New Call for Unity in Japan's Labour Movement

Though  Japan's government is sending its troops to join Bush's war, its long-divided labour movement is taking a big step to unite to fight the big business restructuring which plans to wipe out hundreds of thousands of jobs in the immediate future, writes John Manning.

RENGO, the Japanese Confederation of labour, with over 7 million members, is affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. It was originally set up as a company union federation – a separate union for each company, co-ordinating with the management. It has now called, however, through the proclamation of its new president, for a united struggle of all  trade unions against restructuring. Meanwhile ZENROREN, the Left, working class oriented, National Confederation of Trade Unions, has embraced the call for united struggle and joined it.

On a world basis, this  is starting over where the world's trade unions were at the time of the the defeat of the Nazis, when a  World Federation of Trade Unions was formed by the unions of all the still-united victorious powers.  The destroyed trade unions of Germany, Italy and Japan, (which had not yet surrendered) were to be brought in when peace had been established and fascism rooted out.

It brings back a historical anecdote worth telling of the following year, 1946, when I, a shop steward at that time, had been fired by Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach, California. The war had ended, and the case had gone to arbitration under the union contract.

Because I had been chairman of the union committee which negotiated the contract, the first for the UAW-CIO in a major aircraft plant, the case was celebrated enough that Benjamin Aaron, later Director of Industrial Relations at UCLA, who had been chairman of the "Blue Ribbon Aircraft Panel", accepted as arbitrator.

In the course of the hearing, because we had all  known each other and worked together during the long negotiations and after, the company's personnel managers, the union side and the arbitrator all had lunch together.

Aaron had just come from representing the American government in Japan, where democracy was being instituted by the victorious U.S., and he told a story about the new unions in Japan which he found very interesting.  He said they were terribly short of everything and needed every scrap of production. So, when the workers went on strike, they didn't stop work  -  instead, they sent the management home to show they could do it better without them.  The expression of horror on the faces of the Douglas personnel men at the story gave me a hope that I might win the case.

(I did.  But the company had another answer.  The eliminated the entire department in which I worked, so, though I had "super seniority" as a steward, there was no department to have seniority in and I was returned to work, but laid off the next day.)

From that great beginning of democracy in Japan, which was just bursting out after the long bloody and brutal dictatorship, the now-ruling U S rapidly decided that proclaiming it was all right, but it didn't want that much democracy in any way.  With the Korean war, for which Japan served as the main US base, supreme commander and administrator General MacArthur purged the parliament.  The monopolists and military were  restored to power, and the trade unions  started on their long journey to the Right.

However, unlike the United States, where the rank and file controlled unions were wiped out as being "communist-dominated in the Cold War with only UE, (United Electrical Workers) and, to a certain extent, the ILWU, surviving, the Left union in Japan survived.  And when, during I believe the administration of US President Carter, the Japanese unions were marshalled into the frankly company-centred RENGO federation as Japan's great  business expansion gathered force, the resisting, rank and file unions held on, survived, formed a federation, ZENROREN, and by now are exerting great influence.

What this new development means for world labour unity remains to be seen. Akahata, the daily paper of the Japanese Communist Party, reported the matter as follows:

Zenroren welcomes Rengo's call for joint struggle on job question

The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) leadership has officially welcomed the call of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the other national trade union centre, for joint struggle for jobs.

Stressing that "all unions should work to arouse a major firestorm of struggles against unemployment and for job creation and relief measures for the unemployed," the Rengo resolution called on "all unions to further coordinate activities in the effort to face up to the challenges."

In response, Zenroren decided to welcome Rengo's call on all unions for a common struggle on the issue of employment, saying that the task now is for all unions …to do all they can to help alleviate workers' worries about losing jobs and job security.

Read the full report, as well as more latest news from Japan, at