ambassador).

What could  possibly be dumber?  For one thing, the policy could discriminate based on viewpoint.  Next, throw in some disparate enforcement suggesting corruption and favoritism.

Recently, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs ordered local municipalities to stop providing subsidies to civic groups that oppose a free trade accord with Washington. However, it is suspicious whether this move will work because many of those at the ministry who are in charge of providing subsidies are reportedly connected with civic groups.

My own experience working in the mining industry persuaded me that honest  collective representation is good for the workers and good for democracy.  Unfortunately, as recent corruption scandals (1, 2, 3), relevations of petty  backbiting among union leaders,  and the entire fiasco of Kaesong illustrate, Korea’s unions have forgotten about representing workers’ interests.  And for all the ills of the KCTU, its competitor, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions,  does appear to be the more corrupt of the two.  If either is ever put in receivership, it will be because the Grand Nationals want to emasculate organized labor for the sake of their chaebol friends, not because anyone is actually serious about giving Korean workers a clean union.  What that means, in effect, is that Korea doesn’t get a fair labor market, it just gets one form of class warfare or another:  it’s either “man exploits man,” or the exact  opposite.