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Financial Workers' Unions Making Qualitative Changes
in the Face of Business Failure,
Merger and Massive Dismissals
A Bank Union Increased Its Membership from 8 to 180
In Japan, not only mega banks but also small- and medium-sized financial institutions are promoting merger and integration among themselves all over the country. Financial workers are exposed everywhere to offensives of workforce reduction and dismissals. Facing such a situation, the financial workers' movement is making qualitative changes that have never seen before. One can see in these qualitative changes signs of the financial labor movement attaining a full development in the future. Let us take some typical examples.
Administrative authorities are pushing ahead with reorganization and integration of credit cooperatives and credit associations throughout the country. In Osaka, they are planning to integrate and consolidate 13 credit cooperatives into 3, which means 10 credit cooperatives disappearing to be absorbed by the 3 surviving cooperatives.
I already referred to this problem in the previous issue of this journal (No.26, April 1999), and the developments for this past year since then have made even clearer that Japan's financial workers' unions are undergoing qualitative changes. We can see it in the case of Credit Cooperative Osaka Koyo, one of those ten disappearing cooperatives. The employees' union of this cooperative had only eight members out of 380 workers. As they came to know Osaka Prefectural government was planning to reorganize credit cooperatives, a number of Osaka Koyo workers started to join the union in a short period of time. The union membership expanded to 180. What is more, 97 union members filed a suit in Osaka District Court against the prefectural government for its attempts to enforce the reorganization plan, demanding that their jobs should be secured. The facts that up to 97 employees became plaintiffs and that their team included 24, who had already had the word from the management about their reemployment, are a manifestation how angry workers were at the reorganization plan and how firmly determined they were to fight against it.
Supported by the National Federation of Credit Association Workers' Unions (Zenshinren), the National Joint Action Council of Financial Workers' Unions (Kin'yu-Kyoto) and the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) since the start of the lawsuit in April 1999, the plaintiffs carried on their court struggle even after the dissolution of Osaka Koyo on August 23, when the merger was enforced. Finally on December 20, the plaintiffs and the defendant authorities arrived at a compromise on the condition that all the employees would be re-employed to their wishes.
Due to the financial crisis following the collapse of the "bubble" economy, many financial institutions ceased to exist by merger or business failure. Dismissed or re-employed, workers had never been so active in the struggle as in the case of Osaka Koyo employees. Their struggle had a palpable difference from the previous ones. Workers, who were not only willing to join the union but also had no interest in it, all at once became members. Further, they decided themselves to take up a court struggle as plaintiffs. This was an apparent sign that the attitude of financial workers was changing.
Kokumin Bank Employees' Union Carrying on Their Struggle One Year After the Bank's Business Failure
I also made reference in the No. 26 of this journal to the case of workers' union of Kokumin Bank at the bank's failure last year. Developments of the past year since then have indeed proved that the financial workers' movement is entering a new stage. Kokumin Bank Employees' Union, an affiliate with the National Federation of Bank Workers' Unions (Ginko-Roren), is a union shop, that is to say, everyone automatically becomes a union member once employed by the bank. Because of this, not all members had much interest in union activities. Their attitude began to change when they faced the critical situation that 730 workers were going to lose their jobs, as the Financial Reconstruction Commission pronounced Kokumin Bank insolvent. Kokumin Bank workers got together under the union flag to become actively involved in union activities. Including those who used to have little interests in union activities, all the workers were now resolved to fight in earnest.
During the past year since Kokumin Bank was judged insolvent in April 1999, Kokumin Bank Employees' Union carried forward in solidarity with unions of Credit Cooperative Osaka Koyo and other failed financial institutions various activities such as street propaganda campaigns and petition to the administrative authorities, demanding that their jobs should be secured. The image of workers under the initiatives of the union leadership actively taking part in actions at every opportunity convinced us that Kokumin Bank Employees' Union was no more the same as what it used to be. Certainly this financial workers union was changing. At the beginning of this year, a decision was made to transfer Kokumin Bank's business to Yachiyo Bank. It was announced that according to this transfer, Yachiyo Bank would employ only 300. less than a half of the whole labor of Kokumin Bank,
Kokumin Bank Employees' Union continued to fight demanding that the management should expand the employment at Yachiyo Bank from 300, and that it should provide help for finding jobs and add-on to the retirement allowances for those who would not be employed by Yachiyo Bank. In February, the management started sorting workers to decide whom to employ. For workers, to take an active part in union activities at this point meant to run a risk of being excluded from the employment at Yachiyo Bank. However, the union staged a strike twice winning 27 additional employment to the proposed limit of 300. The union continues carrying forward the struggle to achieve the whole demand of workers.
Shokusan Bank Employees' Union Blocked the Merger Driving the President into Resignation
A local bank in Yamagata Prefecture succeeded in blocking the merger and drove the president into resignation by a thorough examination of problems of the merger plan proposed by the management. The management's of the two local banks of Yamagata Prefecture, Shonai Bank and Shokusan Bank, agreed on and announced their merger on December 21, 1999. Shokusan Bank had Shokusan Bank Employees' Union, which is affiliated with Ginko-Roren like the above-mentioned Kokumin Bank Employees' Union. This one is also a union shop.
As the umbrella organization, Ginko-Roren had made clear its position to oppose any merger plan that would sacrifice the employees and customers. However, in many cases the management would forces through the merger, while the workers' union on its part submitting to the management and dropping its membership from Ginko-Roren. For Ginko-Roren, the announcement of banks' merger had meant its affiliate withdrawing from it. But the failure of another merger plan of the same Shokusan Bank with other two local banks six years before, brought about some change in the established process of the withdrawal of member unions from Ginko-Roren following the announcement of the merger plan. The change that took place at that moment, however, was not a perfect one. Shokusan Bank Employees' Union indeed took up a struggle upholding a policy against the merger, but at that stage it was not capable and strong enough to stop the merger. The decisive factor that prevented the merger plan was that voices against the merger grew rapidly inside the merger partner, Kita-Nihon Bank.
Contrary to the previous case, the complete withdrawal of the merger plan by the management this time apparently owed mostly to the struggle of Shokusan Bank Employees' Union. The union studied thoroughly and made clear the problems of the merger plan including the faulty computer system integration program, It published daily news on these problems and distributed them to union members and all other workers. A great majority of employees including those in managerial posts stood against the merger plan. Apart from that, the management of a local bank in the neighboring area, with which Shokusan Bank had a tie-up in the joint project of computer system development, protested against the merger plan that ignored the tie-up between the two banks. Isolated inside and outside their own bank, the Shokusan Bank management had no alternative but to take back the whole merger plan and resigned about three months after the announcement of the plan.
What was the driving force for Shokusan Bank Employees' Union to fight through until it succeeded in blocking the merger and pushing the management into resignation? The answer is indeed in the objective situation facing Japan's financial institutions today, which has led their unions to change.
The Japanese government came out with the Big Ban financial market liberalization policy in 1996, and has been pushing ahead with reorganization and consolidation of small- and medium-sized financial institutions throughout the country. We have seen a series of failure and merger of small- and medium- sized financial institutions that ended up with the dismissal of the entire employee in different places in Japan. Facing such a reality, workers are now well aware, like it or not, that the time is over for them that they can manage to maintain their jobs and livelihood by conceding to the management. This is not only the case with Shokusan Bank workers, but has become a common understanding among the affiliates with Ginko-Roren supporting Kokumin Bank Employees' Union. They are conscious of more than defending their own livelihood and employment.
In his speech at a rally to support Kokumin Bank Employee's Union, Mr. Yuki, secretary general of Shokusan Bank Employees' Union, said:
"During the bubble economy, the management forced the labor to work to death. After the collapse of the bubble economy, the management again forced the labor to work to death for collecting bad loans. And when they finally end up in business failure, they just say they will need only a half of the workers. They discard workers without feeling any pain. We must not allow them to do this any more."
Looking back upon the struggle of Shokusan Bank Employees' Union against the merger plan, he continued:
"Our movement was the one to show workers' anger and to defend the pride of workers against such behaviors of the management. Sometimes we shrank back from the incredible power standing right before us. But we never gave up to the end. We continued saying "No" to what we never could accept, and we kept our belief with us that such outrages were by no means permissible. I am convinced this is how we won the unconditional withdrawal of the merger."
Secretary General Yuki defines the present struggle as a "struggle to defend the pride and dignity of bank clerks." Facing banks going under and disappearing, workers are changing. They are not begging for relief and mercy. Instead, they unite themselves with labor unions, and build up their own strength to exercise it. They are becoming aware that this is the way to defend their dignity and pride as workers.
The writer is Secretary General of the Research Institution for Bank Employees
NTT Workers' Struggle under the Information Technology Innovation in Japan
Can the IT Innovations Recover Japan's Economy and Increase Employment?
Our union comprises of workers employed by the NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.) group companies. We are affiliated with the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), a militant national center of trade unions. Our struggle is to make NTT, a company now doing its information communication business on a global scale, redress its despotic management policy.
The "IT Revolution" is prevailing throughout Japan now. The "IT Revolution" means to bring changes in industries through information technology.
At present, the livelihood of Japanese people and workers is in a grave situation due to the prolonged economic recession. The number of the jobless has reached 3.49 million, and the unemployment rate now stands at 4.9 percent. For those with employment, they receive lower wages than last year. The Japanese government announced that Japan's consumer spending dropped by 1.2 percent. While the entire national consumption has continuously been declining, consumption on personal computers, cellular phones and other IT-related products has made a rapid growth, up 10.4 percent from the previous year.
Telephones have come into wide use in our country. There are about 60 million home-use fixed-line telephone subscribers, on which NTT has a monopoly, and more than 60 million cellular phone subscribers. Indeed, every one of the Japan's 120,00 million populations owns a phone. Personal computers have also become popular; users have increased from 2 million in 1993 to 10 million in 1999. No doubt that telephones have become indispensable equipment in Japanese people's life.
The Japanese government and capitalists are advocating that the IT revolution can recover the nation's economy and expand jobs. They further say that it will bring a bright future to people's life. Does this really happen? Workers in the information communication industry have great doubt about it. Certainly the sales of communication equipment, such as personal computers, word processors, cellular phones and fax machines are on a rapid increase.
The growth of the Internet and cellular phone users has resulted in five-consecutive-year increase in phone call charges. However, how the world will see the reality of Japanese people's livelihood that they are cutting their expenses on basic needs such as clothing, food and housing to spend more on IT-related consumption?
The Japanese people and workers are now living in an extremely difficult situation. The government's policy to back up major companies in their restructuring through reduction of workforce and labor costs has warped the entire livelihood of the people, undermining health of people and workers both mentally and physically.
With restructuring and the "IT revolution" as their key words, major companies are trying to pull through the economic recession at the sacrifice of people and workers. Their management policy is to secure "profits" in spite of the sales decline.
The reality is quite contrary to their words that the "IT revolution" will increase employment. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry published in September 1999 a report on the results of a survey entitled "Change in the Employment Structure Brought About by the IT Revolution." The report says that employment for 3.67 million people will be generated in the next five years, while a workforce of 3.54 million being chopped to eliminate excessive employment, which will mean employment for 130,000 secured. It is too obvious, however, that there is no prospect for "creating employment" enough for the 3.49 million jobless. What impacts will changes in information technology have on livelihood, employment, the way of working of people and workers?
We can find a clear answer to this question in the actual management policy of the NTT Group, a leader in the information technology industry.
NTT Workers Waging a Struggle with Public Users
The privatization of the government-run Nippon Telephone and Telegram Public Corporation on April 1, 1985 gave birth to NTT, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation. At that time, the company was not able to enter the international communication market, because of its legal status as a domestic telecommunication carrier.
In response to the demands from the financial circles, the government "lifted the ban" in 1997 on the "genuine holding company" system, after over fifty years of embargo since the end of World War II. The holding company" system is the one that allows a company to own stocks to pump up the whole gains of its subsidiaries as shareholder's dividends, without itself doing any business at all.
NTT was used to be one company doing business nationwide. It was divided on July 1, 1997 as the first holding company in Japan. The division established four companies: a holding company and under it two "regional companies," East and West, as domestic telecommunication carriers, and an "international company" as an international telecommunication carrier. The holding company has a full share in the two regional companies as well as in the international company. And the government holds 59 percent shares in the holding company.
The holding company NTT announced on April 12, 2000 "NTT Group Three-Year Business Plan." The main points of this plan is to increase sales in three years from 10.4 trillion yens to 11.5 trillion yens; and the ordinary profit, from 800 billion to 1 trillion, while downsizing the workforce from 220,000 to 203,000 and reducing the cost including wages.
In accordance with this policy set out by the holding company, NTT East and NTT West, both of which are a hundred percent subsidiaries of the holding company, drew up and are promoting their "mid-term business plans."
The plans includes the following:
To reduce "business counters" that have been closely used in communities as "street telephone offices" from 1,152 to 20. To integrate 57 existing trouble-shooting bases into 20, which means each one will have to cover wider areas than before. To dismiss 107,000 employees to downsize the workforce of 128,000 to 21,000. To carry out a through cost reduction by cutting wages, welfare services and corporate pension. To reallocate workers in local areas including isolated islands to Tokyo, the Metropolitan area, Osaka and other major cities.
These "plans" will cause immense damage to workers and public users.
The closure of offices in local areas and isolated islands will force the workers a difficult choice of employment: 1) retirement; 2) shift to other locations alone, leaving their families behind; 3) reallocation with the whole family; 4) retiring NTT to go into a commissioned contract individually with 30 percent of the previous wage plus piece rate, 5) reemployment in their localities transferred to under-subsidiaries with wages down to 70 percent of the payment as regular workers. After all, the companies aim to drive workers of 45 years and above into retirement. To carry out an overall cost reduction, the Group companies intend to lower the present wage level and to introduce an assessment system based on workers' achievement to basic wage and allowances. In this year's spring struggle, all the NTT Group companies in unison gave a reply of "no hike in base pay," in compliance with the holding company's policy. They also forced on workers a 10,000 - yen cut in the summer allowance.
Regarding the question of employment of workers at those offices to be closed, in such a vast region as Hokkaido, alternative workplaces will be 60 to 80km away. They have no choice but to retire or transfer alone.
Under such circumstances, workers are suffering so much that the number of those killing themselves is increasing. Reallocated alone leaving their families behind, or long commuting hours like "two or three hours for one way" are rapidly undermining the health of many workers.
The above-mentioned plans have harmful impacts on public users receiving info-communication services as well.
To achieve the goal of downsizing the workforce by 21,000, NTT is cutting personnel in all the workplaces. As a result, many problems have arisen regarding services. Users have difficulties in reaching NTT when necessary; when they want to make a claim for repair, or when they want to subscribe for telephone lines and access to the Internet. NTT is supposed to provide general, fair service t the public. By abandoning its universal services like this, NTT is shedding off its social responsibilities as well.
The closure of business counters and other facilities in a large number, has resulted in local areas and isolated islands abandoning of such services as receiving phone charge payment or subscription, and providing face-to-face consultation. For example, in Sadogashima Island, Niigata Prefecture, of 73,000 population, both of the two existing telephone offices are to be closed. Eight of ten city, town, village assemblies are demanding the withdrawal of the "closure plan," and adopted resolutions calling for the maintaining of business counters. Such a demand of users for keeping business counters in their localities is becoming common in Hokkaido, Akita, Kochi, Fukuoka and all other places in Japan.
NTT in no way is in a financial situation that requires such a massive reduction of its workforce and services for users. The NTT Group in fact obtained 82.5 billion yens in consolidated net pretax profit in FY 2000 ended March. The NTT holding company, by making a pretax profit of 117.5 billion yens without doing business at all, ranks at top amongst all as the super-excellent company in Japan.
We have organized a struggle in a joint effort with local residents to oppose the closure of business counters and offices. We have also started actions to urge the central government and NTT to respond our demands based on the resolutions for maintaining of business counters and offices adopted by local assemblies. Meanwhile, we are pushing the parliament members to press the government to do so. We are strengthening our advocacy campaign on the street to lay siege to NTT by public opinion.
In our struggle to defend employment for the NTT workers and oppose the wage cut, we are developing unity among workers at workplaces through dialogues. United on the agreed demands irrespective of union affiliation, we workers are fighting to block NTT's restructuring policy.
Japan's financial circles are unanimously seeking for the holding company system, because it will allow them to "carry out restructuring easily and obtain the maximum profits." The implementation of the three-year business plan of NTT as a holding company is the first test case of how well this system works. The system will decide the way of working of Japanese workers in the 21st century.
We regard the struggle against the holding company will be the one that goes down the history.
Our fellow members of Choshi Radio Operators' Union, Chiba Prefecture will file a complaint with the ILO demanding the "elimination of transfer alone and long commuting hours" this October. By calling for a broader support from workers around the world to their struggle, I conclude my report.
The writer is the chair of the Executive Committee, Telecommunication Industry Workers' Union.
Project Team to Study the Nissan Question Published an Urgent Report
To take immediate measures to deal with Nissan Motor Co.'s massive restructuring plan based on the "Revival Plan" made public on October 18, 1999, Rodo-Soken board of directors set up a Project Team to Study Nissan Question. The team, with the help of the Task Force for Nissan's Restructuring of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), has collected information and materials on the problem to be analyzed and studied. (See No.29).
The results of those studies were summed up in a report: ""Characteristics of Nissan Motor Co.'s Restructuring and Political Tasks to Counter It," which was made public in a press conference on March 2 2000 at Zenroren's Local Struggle Center.
The structure of the report is:
1) Social and Economic Effects of the Revival Plan and Problems
2) Task of Defending Business and Employment of Subcontractors and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises
3) Position of Japan's Auto Industry and Responsibility of the Government
4) Call for Major Companies to Realize Their Social Responsibility According to International Common Sense
5) Immediate Demands and Tasks regarding the Nissan Restructuring Question
Publication of Workers' Struggles of the World: 6th Annual Report 2000
By Masuo KATO
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) published at the end of April the annual report: "Workers' Struggles of the World: Report of Investigation on Actual Conditions of Trade Union Movements of the World 2000." Rodo-Soken's Study Section on International Labor Movement gives entire support to the report by contributing articles for it. First published in 1995 and this year's edition being 6th, the annual report has maintained its original purpose and basic approach, that is, to carry out a calendar-year case study on significant examples of the struggle in each country and make clear the demands, tasks, organization, scale, tactics and achievements of each struggle, to grasp actual situation of world's labor movement.
The 6th report is made up of 126 pages, 24 pages less than the last year's edition. However, it has 2,17,000 words, almost 20,000 more than the last one, This is the reflection of the development of the struggle of workers world over as well as the increase of information in quantity.
The progress of information technology (IT) has brought about, so to say, "revolutionary" changes to industries and economy, accelerating a global move of goods (products), money (capital), and people (workers). While the globalization of economy becoming a reality of people's daily life at work and at home, in the international arena of the trade union movements, a struggle is developing across borders to oppose the "neo-liberal" globalization "in pursuit of increasing profits of multinational enterprises" under the initiatives of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank. The 6th Report 2000 properly describes such developments of the trade union movements in the world.
Amidst the on-going international industrial reorganization, and concentration and merger of transnational capitals, people and workers are facing everywhere to massive employment destruction, wage destruction and deregulation imposed upon them by the restructuring strategies of major monopolistic enterprises. Developing countries have been and continue suffering from the financial and economic crises. Trade unions have taken up a struggle to counter such trends. Furthermore, the United States in its attempts to intensify its economic and military hegemonies led NATO forces to carry out air attacks against Yugoslavia, with the cooperation of social democratic government in Europe. In these countries, progressive trade unions staged protests against their governments. The Report "Struggles of Workers of the World 2000" describes and analyzes trade union movements in various countries that have started a persevering struggle in response to workers' expectation toward them, as defenders of the rights and interests of people working in the middle of the economic and political turbulence, as well as active factors in the work for peace and social justice.
The series of reports published in these six years are the results of tireless work of the members of Rodo-Soken's study section on international labor movement. They collect and store up basic materials from various sources throughout the year and sum up them in articles in one sitting at the very beginning of the year. I would like to express my respect for and gratitude to them for their six-year efforts and contribution to the international activities of Zenroren.
The writer is a member of the International Department, Zenroren