Sunday, February 24, 2008

foreign teachers in Korea mull union

With big thanks to my buddy Tom for finding this article, which deals with a steadily louder rumble in the expat community for teachers here on the peninsula to unionize.

Many foreign teachers in Korea want to form either an association or union to promote awareness and to protect themselves against unfair work practices. Their move could soon take shape as the Lee Myung-bak administration has big plans for native English speakers.

The Education Ministry and the Korea Federation of Teachers' Association also want foreign teachers to organize their own union as they have a limited budget and manpower to represent their interests. Foreign English teachers also want to clean up their distorted image here as criminal, drug using pedophiles.

I greet such news with mixed feelings: while I don't consider unions inherently evil (they have their hearts in the right place), I do think they often end up as rather creepy organizations that can often be as oppressive as the companies and/or social pressures against which they fight. "Union" can be synonymous with concepts like solidarity, loyalty, industry, and protection of rights; but they can also be synonymous with incompetence, mediocrity, greed, and stifling conformism. Many American unions strike me as examples of the good that unions can do, but when we turn our gaze to South Korea or to France, where unions are often out of control, the picture becomes far less rosy.

An expat teacher's union sounds nice in principle, but the battle to get such a union not merely established but respected will be fought uphill for a long, long time. I don't expect any such union to form in the blink of an eye, and barring some major changes in Korean attitudes toward foreigners, I don't see such a union, once established, as having much clout. Note, in the above-quoted paragraphs, that Korean teachers themselves hope that foreigners form their union on their own because "they [i.e., Korean union members] have a limited budget and manpower to represent their [i.e., foreign teachers'] interests." Message: You're on your own, Round-eye. We can't be bothered.

For the moment, then, my feeling is, "No, thanks." Ask me in a few years, once we see how well or badly the union is doing, and whether the Korean teachers have developed any sense of solidarity with the expats.


1 comment:

Charles Montgomery said...

Quite right about the double-edged sword that is the union, particularly in education. One reason I am heading to Korea to teach at a Uni (in the airport bar as I type) is that my previous job was soooo crippled by two things

1) Unions
2) Tenure

Hard workers seem to do it out of an internal engine. Lazy slobs just hide behind things..