Monday, January 13, 2014

"I'm Not Fine" Movement: The Privatization of Korail

In order to find more information about the "I'm Not Fine" (안녕들하십니까) Movement I left an English comment on the completely Korean Facebook page hoping someone who knew enough English would bite. My informant was Gyuwan Lim. A high school student from Busan who goes to school in the US and responded eloquently about what he believes was the initial cause of the movement - The Korail Strikes - and why they happened. 

What is the "I'm Not Fine" Movement? Read the letter that started it all

Gyuwan Lim: 
First I’d like to thank you for taking interest in our country’s current events. I will try to explain as neutrally as possible the situation without taking any sides. As a personal speculation, I think the igniter of this whole hullabaloo was probably the matter of privatization. Obviously, as is in most countries, the rail way business is a government owned corporation. However, it seems that the government is trying to privatize a rail line, but the labor union is opposing this. The following reasons are why the government wishes to privatize:
  1. The more a ‘business’ is prosperous, the more competition there will be to get a hold of that business. The government will try to hand the ‘business’ off to the company that will run it best, and naturally the business will advance. In our case this ‘business’ is the rail way company. 
  2. However, the rail way has a relatively small net profit compared to its size therefore a deficit exists. The deficit is currently being made up for by taxes since the government owns it. If the rail way were to be privatized, the government could reduce spending.
Now, here are the reasons people oppose privatization:
  1. The government and privately owned companies are totally different bodies. The government exists for the good of the people, but private companies exist for profit. Therefore, it is very likely that the railway fees will go up. As I mentioned before, the railway has a deficit. The only reason fees were not raised was for the citizens, but the private companies have no incentive to continue this. They need to make a profit, and it’s only natural for them to. Also, rail way lines that are in rural areas and are not as often used may be abandoned. What would any company in their right mind do if the cost to run a line were greater than the profit it brought the company? Discontinue running it.
  2. Of course not all the people that oppose it go against privatization for reasons mentioned above. The employees of Korail are fighting for the source of their bread and butter. Employees of government owned companies are not often laid off, and their salaries are relatively high compared to private company employees. From their point of view, they benefit much more from working for a government corporation than a private one. Not only that, if the private company takes over, there is no guarantee that some employees will retain their jobs.
What we must take note is that the government later on revealed that it would not privatize. Even so, the reason as to why the disorder continues is because the government announced that it would not privatize, but would establish a subsidiary company for Korail to run the rail way. Some people argue that this is essentially the same thing as privatization because there is much initial investment needed in creating this new subsidiary company. Since this initial investment is so colossal, it is impossible to make up for this expenditure solely through the income provided by the rail way itself. Therefore, the new company must make up for this hole using its own capital assets. What happens if the company is unable to make up the missing money? Without government support it’ll go bankrupt.

People oppose the creation of a subsidiary company because Korail will most likely not be able to support this initial investment, for it does not hold sufficient funds. Korail will then hand the business over to another company that does have enough assets to manage the initial investment, which is still privatization.

This is what I currently know and can tell you with certainty. I currently live in the United States, so I can’t tell you how things are faring in Korea on site, but Korea has long been stained with the ideal that those with power can do anything they want. The wealthy have always been on top of the impoverished, and from what I can tell by the looks of things online, the government is most likely playing the press and media, making fools of the people. I hope this somewhat makes sense, and furthers your interest in Korea.

Rail workers strike at a Seoul railway station on December 9, 2013.
Do you have information or opinions on the "I'm Not Fine" Movement? Contact us through our new Facebook page

The "I'm Not Fine" Movement Series:
   Part 1: The Letter
   Part 2: The Privatization of Korail
   Part 3: President Park Geun-hye's Election Scandal

   Part 4: The Self-Immolation of Jeon Tae-il


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