We set People’s Spring Struggle 2015 in motion as the country is at a crossroads
INOUE Hisashi, Secretary General
The People’s Spring Struggle 2015 is about to start. It is going to be waged at a time when the country is at a crossroads over the fate of the Constitution, which has an important bearing on all working people’s livelihoods and the future of Japanese society.
We are called upon to fight to stop the runaway politics of the administration led by Prime Minister ABE Shinzo, who is pursuing the way to gut the constitutional principles. We do so because we must protect the working people’s livelihoods, thwart any attempts to turn Japan into a country that wages war, and help revitalize the Japanese working people and society.
Twenty-five years have passed since the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) was founded amid the reorganization of the Japanese labor front. The Joint People’s Spring Struggle Committee and Zenroren are aiming to win more friends over to our ranks and broaden cooperation with a view to helping the labor movement register new advances.
Falling real wages and worsening livelihoods
The Spring Struggle 2015 will be waged amid inflation instead of deflation.
Price increases caused by the weakening yen and the increased consumption tax rate have held down workers’ real wages for 14 straight months, down more than 3 percentage points from a year earlier. With income inequality widening and poverty increasing, working people are experiencing greater hardships.
The Bank of Japan on October 2 published the diffusion index of business confidence, which stood at minus 20.4. The figured worsened by 10.4 points from the previous survey in June. The percentage of respondents who said they are worse off from a year earlier stood at 48.5, up 4.8 points from June, and up 10.4 points from March. 66.2 percent of the respondents said they are worse off because of price rises, and 47.5 percent cited falls in salaries or sales as reasons of their feeling they are worse off.
No matter how well the Abe administration explains that Abenomics is successful, working people are feeling they are worse off.
In the upcoming Spring Struggle unions are tasked primarily to win a substantial wage increase and stop real wages from falling further, improve the working people’s livelihoods, and to change society into one that enables working people to enjoy life with human dignity.
We are called upon to demand a substantial wage increase for the sake of economic revitalization and use the Spring Struggle in the workers’ interest.
The Joint People’s Spring Struggle Committee and Zenroren are determined to fight to win a substantial pay raise by putting forwards demands based on a survey we have conducted among workers and in line with the principle that wages must be able to cover the cost of living and by taking into account the recent price increases and the consumption tax increase.
Widening income gaps and the importance of winning a raise for low-paid workers
The income inequality is still widening and poverty increasing.
According to a National Tax Agency survey on private sector salaries for 2013, the average of salaries was 4.14 million yen a year. (It is the average of salaries earned by salaried workers throughout the year.) That’s up 1.4 percent from the previous year. But the number of people who earned 110 million yen or over was 1.86 million, accounting for 4 percent of all salary earners. But the number of people with annual earnings of less than 2 million yen increased by 300 thousand to 11.2 million (accounting for 24.1 percent of all salary earners.)
Full-time permanent workers’ annual income increased by 1.2 percent to 4.73 million yen, but contingent workers’ average income fell by 0.1 percent to 1.68 million yen.
The government says job offers are increasing. But many of the jobs offered were for casual work. This does not help create more quality jobs. An increasing number of low-paid workers are enduring discriminatory wage systems and are forced to do two or even three jobs at a time. In our society it is commonplace that a worker has to work unusually long hours, from early in the morning until late at night. In these circumstances, many young people cannot afford to become independent or even to get married because they are extremely low-paid. Due to the low birthrate, Japan’s population is shrinking and aging. The future of Japan is at risk.
If a stable job market is accompanied by a wage increases for low-paid workers and by equal treatment, it will help improve working conditions for all working people to live a decent life; it is imperative to give contingent workers a significant pay raise and to narrow the gaps between local economies. This is essential for a stable local economy.
Workplaces are being devastated and rules of employment destroyed
With the job market deteriorating and growing even more unstable, the workplace is being devastated.
Overtime work without pay is prevalent. Excessively long working hours and excessively heavy workloads are the main aspects of the destruction of employment rules. Health concerns, mental illness, and power harassment are also prevalent. The number of work-related deaths in the first half of 2014 increased 19.4 percent from the same period of the previous year. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has asked business associations to carry out a full check on safety measures. It has also called for labor-management cooperation in the efforts to prevent work-related accidents. As typical in the electronics industry that carried out a 230,000 job cuts as part of what they call “corporate restructuring” efforts, massive industrial/business restructuring schemes led by large corporations are underway with arbitrary massive dismissals, termination of contracts, or forcing certain workers to quit their jobs.
But there have emerged moves to review such labor practices due to serious problems arising from the low birthrate and a shortage of labor.
Public criticism is increasingly directed at companies that have rapidly grown by making young people work at low wages and at companies that are trying to maximize their profits by forcing workers into karoshi, deaths from overwork. The government has become compelled to point to the need to strengthen measures against such abuses of workers.
A law to promote measures to prevent karoshi went into force in November. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry at last began to take measures against forcing excessively heavy workloads on workers. Small- and medium-sized businesses, local governments and the business sector are putting emphasis on the need to help young people settle in the local community as part of the effort to revitalize the local economy. This is a change that we witness today.
It is important to fight to establish rules in the workplace by eradicating violations of the Labor Standards Law, as an integral part of the struggle to stop what is known as “labor market reform”. It is particularly important to fight to shorten working hours and enforce upper limits of working hours in order to end the abnormally long working hours and heavy workloads so that both men and women can work with dignity while doing household work at the same time.
Opposition to the Abe administration’s policies being accelerated in violation of the Constitution
The second feature of the situation that has bearings on the Spring Struggle 2015 is that people’s opposition to the Abe administration’s runaway politics is spreading widely and rapidly as it gets even more reckless and that the Spring Struggle will be a fierce tug of war between labor and management.
The Abe administration is adding to the recklessness in trying to turn Japan into a country that can wage war and is committed to building a globally competitive nation that serves the interest of large global corporations at the cost of working people and local communities. These plans are aimed at transforming the nation by gutting the fundamental principles of the Constitution which stands firmly for people’s sovereignty and respect for basic human rights based on the defense of lasting peace and renunciation of war.
This is why the Abe administration is launching a total attack on people’s livelihoods the adverse labor law reforms and cutbacks in social services, education and agriculture. People’s solidarity is spreading throughout the country on an unprecedented scale.
Prime Minister Abe reshuffled his cabinet on September 3, the aim being to recover his approval rating. But soon after that, several cabinet members were revealed to have connections with ultra-rightist groups, raising concerns among the rest of Asia and the world about the Abe administration which they see as a neo-Nazi administration.
There has been one political funds scandal after another. Two cabinet members have been forced to resign and the support rate of the administration is declining.
Amid the tug of war over the Constitution, if we can force the Abe Cabinet to resign and stop the runaway politics, we will be able to take a step forward toward political change guided by the Constitution.
Attempt to turn Japan into a country that can wage war has entered a new stage
The Abe administration is getting even more reckless in pushing ahead with the plan to turn Japan into a country that can wage war side by side with the United States.
On July 1, 2013, the Cabinet decided to allow the country to exercise the right of collective self-defense. This gave rise to deep concerns and strong opposition among the people. The struggle against it has entered a new stage. After imposing a national secrets protection law and setting out to work toward the construction of a new U.S. military base off the coast of the Henoko district of Nago City, Okinawa, the Abe administration began accelerating comprehensive legislative preparations for security, including a revision to the Self-Defense Force Law.
An interim report on the revision of the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, issued on October 8, no longer uses the concept of “contingencies in areas surrounding Japan” or “logistic support.” This confirms that there are no restrictions on the July 1 cabinet decision.
I note at the same time that there are moves underway to delay the final decision of the revised “guidelines” until next spring, after the nationwide local elections are over, without the government answering the Diet and the people. How tricky they are!
While being convinced of the growth of public opinion and the movement against these moves, we must take a proactive approach instead of waiting for the next spring to come.
Taking advantage of Asahi Shimbun newspaper’s retraction of an article about wartime comfort women who were forced to serve the Japanese military men, some political forces are arguing as if there had been no facts of forcing women to serve as comfort women and are taking the offensive demanding that the “Kono statement” (*) be reconsidered. Ultra-right groups and right-wing media are increasing attacks to put Asahi Shimbun down calling for boycotting it in street campaigns and even threatening a university to not renew the contract with a former newspaper reporter for a teaching position.
(*) “Kono statement”: KONO Yohei, the Chief Cabinet Secretary at the time, announced a statement apologizing to former comfort women and acknowledged many cases of coercion in their recruitment, transfer and control. ?Translator
We will be on alert for an increasing attack on education which aims to use it as an instrument to transform Japan into a country that wages war, for infringements on the rights to freedom and democracy, and for the denial of the historical fact of Japan’s war of aggression. We must intensify our opposition to these moves by making clear that “we will stop any attempts to turn Japan into a country where people are not allowed to speak up,” and that “those who lie about history do not have future.”
Accelerated moves, including Abe administration’s “job market reform”, aimed at turning Japan into a nation that can survive global competition
Under the slogan: “Japan will become the easiest country for companies to do business”, the Abe administration is rushing to turn Japan into a country that can survive global competition with the aim of totally serving the interest of globally operating Japanese and U.S. large corporations.
In particular, the issue of labor law reforms is at a critical juncture from the autumn of 201 to the spring of 2015.
In the Extraordinary Session of the Diet (parliament) this autumn, a bill to adversely revise the Worker Dispatch Law was a major issue. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) took part in a sit-in protest in front of the Diet members’ building for the first time in 6.5 years. Labor organizations are almost unanimous in opposing the bill. Criticism has been voiced even by main stream media as “economic policy that will invite another recession.”
When the House of Representatives Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare was about to begin discussing the bill, Komeito, a junior ruling coalition partner, submitted amendments to the bill. This move apparently was prompted by the concern that the bill would evade the key principle restricting the use of temp workers to “temporary jobs,” paving the way for a situation that offers only temp jobs and no regular full time jobs and allowing the employers to make them to work at low wages and throw away any time.
“Zero overtime payments” is not the only problem. The government’s panel on labor policy is also discussing an across-the-board easing of the working time regulations, including the expansion of the discretionary work schedule system and the flex system. A bill on the subject is going to be submitted in the next Ordinary Session of the Diet, which opens in January. We must severely criticize the move as a major adverse labor law reform that would shake the most fundamental part of the labor laws.
These two moves constitute an outrageous violation of the Constitution that amounts to a major crisis of the labor laws. We are called upon to build up a united labor movement to stop this adversity that means bringing a sea change in the way people are employed and destroying the living conditions of all working people. It is an adverse labor law reform that turns the whole country into a black company.
Deceptive talk about enabling people to work in diverse ways
The Abe administration at the same time is talking about the need to give women greater opportunities to play their roles in society and to encourage companies to hire more regular full-time workers. For one, this reflects growing criticism of government labor policy. But its real aim is to force women, young people and elderly people to work piecemeal at low wages. This will fundamentally change the way people are employed.
The Abe administration emphasizes the need for diverse work style. But the truth of the matter is, it paves the way for giving regular full-time workers a status of indefinite employees to force them to endure in harsh working conditions that would drive workers into karoshi (death from overwork) and for forcing workers to accept the mobility of employment (dismissals as part of corporate restructuring policy) in line with changes in industrial or corporate strategy. All this will only increase precarious low paying jobs. That goes against decent work. We must organize an increased struggle in the workplace in opposition to this major adverse labor law reform.
The Diet in its last Ordinary Session enacted a law to promote measures to prevent karoshi. The law took effect in November 2014. This tells a growing criticism of working conditions that lead to karoshi and the importance of going on the offensive demanding the principle of direct employment without limits on terms and equal treatment be established as the main effort to shortening working hours so that both men and women can work and live with human dignity.
Attacks on social security services, education and other aspects of life
Attacks are increasing on the constitutional principles governing social welfare programs, such as social security services, education and other programs, exacerbating the income inequality and poverty.
With the then ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic and Komeito parties reaching agreement in 2012 to have a social security reform bill enacted -- actually legislation to disintegrate social security system --, attacks on social services are intensifying emphasizing the need to shift from relying on public welfare services to promoting self-help. In implementing the adverse legislation, they first targeted the public welfare assistance program and the age old pension program. They are now set to carry out major cutbacks in 2015 in the livelihood protection programs and a major adverse revision to the pension system, including the introduction of a macroeconomic slide formula.
The Abe administration’s “revitalization of education” policy is aimed at creating people who will serve a country that can wage war and large global corporations. This policy is forcing students to give up continuing to study for economic reasons or putting college graduates deep in debt for millions of yen for student loans. All this shows that economic inequality is growing in education and reproducing poverty endlessly.
These cutbacks in measures to guarantee the right to live are being carried out along with the structural low-wage system that leaves the minimum wage lower than the public welfare assistance benefits and with cuts in the unemployment benefits. This only contributes to increasing the number of people who are obliged to endure doing low quality jobs in order to survive. It in turn is exacerbating the collapse of the job market and even laying the groundwork for employers to offer people low-paying piecemeal jobs. At the same time, while working people to pay more in taxes, including the consumption tax, the ruling parties are planning to lower the corporate tax rates, thus crippling the functions of income redistribution.
It is important to link the struggle for stable employment with the struggle for improvement of social services. These struggles should also be connected to the struggle for the defense of the Constitution as part of the Zenroren Movement to develop and increase the effort to create a safe society without fear. We should develop national common action to demand comprehensive measures for supporting people’s livelihoods in line with the Constitution’s Article 25(*).
(*) Article 25. All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.
In all spheres of life, the State shall use its endeavors for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security and of public health.
Major efforts to protect health care and nursing care
Attacks on health care, nursing care and pensions are intensifying, the arguing that the insurance programs should be aimed at promoting shared self-help.
The new legislation ostensibly to promote community health care and nursing care services comprehensively is aimed at substantially cutting the number of hospital beds and restrain the number of nursing care facilities. It also force local governments to draw up their plans for curtailing medical and nursing care services. In addition, the government has a plan to shift responsibility for the health/nursing care insurance systems onto prefectures with the aim of reducing the system as a whole and cutting the costs for social services.
These cutbacks are intended to reduce services and the coverage of publicly-funded insurance to pave the way for creating a new market for large corporations. That’s what the government’s growth strategy is about.
The need now is to further develop the nationwide movement in the workplace and local communities for safe medical care and nursing care services.
Structural contradictions in Japanese economy
The Abe administration is carrying out reckless economic policies, driven by the structural contradictions in the Japanese economy and Liberal Democratic Party government at an impasse.
It has used unprecedented monetary policy and fiscal action in what is called Abenomics, by resorting to reactionary methods deviating from the constitutional principles, in order to survive.
But exports have not increased. Price rises and a consumption tax increase are pushing the Japanese economy and people’s livelihoods into perilous zones. The Japanese economy in the year’s second quarter experienced a plunge, with minus 7.1 percent growth, which had been unexpected. But, the large corporations in the same period increased their internal reserves. All this shows Abenomics is being debunked.
The Abe administration is dependent on the stock market. It is committed to more regulatory reforms, paving the way for the money market to run unchecked.
In talks with the United States as part of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, the Abe administration is making one concession after another in the interest of Japanese aand U.S. global corporations, completely disregarding the Japanese people’s livelihoods. This abnormal approach of the Abe administration is conspicuous in the world.
What’s more, the Abe administration is intent on deciding to raise the consumption tax rate to 10 percent soon after the closure of the Diet’s extraordinary session. However, raising the consumption tax again could have disastrous consequences for the Japanese economy. That is why we are called upon to further step up the nationwide movement against the consumption tax increase. It is also a struggle to force the government to concede that Abenomics is a mistake and a struggle to create a trend to change away from the old framework of Liberal Democratic Party politics. We should concentrate our energy on it as a precursor to the People’s Spring Struggle 2015.
Pursuing stable life is world trend
“Lost two decades” is what Japan without economic growth is about. With the labor laws being adversely revised, employment has become more and more unstable, trend of falling wages is continuing, and the economy is shrinking. By contrast, large corporations continue to amass internal reserves.
The task now is to break away from the present policy of giving priority to defending the interest of large corporations and to give all workers a raise, including a wage increase for low-paid workers. This is being shared as a common understanding among the people.
Nationwide simultaneous local elections will be held in 2015. We must work to build up national consensus on the need to change the economy into a sustainable and locally recycling one by boosting domestic demand, with “local community” as the key words.
Internationally, the workers have been thrown into harsh conditions in an era of globalization of the economy. But an increasing number of people are now aware that people as well as their country would waste away if competition through cost-cutting efforts continues by accepting the globalization as it is. Movements for policy change to place more emphasis on defending the workers’ interests are spreading, including those for an increase in the minimum wage and legislation of a public contract law.
Even in the United States, like in Europe and Asia, the Obama administration is focusing on raising the minimum wage as a strategic task for the country’s economy. Japan needs to take a lesson from such efforts.
We are in a situation in which the labor movement has a key role to play and its raison d'etre will be put to test in this year’s Spring Struggle.