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Zenroren 26th Convention

Opening Speech
National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)

July 29, 2012

photoAs we start the National Confederation of Trade Union (Zenroren) 26th Convention, I bring greetings on behalf of the Zenroren Executive Committee. We have three tasks to fulfill in this Convention.

First, we will set forth Zenrorenfs position regarding what role it should play in the struggle to stop the recklessness of Prime Minister NODA Yoshihikofs government. In the beginning, the Democratic Party governmentfs policies have neoliberal aspects. The Noda Cabinet is very adamant in further promoting the so-called gstructural reformh policies. This year he has made clear that he is intent on raising the consumption tax rate at all cost. He has forced through the adverse tax and social security reforms and the restart of nuclear power reactors that had been under suspension for regular check-ups. It is reported that he will announce Japanfs participation in TPP free trade talks.

With discussion on the adverse reform bills underway in the House of Councilors, the rationale that the government has given for justifying the pretext of a consumption tax increase to fund social services is proven to be completely groundless. It has become clearer that the so-called gagreementh reached by three parties (the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic and New Komeito parties) is about restoring wasteful large-scale public works projects under the cover of gdisaster preventionh and that the public will be forced to accept cutbacks in social services.

Regarding the restart of nuclear reactors, people from the metropolitan areas, united in opposition to nuclear power, are holding protest action every Friday in front of the Prime Ministerfs Official Residence with hundreds of thousands of ordinary people shouting: gWe are against the restart,h and gEliminate nuclear power plants.h Today is Friday. The National Liaison Council for Doing Away with Nuclear Power Generation (in which Zenroren is in charge of the secretariat), as part of the organizers, is calling for participating in the demonstration and encirclement of the Diet. Like the gArab Springh and gWe Are the 99 percenth movements, activities asserting direct democracy are developing in Japan. These activities, which embrace any citizens, are taking place in front of the head offices of the electric power companies. I believe that these activities will continue to grow.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has submitted to the Nuclear Safety Commission a report on gstress testh (safety assessment) for 22 reactors at the nationfs nuclear power plants, including Hokkaido Electric Power Companyfs Tomari and Shikoku Electric Power Companyfs Ikata. Given two reactors at the Ohi nuclear power plant (Fukui) are already in operation, it will not be difficult to predict that the Noda Cabinet would give the green light to the remaining 20 reactors upon receiving a report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But many participants in the protests are determined to continue their action until the government totally gives up their restart. Foreign media have reported about Zenrorenfs involvement in these protests. I think these protests are the real manifestation of peoplefs anger.

There are rumors that Prime Minister Noda is going to announce Japanfs participation in TPP free trade talks as early as late August. The struggle against participation in the TPP is growing with the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, the Japan Medical Association and other influential public organizations joining. In fact it is widely pointed out that participation in the TPP would only lead to a collapse of Japanfs agriculture and would undermine the countryfs gfood sovereigntyh and that the government is too weak-kneed in the face of U.S. pressure to liberalize the Japanese markets of medical services, insurance, and finance, which are all deeply connected with peoplefs livelihoods. The planned deployment of tilt-rotor gOspreyh aircraft to Japan is also a matter of serious concern. Opposition to the deployment is growing nationwide as well as in regions near the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture and the U.S. Marine Corps Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture, as local municipalities point to the danger of low-altitude flight training exercises planned in seven training areas and express concerns about sonic booms that Ospreys would cause during their training exercises.

Zenroren is deeply involved in these nationwide struggles. It is called upon to play its role as a national center that coordinates the various activities and held develop them into common actions on single issues and into multilayered common action for various demands. Participants in these actions are directing their anger not only at the Noda Cabinet, but the 3-party coalition (of the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal democratic and New Komeito parties) and the financial circles. Peoplefs protests are so strong that some members of the Diet are expressing fears by saying, gWe must not take a light view of the protesters to avoid disastrous consequences.h

We should make our voices of anger heard by them. We will do all we can to stop the government from continuing the recklessness of disregarding the public interests.

Second, we must explore ways to give the labor movement full play in national and local policies in the face of the serious violations of workersf rights and the labor market collapse. The high-handedness of financial circles and large corporations is now so conspicuous. They are trying to establish mechanisms to even more blatantly promote the policy of deregulation and structural reform. In March, the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic and New Komeito parties coalesced to adversely revise the Worker Dispatching Act, a law regulating the use of temporary agency workers. Most recently, a labor contract bill was approved by the House of Representatives. The bill, if enacted, would enable the employer to terminate labor contracts on short notice instead of guaranteeing permanent employment for workers after five years of fixed term contract work. A National Policy Unit meeting on July 11 approved a workshop report that defined fixed term employment as the main form of employment. The Noda Cabinet has thrown away the principle that workers should be employed basically as gfulltimeh. The number of workers on casual employment has reached 18 million. The number of workers classified as working poor has exceeded 1.1 million. The income gap between rich and poor is widening and is becoming increasingly serious. The government and business leaders argue for glabor market flexibility to be made easier by fixed-term contract of employment, but we need what is contrary to this. We are demanding permanent that full time employment be basically the normal form of employment that can guarantee wages for workers to support their living as well as human rights. We must fight to ensure that more and more workers are treated this way.

Recently, unjust decisions have been made by courts on a series of lawsuits filed by workers against major corporations, including Nissan and Isuzu, over unilateral termination of contracts with temporary agency workers and against Japan Airlines over illegal dismissals. The assessment of the former Social Insurance Agencyfs dismissals is at a critical stage. We attach importance to court struggles. We should further strengthen nationwide support for and solidarity with the plaintiffs in these struggles. We will continue to increase support for workers in all labor disputes by revealing the fact that these dismissals are being encouraged and supported by the government and the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), which are aiming to abolish the principle that jobs must be secured until retirement and to make fixed-term employment the main form of employment. The Japan Federation of National Public Service Employeesf Unions (Kokko-roren) has filed a lawsuit over pay cuts for government workers. In Kanagawa Prefecture, unions have filed a lawsuit over the minimum wage. We will seize every possible opportunity to expose low wages that are too inadequate to support descent lives and illegal dismissals that will pave the way for forcing the workers to endure low wages and keeping them disfranchised. We will also step up the struggle to win an increase in wages, including the minimum wage, and achieve equal treatment of all workers.

On July 25, the Central Minimum Wage Council recommended a seven yen increase in the national benchmark for regional minimum wages to 744 yen, which is extremely inadequate. We must intensify regional struggles for a substantial increase in minimum wages, keeping in mind that the need now is to increase public support for the goal of raising the minim wage to be raised to 1,000 yen per hour at the earliest possible time in line with the agreement reached two years ago between the government, labor and the business sector.

In the recent years a movement began in Noda City (Chiba Prefecture) and spread to the Tokyo metropolitan areas to demand fair wages for workers in public contracts. It is important to further develop this movement, along with the movement for a sharp increase in the minimum wage, to create jobs, revitalize regional economies and ensure wages that support decent livelihoods and the workersf rights. Another national trade union center Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) is openly calling for the promotion of the governmentfs gsocial security and tax reformh policy and is even supporting the restart of nuclear reactors after temporary suspension for regular check-ups. This is how Rengo is exposing the weakness of company unionism. This is why many people point out that Rengo is incapable of exerting power to defend workersf living conditions and improve their working conditions.

We will continue to develop the gMajor Effort to Make Our Society Secure and Safeh on two fronts. One is that we lead a struggle in solidarity with the citizensf movement, which is growing more rapidly than ever, for the common national demands.
The other is that we make efforts to further develop the labor movement by joining forces in the struggle to solve the problems of increasing poverty and widening income gaps and the labor market collapse and fight labor rights violations, while advancing wage increase and other demands.

Thirdly, I want to emphasize that these efforts can only be developed if the organization strength of Zenroren improves, for which a education and study movement is essential. With this in mind, we will propose a new plan and collection of monetary contribution by member unions.

Zenroren is 1.14 million strong at present. Due to massive retirement of baby boomers, its membership will decrease by nearly 20,000. At the same time, however, we have organized more than 100,000 new members, the highest ever, thanks to the strenuous efforts by industrial federations and regional federations. We must continue to give greater impetus to the effort to achieve a net increase in our membership and the goal of 1.5 million as set forth in the interim plan.

What is the condition and possibility for achieving the goal? In the g2011 National Assemblyh last autumn, we put forward 4 major challenges: (1) Expose the real situation of gpoverty and income gapsh among workers and the people; (2) win a wage increase and a substantial lift of the minimum wage focusing on the most needy workers; (3) win visible results in the effort to spread the gpublic contract ordinanceh throughout the country; and (4) demand the government establish institutions that ensure job creation and job security, which are essential for leading a life with human dignity. We have confirmed that we will have dialogue with as many workers as possible so that we can accumulate joint action from the grassroots level up.

We will increase solidarity with various social movements and spare no efforts to help in the growth of the next generation in the struggle to establish employment rules as well as in labor talks in the Spring Struggle, by paying greater attention to the importance of organization build-up.

The March 11 disaster and the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have provided a chance to think again about a society that we need. Major changes are taking place as many more workers are rising in direct action. Zenroren has even greater role to play in the quest of national common action for better living conditions and peace. We should do our utmost with truly worthy objectives.

Finally, let me touch upon the next House of Representatives general election and the House of Councilors election during the next two years. Two years later, the nation-wide local elections will be held. Mass media are fussing over the virtual coalition of the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic and New Komeito parties, emerging political parties as well as the Ishin no Kai (One Oksaka) political group, but we will not be able to envisage a path to defend peoplefs livelihoods and peace in a secure and safe society unless Japan breaks with subservience to the financial circles and the United States in dealing with the immediate issues such as tax increases, adverse social security greformsh, the restart of nuclear reactors, Japanfs participation in TPP talks, and the deployment of Ospreys.

We shall work hard to expand the movement and common action for a Japan that puts emphasis on the issues of employment and social services as well as the establishment of employment rules, which should be guided by the Constitution.

I ask all delegates to this Convention to stand for the founding principles of Zenroren, which came into being to create a bright future full of hopes, and take active part in discussions and create a new leadership.

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