<People’s Spring Struggle 2011, News 3>
Zenroren President Daikoku Sakuji’s speech at the assembly to discuss 2011 Spring Struggle
Permit me to speak at the opening of this assembly on behalf of the standing executive committee of the Joint Spring Struggle Committee.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Kan Naoto has already reached an impasse, both domestically and externally, after the resignation of Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru and a motion of censure against Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, which has made the prospects of the supplementary budget bill uncertain. Depending on the outcome of the gubernatorial election in Okinawa on November 28, the political situation may become more unsettled.
Uncertainty about the Japanese economy is exacerbating due to the rising value of the yen, which is raising the fear that large exporters may relocate their production sites to other countries and accelerate Japan’s deindustrialization. With the depreciation of the dollar and the euro continuing mainly due to the economic downturn in the United States and Europe, it is said that the yen is seen relatively stable, prompting speculative investors to take shelter in Japan.
The main reason for the “strong yen” lies in the fact that large corporations’ authoritarianism goes unquestioned for the sake of the need to increase international competitiveness. In fact, the value of the yen continues to be over evaluated because larger corporations are cutting as much cost as possible through dismissals and cuts in unit prices paid to suppliers as well as through cutting wages for full-time regular employees and carrying out layoffs of contingent workers.
A recent National Tax Agency survey shows that the average annual income for private sector workers was 4.05 million yen in 2009, down 237,000 yen from the previous year, and 620,000 yen from 10 years ago. The total amount of the nation’s salaries decreased 30 trillion yen to 192 trillion yen. A decline in personal consumption is delaying economic recovery.
After the 2008 financial meltdown in the wake of the failure of Lehman Brothers, the Japanese economy’s excessively heavy dependence on exports became clearer. But the call for the nation’s economy to be led by domestic demand was heard only for a brief period. The government and business leaders have continued the policy of depending on foreign demand by taking advantage of growing demand from developing countries, instead of taking steps to boost domestic demand. This approach will inevitably lead to a vicious circle: the strong yen prompts companies to seek to increase their international competitiveness by cutting as much cost as possible, which in turn will keep the strong yen. What is more, those large corporations capitalized at 100 billion yen or more have been successful. In the past year, large exporters, mainly automakers and electronics makers, have increased their net profit gains to 7 trillion yen from 4 trillion yen, allowing them to increase their internal reserves to 244 trillion from 233 trillion yen. They have 52 trillion yen in cash reserves, but they have no idea as to how to use their extraordinary surplus money.
Recently, “Nikkei Veritas” in its October 17 issue pointed out that the huge amounts of fund that corporations have amassed are not to be used to create more job opportunities and that if the 203 trillion yen was used it would have an immeasurable impact on the economy. In the October 26 issue of the Japanese weekly “Economist,” chief economist at Japan Technical Information Service Corporation (JATIS) Kitai Yoshihisa said that the current deflationary spiral, the widening income disparities, the downturn in consumption, the strong yen and the growing fiscal deficit are caused by stagnant wages. If Japan’s good economic health is to be recovered, the need is to follow a midterm economic policy of raising wages in a moderate process at its center. An effort is beginning to explore ways to put an end to the economic anomalies that have hampered the nation’s economic growth for more than 10 years.
In the 2011 Spring Struggle we are called upon to concentrate our energy to win wage increases with the determination to resolve the contradictions which I have referred to and achieve economic recovery. The Cabinet of Prime Minister Kan Naoto has neglected to have the Diet deliberate the bill to revise the Worker Dispatch Law, which had been carried over from the previous session. He instead abruptly announced that his government will begin discussing Japan’s participation in the “free trade” pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Participating in this multinational trade pact will not only lead to a collapse of Japanese agriculture but also affect all areas of the nation’s economy. It is estimated to cause a loss of 3.4 million jobs as well as enormous damage to local economies. Knowing this, Prime Minister Kan is trying to push ahead with Japan’s entry into the pact saying Japan’s opening is called for. But it will only ensure that large exporters can add to their profits.
Business leaders are continuing to use the call for Japan’s businesses to increase their international competitiveness to justify their cost-cutting strategy that includes cutbacks in wages. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) has called for wages levels to be recovered in the next year’s spring offensive. But most Rengo unions at major companies will only call for the maintenance of automatic annual wage increases without demanding an increase in the basic pay. It also says it would welcome Japan’s participation in TPP. How can capitulation to large corporations’ authoritarianism help to improve the Japanese economy? No matter how much internal reserves the large corporations may amass, that will be of no use to the Japanese economy.
We will never be victorious in the 2011 Spring Struggle to achieve economic recovery and expansion of employment if we do not speak up. The G20 summit in Seoul adopted a direction that called for a review of the economy that depends on exports and for an economy to be led by an increase in domestic demand. In France, workers’ strike in opposition to the adverse revision of the pension system gets wide ranging public support. No time must be wasted to recover the economy.
Let us develop a struggle extensively to win economic recovery through a wage increase; let us realize our demands for job security and shorter work day.
Another point that features the 2011 Spring Struggle is attack from the government and the financial circles. They are intent on carrying out what they call “reform centering on local sovereign power” and a cut in labor cost in the public sector, by trying to pit public employees against private sector workers. The government is going to draft a bill to cut personnel cost in exchange for restoring some of the basic labor rights for public service employees. However, this is nothing but an attempt to build a bridgehead to introduction of a “do-shu system,” a new administrative division system in which the country consists of several provinces that are larger than the present prefectures. In order to justify their call for the introduction of the do-shu system, the government is exaggerating the vice of duplication of national and local administrations and calling for administrative reform to establish what they call “regional sovereignty.” However, the government is trying to use this “reform” to have local governments pay for various services that ought to be undertaken by the national government and that without any financial guarantee. It is trying to force local residents to choose between two ways: agreeing to pay additional costs for services, or privatizing local government services. Such a direction will only devastate the national land, undermine the minimum standard of living, increase working poor, allow the government to abandon its responsibility, strengthen the principle that recipients of services must pay for them, and cut back various resident services. In other word, it is a framework for a second “deregulation”.
In countering these attacks, public and private sector workers must join forces to debunk the true aim of the government and business circles. We will work together on a survey on small- and medium-sized businesses and in the effort to win a bottom-up of wages, establish minimum standards for wages and working conditions for workers at public contractors, engage in various activities to revitalize local economies, and make efforts with various organizations to prevent Japan from participating in TPP. We will carry out these activities in a way the general public can hear and see what we are doing.
The next simultaneous local elections will be held in April, in which we will explore the way for regional economic revitalization as well as for the defense of local residents’ welfare and living standards. Our main slogan in the Spring Struggle is “Pay raise and job security for all workers and economic recovery driven by domestic demand.” While putting forward these slogans, we will work to expand the common struggle for the defense of livelihoods. The immediate task is for us to participate in the electoral struggle for the establishment of local self-government.
In the 2011 Spring Struggle, this joint committee will demand a wage increase, including the minimum wage, and work to revitalize local economies. We are called upon to tackle these tasks with firm determination to stop the authoritarianism of large corporations and business circles, because, without this, we cannot get out of the misgovernment and unbearable hardships. We cannot fail to win. This is the position from which we will urge the Kan government to protect the people’s livelihoods and peace. I want to conclude my statement by asking you to take active part in discussion in this assembly and make it an opportunity for us to increase our influence and presence.