National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) on November 20 celebrated its 20th founding anniversary. The following is Chairman's address.
ADDRESS OF THE CHAIRMAN OF ZENROREN
ON THE OCCASION OF ITS 20th ANNIVERSARYiNovember@QOOXj
Delivered on November 20, 2009
Let me begin by extending my heartfelt thanks to all the participants in this celebration of the 20th anniversary of Zenroren, in particular the representatives of Zenroren's sectoral federations and local unions as well as our esteemed senior brothers and sisters who contributed in the founding of Zenroren and in carrying forward our movement in its earlier days.
As you know, Zenroren was established on November 21st, 1989. It was the period when the world was witnessing the end of the Cold War following the Tiananmen Incident in China, the fall of Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union. It was the time when "victory of capitalism" was proclaimed and the U.S. unilateralist hegemony was becoming obvious in many areas. Japan was then at the height of bubble economy and the government and business and financial circles adopted an attitude to disregard the presence of "Zenroren- a militant trade union national center".
During the 1980s, the period immediately preceding Zenroren's founding, the government and business circles put into practice two major strategies aimed at ensuring their arbitrary rule: strategy of "dividing the progressive camp" and that of promoting the rightward turn of the labor front. Seeing the preparations going on to form a new trade union national center that would become "Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation)" by merger/absorption with Sohyo, our predecessors vigorously deployed the activities of "Toitsu-rosokon" or the "Conference of Trade Unions for the Promotion of a United Front" for the transmission of the militant tradition of trade union movement in postwar Japan. They were determined to build their own national center on the basis of industry-based federations and local unions that rallied within Toitsu-rosokon, all of them adhered to the three guiding principles: "independence from capital", "independence from any political party" and "unity of action for meeting common demands". Zenroren thus came into existence as a militant national center bringing together sectoral federations and local unions and representing the unity of all working men and women.
For almost twenty years since then, with the Cold War definitely over, neo-liberalism has prevailed in Japan and the rest of the world. Society of competition obeying the law of market and "structural reform" policies were actively promoted. It was the return of savage capitalism with uncontrolled and accelerated accumulation of capital that soon created serious contradictions in the livelihoods of workers and peoples around the world. However, the law that "contradiction creates new developments" was still valid.
Today, twenty years later, the inherent failure of neo-liberalism has become obvious through the financial and economic crisis and we are entering a new era of revival. In South American continent, countries have grown out of their dependence on the U.S. and chosen true democratic political system in which the people are sovereign. In the U.S., Obama administration was born and is now trying to restore national economy for the sake of people's living by making the rich make contribution proportionally to the wealth they possess while reducing tax on workers and establishing a public insurance system. It has also called on the world to get rid of nuclear weapons. The countries of the European Union and China are headed to an economic recovery relying on domestic demand while in Japan, through a general election, the people made a historic decision to drive the successive LDP-Komei coalition governments out of power.
During the whole postwar period, the Japanese labor movement was focused on defending and improving lifetime employment system, seniority-based salary schemes and fringe benefits at each enterprise level. Its efforts for getting shorter working time, for the establishment minimum wage system, for better social security and for organizing have been insufficient. Zenroren is trying to catch up on its struggles in these areas and, although it is still halfway, we can already feel that our actions are producing some positive changes.
In the context of neo-liberal globalization added to the attack of labor cost reduction conducted by business circles and big corporations on the pretext of "enhancement of international competitiveness", we have been witnessing the development of result-based or performance-based personnel management and increasing replacement of regular workers with precarious workers. As it is getting more and more difficult to set quotations for pay rises in the traditional spring salary offensive or shunto due to wide introduction of performance-based or result-based pay in each enterprise, Zenroren and National Shunto Coordination have given priority to minimum wage raise. Aggressive total labor cost cutting policy pursued by business circles has resulted in an extensive shrinking of fringe benefits at each corporate level including corporate pension schemes and health care insurance. This is happening in parallel with disastrous reforms in the national social security system implemented by the successive governments that ties active workers to a financially very fragile system without any allotment of public funding.
Despite these negative developments, we see some qualitative changes happening in the traditional labor movement that used to be "enterprise-centered" and focused on "regular" "male" workers. In fact, as the number of precarious workers continues to grow to exceed 1.7 million today, the increasing "working poor" has become a major problem of society. In addition to this, since autumn last year, big corporations have proceeded with massive dismissals of "temporary" and "definite-term contract" factory workers. This in turn has led to the development of public opinion that calls the social responsibility of these corporations into question. Also, dismissed workers have established new unions or joined existing unions, and Zenroren, its sectoral federations and local structures that have not spared assistance to them. Zenroren has rapidly gained their confidence and enjoys now a strengthened visibility among these workers and their unions as their expectations workers grow.
For Japan whose economy, heavily dependent on foreign demand and driven by export of goods of big car and electric machinery manufacturers, has evidently come to an impasse, it is necessary to facilitate an economic recovery by relying more on domestic demand and building a sustainable society. The negative impact of "structural reform" policy has aggravated poverty and widened the social gap, seriously affecting people's living and economic activities at local level. It is therefore urgent to solve these problems and try to drastically redress our country's economy.
Today, as we have succeeded in making the LDP-Komei coalition step down from power and when the Japanese people have began seeking for a new political process, the labor movement must take the lead in resolving the most urgent and most difficult problems facing workers and the people.
For this, it is essential to establish the "rules of work" and achieve an "economic society that obey the rules" to extend and improve social security including old age pension, health care and nursing care insurances, education and training. We must squarely face the deplorable realities of working people characterized by unpaid overtime work, premature deaths due to overwork (karoshi), extensive sexual and power harassments, problems of mental health, unfair discrimination and dismissals etc. and work seriously to eliminate poverty and social gap by achieving immediate tasks including a drastic revision of the temporary employment law, substantial improvement of the minimum wage system, abolition of the "late-old age health care insurance" and the "law on the support for self-reliance of the disabled", free education, establishment of national minimum-guaranteed pension system, enactment and implementation of the law and bylaws on public contract allotting an adequate fund to labor cost.
With more than a half of working women and young workers being reduced to precarious employment situations, neither Japanese society nor labor movement can envisage a bright future without organizing precarious workers and getting their demands met. It is therefore important for us to create a irreversible dynamic in our society to observe the ILO standards and the Japanese Constitution and to guarantee all labor rights to each worker to avoid the imposition of any precarious employment contract.
In order to establish a domestic demand-driven economy, Zenroren can lead the movement and public opinion in the areas such as administrative and public services, education, health, nursing, food and agriculture. In fact these are the areas in which Zenroren, its federations and local unions, if they join their efforts, have the potential to realize their demands and extend their influence.
As the rate of unionization has gone down below 19 percent in Japan, Zenroren that has since its founding endeavored for organizational strengthening and expansion of the sphere of its influence, has not yet succeeded in recovering the membership recorded at its peak.
However, Zenroren with its federations and local unions stand strong protecting jobs and rights of workers against big corporate high-handed activities and fighting social injustice and violation of rights, as the heir of the spirited tradition of defending the living of workers and the people and preserving peace.
As mentioned in its "Action Program for a bright future" adopted at its founding congress as well as "Our Objectives and Vision at the Beginning of the 21rst Century", it becomes increasingly important for Zenroren to play the role of driving force and "mother body for the formation of a Japanese united labor front".
We must live up to the growing expectations people have for Zenroren and its strengthened visibility by redoubling our efforts for getting workers' demands met and ensuring the development of our society. For this, we must resolve to vigorously deploy our organizing campaign in the coming days and months to make our organization much stronger.
We can grow big and strong when we share the joy of "achieving our demands and moving our society" and thus "living more humanely and together with others" through the labor movement. Zenroren's movement will be revitalized when innumerable groups of people sharing this joy are created and begin acting relying on their knowledge.
In concluding, I wish to renew our resolve that we will remain high-spirited as members of the labor movement that creates the history of the 21rst century and that we will be able to take up our social responsibility of ensuring peace and human rights blooming in Japan.