|Address:Rodo-Soken,Union Corp 3-3-1 Takinogawa,Kitaku,Tokyo,Japan(114)|
Metal & Machinery Industry Workers
Fighting against "Streamlining" Offensive under the Industrial
Japan's metal and machinery industry faces an "all-out reorganization" taking place on a global scale.
In the car industry, the interlocking of business grouping by U.S.-led foreign monopolies is proceeding. Corporate alliances have been formed between Ford Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corporation; Renault and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.; General Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Suzuki Motor Corporation and Isuzu Motors, Ltd.; and DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. With Toyota Motor Corporation and Honda Motor Co., Ltd., Japan's car industry is realigning itself into six business groups.
The steel industry is being reorganized into two groups: one with allied NKK (Nippon Kokan K.K.) and Kawasaki Steel Corporation, and the other led by Nippon Steel Corporation. Background to this is the fear among the former group that Nippon Steel Corporation, by establishing a tie up with Sumitomo Metal Industries, Ltd. is gaining more and more influence over the car and other industries which are in demand of steel. Nippon Steel Co. plans to enter into business cooperation with Nisshin Steel Co., Ltd., too.
As for the shipbuilding industry, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry put forward in summer, 1999, a direction toward the realignment of Japan's shipbuilding industry. The existing seven biggest companies in this industry are likely to be integrated into three or four groups: Hitachi Zosen Corporation and NKK; Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. and Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co., Ltd.; Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd., Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. and IHI (Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co., Ltd.;) and one led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. Sumitomo Heavy Industries, Ltd. and IHI will jointly produce war vessels.
In the electrical and electronic related industries, integration is progressing according to business sections. It has been announced that in the motor production, Hitachi Ltd., Fuji Electric Co., and Meiden Electric Co. on one hand, and Toshiba Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation on the other, agreed on establishing business partnership. In the semiconductor production, item-based linkups will start between NEC and Hitachi, Toshiba and Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi and Fuji Electric Co., Ltd., and NEC and Mitsubishi.
All these moves come from gigantic enterprises' attempts to push ahead with capital concentration and tie-up to ensure their survival under the globalized "mega competition." The current industrial reorganization is closely linked with what is called "IT (information technology) Revolution."
The capital is taking advantage of the industrial reorganization to promote a campaign for a renewed, all-out "streamlining" in the name of "restructuring." They are largely carrying out closure and integration of businesses, sales of assets and business, corporate breakup, spin-off, outsourcing, and liquidation or reduction of subcontractors and smaller enterprises. By taking these measures, they are virtually pushing ahead with massive dismissals. Their intention is to drastically increase the corporate profitability in a short period through the maximal cost reduction.
I used the word "virtually", because companies are driving workers to leave their jobs against their will. Employers would pressurize the workers until they give in and say they want to "quit." It is a common practice among companies to shift workers to workplaces too far away to commute; transfer workers to other firms under much deteriorated working conditions; and harass workers in violation of their human rights, by taking away their jobs or sending them to solitary confinement rooms.
In this way, in seven years between the end of 1991 and of 1998, 28,000 establishments with 930,000 employees disappeared in seven sectors in the metal machinery industry; iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, metal products, general machinery, electrical machinery, transportation machinery and precision machinery. The decrease rate in terms of the number of establishments was 17 percent, and in terms of the number of workers, 16 percent. The decline was particularly serious in iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, electrical machinery and precision machinery ("industrial statistics" by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, defining those employing at least four workers.) The 1999 industrial statistics indicate that the number of workers employed by establishments with at least four employees decreased by 230,000 from the year before. According to the Labor Ministry's Survey of Employment Trends, the regular employment index of 1999 in comparison with that of the previous year, the situation is further worsening. The number of employees in all industries surveyed dropped by 1.2. The same index in manufacturing showed a decline by 2.6. As for the metal machinery industry, the index in iron and steel decreased by 6.4; in non-ferrous metals, by 4.8; in metal products, by 4.0; in general machinery, by 3.2; in electrical machinery, by 3.1; in transportation machinery, by 2.6; and in precision machinery, by 2.8.
"Restructuring" originally means business reconstruction. In Japan, however, the word was abbreviated in Japanese to "Risutora," which is now being widely used as a synonym of "firing."
Along with workforce downsizing, companies are drastically substituting "regular" workers, who are supposed to be in principle in a long-term, continuous employment, with "unstable" employment such as part time, temporary or contract workers.
In recent years, the Japanese government under the LDP has made new legislation and amendments to the existing laws to support the industrial reorganization and "streamlining" policies by major corporations. Japan's political world has helped corporations implement their policies from two aspects: one was to adversely revise the labor laws, and the other to change the economic laws for the worse in view of promoting the industrial and corporate reorganization.
Let me cite examples of just a few years. First is the revision of the labor laws. The government 1) adversely revised the Labor Standards Law to water down the eight hour working day system, by deleting from the law the protective provisions for women workers, by elevating the upper limit set for flexible working hours on the year basis (these two amendments enforced in April, 1999,) and by expanding the job types to which the discretionary work schedule are applied (enforced in April, 2000.) Further, the government, 2) aiming to destroy the principles of direct employment and long-term, continuous employment, revised the Employment Security Act (enforced in April, 2000) and the Labor Leasing Law (enforced in December 1999). It also introduced a three-year job contracts (enforced in April, 2000.)
As for the second aspect, the government lifted the ban on holding companies by adversely revising the Anti-Monopoly Act. To assist major banks and corporations to promote restructuring by investing taxpayers' money and providing tax and financial privileges to them, it established the two Financial Revitalization Laws (enforced in October, 1998,) the Industrial Revitalization Law (enforced in October, 1999,) and the Company Spin-off Laws (enacted in May, 2000.)
These measures have caused in a critical employment situation for metal and machinery workers, irrespective of the size of their companies. In 1999, Japan's jobless numbered 3,170,000 and the unemployment rate rose up to 4.7 percent, the worst-ever record in history. Facing such a grave situation, how did trade unions react?
About 5.2 million workers are employed in Japan's metal and machinery industry. Of them, 2.3 million are union members, making up 44 percent of the total labor force. Contrary to unions' relatively high membership ratio, the weight of their presence is becoming smaller and smaller. As for the union affiliation with national centers, 85 percent of the organized workers belong to the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo.)
Most of the trade unions of major companies in the huge metal and machinery industry are in-house unions, with their membership is limited to "regular workers." Instead of fighting back the capital's "restructuring" policy, these unions are cooperating with it. Rengo made a certain resistance against the attempts to revise the labor laws for the worse. However, Rengo-affiliated industrial federations and company unions in the metal and machinery industry have offered almost no opposition to the company's "restructuring" policy.
In sharp contrast with such attitude of Rengo-affiliated and company unions, metal and machinery workers affiliated with the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), whose membership only represents 0.6 percent of all, are resolutely fighting against the capital's "restructuring." Let me refer to the struggle of the All-Japan Metal & Information Machinery Workers' Union (JUIU,) the only industrial federation affiliated with Zenroren in the metal and machinery industry. JMIU staged a strike to protest the adverse revision of the labor laws, while all other unions remained quiet. Under the slogan of "never allow the adversely revised labor laws implemented in the workplaces," JMIU carries on the struggle for the establishment of labor arrangements based on prior consultation and agreement, combining it with the struggle to defend workers and workplaces of small- and medium-sized enterprises from the tyranny of big businesses. Because of the limited space for this article, I only report on the JMIU struggle against "restructuring" in workplaces.
Since 1998, JMIU member unions have been exposed, like other unions, to the attacks from the companies promoting the organizational restructuring, including plant closure, spin-off, forced resignation and transfer of workers.
In U.S.-owned NCR Japan, Ltd. and IBM Japan, Ltd. workers were threatened by the company's massive "restructuring" plan centered on the spin-offs with transfer of employees from their payrolls to new firms. Denouncing this unlawful action by the companies, which in reality are making a tremendous profit. JMIU is developing the struggle inside and outside the workplace against such "restructuring." The NCR authorities sent those workers, who refused the transfer order to a small room or a block established in service centers in different places, keeping them isolated from other workers with no work to do. In IBM, a skilled worker who refused the transfer order was assigned a simple and tedious task at an affiliate company. Workers of Saga Enterprise joined JMIU to fight back the company, which had put him in a solitary confinement room to drive him into resignation.
I will not go into details since its was already reported in "Rodo-Soken Journal" No.29 (January 2000,) but a major struggle is going on under the initiatives of Zenroren and JMIU against the massive "restructuring" by Nissan Motors. Co., which entered into a capital tie-up with Renault.
Japanese mass media usually pay little attention to workers' movement, but they have taken up those struggles of workers mentioned above to some extent, helping to make a change the public tendency to accept "restructuring."
Such struggles are few examples of "restructuring" policy of Japan's major corporations facing the organized resistance by workers. After all, JMIU is still a minority in the workplaces and has not been able yet to make the capital drastically change the policy in favor of the labor. The struggle continues.
On the other hand, in some workplaces where JMIU has gained a certain organizational strength and influence, it succeeded in braking the "restructuring" in spite of its small membership.
In Nagano Prefecture, Fujitsu Ltd. planned to transfer the whole operation of Shinshu Factory, the main plant of Takamizawa Electric Co., Ltd. to Chikuma Communication Co., Takamizawa's subsidiary. This actually means the closure of Shinshu Factory. The management urged Shinshu Factory workers to choose either to resign or to move to Chikuma on condition that their wage would be 40 percent down from the present level with their annual working hours 200 hours longer. Shinshu Factory has a JMIU branch and a company union. The latter accepted the company's proposal, while JMIU branch opposed the closure of Shinshu Plant and rejected to the end the forcible retirement and transfer, thus protecting workers' employment. Fujitsu capital has been denying its involvement in this matter, but JMIU carries on the struggle demanding that Fujitsu should give up its failed attempt to scrap Takamizawa Electric Co. and instead maintain and develop the operations of Shinshu Factory.
Tetra Pack Japan, an affiliate of a Swedish-Swiss multinational, put forth a plan to close a subsidiary, Seishin Plant, in Hyogo Prefecture and shift its operations to a new plant to be built in Gotemba City, Shizuoka Prefecture. The company forced workers to make a choice between resignation and transfer to a new plant in Gotemba under far worse working conditions.
In Seishin Plant, the management had done every kinds of unfair labor practice in an attempt to crush the union. In that process, the second union was formed, which joined Rengo. The "streamlining" plan announced this time met opposition not only from the JMIU branch but also from the Rengo-affiliated union. The two unions actually carried out a "joint struggle." The company tried to persuade workers to resign or transfer by interviewing them individually but failed, because of a resistance by the two unions. As the company withdrew the closure plan, the unions won an overall victory.
In Saitama Prefecture, Kitamura Valve Co., which was bought by the Tyco U.S., the management tried to push ahead with the personnel cut, in complete disregard of the labor agreement and traditional practice. The workers were divided into two according to their affiliation with unions: a JMIU branch and a Rengo-affiliated union. Many non-unionized workers in managerial posts resigned. The JMIU branch, whose membership is open to part-timers, took up the counteroffensive, winning from the company the word to "cease restructuring;" the company promised that it would not reduce the workforce any more.
All these struggles have developed into community-based struggles in solidarity with Zenroren and its local union federations. With this development, we are all the more convinced that our struggle will pave the way out of and finally put an end to restructuring.
The writer is Vice President of All Japan Metal and Information Machinery Worker's Union (JMIU)
National Public Service Employees Fighting against
By Yoshikazu ODAGAWAFacing with the Imminent Reorganization of Central Ministries and Agencies
The reorganized structure of the Japanese government will start functioning on January 6, 2001. The legislation was made to realign the existing one office and 12 ministries and 22 agencies (of which one office, 12 ministries and 9 agencies have a state minister, who attends the cabinet meeting, as director general), into one office and 10 ministries and 2 agencies (of which one office, 10 ministries and 2 agencies will be headed by a director general, who is accorded the status of state minister).
Japan's administrative structure is under a strict rule of law. From the objectives of establishing ministries and agencies to changes in their organization, number and name require law revision. Accordingly, even the cabinet, executive power of which shall be vested in and supervises the administrative organization, cannot change at its own will the organization of ministries and agencies. Without a law revision approved by the Diet, no change is allowed including to duty sharing by ministries and agencies.
This is why the fundamental organization of ministries and agencies has been maintained for over fifty years since 1948. Some Japanese people have criticized this system saying that it has helped to retain what is called "vertically-divided administration," which is sometimes described as ministries govern the state. Many people therefore have welcomed the planned realignment of administrative structure as a change that would redress the present situation.
Kokko-Roren Opposing the "Administrative Reform"
Since discussions started in November 1996 on the governmental "administrative reform" that included reorganization of ministries and agencies, the Japan Federation of National Public Service Employees' Unions (Kokko-Roren) has carried forward a movement against such "administrative reform."
Kokko-Roren's reasons for opposing the "administrative reform" are:
First, the government's objective of carrying out realignment of ministries and agencies as "administrative reform" is unacceptable.
In the first meeting of the Administrative Reform Council, the then prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who chaired the Council, said: "The economic system that has sustained the development of the nation now faces its limits under the changes taking place at home and abroad." He continued to say, "It is important therefore to drastically reexamine the functions of the State and administration." He also said that "a through relaxation and abolition of regulations, and downsizing of the administrative organization should be promoted to build an appropriate governmental organization and function of official residence."
As shown by these remarks by the prime minister, in defining the basic points of view for reform, they were keenly aware of the end of the high growth of the economy and the economic stagnation following the collapse of the "bubble" economy. Based on this, they sought a restructuring of the State constitution and an administrative reform. Their principal aim was to back up activities of multinational corporations. Kokko-Roren defined that such a reform would only result in undermining the objectives of the State and the administration: to work for the construction of a welfare state based on social solidarity.
According to the planned reform, for example, the Health and Welfare Ministry, which is responsible for general administrative functions concerning social welfare and social security. The Labor Ministry, which is in charge of workers' welfare and job securing, will be merged into the Ministry of Labor and Welfare. In Japan, where workers' activities were always under a total suppression, the establishment of the Labor Ministry has been accepted as a symbol of post-war democracy. And currently, with many workers' rights being infringed upon, as indicated by the increase of karoshi, death from overwork, people hold special expectations for the initiatives by Labor Ministry in protecting their rights to work. The integration of the Labor Ministry into the Labor and Welfare Ministry represents nothing but a retreat of the labor administration from the present level.
Secondly, since the early stage of 1980's, Japan's successive cabinets have given priority to the administrative reform among their political tasks. And they have been boasting of the reduced number of national public service employees as the achievement of the reform. The reorganization of ministries and agencies planned this time aim to cut the fixed number of public servants by 25 percent in the name of "slimming down the administrative structure." No doubt that such a "streamlining" will mean for public service workers intensified labor, and for the people a cut in public services. This is why Kokko-Roren is against the "administrative reform."
After all, the number of Japan's public service employees is far less than other developed countries'. According to the 1997 statistics, the number of Japan's national public servants (excluding those in national defense and including those employed by state-run enterprises) per capita was 10.2. The numbers for UK was 32; for France, 47.5; and for the U.S. federal government, 7.5. In terms of the number of public servants, Japan has a particularly "small government." Japan's central government has managed to carry out its activities with such a small number of staff, by making full use of subsidies and other possible means to shift its functions on to local governments and private sectors. It should be noted at the same time that the government has imposed on workers intensification of labor in many ways, including through "restrictions" such as one teacher per 40 students and 16-hour night duty by nurses.
Surveys conducted by Kokko-Roren and others also show that more than 13 percent of workers at government ministries and agencies worked 100 extra hours in February 2000. Every year we see more and more similar cases, by which many workers have become afraid of dying from overwork. It is impermissible to carry out a reform at the sacrifice of workers, by enforcing the law to reduce the number of public servants without inspection for administrative demand.
Thirdly, the planned "administrative reform" intends for an institutional change to limit the administrative responsibility of the central government, that is, role sharing between the central and local governments in the name of decentralization, and the establishment of independent administrative corporations as new administrative organizations.
The independent administrative corporations system was set up as a mechanism to give independent legal status outside the state's normal organizational framework to national organizations operating facilities such fields as medical service, education and research, with a view to seek the maximum achievement with a limited budget allocated to them. For example, national hospitals, on becoming independent administrative corporations, will have to be operated on a stand-alone basis, including those engaged in the medical service in areas where their operations would be impossible without financial assistance from the State. The result will be more and more areas without medical facilities. And it is not hard to imagine that in case of making out well with the self-supporting accounting system, those hospitals will be subjected to privatization. The independent administrative corporations system is the "best policy" second to abolition or privatization of government bodies.
Fourthly, the "administrative reform" will enhance the function of the cabinet and the prime minister's powers with the aim of making Japan a military power. Evidence for this is that the administrative reform coincided with the enactment of a series of laws for that purpose: the War Laws, the law to designate "Hinomaru and Kimigayo" as national flag and anthems and the Wiretapping Law. In realigning ministries and agencies, discussions are still going on whether or not to upgrade the Defense Agency to a "Ministry of Defense," The existence of the Defense Agency and the Self-Defense Forces under Article 9 of Japan's Constitution that clearly declares the "renunciation of war and the denial of war potential and the right of belligerency" has been the central issue in post-war politics. Now that the high economic growth cannot be maintained as "national goal," to set a new "national goal" has become a task in conservative politics. Attempts to press the people to recognize the Defense Agency and the Self-Defense Forces as legitimate under the pretext of "international contribution" have become all the more intense in the economic disorder facing the country after the collapse of the "bubble economy." We stand on the view that the administrative reorganization was intended not only as measures to deal with the economic globalization but also as a breakthrough for a further reform to integrate the whole nation based on a new nationalism.
Kokko-Roren has appealed to the broadest possible section of people, trying to raise awareness of the people about the problems of the "administrative reform." Supported by public opinion, it has worked to influence politicians so that they would know how strongly determined national public service employees are in opposing the forcible implementation of the "administrative reform." Kokko-Roren carried out activities centered on signature-collecting and mass publicity campaigns.
Japan's public servants are denied the rights not only to go on strikes but also to have a direct negotiation with the government concerning decisions on labor conditions. In 1948, according to a letter from the General Headquarters (GHQ), MacArthur note, the Japanese government decided to deprive all the public servants of the fundamental labor rights. Negative effects of this decision were also visible in the current restructuring of the administrative organization. Their labor becoming so intensified that public Service workers are constantly under the fear of dying from overwork. And in the face of the attempt to cut their number by 25 percent, public service employees have no way to develop a struggle to oppose it directly. At present, about 70,000 national public service employees are designated to severe their employment relationship with the State to be transferred to independent administrative corporations. Without readiness for criminal penalty, no direct action can be waged against it. This kind of "regulations" bars the struggle of Kokko-Roren.
Achievements and Future Directions of the Struggle
In 1996, as briberies and other scandals involving bureaucrats were revealed one after another, the general trend was created in public opinion to consider those who objected to the administrative reform as "traitors to the country." But four years later, with the restructuring of government ministries and agencies are soon to be implemented people are less hopeful of what would the administrative reform bring, because they are becoming aware of its negative aspects. More and more people have come to know that the "administrative reform" is linked with the reduction of the social security system and would further increase the unemployment, far from helping Japan's budget deficit, which has reached almost 130 percent of the GDP. Such a change in the trend of public opinion was also visible in the setback suffered by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the general election in June 2000. Kokko-Roren is self-confident that its movement has somehow had influence over such a change in public opinion.
In spite of the change in people's opinion, the government has not made the slightest modification to their reform plan whose aim is to cope with the economic globalization and to establish a new nationalism. There is no denying the administrative restructuring to take place in January 2001 would further accelerate the reform in that direction. Our struggle is coming to the crucial point.
Kokko-Roren in its struggle is targeted at forming a national consensus on changing the central government into one that will commit itself to the realization of the principles put forward by the Constitution, which declares Japan's renunciation of war and the establishment of a welfare state. Kokko-Roren will tenaciously carry on the movement with a long-term perspective to achieve the goal. It will also make utmost efforts to block the attempts for further "streamlining" to be promoted by the "administrative reform," which includes the personnel cut in the public sector and the transformation of the government bodies into independent administrative corporations.
The writer is General Secretary of Japan Federation of National Public Service Employees' Unions (KokkoRoren)