Zenroren International Symposium 2015
By INOUE Hisashi
National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
November 13, 2015
(1) The economy has been rapidly globalized and international solidarity of the trade union movement has developed in the early 21st century. We are holding this symposium this international symposium to discuss these developments and exchange views regarding the lessons of our movement and tasks we should address in the future to strengthen the movement.
The past more than 10 years have seen the realignments of international trade union organizations and generational changes taking place in the leadership of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, Zenroren, and its member unions.
I hope this symposium will provide an opportunity to study about front line experiences of global labor struggles so that we can use them in our future movements.
This symposium is attended by representatives of unions from Australia, Belgium, France, India, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States. We are also joined by a US labor researcher who has a profound knowledge of labor movements, including the living wage campaign, the minimum wage movement as well as the trade union movement in general.
I hope this symposium is going to be a chance to further strengthen friendship and solidarity we have built so far.
(2) This year, as we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a historic struggle is underway, which has a crucial bearing on the future of Japan in both the political and economic fronts.
One is about war or peace.
More than 20 million people were killed in Asia during Japan's war of aggression. Based on a bitter remorse for the war, Japan pledged peace. But now, the country is at a crossroads, and the struggle is about whether Japan is allowed to become a nation that deploys troops to wage war anywhere in the world as a supplementary force to US forces.
People's coalition against the authoritarian or even dictatorial politics of the Abe administration is growing extensively.
The other is about economic policy. The Abe administration is pushing ahead with neoliberal policies dubbed as Abenomics in defiance of strong opposition. But these policies have exacerbated the already unstable job market, carried out cutbacks in social services, increasingly widened the economic gaps, increased poverty, and impoverished local communities. With the contradictions of Abenomics becoming clearer to anybody, joint action focusing on the serious demands is developing in various sectors. Only large global companies are reaping profits. They continue to increase dividends to shareholders and internal reserves. Japan is undergoing what might be called a crisis of Japanese society.
As the economy is being globalized, the job market remains unstable, cutbacks in social services are continuing, and attacks on workers’ rights and trade union rights are also increasing in many countries. Strikingly similar developments are taking place in these countries. At a time when capital’s attacks are launched globally, the trade union movement needs to strengthen international solidarity. I hope that this international symposium will provide a chance to put up a global fight on these issues.
I. The present situation of the globalized economy
1. The state of workers and trade unions of the world
(1) The number of people who are out of work has reached 200 million. That’s up 30 million from the economic crisis that hit the world around 2008. In most countries, the unemployment rate among youth is almost twice the average of all generations. Women’s participation in the labor market is 26 percent lower than men. Wages for women are 20 percent lower than those for men. Although the number of people living in extreme poverty is somewhat decreasing, some 319 million people in the world are living on below 1.25 dollars. Economic inequality and income gaps are expanding in most countries. Only 27 percent of the world population live in countries that provide social protection.
(2) A massive influx of Syrian and other refugees are shaking the world. Most of those refugees are fleeing into Europe after being displaced due to war and violence. If peace is restored to the places they have inhabited, if they are free from economic inequalities or poverty, and if decent work is ensured, these people do not have to leave their country. In countries of the Middle East, construction workers from Nepal and other countries are forced to endure very bad working conditions and even die. The fact that the right to organize is not guaranteed to these migrant workers is a big problem.
Obviously, these problems are part and parcel of the issues of war and peace. They are also the issue of income gaps and poverty generated by the global structure of exploitation. The people in the middle class are shrinking and a growing number of people are contingent workers in precarious work. A structure of using migrant workers as disposable work force has been created.
2. Structures have been generated to serve the interest of large global corporations
(1) Large global corporations set up their main production locations abroad in quest of conditions that are more favorable to them. They procure raw materials, parts or even workers from around the world as part of the effort to greedily maximize their profits. Those host countries are exposed to a cost-cutting competition. They are forced to participate in a race to the bottom by holding down wages, which in turn widen income gaps, giving foreign companies tax cuts, easing the country’s labor standards and other regulations, restricting trade union activities, and relaxing the environmental standards.
(2) Large global corporations and capital are seeking to reap even greater profits from economic partnership arrangements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Tariff cuts and removal of trade barriers and reduction of public services have been promoted by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, for the sake of what they call “free trade”. And now the TPP, TTIP, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) are problematic in that they target services and include provisions for ISDS that gives large global companies a right to sue the government or municipalities, undermining the country’s economic sovereignty and democracy.
3. Changes taking place in OECD, IMF and other international organizations
(1) The globalization of the economy without doubt has adverse effects. With income gaps widening and poverty increasing rapidly, changes are taking place in international agencies. That the International Labor Organization (ILO) is calling for economic measures to put emphasis on employment is eh best example. It emphasizes that promoting social dialogue between the government, business sector and labor and allowing the trade union to play its part is essential for recovering from an economic crisis.
(2) Changes are also taking place in the IMF, which has the main advocate of neoliberalism, and in the OECD, which has had influence policies of the advanced countries. On July 22, the IMF published a report entitled “Inequality and Labor Market Institutions.” It says that the ballooning inequality that results from rampaging top people’s pay is not, as previously thought, an unfortunate by-product of technological process or increasing world trade.
The report also says that The researchers find that higher union density is particularly linked to a more equal distribution of net incomes, indicating union’s strong impact on redistributive policies.
(3) In its employment strategy for 1994, the OECD focused on the policy of making wages more flexible and easing regulation of worker protection. But this year’s “OECD initiative on New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC)” says “Labour market policies are another area in which policy makers need to broaden their objectives by pursuing job quality together with job quantity, targeting jointly labour market security, the quality of the working environment, and the level of remuneration.” Referring to the labor provisions in trade agreements, the report acknowledges that they need observance of the key labor standards provisions.
4. The present situation of the economy and society in Japan and the state of large global corporations
(1)In Japan, inequality is increasingly widening between industries and between corporations. Financial reports for the first quarter of 2015 show that many of the large global corporations made a record profit.
Toyota Motor Corporation reported a record high net profit as well as sales and operating profit. Toyota’s consolidated sales abroad accounted for 77.6 percent. Actually, the overseas portion of the corporation’s business is further increasing. Electronics makers are also increasing the overseas portion of their business. Hitachi, for example, is seeking to raise the overseas portion of its sales to 50 percent by 2015.
Manufacturing is not the only sector that is making inroads into foreign countries. It is also followed by the service industries, restaurants, distribution, banking, insurance, education and childcare, which have been regarded as industries doing business only on domestic demand. They are prompted to do so mainly by falling domestic demand partly due to a population decline in Japan, particularly with people being discouraged from spending money.
In the country, many companies in manufacturing have closed their plants and carried out downsizing and even shifting into the tertiary industry and causing employee mobility. According to the internal affairs ministry, the number of employees in manufacturing in September 2015 stood at 9.92 million. That’s down 420 thousand from the previous month. It marked the lowest in 54 years.
(2) Japan’s large global corporations are amassing internal reserves using their huge amounts of profit. They increase dividends to their shareholders instead of using any part of them for workers and the public. That is clear from their balance of payments and the trends of workers’ wages. Income balances that include profits from direct investment have been rapidly improving since 2004, and profit tripled from 1996. But the current wages are still below the 1996 levels. Clearly, the Abe administration and the financial circles are making false arguments when they say Asia’s growth can be taken advantage of.
(3) If an economy simply yields itself up to the globalization and allows companies to devote themselves to dumping competition, it will get exhausted along with the people. That’s what the globalization is about. In many countries, policy shift is beginning with a minimum wage increase and establishment of public contract laws. These are measures to put working people first. Increasing this effort and restrict the tyrannical behavior of large global corporations and investors.
II. Internationally regulating global corporate giants
1. The present international measures of regulation
(1) ILO-set labor standards
<1>The ILO’s labor standards are enshrined in 189 conventions and 201 recommendations. Conventions and recommendations can be adopted with a two-thirds majority after deliberations at two annual conferences. The executive council will decide on items on the agenda for the conference. It takes at least four years for a proposed convention or recommendation to be carried by the conference. One key issue is decent work. It is interpreted in Japan as humane work that is worthwhile but it means socially significant productive work for which appropriate levels of social security and wages and other conditions are secured. In other words, ILO conventions and recommendations are not for defining what is ideal. They offer internationally acceptable criteria.
However, Japan has ratified only 48 out of 189 ILO conventions, only a little higher than the international average of 42 but much lower than the OECD average 73.
<2>Around 2000, the United Nations has launched initiatives such as Global Compact and the Millennium Development Goals, and the OECD revised the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These are steps the international community has taken in order to overcome the damage done by the negative aspect of the globalization.
The ILO in 1998 adopted the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as a document comparable to the Declaration of Philadelphia of 1944. The new declaration confirms the core labor standards made up of eight conventions in four areas. All ILO member states have the obligation to respect them, regardless of their ratification. Japan has ratified only two of the fight conventions ? 105 and 110. Many countries have ratified all eight conventions, except the US, Japan and South Korea in the OECD.
<3>@The ILO in 2008 adopted the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. It was intended to urge all ILO member states to promote the effort to overcome the present indecent situation even after 10 years since the 1998 declaration. It is the fourth key document following the ILO Charter, the Declaration of Philadelphia, and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
<4>Zenroren and its member organizations have attached importance to use the ILO standards in their struggles. In fighting against the adverse civil service reform, the arbitrarily biased appointments of member of Central Labor Relations Commission, the dismissal of former Social Insurance Agency employees ostensibly to keep the services going, we filed complaints with the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association. We did the same in the struggle against dismissals of Japan Airlines workers. In dealing with the problem of government-run hospital contract workers and Japan Post’s contingent workers, we provided the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations with information as we sought to have these practices rectified. As a national trade union center, Zenroren has cooperated with panels of experts the ILO in providing findings of studies or information. This is how we have contributed to the formation of international labor standards and their development.
(2) OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises
<1> In 1976, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises issued recommendations for the large global corporations from countries participating in the guidelines to voluntarily carry out responsible business conduct. The guidelines have revised five times in accordance with changes in the global economic development and corporate activities. In addition to the 34 member countries of the OECD, Egypt, Brazil, Argentine and some other nations participate in the initiative. The total number of participating countries has reached 44.
<2>In Japan, we have used these guidelines to put an end to a discriminatory and repressive treatment of union members. The labor dispute lasted 31 years. Global food and beverage company Nestle carried out union busting and repression of workers who are union activists in many countries since the 1990s. The multinational company has come under criticism from the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) and unions from many countries. In Japan, we have protested Nestle’s refusal to comply with repeated orders from the Labor Relations Commission or even a Supreme Court ruling. We have developed a struggle led by the Nestle Japan Labor Union to restore a decent workplace and industrial relations. In August 2005, Zenroren joined with the Nestle Japan Labor Union to file a complaint against violations of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises while developing the movement in Japan.
<3>The OECD guidelines provide for principles and standards of responsible corporate conduct for a wide ranging areas, including general policy, information disclosure, human rights, employment and industrial relations, environment, prevention of bribe taking, a ban on demand for bribes, consumers’ benefits, science and technology, competition and tax returns. But the guidelines are no legally binding measures. Their application depends on individual enterprises. In the latest revision of the guidelines in 2011, a new section was added in order to make clear that corporations have the responsibility to respect human rights. As part of risk management, a new provision was established to ask the multinational corporations to identify actual or potential adverse effects that might be caused by itself and consider taking appropriate action to prevent or ease such impacts.
<4>Nestle has been sued in Britain and South Korea for violating the guidelines. In many more countries, unions have staged campaigns against the multinational corporation. Recently, Nestle headquarters has shifted to become more positive about settling disputes and encouraged its local affiliates to set up talks with any minority unions.
In addition to a tenacious struggle in the country, Nestle headquarters’ decision to settle the dispute, the only remaining one in the world, has helped make quick progress on the issue. The settlement reached in line with the OECD guidelines is very significant. This has proved that the guidelines are effective for preventing disputes with large global companies or for settling labor disputes and that they contribute to maintaining and improving working conditions and to protecting the workers’ rights.
(3) International framework agreements@
<1>An international framework agreement is an agreement concluded between a union that covers multiple countries or an international industrial federation of unions with a large global corporation to promote and protect the freedom of association, collective bargaining and to protect jobs and rights of workers. Many framework agreements have been concluded since the late 1990s. More than 100 such agreements are in place. The involve such global firms as Volkswagen, Daimler, Bosch, ArcelorMittal, IKEA, Danone, Accorl, H&M. International framework agreements are important as a form of involvement with working conditions or decision-making rules for working conditions. Many unions of the world are demanding such agreements but in Japan only three companies have concluded such agreements. They are Takashimaya, Mizuno and Aeon.
<2>You may remember a tragedy of April 2013 in Bangladesh. A large building collapsed in the country’s capital Dhaka, killing 1,127 people and leaving 2,437 wounded. The international labor movement took this accident seriously. The IndusriAll, which is an international labor organization for metal, chemical and textile industries, concluded an international framework agreement with a global company that has production sites in Bangladesh in May 2013.
This agreement, backed by the ILO, took on a rare form in that it provided that the Bangladesh government accepts a part of responsibility and that an international NGO gives witness. The agreement classifies subcontractors and outsourcing companies into three types according to closeness of relationship and importance. The tripartite partners have developed a national action plan on fire. This plan requires companies to accept safety inspections, rectify any defects, and carry out safety drills on equipment. This plan of action confines its action to fire safety. It is important to note that the plan requires the global corporation to be responsible for safety, health and other work environment in the subcontracting enterprises. This agreement is participated by 98 firms, including H&M, Carrefour, Calvin Klein, Esprit, and Japanese firm Fast Retailing which runs UNIQLO.
<3>Efforts to develop structures to control large global corporations and have them fulfill their corporate responsibility are making progress. As shown by the agreement in Bangladesh, rectification of unjust labor-management relations and inequitable labor standards, which have been left ambiguous by a cross-border division of labor, have begun.
In addition to international framework agreement, similar international regulatory means are emerging, including the United Nations Global Compact announced in 2000. In 2008, the United Nations proposed the “Protect, Respect and Remedy: A Framework for Business and Human Rights. In 2011, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was provided. These global compacts have had impacts on international organizations, including the UN specialized agencies such as the ILO, the OECD, and the ISO (International Standards Organization). The world’s trade unions are also increasing their efforts in concert with these international organizations to defense human rights.
The United Nations this year set out to propose a convention for business respect for human rights. Developing countries, which have been passive about placing large global companies under control, are taking the initiative for it, supported by NGOs. This is a new development.
2. Workers’ struggle utilizing regulations
(1) We can cite a number of examples of Zenroren’s cooperation and solidarity with unions abroad to reach settlement of labor disputes.
One typical example is the struggle of the Japan Acrylic branch of the Zenroren?National Union of General Workers (Zenroren ? Zenkoku-ippan). Japan Acrylic became a group company of Dow Chemical. In the course of a global restructuring of its plants, Dow Chemical ended production at the Nagoya plant in around 2008. The plant was supposed to be transformed into a distribution center. The union said such a change was in violation of the labor agreement with Japan Acrylic, or with Rohm and Haas Company which was the parent company before Dow Chemical. In the Spring Struggle in 2010, all workers at Japan Acrylic went on strike. The union negotiated with headquarters in Tokyo. It waged an active workplace-based struggle supported by other unions in the area.
Dow Chemical has its headquarters in Midland, Michigan. The union sent a letter to a local of the US Steelworkers union proposing having exchanges between the two unions. These exchanges led the leaders of the leader of the local at the company’s main plant to speak at the shareholders meeting in late May, 2010. The larger part of his speech was devoted to the problem of the Nagoya plant of Japan Acrylic. The Dow Chemical president said the problem of a local should be dealt with by the local. This amounted to leaving the matter to consultation with the union instead of imposing a decision of the headquarters or of the Asia-Pacific region. Later, the collective bargaining at the Nagoya plant changed for the better, and the company ultimately promised to “delay” the plan to transform the plant into a distribution center. In the labor talks during the Spring Struggle in 2014, the union successfully made the company promise to virtually freeze the plan.
(2)Zenroren has also experiences of supporting struggles of unions at Japanese companies abroad.
At Hishi Plastics, a U.S. subsidiary of Mitsubishi Plastics in New Jersey, the workers are represented by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE), a long-time friend of Zenroren. The workers’ organizing effort had been obstructed for a long time. At the request of the UE, Zenroren wrote a petition to the parent company, Mitsubishi Plastics. We made the dispute known in our publications. In May 2010, Zenroren union members visited the plant in New Jersey to encourage the workers. We tried to petition the company in protest against dismissals. We presented the company with messages from US workers and asked the management to meet us. The request was rejected but a satisfactory settlement was reached over the dismissals. The local thanked Zenroren for the support.
(3) Workers are organized at many of headquarters or group companies of large global corporations. If we are to win victory in the struggle against large global corporations, it is essential for them to share information and take concrete actions. Even where there is no union, it is possible to launch a movement. Zenroren does not have many members in the workplaces of large companies in Japan, but we can develop public opinion and movements to denounce and control the tyrannical acts of large corporations.
III. Efforts to establish decent work and secure the minimum labor standards
1. Basic rights of workers and the union ? Struggle over right to strike
(1) Attacks on the rights of trade unions have increased these years. Not in the past have such organizational attacks been made on the unions. What’s more, those attacks are directed against the most fundamental rights of the trade union -- the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike.
At a meeting of the ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards in 2012, the employers denied the right to strike under the ILO convention. Differences over the right to strike were later ironed out after tripartite discussions. But this does not mean that the employers have not eased their attacks on the right to strike.
(2) In the United States, a growing number of sates, mainly in the South, adopt the “right to work” act. The act is intended to give workers to work at low wages without a union. In Australia, the Royal Commission is investigating into trade union activities. Attacks on union activities are spreading, including those that denounce workers’ demand for collective bargaining as an act of blackmailing. In Britain, the Conservative government proposed a bill to adversely revise the trade union law to attack trade union activities by restricting the right to strike and abolishing the check-off system. In France a bill to adversely revise the labor code is expected to be proposed next year.
2. International experiences on issues such as minimum wage and social security
(1) Concerning harmony between economic and financial policy and employment policy, and regulations and code of conduct for large global corporations, the present stage of achievement is shown by the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, which was adopted in June 2008 at the 97th ILO Conference. Follow-up discussions have taken place in the later conferences concerning 4 main areas.
(2) The ILO attaches importance most to the realization decent work. At issue is the principle that we must not tolerate uncertainty of employment that might be caused by arbitrarily relocating production sites in quest of cheap labor and leaving inadequate and dangerous working conditions intact, in order to maximize corporate profit, child labor and forced labor. The ILO is calling for policy focusing on jobs, social protection, social dialogue and labor rights.
(3) The ILO also calls for full employment, compensation of the minimum wage income, freedom of association, and elimination of discrimination in employment as the minimum needs. The ILO’s call for full employment is designed to ensure jobs for workers to lead a stable livelihood. It does not mean regarding precarious and low-paying jobs as the central issue of employment. It is incompatible with the Abe administration’s policy of easing the use of temporary agency workers and generating workers who are to be forced to work as temporary workers for life.
(4) It is also important to note that the ILO is calling for equitable social distribution to all people. This is incompatible with the concentration of fruit of progress in handful of wealthy people and large corporations or with bad working conditions that force workers to work long hours and endure harsh working conditions that would cause karoshi, or death from overwork.
IV.Anomalies of Japan’s policy for enterprises and labor law “reform”
1. Historic adverse labor law reform using advisory panels
(1)In 1995, the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, published a report entitled “Japanese-Style Management in the New Era.” It marked a major shift in labor policy. It called for productivity to be increased by reviewing labor management t and upholding the idea of managing gross labor costs. It specifically proposed dividing employment into three types: major career paths for those who are expected to accumulate ability over a long period of time to become key personnel; professional career paths that utilize highly professional ability; and regular service that uses workers in a flexible manner. The idea is that far-reaching introduction of flexibility and mobility would be effective for cutting gross personnel costs. But if these aims are to be achieved, the present labor law regulations are a stumbling block. That’s why the business circles and the government have fiercely accelerated easing labor law regulations.
Japanese companies have decreased regular full-time positions in many workplaces, replacing them with fixed ?term workers, such as temporary agency workers, independent contractors, part-timers and contract workers. The use of contingent workers is increasing mainly for regular service positions. Today, those contingent workers account for 40 percent of all workers. But they are working in important positions.
(2) The government regulatory reform panel, which is an advisory panel to the prime minister, has played a key role as the main instrument for promoting legislation of deregulation in labor policy to reflect the demand of the financial circles. In 1996, the regulatory reform committee was established in the government task force for administrative reform. The task force was chaired by MIYAUCHI Yoshihiko, chairman of Orix Corporation at the time. Later, the panel changed its name to the “regulatory reform committee,” “the comprehensive regulatory reform council”, “the council on regulatory reform and promotion of privatization,” and to “the council on regulatory reform.” This is how the government panel has took the initiative for adversely revising the labor laws and promoting corporate streamlining.
The business sector has used the government panel as foothold for intensifying efforts to establish laws that encourage corporate cost-cutting restructuring. The enactment of the industrial revitalization law, the civil rehabilitation law, the revised commerce code, and the law on corporate divestiture has been aimed at assisting corporate restructuring financially and through taxation by eliminating corporate responsibility to offer jobs to workers and obligation to negotiate with the union. They have achieved a law to succeed labor contracts as part of employment policy to be applied to breaking up the company or separating company units so that they can put union leaders and employers to be dismissed in non-profitable divisions. They also won the lifting of the ban on holding companies so that they can avoid negotiation between the company they run and the union.
(3) The regulatory reform council has also made various proposals to ease labor regulations. It totally denies provisions of worker protection. It has deregulated the use of temporary agency workers and eased the working hour rules by introducing what is known as white collar exemption. It has proposed easing regulations on dismissals. Using the deceptive argument that there should be diverse options for work, it is seeking to strip protection from regular full-time workers in order to strike a balance with contingent workers at lower levels.
This kind of council under the prime minister’s direct control was used in many ways. But, since Prime Minister Abe returned to power, it has become an ordinary part of decision-making process without labor representatives.
2. Japanese workers’ fight-back and intensifying attacks by Abe administration
(1) With the number of contingent workers increasing dramatically, income gaps are widening and poverty increasing. In these circumstances, a variety of groups are participating in the movement against poverty. On the ground, various kinds of civic organizations are taking different initiatives. Zenroren is establishing closer ties with these civic organizations and lawyers to develop joint struggles for improvement of the way livelihood protection system is run and against adverse labor law reforms.
(2) One of the things that we should particularly note regarding the trend of deregulation is the liberalization of the use of temporary agency workers. In 1985, when the law on temporary agency workers was enacted, the use of temps was allowed only for 16 professional jobs. But in 1999, the restriction was removed in principle. In 2003, ban on the use of temps was lifted for manufacturing. In the economic crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the summer of 2008, this deregulation served as the ground for large manufacturing companies to massively dismiss temporary workers before expiration of a contract.
Following an emergency situation caused by massive termination of temp contracts, Zenroren tied up with other labor organizations and civic groups to set up a tent village for those people who lost jobs as temporary agency workers and who had no home to live. This movement helped to force the Liberal Democratic Party administration led by Prime Minister ASO Taro to surrender power. The Democratic Party took power. Prime Minister HATOYAMA Yukio launched a policy direction focusing on people instead of concrete. But the Democratic Party administration backpedaled on the promise. It approached the financial circles, succumbed to US pressure, and returned to the position of neo-liberalism. In 2012, the Liberal Democratic and Komeito parties came back to power, starting the second Abe Cabinet.
(3) Prime Minister ABE Shinzo’s administration was inaugurated by declaring that it will pursue the revision of the Constitution and turn Japan into a country that can wage war. Its economic policy, dubbed “Abenomics” took stimulus measures by using the need for post-disaster reconstruction as a pretext. The government went as far as to intervene in the Bank of Japan’s personnel affairs to carry out a new monetary easing policy that would lead to weakening the yen and raising stock prices.
In labor policy, the administration called for making Japan the easiest country to do business, fully acceding to the demand from the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and the staffing business. The following are the key labor policy measures, which totally gut the worker protection system.
<1>A major shift of emphasis from one of maintaining jobs to one of encouraging labor mobility, extending full support to the staffing business. This includes easing regulation on the business of fee-charging employment agency, the foundation/expansion of subsidy for promoting worker mobility, and the release of public employment agency’s information to the private sector business.
<2>Total liberalization of the worker staffing system
<3>Easing control of abuse of fixed-term employment, by gutting the labor contract law’s provision to give fixed-term workers the right to request for a position without limit if the worker completes five years of service.
<4>Easing work-time rules by deregulating the discretionary work schedule system and introducing white collar exemption.
<5>Utilization of foreign workers, including the adverse revision of the foreign trainee
<6>The introduction of a system of settling disputes over dismissal by using severance
<7>Establishment of rules for employing regular full-time employees with limited conditions
<8>Establishment of special employment zones as part of the national strategic zones.
The first three measures have already done through adverse revision of law. (4) and (5) are still being discussed in the Diet.
V. Basic directions of trade union struggles
1. Trade unions’ role in the effort to build a peaceful and just society
(1) Widening income gaps and growing poverty are closely linked with the question of war. There certainly is an argument that trade unions should concentrate on economic issues. But, as serious impacts of the economic globalization are felt by the workers and illegal wars trampling on international law like the Iraq War are spreading, changes are taking place in the attitudes of trade unions in many countries. In the United States, an anti-war coalition called US Law against War emerged to stop the Iraq War with unions participating regardless of national center affiliation. The coalition is still active. In India and Pakistan, unions are participating in the movement against possession of nuclear weapons by their respective countries. Trade unions are present in the European struggle against NATO.
(2) In Japan, people’s struggle against the war law is developing strongly. If the war law is implemented in practical terms, there will be cutbacks in social services and other measures related to people’s daily lives, and suppression of human rights and freedom. We will have to fear terrorism as well. The war law will fundamentally change the direction of our country. Many people have a sense of crisis of rule of law and democracy because of the Abe administration’s authoritarian way of pushing ahead with undemocratic policies in disregard of the Constitution and people’s will. That is why so many people took part in an unprecedented large struggle. This struggle is about the future of our country. We will continue to do our utmost on this task.
(3) These changes is related with growing criticism of the forces promoting the globalization, namely large global corporations, for reaping profits by violating every country’s national sovereignty and economic and social rights. The struggle against economic inequality and poverty, and the struggle for peace are not limited to one country or one region, as they are struggles to reject domination by great powers and to create a peaceful and equitable world order.
2. Alternative industrial policy under economic globalization
(1) With harmful effects of the globalized economy being conspicuous, the urgent need is to control large global corporations, including tyrannical investment funds that rip off money throughout the world, and to strengthen minimum regulation on working conditions. At the same time, it is important build sustainable communities through increasing support to small- and medium-sized businesses mainly in areas affected by contradictions caused by the globalization.
In Japan, medium- and small-sized enterprises are decreasing in number even in areas of concentration of such firms that would support manufacturing. This has a serious impact on local economies. The biggest reason for this is that large companies have moved their production sites out of the country, resulting in falls in orders. Another reason is that they are continually forced to endure cuts in unit prices.
(2) These circumstances show how important it is to make efforts to build sustainable local communities. We must strengthen the union opposition to arbitrary plant relocations and the struggle to protect jobs and decent working conditions.
At the same time, we believe it will become increasingly important to increase support to small- and medium-sized enterprises and help develop local industries in order to establish sustainable and a circulatory local economy. We also need to pay attention to the need to call for policy change to raise the minimum wage, establish ordinance for public contracts, and require employers to honor the working conditions practiced by the predecessor company. These measures would help generate decent jobs and domestic demand. It is essential for unions to cooperate with local residents in developing the local community’s movement.
3. Departure from industries that threaten people’s lives and cause health problems, and the role of trade unions
(1) At a time when the economy is further globalized, work is getting more and more involuntary and even coercive. In many cases, products and the process of production are harmful. Workers and unions are facing mental illnesses and many other health problems. Working hours tend to become longer in many countries. Heavy workloads and stress are serious.
(2) Under the pacifist Constitution, Japan has maintained a ban on arms sales based on three principles. But the Abe administration has eased the ban in order to promote their supply under the name of defense cooperation. Even after the critical nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi plant, the Japanese government is clinging to nuclear power generation and even regards it as an essential part of growth strategy.
This year, a Zenroren delegation traveled to the United States on a nuclear weapons abolition mission on the occasion of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference. It visited New Haven, Connecticut, a city known for a concentration of arms manufacturers and military-related IT business. But the local government there has examined impacts that a conversion from military to peaceful production might have on the local economy, employment and the community and has made proposals for conversion. This is the only beginning of this kind of effort. But it is important to note that the movement is linked to the realization of decent work. Proposing policies based on the actual situation on the ground, cooperative action based on the region, and international exchanges on this issue are called upon.
VI.Conclusion and proposals
(1) In an era of the globalized economy, goods and services, capital , and work force cross borders without restriction. Large global corporations have emerged as the main player in economic activities. They have weakened the framework of the national economy and regulations. The struggle against these global corporations is the most important task facing the labor movement.
As a result of neoliberal economic and social policies, wages are falling and working conditions are deteriorating throughout the world. In order to stop this trend, it is necessary to establish international labor standards and regulatory measures to be applied to large global corporations. That should be an integral part of the movement for decent work.
(2) Zenroren is now involved in a social struggle for better wages to achieve a raise wages from the bottom against the trends set by the globalization of the economy. It is also participating in the movement to revitalize the local community, an effort to win the minimum regulation to protect people’s livelihoods and develop a sustainable local community. In our movement, the “gap” is a key word along with “local community” for the movement to win a raise from the bottom.
1. How to develop democratic regulation over large global corporations?
(1) Almost 20 years have passed since Zenroren established the concept of democratic regulation over large global businesses. Today, those global enterprises are gaining even greater influence and power throughout the world. The essence of capital remains unchanged. It deploys beyond national borders and exploits workers. It is possible for us to know about international supply chains, understand the source of their power, and use our influence to increase worker control on them. We should establish firm position in the workplace and cooperate with local community movements and strategically strengthen ties with overseas unions.
(2) Global corporate giants have emerged in various communities. They are obliging customers and local enterprises to depend on them. They continue evolving in an international division of labor. They are trying to avoid responsibility to pay taxes by using international cost-cutting means, including the tax haven in a skillful manner.
Given these circumstances, it is important to create in international cooperation a law to prevent global corporations from avoiding their corporate responsibility. Investment funds and other globally deploying money need to be controlled and taxed more strictly. ILO conventions and other international standards and international framework agreements can be used. We should also study about policy regarding tax avoidance and strict taxation.
2. Proposals to symposium participants
(1)Finally, let me propose some points to be dealt with at this symposium.
First, the way to strengthen international solidarity with struggles based in the workplace in each country as its basis. Capital is deploying globally. Each government is paving the way for defending the interest of global enterprises and for their overseas deployment. Trade unions also need to share information and strengthen cooperation in action.
(2) Secondly, the way to strengthen the struggle demanding democratic control over large global corporations. This effort is very important for protecting the jobs, living conditions and rights of the workers of Japan, the Asia-Pacific region, and the rest of the world, and for the independent development of the national economy.
(3) Thirdly, the task of further strengthening international solidarity in the common struggle for the democratic reform of the IMF, the World Bank and other international financial institutions, change in the foreign development assistance policy, and a review of the WTO agreements and the struggle against the TPP and other free trade or economic partnership agreements. It is also necessary to improve the steering of international organizations by reflecting more democratically trade union opinions.
(4) Fourth, making concrete plans of international solidarity and quest for future development. Zenroren has expanded its international cooperation and solidarity through struggles and through making policy proposals.
*They include international solidarity to rectify neoliberal policy and distortions of economic globalization, and to struggle against the tyranny of large global corporations;
*International solidarity demanding that the workers’ voices be heard and international labor standards be established and observed.
*International solidarity to create a peaceful and just Japan and world without nuclear weapons and military alliances.
To achieve these aims, I would like to propose the following:
<1> We should further step up information sharing, so that we can increase exchanges of information about each country’s situation and struggles to expose human rights violations and end such abuses.
<2>We should join forces to make representations to the ILO, the United Nations, and other international organizations calling for equitable labor standards in an age of globalization.
<3>We should increase monitoring large global corporations, carry out an investigation in countries where such corporations are doing business, demand that the local parliament and government strengthen investigation and monitoring. We also hope to share information with each other and explore a possibility of concerted action.
(5)We think that the unions might strengthen initiatives for defending local communities from large global corporations’ outrageous way of doing business, and protecting and helping develop the local economy and industries. On this issue, Zenroren is currently developing a movement for the revitalization of the local economy. We are pushing for increased support to small- and medium-sized enterprises and improved social services. At the same time we attach importance to reducing inequalities and improving livelihoods from the bottom, through a minimum wage increase and a public contract ordinance. As we fight for wage increase from the bottom in a local community movement, we are making efforts to achieve local consensus on these issues.
(6)Despite twists and turns, the trade union movement is making steady progress. Struggles against war, for independence, for national sovereignty, for the defense of democracy and for better people’s living conditions are converging as the main historical current.
Workers and trade unions of the world must unite for further efforts.