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Speech at the Zenroren 46th General Council Meeting

National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)

July 21, 2011

Thank you all for attending this 46th General Council meeting. In declaring the meeting open, I bring you greetings from the Zenroren Executive Committee. My particular thanks go to delegates from the prefectural federations of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, which are working hard disaster recovery, which is an extremely difficult task. Permit me to again offer my deep sympathy to disaster-struck people of these prefectures.

We are meeting today to review our activities to implement the action plans adopted by the Zenroren 25th Convention in July 2010. We then will share common understanding of the present situation surrounding workers and unions, and make necessary reinforcements to the action plan for the coming year. We will also take this opportunity to discuss and confirm the basic direction of the autumn struggle.

I would like to ask you to share deeper understanding of the four main issues.

First, Ifd like to make clear the political positions of the Cabinet of Prime Minister KAN Naoto and his Democratic Party, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party regarding post-disaster reconstruction and nuclear power generation, and union positions.

More than four months have elapsed since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit eastern Japan. More than 20,000 people died or remain unaccounted for. Many people are still forced to endure life in evacuation. People who lost their homes are moving to temporary housing. But those who have lost homes and jobs at the same time need more help from volunteers as well as national and local public assistance in order to take back normal life. No end to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant crisis is in sight. More than 20,000 residents of the exclusion zones within 20 km from the crippled nuclear power plant remain evacuated, either within or outside of Fukushima Prefecture.

picPost-disaster reconstruction includes the effort to rebuild towns with residentsf participation, secure jobs for people in the stricken areas, which are the key part of reconstruction efforts, and rebuild local towns with local autonomy at the center. However, the enacted basic law for post-disaster reconstruction is one of acceding to the demands of the business sector for ga new growth strategyh and endorsing the governmentfs reconstruction planning council, seeking to establish gspecial development zonesh to encourage corporations that would cut back local agriculture, fisheries and forestry and forcing ordinary people to pay more in taxes.

In dealing with the effort to end the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi, the government has shifted all its responsibility for the accident onto the nuclear power operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which is reluctant to change away from its built-in practice of concealing important information and to take responsibility for the disaster. The governmentfs attitude is not one of moving to rely on all knowledge and wisdom available, to bring the crisis under control. As clear from the revelation of Kyushu Electric Power Companyf e-mail scam, the business sector has been manipulating public opinion in order to resume its nuclear reactors after undergoing regular checkups. The government is also pushing for the restart by inventing a new gsafety mythh. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party continue to cling to the same gsafety mythh, just as they did when they were in power. The LDPfs secretary general even denounces the public call for breaking away from nuclear power generation as gcollective hysteria.h These partiesf position of promoting nuclear power generation is all clear.

Soon after the March 11 disaster, we began to cooperate with unions that are members of the Conference of Independent Unions and MIC Union of media, information and culture workers, in setting up a gworkersf headquartersh to organize a campaign to collect cash donations and various relief supplies. In April, we began recruiting volunteers to hold counseling sessions to help people in disaster hit areas solve their problems. We have also held actions to demand that the government take measures in response to demands for reconstruction primarily based on the needs for rebuilding survivorsf living conditions. As part of this, we have sent labor delegations to government agencies. We have fought against dismissals and other corporate abuses practiced against workers under the pretext of difficulties caused by the disaster. In this yearfs Spring Struggle, our April campaign focused on wage talks and at the same time called on workers throughout the country to demand that Prime Minister Kanfs Cabinet give up returning to the gstructural reformh policy and move to establish grules of employmenth and push for a substantial minimum wage increase. Zenroren has demanded that TEPCO pay compensation for the damage caused by the accident at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. With contamination of rice straws for beef cattle feeding spreading, we will demand that TEPCO and the government fulfill their responsibility to pay compensation for this damage as well.

Fukushima is now a focus of international attention. Germany and Switzerland decided to move away from nuclear power-dependent policy in a set time frame. In a national referendum in Italy, more than 94 percent of voters said, gNoh to the government plan to restart the countryfs nuclear power plants. Italy cannot resume nuclear power plant operation for ever. In Japan, too, public opinion is shifting in favor of reducing or abandoning nuclear power generation. In May, Zenroren published the draft gPolicy Proposal on Nuclear Power Generation,h which was approved by the Zenroren Executive Committee at its 6th meeting. It is proposing the path toward shifting away from dependence on nuclear energy to renewable energy. We would like to hear comments from union members as well as scientists in order to improve the proposal, which, we hope, will help develop a nationwide movement for gzero nuclear power.h

Secondly, as clear from discussions on post-disaster reconstruction and nuclear power plants, the business circles and large corporations are moving to impose on all sectors in stricken areas policies based on gmarket forces,h gstructural reform,h and gself-responsibility.h The task now is for us to put up major opposition to these neoliberal policies.

While a call for an early resignation of the lame duck Cabinet of Prime Minister Kan is growing, the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic and New Komeito parties increasing their moves in quest of a grand coalition. What these parties are trying to promote is a major adverse overhaul of social services, a consumption tax increase, participation in the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) free trade agreement, introduction of a gdo-shuh system to the countryfs administrative division (replacing the present 47 prefectures with fewer administrative regions), adverse revision of the electoral system, and even the adverse revision of the Constitution.

These policies are destined to be disastrous. The planned set of tax increases and cutbacks in social services will only help to increase poverty and widen income inequalities. Japanfs participation in the TPP will mean a further decline of Japanese agriculture. Deregulation of the labor laws will encourage employers to use more contingent workers and help increase the number of low-wage and disfranchised gworking poor.h Calling for the introduction of a gdo-shuh system to be gthe ultimate of structural reform policy,h the business circles are pushing for the destruction of local autonomy and cutbacks in local public services for residents.

All these are plans to destroy the peoplefs livelihoods. It is for this reason that the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, the Japan Fisheries Cooperatives, the National Federation of Forest Ownersf Cooperative Associations, and the Japan Medical Association, which have been out of our movement, are now joining forces with us in the effort to overcome the crisis. Such cooperation is spreading throughout the country, at both the national and local levels. Expectations are running high for the developing common action for gzero nuclear power plant.h

We have so far pursued the establishment of grules of employmenth a substantial minimum wage increase. We have been engaged in the movement to enact local ordinances regulating public contracts to ensure that contractorsf workers can receive adequate wages and in other tasks for the revitalization of local economies. We will cooperate with all these movements in the activity for gzero nuclear powerh through persistent discussions at the national and local levels so that we can further develop the nationwide struggle to end the crisis of the peoplefs livelihoods.

The current struggle against dismissals of former Social Insurance Agency workers and Japan Airlines workers are an important part of the struggle to stop the governmentfs plan to liberalize dismissals and to establish the airline safety and secure pension plans. These are important tasks that need to be pursued in joint struggle.

Thirdly, let me talk about how we should develop the Spring Struggle. This yearfs Spring Struggle started with our unions in the private sector expressing their determination to stop by all means the worsening of their livelihoods and to win a wage increase, which is essential for protecting peoplefs livelihoods and getting the economy moving again through expanding domestic demand. Locally, prefectural and local federations have planned to hold study meetings as well as public assemblies and organize a nationwide campaign in municipalities in order to make our struggle visible and audible.

Although wage talks were suspended due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Zenroren and the Joint Spring Struggle Committee have found that many unions, which put their energy to negotiations in April, won a little more pay raises than last year. The Japan Federation of Medical Workersf Unions (NIHON-IROREN), the All-Japan Metal and Information Machinery Workersf Unions (JMIU), Zenroren ? National Union of General Workers (Zenroren ? ZENKOKU-IPPAN) and some other private sector unions played the role of engine to win these modest gains. A bill to cut government workersf salaries is being proposed. Zenrorenfs commission on public service workers has made clear how unjustifiable it is for the government to cut salaries for public service workers under the pretext of fiscal difficulty. It has revealed adverse effects such a pay cut would have on workers in the private sector as well and on personal consumption in the country. It has also claimed how unjust it is for the government to arbitrarily cut salaries for public service employees without removing restrictions on their labor rights. The commission has contributed to having the role of public service employees recognized by the people and this has had positive impact on public opinion as well as mass media.

In the coming period, from this autumn through next spring, large corporations will intensify their bullying of subcontracting suppliers and threaten to move their plants out of the country under the pretext of avoiding adverse impacts of the strong yen. It is also likely that the government and corporations try to divide public service workers and private sector workers. At the same time, workers will become more aware that their jobs and living conditions will be so undermined that they cannot endure any longer. I also think that expectations for the trade union movement will necessarily run high. Major Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo)-affiliated federations were making concessions by refraining from demanding a wage increase and devoting themselves to in-house issues, which have nothing to do with the Spring Struggle or spring offensive as they call it. In such a situation, I think it is important for us to put forward what we almost achieved in this Spring Struggle. We must hold fast to the demands we set. We will increase intensive activities. We will continue to be aware of small- and medium-sized company workers and contingent workers as we send out our messages so that we will be able to wield influence on society in general.

Fourthly, we will pay more attention to efforts to build up the organization. Zenroren will hold the National Assembly from November 19-21 in Hamamatsu City, the first in 10 years. Attended by 800 people, the National Assembly will discuss two documents: the revised gGoal and Outlookh (draft) and midterm plan for organization buildup. We will call for these documents to be discussed by union members in preparation for the next regular convention. This yearfs survey shows a fall in Zenroren membership to 1,160,000 by 30,000 from the previous year. The discussion on the revision of the document gGoal and Outlookh will focus on what the future of the Japanese trade union movement as well as of young leaders and activists who will bear the movementfs next era, how we should increase the number of Zenroren union members and what our stance should be in engaging in the next 10 years of activities, based on what we have achieved in the past 22 years. The National Assembly will also share successful experiences in the effort to strengthen the organization. We will learn from each other about weaknesses. We will also exchange views regarding how we can persuade contingent workers throughout the country to join the union. Such views will include suggestions to Zenroren and federations. I hope that the National Assembly will use the discussion to help learn from each other and strengthen union and solidarity.

I have set forth these four issues that we need to keep in mind. By expressing hope that General Council members will take active part in the discussion, I conclude my speech.

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