|Address:Rodo-Soken,Union Corp 3-3-1 Takinogawa,Kitaku,Tokyo,Japan(114)|
Struggle against Lean Production System
Assistant Professor of Nagoya Economics University,
Member of Aichi Labor Institute
The book's logic, however, contains something seriously wrong. It completely lacks the analysis on the labor-management relations, taking no notice of Toyota's peculiar form of labor control, something incompatible with the Toyota production system. The MIT group concludes that under the lean production system, workers are guaranteed stable employment, salaries and the best of welfare programs, so that they work feeling the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in an atmosphere of creative tension. I have not seen such a description ever made as far from the reality.
Workers are suffering so much from the intense control and exploitation the company imposes upon them under the Toyota production system. It is also important to take into account that a few but powerful, democratic activists are carrying forward their struggle constantly and energetically even in the Toyota's workplaces. In this article I would like to report how Japanese workers have waged their struggle against the lean production system.
Japanese workers are carrying on the struggle against the lean production system in various scenes of society. The first example I should give is Toyota workers' resistance against the system.
First, in Toyota Motor Corporation, democratic activists of whom are successors the tradition of militant struggle, and the Toyota Motor Committee as one of the Japanese Communist Party's branches exist, and they are acting openly. Despite the severe restrictions, activists and the JCP branch daily explain and call upon the workers to support their policies by publishing regular workplace newspaper, conducting propaganda actions in front of the factories, or making speeches in the workplace rallies. Through these efforts, they are trying to grasp the workers' demands and to realize them. In the election for trade union officers that takes place every two years, they present their own candidates calling for an improved wage and working conditions, along with the democratization of workplaces and union.
In Nishi-Mikawa area, Aichi Prefecture, Toyota's home ground, Toyota-related companies and subcontractors are concentrated. In these companies as well, especially in those included in the Toyota Group such as Denso Corp., Aishin Seiki Co., Ltd., Toyota Automatic Loom Works, Ltd., Toyota Auto Body Co., Ltd. and Toyoda Machine Works, Ltd., democratic activists are operating. In some workplaces activists remain a minority, or sometimes only one such activist is there, but even in such cases they are energetic and tenacious. They publish a regular workplace newspaper, and carry out other kinds of actions.
Second is the activity called gToyota General Action,h in which workers of the whole district participate. In Nishi-Mikawa area, along with the workers of Toyota and Toyota-related companies, many local trade unions and democratic organizations bring themselves together in the movement to make the demands on Toyota. Toyota exercises a tremendous influence not only over its related companies and subcontractors but also over the local communities. Backed up by this power of influence, Toyota imposes some various kinds of burdens and sacrifices upon its related companies and local communities. Toyota General Action aims to denounce Toyota's such outrage and put it under the regulation by the whole communities. Toyota General Action started in 1981 under the name of gPropaganda Campaign to Besiege Toyota,h and ever since then it has become an annual event. On the general action day, activists present gwritten demandsh to Toyota, while conducting a propaganda campaign in front of the factories, company housing areas and communities. Before the general action, with the cooperation of researchers and people of different fields, they organize gToyota symposiumh to promote exchange of@information on the real conditions of each workplace and community as well as the actual situation of the struggle. By this, they work out concrete demands to thrust them at Toyota.
In various ways Toyota has tried to restrict and obstruct the Toyota General Action. When workers presented the written demands for the first time, Toyota ignored the document by treating it as a lost article. The company and the union leaders together made a severe interference in workers' propaganda action with microphone and handbill distribution. Yet since the second general action, the company has received the written demands and talked with the workers. It still tries to obstruct the action, but has gradually become more modest, refraining from adopting an open, unconcealed attitude. As the Toyota General Action becomes firmly established by the workers' continuous efforts during a long period, it is now impossible for Toyota to ignore it but to deal with it properly.
In this way, workers carry forward the layered struggle against Toyota in workplaces and districts. They take up demands in the workplace newspaper, bring them to the Labor Standards Inspection Office, and hold symposiums to launch the General Action to make them widely known. All these efforts have obliged Toyota to face them. Adopting these methods in their struggle, activists, though they may be just a small minority at workplace level, have presented a wide range of demands and won some certain achievements.
(2) Achievements of the Struggle
Now let me refer to some important achievements obtained in the struggle in Toyota and Toyota groups.
From the above struggle, Toyota workers have drawn the following lessons.
First, being a minority, workers can get their demands realized as long as they present the demands in public and maintain perseverance in the struggle. Of course, though workers continue to present their demands for a long time, many of them are still difficult to realize due to the actual power relationship. The company's side has made almost no concession about such issues as substantial wage hike, reduction in working hours, improvement of the intense labor, relief system and transfer of the workers, forced support for a specific political party and participation in the election campaign by the whole company. However, the achievements obtained in the struggle show well that even under the Toyota production system how many demands workers can realize, if only they stand on the position to wage the struggle.
Second, the company has been violating workers' proper rights and working conditions, which the Labor Standards Law clearly provides. The Toyota production system constitutionally infringes workers' fundamental rights. While, originally the trade union is the one who should take the initiatives in achieving the workers' demands. In Toyota also, if any proper trade union had existed, it should have tackled problems in achieving much of the above improvement that activists have actually accomplished, not by the trade union. This means in turn that how far removed Toyota Union is from what a trade union should be. In Toyota-related companies, when a problem occurs, trade unions would not try to solve it in the workers' interests, even though they would cooperate with the company in hiding the fact. In fact, often relating to unpaid work and labor accidents, the problem comes to surface by anonymous complaint appealed to activists. Workers have no trust in their trade union.
Third, Toyota's system of controlling workers is not so stable as it seems. It is true that in the union officers' election, activist candidates would obtain only 5 to 7 percent of the total votes and apparently pro-company union leaders would be elected by a large margin. However, we cannot take the figure at face value. Apart from what I have already mentioned about the undemocratic election system, even the figures of election results officially given by the Election Administration Committee arouse suspicion. The actual situation of workplaces goes far beyond such superficial figures, and it now gives a sign of unstableness in the labor-management relationship. The recent trend shows dissatisfaction toward the company and trade union is growing among group leaders, section chiefs and others in managerial posts in charge of the actual working field. As the contradictions arising in the workplace are heavily falling especially upon these managerial layers, these managerial workers now come publicly to express discontent and criticize the company's or trade union's proposals, supporting and sympathizing the activists' opinions in the workplace rally.
First, the network has promoted exchange between workers in the auto industry, the main store of the lean production system. In this respect, we should take notice of the gExchange Meeting of Auto Industry Workers and Related Local Organizations.h They have held this meeting every year since 1995. Workers of auto industry got together with trade unions and democratic organizations fighting in each region and local communities to exchange and study each other's experiences of struggles. They had already promoted exchange at limited individual level, as is the case of Mazda workers learning from the Toyota General Action to launch Mazda General Action, but the inauguration of such Exchange Meetingh will further extend the links of exchange of experiences, thus strengthening the united struggle.
Secondly, a gStudy Circle on Contemporary Labor Burdensh set up in 1990 has tried in studying the labor burdens imposed upon by the just-in-time system (JIT) waging the struggle against this system in workplaces. The lean production system represented by JIT rapidly spread in Japan from the second half of 1970's. It started in the auto industry, followed by the electric machinery, precision machinery, industry machinery, food industry and all other manufacturing industries. It now covers the fields of physical distribution, retailing and services. The first step they take in applying JIT to workplaces of these industries is to make workers work standing, by forcibly taking chairs away. There were cases that not only site workers but also clerical workers were forced to work on foot. This forced labor caused various kinds of health disorder. On this issue, the gStudy Circleh has offered opportunities for workers to learn cases of each workplace all over the country where JIT was introduced, and to exchange the experiences of struggles. By the cooperation of specialists on labor medical science, it has not only continued with case study, but actually obtained achievements; it has succeeded in making work on foot abolish in some workplaces.
Thirdly, as gdeath from overwork,h or karoshi, became a social problem since around the end of 1980f, the struggle started to get authorities to recognize it as labor accident. They have carried forward this struggle deeply linked with the struggle against the lean production system. In Japan, not only in actual production sites but also in every type of industry including transportation, finance, service, public service and education, they are imposing Toyota-style labor upon workers. Consequently, due to the stress caused by long working hours, intensive labor and excessive quota, sudden death from overwork has been seen among the workers of all job types and all ages. Nevertheless, the labor administration has granted very few victims labor accident compensation, because it is reluctant in giving recognition of labor accident, and the companies who are responsible for workers' death, and trade unions are not cooperative. This is why in 1998 gkaroshi 110 (emergency call)h was set up under the initiatives of lawyers and doctors all over the country. They respond to the consultation by the victims. Also, bereaved families of workers who had died of overwork, lawyers, doctors and activists in workplaces have joined to ask thoroughly into responsibility of the companies and trade unions, trying to win recognition of labor accidents from the authority. Such activities have had a great impact on society and have achieved to ease extremely strict standards in recognizing labor accidents to some extent.
Fourth and lastly, the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the Japanese Communist Party have carried on the movement for reduction in working hours and regulation on the intensive labor. Along with this, they have also promoted the movement, which is particularly important, calling for a drastic revision of the Labor Standards Law. The existing Labor Standards Law has serious weak points in connection with imposing regulations on the lean-production-system work style, because it gives no upper limits to overtime work, and has no stipulation on controlling intensive work. Since in Japan trade unions do not impose sufficient regulations on such work style, juridical regulation has special importance. However, the Japanese government and financial circles run completely counter to responding to this necessity, intending to get the Toyota-type of work system further established. Now with the aim of abolishing all the existing regulations that hinder the Toyota-type of work being firmly established, they are pushing ahead with policies of increasing the coverage of occupation categories, where they are trying to expand the application for discretionary or flextime work system and the fields of dispatching worker system. The government's attempts to totally and adversely revise the Labor Standards Law and other labor laws have met opposition from a great majority of workers and trade unions, including Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) affiliates.
In this way, Japanese workers, their families and residents are now fighting against the lean production system in various fields and have won achievements. What is important is that each struggle, while individually achieving good results, is now combining each other. A network of exchange and cooperation is spreading. This trend is not something typical only to Japan. The advancement of the lean production system on an international scale has produced struggle everywhere in the world, thus the exchange and cooperation between struggles in different parts of the world are also becoming widespread.
Publication of gWages of Auto Industry,hedited by Aichi Labor InstituteIn February 1998, Aichi Labor Institute , which maintains amiable relations with the Japan Research Institute of Labor Movement (Rodo-Soken) published a booklet under the title, gWages@of Auto@Industry.h The booklet gives the results of the research and analysis on@the wages paid to workers in Japan's main auto manufactures. It is a fruit@of four years' collective work of researchers and workers, members of the@Institutes' Study Group on the Policies for Workplaces in the Auto Industry.
This booklet sheds lights on the new type of mechanism of exploitation@under the lean production system, which represents a low-cost structure@based on the strengthened principle that wages should be paid according to@workers' ability and achievements. This mechanism provides the basis for@enormous profits gained by Japan's four leading auto manufactures,@namely, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Honda, and by the Toyota Group's@five main companies. B5-sized, 132 pages, available only in Japanese.
Publication of gWorkers' Struggle Throughout the World - 1997h
Report on the Research concerning the World's Labor Movement,
Vol.4,@written by the International Labor Section, the Japan Research
Institute of@Labor Movement