Organizer’s Remark to the 65th General Council Meeting
The below is English text of President Obata’s remark to the General Council meeting which adopted the action plan for this Spring Struggle (SHUNTO) for collective bargaining.
the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
January 24, 2024
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the 65th General Council Meeting of Zenroren. Allow me to express my respect to all members of Zenroren for their day-to-day efforts toward a successful 2024 People’s Spring Struggle.
More than three weeks have passed since a powerful earthquake struck the Noto Peninsula (Ishikawa Prefecture). Yesterday, January 23, the Ishikawa prefectural office said that 14,358 people are taking shelter in evacuation centers or in safer secondary evacuation places and that 48,510 households are without water supply service, which is expected to resume in late February or late March. I wish to offer my deepest condolences to all those who died in the earthquake or quake-related disasters. I also extend my deepest sympathies to all those affected by the disaster.
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) on January 9 set up a task force and has sent its members to the disaster areas in Ishikawa Prefecture to organize various assistance activities, do surveys and carry out inspection in cooperation with the Ishikawa Prefectural Federation of Trade Unions (Ishikawa Ken-roren). Zenroren is working with its member organizations to raise money for the affected areas. On January 26 I will visit Ishikawa Prefecture taking the money in donation we have raised so far. We will continue to work together with the National Liaison Council on Assistance and Measures for Disaster-hit Areas and the Ishikawa Ken-roren as well as other federations from prefectures, which have experienced disasters, to step up petitioning for more government actions.
The earthquake has caused such enormous damage to the Noto Peninsula that it is very difficult to know everything about it. This disaster is related to a policy that led to major municipal mergers that made each municipality cover a vast area, making it difficult to provide attentive services to residents. In addition, while the military spending is snowballing endlessly, the government has implemented a policy of neglecting local infrastructure through having each municipality cover larger areas and through consolidation and cutting the funding for constructing or improving infrastructure.
Zenroren in its work has put great emphasis on the task of “getting back public well-being.” I want to share the recognition that this effort, which is devoted to protecting the life and safety of the workers and the general public, is adding to the great significance of the Spring Struggle.
It has been learned that, in the recent earthquake in the Noto region the Shika nuclear power plant was found to have serious trouble. Oil was found leaking when the transformers were damaged. As clear from the destruction and damage caused by the quake in the Noto Peninsula, it’s obvious that the residents near the power plant will have great difficulty taking shelter inside buildings or outside following a severe nuclear accident. Prime Minister Kishida insists that “The government policy of putting the power plant online again remains unchanged” even today after the powerful earthquake. But quake-prone Japan has no choice but to abandon nuclear power. We demand that the plan to restart the nuclear plant be revoked, that the nuclear power plants which are in operation be stopped now, and that the country end the use of nuclear power and fundamentally shift to utilizing renewable energy.
We have been discussing a plan for the 2024 Spring Struggle. The plan we are proposing today features another upgrade of the union in the fight to win a substantial wage increase, from bottom up, to protect the livelihood from low wages and soaring prices and improve social security services instead of rushing to arms buildup and tax increases.
This year’s Spring Struggle is taking place to call for moving away from a country where wages declines continue to a country where workers get paid more. In last year’s Spring Struggle we used improved negotiation power, including strikes, to win more than 6,000 yen wage increase for the first time in more than 20 years. However, the increase was short of exceeding the soaring prices. As a result, the real wages have continued falling for 20 straight months.
By contrast, the large corporations capitalized at more than one billion yen are amassing more than 527 trillion yen in internal reserves at a time when the prices are continuing to soar.
Look at the consequence. The Cabinet Office on December 25 said that Japan’s GDP per capita is bottom ranked among the G7 countries and is in 21st place among the 38 OECD countries. Media outlets reported earlier this year that Japan’s GDP for 2023 will likely fall behind Germany to become fourth in the world.
Companies have replaced many permanent fulltime employees with contingent workers just as they were told by the business leaders to do so. This only helped to cool the Japanese economy rapidly. The falling value of the yen is often cited as the cause of the shrinking GDP. But We must point out that it is the neoliberal economic policy under the Liberal Democratic and Komeito government that is to blame for the downfall. It includes the so-called Abenomics policy which is responsible for the falling value of the yen.
The 2024 White Paper on the People’s Spring Struggle, compiled by Zenroren with the Japan Research Institute of Labor Movement (Rodo-soken) says that the 208 major companies with more than 10 million yen in internal reserves will need only 0.88 percent of internal reserves per capita to spend on a pay raise of 450,000 yen a year for each employee. By doing this, they can pay 25,000 yen more a month and a bonus of six months a year. In this year’s Spring Struggle, Zenroren and the Spring Struggle Joint Committee are demanding a raise of more than 30,000 yen a month, which might need just 1.05 percent of the internal reserves.
The problem is not the inability to give a pay raise. The companies have unfairly distributed profits to workers. This needs to be fundamentally changed. Unless the workers get a substantial wage increase, and from bottom up, their livelihoods will not be secure and there can be no revitalization of the local economies.
Since the beginning of this year, Prime Minister Kishida has repeatedly said, “There should be wage increase larger than price increase.” But he only asks the business sector to give a larger pay increase in this year’s Spring Struggle than last year. Is it possible to turn a wage-declining country into a wage-increasing country simply by making a request for the business leaders’ help?
On January 16, the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren)’s Committee on Management and Labor Policy published its annual report, which is said to be the financial circles’ guidelines for the Shunto, annual labor-management talks. The design with soft color of the book’s front cover might suggest that the business sector cares about the workers’ well-being. But in reality, the book, from beginning to end, is about guidelines for taming the workers serving the interests of the business sector.
The report argues that “a structural wage increase” can only be possible through improving productivity and increasing potential earning power that will constantly secure the funding for wage increase. As a key to it, the report stresses the importance of “the workers’ engagement,” which means workers’ willingness to contribute to the organization or work.
The report also talks about “smooth labor mobility” as the way to improve the society’s productivity.
The report calls for a direction shown by a report of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s study group on work style in the new era. I think that the most dangerous part of the report is its call for the Labor Standards Act to be amended to remove without discussions the worker protection regulation on working hours.
The Keidanren panel report goes into more details. It says that each business should consider reviewing the present working hour regulations to make it possible to mix treatment based on working hours and treatment based on roles and contribution to jobs instead of being based on working hours, including discretionary working hours and jobs with highly professional skills. It goes so far as to say, “Such a review should not be intended to establish uniform regulation. It is desirable that the issue is discussed by a majority of the unions and between management and labor so that they can consider a system that enable workers to choose in a flexible manner a work style in conformity with the workers diverse needs and the company’s actual conditions. This part of the report is explained in more detail by Keidanren’s “Proposal for Labor Legislation Based on Labor-Management Autonomy.”
The Keidanren panel report also says that as it prepares for the 2024 spring labor talks, it is on alert for a situation in which strikes draw favorable public attention as they have done since last year. It stresses the importance of holding fast to the “labor-management collaboration” and of making clear that it takes labor as partner in the business to create value together, not as an opponent. It’s horrifying to imagine what kind of future it envisages.
Our unions are called upon to participate in this year’s spring struggle to win a big wage increase, from bottom up, so that we can feel for sure we win change by upgrading the union.
Let us work together to increase the trade unions’ negotiation power, including the power to strike, strengthen the union cohesion in the effort to organize industrial or regional concerted actions; let us organize more workers to win the demands. Let us upgrade the union movement to win a big wage increase, from bottom up, in the Spring Struggle.
I also want to emphasize the importance of tackling the issue of the arms buildup which the Kishida government is promoting arbitrarily only to destroy peace, people’s lives and living conditions. Over the past year, the Kishida government has pushed ahead with a major arms buildup policy in violation of the Constitution. Based on the three security-related policy documents approved by the Cabinet in late 2022, the Kishida government has moved to possess the power to attack enemy bases, even in contravention of the country’s principle of exclusively defensive posture, which the successive Liberal Democratic Party government had maintained. The major arms buildup that includes the ability to attack enemy bases has nothing to do with the “defense of Japan or its people.” It is a policy to have Japan play the role of spear in US military strategy in Asia. These moves show clearly that it is a policy of paving the way for involving Japan in war.
To begin with, we do not want the government to use 43 trillion yen in tax money to turn Japan into a country that wages war; we are demanding that the government fulfill its responsibility to use that money to help raise wages, from bottom up. We want a minimum wage increase, to 1,500 yen per hour now. This needs measures to drastically increase government support to the small- and medium-sized businesses and to raise wages for public sector workers, including the fiscal year temporary local public employees, and to establish a public structure of pay raise for care workers. There are many things that government can do. If the government is to address the country’s declining birthrate, it should redirect the military expenditure instead of asking the people to pay more for arms buildup. I want to urge the government to redirect the money for military buildup to a speedy recovery and reconstruction in the quake-hit Noto Peninsula.
Today, political forces seeking to get the Constitution revised are intensifying their movement. Prime Minister Kishida is clinging to his plan to complete the constitutional revision during his tenure. The Liberal Democratic Party is urging the House of Representatives Research Commission on the Constitution to accelerate work to draft an amendment concerning the prolonging of the term of Diet members. Faced with these dangerous moves toward the revision of the Constitution, we oppose the major arms buildup or constitutional revision that that threat our safety and livelihoods. We will call for change away from neoliberalism to establish politics that protects people’s lives and living conditions as part of our Spring Struggle.
Finally, we put forward two major campaigns in the 2024 Spring Struggle?a campaign for law amendment to establish a uniform national minimum wage system and a campaign for the promotion of gender equality.
In the campaign to promote gender equality, we are calling on all industrial and regional federations to draw up declarations and action plans by Zenroren’s 32nd Regular Convention in July this year. Already many of our organizations are holding study meetings, increasing discussions and efforts to make concrete action plans.
Many federations and regional organizations have made efforts to promote gender equality toward the present General Council meeting. Tomorrow, we may confirm that for the first time, women account for a third of the General Council members. I hope that the composition of the General Council meeting will be appropriate for a meeting to discuss gender equality and a spring struggle for contingent workers.
We would like to continue to hear your opinions in discussions to make our campaign fruitful.
With this, I conclude my speech on behalf of the Executive Committee. I sincerely ask you to hold the two-day discussion on the proposal for the 2024 People’s Spring Struggle. Thank you.