Samsung has not allowed any form of union under its roof for 81 years ever since its establishment. It is Samsung's so-called "No Union" policy. Though it may have been strict and somewhat oppressive to a certain extent, nobody doubts the relation between the absence of a union and Samsung's success today.
However, last December, Samsung had to abandon its long tradition of disallowing unions among its employees and usher in their establishment. It was in response to a court's decision to imprison Samsung Electronics' chairman for disrupting union formation and activities. The course Samsung shall now be traveling on is indeed without precedent for the corporation and its executives.
If Samsung could sustain its business ― or did way more than just sustaining it ― polishing it to be one of the leading and the most profitable companies in the world, one could question the effectiveness and very necessity of a union. Interesting enough, other prominent players in the business world ― such as Amazon, Google and even Apple ― pride themselves for the absence of unions. The underlying assumption or belief that the existence of major unions is a necessary condition for the well-being of a company and its workers is worth considering.
The absence of a union is not the only similarity Samsung shares with other successful global businesses. They are all desirable to many young aspiring minds seeking to develop their talents. Without a doubt they do provide the very best welfare and ethical working environments for their employees. It is more than just a huge figure on the workers' paycheck that attracts those with bright minds and in vigorous pursuit of innovation to a business. In fact, they have already achieved the ideal state that every union aims to reach: stability and assurance of a comfortable and thriving working environment. In this context, unions become obsolete. This is the very reason that Samsung and other leading enterprises could entertain their successes without them.
Samsung has already developed a good balance between management and workers for some time. The introduction of unions indeed poses a liability to the status quo. Unions function in Korean society to redeem the rights of workers and have been critical in the process of modernization. Nevertheless, the unions of late have been transformed into something more than they need to be.
The term "labor aristocrats" which is intended to scorn unions demanding far beyond what they deserve is now commonly used by the public. The paralysis of normal and functional businesses and violent protests are no hard feat to observe in today's Korean society. Each and every business is set on a unique corporate culture that has grown and been maintained through the test of time. The external influences of an extreme union movement might just be a wrecking ball that demolishes the achievements so far.
No worker wants their workplace turned into a political battleground. It is optimal for the employees to bring betterment by and for themselves, not an organization with a masked agenda and separate interests. Samsung has been under a virtuous cycle between the employees and company without a union. Employees brought results and advancements for their workplace, while the executives guaranteed a better working environments and welfare for the employees.
The formation of a Samsung employee union might trigger a break in this cycle and set the stage for conflicts and arguments rather than promoting gentle negotiations and a spirit of mutual benefit. An annual labor strike at Hyundai Motors held every August might well be the scene that Samsung will have to experience in the near future.
With more labor-friendly policies backing up strong unions, businesses are pressured to move out of the country in search of freer and more business-friendly environments. It is not only the case of employees who want a better environment. It is a matter of creating free and amicable room for interested parties to form trust between themselves and build towards a mutually beneficial relationship between them. It cannot be forced nor should it be led by any other external influence such as the government or politically-motivated union.
The loss that lack of trust will bring to the market shall be left for the people and employees to deal with. The figure Samsung takes up in the Korean stock market is huge, not to mention the significance it carries as a leading global enterprise. Any damage Samsung sustains from the extremes of unionism will be a fall Korea and its people have to take.
Samsung has managed to overcome many obstacles and dangers wisely and innovatively in the past. Belief that Samsung handles problems and performs administration differently is probably the only account that its stockholders and employees can rely on. Very best hopes are on the new era of Samsung with a union.
Choi Sung-no is president of the Center for Free Enterprise.
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