Role and Task
of Japan Trade Union Movement
―An Interview with Kanemichi KUMAGAI, Zenroren President
by Editor of Rodo-Soken
Editor: Today I would like to interview Mr. Kanemichi KUMAGAI, President of the
National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), in order to provide our overseas
readers information on the movement and policy of Zenroren. I hope this will help
our readers abroad understand Zenroren's views on domestic and international situations,
what policy Zenroren has, and how it organizes its movements and struggle. Before
going into the main subject,
35-Year Career as Full Time Union Official
Editor: I would like Mr. Kumagai to speak about his career. Mr. Kumagai, you are
known to have a long career as a full time union official.
Kumagai: I was elected in 1968 as an executive committee member of Zenshoko, workers'
union of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which is now called
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. I went back to workplace in 1971, and
was soon elected to the permanent committee member of the Joint Struggle Council
of the National Government Public Service Employees' Unions. Since then, I have
been working as a full time union official for 35 years.
Editor: After serving as an official of Zenshoko, you were elected as an official
of Kokko-Roren, the Federation of National Government Public Service Employees'
Unions in 1974.
Kumagai: That's right. I was elected to Deputy Secretary General of Kokko-Roren
in 1976 and to its Secretary General in 1982.
Editor: In 1983, you were assigned to the Council of Trade Unions for Promotion
of a United Front as its Deputy Secretary General. Then you were elected as the
Secretary General of Zenroren at its inaugural convention in November 1989. In
1998, you became the Vice President, and in 2002, took office as President. Internationally,
I believe it is quite rare for an official of a public service employees' union
to be elected to the head of a national trade union center. However, I also believe
that your experience of having been in the leadership of national government employees'
unions has helped you greatly to fulfill your duty in leading the national center.
I suppose your standard of conduct acquired through your career, as well as your
skill in analyzing and judging various matters in relation with national policy
have been a great advantage.
First General Election in the 21st century and LDP's Attempts to Prolong its
Editor: The 43rd House of Representative general election, the first national
election in the 21st century, was conducted on November 9, 2003. How do you see
the election result?
Kumagai: As a result of the general election, the ruling parties, the Liberal
Democratic Party and Komei Party, won 275 seats. Among the opposition parties,
the Democratic Party of Japan made a leap winning 177 seats. The Japanese Communist
Party, with which we maintain cooperative and partner relationship, obtained only
nine seats, down from 20 in the previous election. The Social Democratic Party
also suffered a setback from 18 to six seats. The Koizumi Cabinet managed to stay
Zenroren fought in the election campaign, calling for the realization of our urgent
demands, such as the elimination of unemployment, poverty and anxiety, protection
of peace and democracy, and change in the national policy based on the Constitution.
We also called for the opposition to the adverse revision of the pension system,
to the large tax increase plan, to the dispatch of Japan's Self Defense Forces
troops to Iraq, and to the adverse revision of the Constitution. It is my great
regret that we fail to bring people's voices together to say "No" to
the Koizumi Cabinet. We have to draw many lessons from this bitter experience,
and make the best of these in our future struggle.
According to the calculation of prefectural election boards, the voter turnout
was 59.85%, 2.63 down from the previous general election in June 2000, the second
lowest since the end of World War II. It shows how firm and deep is people's disgust
at politics to prolong the LDP rule.
Editor: Would you tell us what you mean by "politics to prolong the LDP domination?"
Kumagai: The LDP has long maintained its policy to serve the interests of big
businesses in subordination to the US, based on the Japan-US Security Treaty.
It has expanded useless large-scale public works like construction of dams or
highways for the interests of major general constructors. In return, it has received
rake-offs in the name of political contribution from these companies, making use
of such money for bribing and controlling politics. 50 trillion yen of Japan's
state expenditures is directed at large-scale public works projects, while only
20 trillion yen is spend on social welfare. There is no other country in the world
that adopts such a fiscal policy, which we call "upside-down" policy.
The cozy relationship between political, bureaucratic and business circles had
caused a serious political corruption. It was in this context that during 1960's,
people's growing criticism toward such LDP politics inspired the formation of
a united front with the participation of the Socialist Party of Japan (present
Social Democratic Party of Japan), JCP, Sohyo and others, leading to the establishment
of progressive local governments in Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, Aichi, Kanagawa,
Saitama or Fukuoka prefectures and other municipalities. In 1974, all the opposition
parties and national trade union centers jointly succeeded in improving the pension
system, and the united action for the establishment of a national minimum wage
also progressed. In the summit meeting in 1977, the SDPJ and the JCP leaders agreed
on the three progressive goals: 1) to improve people's lives by eliminating inequality
and favorable treatment of large corporations, 2) to get rid of money politics
and defend democracy and people's rights, and 3) to dissolve the military alliance
and work for a peaceful, neutral Japan.
Alerted by this uprising of progressive trend in the political situation, the
Japanese ruling power launched an all-out anti-communist counterattack called
the "second reactionary offensive" after the end of World War II. For
example, in 1980, the SPJ reached an agreement with the Komei Party on political
principles based on anti-communism, which included the approval of the Japan-US
military alliance and the Self-Defense Forces, the very core of the LDP politics.
This is how the SPJ shifted to the right. Then in August 1993, all the opposition
parties except for the JCP merged into a new political party called Shinshinto,
(New Frontier Party) under the slogan of "non-LDP," with the appearance
of an alternative to the LDP. After winning the general election, they formed
a cabinet under Prime Minister Morihiro HOSOKAWA. In June 1994, the SPJ and the
LDP allied to form a cabinet headed by SPJ chair Tomiichiro MURAYAMA. In this
way, changes in the head of the cabinet or in the combination of political alliance
in the government were nothing but part of the political tactics for maintaining
In the last general election, the major issue should have been whether people
want the coalition government formed by the Koizumi's LDP, Komei, and New Conservative
Party to stay in power after two years and six months, during which they pushed
ahead with the so-called "structural reform" to serve the interests
of large corporations in subordination to the U.S., with attempts to increase
the consumption tax rate while reducing corporate tax in response to the demands
of the business world. In fear of the LDP being defeated, Japan's large corporations
and business circles mobilized the media and launched a massive campaign to distract
people's attention from the real issue to be contested. They created an atmosphere
that the general election was about establishing "two-party system"
or changing the government, in an effort to secure an alternate conservative party
that could replace the LDP. This abnormal campaign had such a great impact on
voters who wished to change Koizumi's bad politics that many of them voted for
the DPJ, thinking that it was at least better than the LDP. The result of the
last general election reflected, in the context of such a complicated political
situation, how deep people's distrust was of politics for prolonging the LDP domination.
I have one thing to mention here. Becoming aware that its single-party rule was
no more a possibility, the LDP had repeatedly formed coalition governments in
a desperate effort to survive. In 1999, it finally joined hands with the Komei
Party, whose power base is a religious organization called Soka Gakkai. The LDP
had maintained the tri-party ruling coalition first with the Komei and the Liberal
Party, and then with the Komei and the Conservative Party which would later became
the New Conservative Party. However, after suffering a serious defeat in the last
general election losing its leader's Lower House seat, the NCP dissolved itself
to merge with the LDP, which made the Koizumi Cabinet an LDP-Komei coalition cabinet.
The Komei Party's participation in the government involves a problem regarding
the Constitution's principle of separation of state and religion. It is also a
problem affecting Japan's democracy. Soka Gakkai is a religious group that proclaims
itself as Buddha, and calls for the elimination of those who criticize it labeling
them as "enemies of Buddha." It outstands by its extremely anti-democratic
nature. Moreover, based on its staunch anti-communist position, it attacks the
JCP and its supporters and even democratic organizations with smear campaign and
other kinds of plot including violence. Soka Gakkai and the Komei Party are two
sides of the same coin. By including such a party into the ruling coalition, the
government has aroused deep concern among the people and increased contradictions
and frictions with LDP supporters. The LDP, whose supporter base is crumbling,
is no more able to win elections without organizational support from the Komei
Party. The Komei Party, on its part, however it emphasizes its raison d'etre as
LDP partner saying that it will correct the misconduct of the ruling party, it
actually backs up and propels LDP's bad politics, as clearly shown by its support
for the dispatch of the SDF troops to Iraq, for the adverse revision of the pension
system, and even for the planned constitutional revision.
Editor: Mr. Hiroshi OKUDA, Chair of the Japan Business Federation (JBF or Keidanren),
announced that the JBF would resume making political donations, although the business
circles had stopped donating money to political parties because of people's severe
criticism toward their cozy relationship with politicians and bureaucrats. It
would give funds to the LDP or the DPJ based on its evaluation of their policies.
Both the LDP under Prime Minister Koizumi and the DPJ headed by Naoto KAN openly
expressed their willingness to accept money from corporations. Obviously, this
is buying of politics by the business circles. The DPJ has paved the way toward
the adverse revision of the Japanese Constitution, under the plea of developing
discussion into "recreation of the Constitution." What will soon be
tested by the public is the DPJ's attitudes on issues concerning the very basis
of national politics; its position on the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq, unemployment,
the pension system, and the consumption tax.
Kumagai: Exactly. On dispatching the SDF to Iraq, the DPJ has ostensibly been
opposing it, but the position differs among its members. In this regard, I think
it very important to pay attention to the conference of the "Japan-US Security
Strategy Council" held on November 20, 2003. It was participated by influential
defense-related lawmakers from Japan's LDP, Komei and the DPJ, military experts
including former US Defense Secretary William Cohen, and major U.S. firms such
as Lockheed, Grumman, and Boeing. Japanese major companies in the arms industry
that participated in the conference include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.,
Kawasaki Heavy Industries Co., and Ishikawajima Harima Heavy Industries Co. Remember,
the Koizumi Cabinet approved in its meeting on December 9 a plan for sending SDF
to Iraq to give active support to the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq. Apparently,
the Council conference, which took place prior to the Koizumi Cabinet's decision,
was used by the U.S. government and military industry for pushing the Japanese
government to introduce the missile defense system, which is estimated at 6 trillion
yen, large profits for the arms industry. These events clearly show that the dispatch
of Japan's SDF to Iraq came forward in response to the U.S. preemptive strike
strategy promoted by the neo-conservative forces and the arms industry.
These trends are reflected in Japan's budget bill for fiscal 2004, which gives
greater preference to military expenditure and favorable treatment of larger corporations
in further infringement of the Constitution, while drastically cutting spending
on workers and people's livelihood. Zenroren is determined to do its utmost for
achieving best results in the 2004 Spring Struggle. Standing firmly against the
adverse revision of the pension system, large tax increase to be imposed on the
people, dispatch of the SDF abroad, and the adverse revision of the Constitution,
we will fight to realize pressing demands of workers and the people, who want
their employment, lives, peace and security to be protected. We will also push
forward the struggle and actions in workplaces and communities to realize a democratic
change in national politics in the Upper House election scheduled for this coming
Workers' Conditions Deteriorating under Koizumi's "Structural Reform"
Editor: I want to discuss later on the peace issue such as the campaign against
the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq and the adverse constitutional revision, and relating
issues on international policy. Before that, I want to ask your views on problems
of Japan's economy. What are the central issues of economic problems facing Japanese
working class and people every day?
Kumagai: The biggest and most serious problem that must be resolved without delay
to defend people's livelihood is "deflationary spiral." The challenge
is to find a way out of this spiral through people-oriented measures. Large corporations
are pushing ahead with massive dismissals, downsizing, and "rationalization"
in the name of restructuring on an unprecedented scale. The coalition government
of the LDP and Komei is pushing policies of disposing bad loans and industrial
deregulation in response to the demands from the U.S. and large corporations for
their profit making. Such policies are designed to help large companies survive
the international competition, or expand their influence in the international
market. To meet the demands of the business circles, the Koizumi government made
a drastic revision to the labor laws, so as to make it easier for corporations
to exploit their employees, imposing all the sacrifice upon workers. For instance,
the Industrial Revitalization Law (enacted August 1998), which gave companies
900 thousand yen's tax reduction in return for dismissing one worker. And the
revised Labor Standards Law allows unlimited long working hours, watering down
the principle of eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. We must denounce these
legislations as "restructuring promotion laws".
Editor: Under these circumstances, how worse have workers' lives become?
Kumagai: The first indicator that tells us the deterioration of workers' conditions
is the rapid increase of unemployment in number and rate. According to the Labor
Force Survey by the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Post and Telecommunications,
Japan's "complete unemployment rate" made a abrupt rise to the level
of five percent in 2001 and has since maintained that level. The average "complete
unemployment rate" of 2002 was record-low 5.4 percent. Monthly rate slightly
changes, but the general trend is that Japan's unemployment rate continues to
break the worst statistical record in history. The figure of 3.59 million jobless
is greater than the total number of the employed workers of Hokkaido, which is
2.40 million and of Miyagi Prefecture, 1.25 million, combined. The Labor Force
Survey includes 5.29 million "job seekers" in the "non-labor force."
Therefore, with these job seekers combined, the actual number of the unemployed
rises to 8.88 million. In reality, Japan's unemployment rate is estimated at more
than 10 percent, and 10 million people are jobless. Young people's difficulties
in finding jobs are particularly serious, and more and more young people are becoming
unstable workers. Only half or less of the high school and university graduates
can find jobs. More than 4 million young workers are called "freeters,"
(a Japanese coinage for young freelance part-timers) who work as unstable, contingent
employees. The "complete unemployment rate" of those aged between 15
and 24 is 10.6 percent, and of those between 25 and 34 is 11.2 percent. Both figures
are almost twice as large as the national average. Such a critical situation of
young people's employment has a great bearing on the future of Japanese society.
The second indicator is the continued decline in wages, income and household budget.
The 3.5 million unemployed are being deprived of 10 trillion yen's income that
they should have received as salaries had they not lost their jobs. The Monthly
Labor Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor, shows that
both nominal and real wages have continued to decline since 2001. Real wages of
2002 were down by 8,000 yen per month. From the Family Budget Survey by the Ministry
of Public Management, Home Affaires, Post and Telecommunications, which shows
the family budget, in terms of real income, disposable income and consumer spending,
has continued to decline since 2001, we can clearly see that household expenses
are shrinking. Japan used to be ranked among the top countries with highest savings
rate, due to the poor social security including medical service and pension provided
by the state. However, the successive reduction in the social security spending,
Japanese people are forced to withdraw the money they have saved for future expenses
and prepared for uncertainty in their conditions. In this way Japan's savings
rate is dropping.
The Japanese government and the Bank of Japan have adopted a policy to push interest
rates down to zero, in order to provide the U.S. and large corporations huge amount
of money with almost no interests. This "no returns" policy has caused
a serious damage to the people's livelihood. Due to this policy, the Japanese
workers and people are plundered of nearly 100 trillion yen, the amount they should
have received as interests. In addition, the increase in the consumption tax rate
and the adverse revision of the medical system have imposed extra burden of 9
trillion yen per year upon our shoulders. And further increase in burden is expected
as the result of the consumption tax rate increase and adverse revision of the
pension and social security systems planned for 2004.
Due to these moves for intensifying the plundering of workers and people, their
purchasing power, which makes up more than 60 percent of Japan's GDP, has been
tumbling down. Demand shortage resulting mainly from the decline in the people's
purchase power has caused a fall in prices. Transfer of production sites to overseas
by large corporations and confiscation of work from small and medium sized enterprises
have caused reduction in production and bankruptcy of subsidiaries, thus diminishing
profits of large corporations. They are using the decreased profits as a pretext
to carry forward "streamlining" under restructuring, spurring on unemployment
and job insecurity, and deteriorating wage and other working conditions. All these
make up a vicious cycle called "deflationary spiral."
As the only way to get out of this so-called "deflationary spiral" in
the best interests of the people, Zenroren calls for a financial policy to redress
the deflation gap, by increasing people's income that has continued to drop, rehabilitating
family economy and stimulating personal consumption. In their fiscal 2003 consolidated
earnings, large corporations achieved record profits; resuming growth. They are
said to be making a V-shape recovery from the business slump. For example, Toyota
Motor Corporation's pretax profit was 1.4 trillion yen, with 8.5 trillion yen's
internal reserve. All these facts tell us that from the point of view of workers
and the people, the Koizumi Cabinet's economic policy is a total failure.
Corporations Should Fulfill Their Social Responsibility to Establish Capitalism
Editor: It is often said among critics overseas that the Japanese economy has
almost gone bankrupt, and that it will not be able to recover unless its economic
Kumagai: Looking into the Japanese economy based on the reality, one will naturally
come to have such evaluation as those critics overseas do. Internationally, a
call for regulating the U.S.-led globalization of economy, which gives top priority
to the profit making of large corporations, particularly U.S. multinationals,
is becoming a mainstream. For example, the EU has made policy agreements and enacted
laws requiring corporations to fulfill their social responsibility. The United
Nations and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are also
moving toward the same direction, as we can see in the following developments:
1) so called "developing countries" in Asia, Middle East, Africa and
Latin America, participating in the Non-Aligned Movement, the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations, and the Organization of Islamic Conference, have now greater voices
in the international community; 2) countries such as China and Vietnam which seek
socialism through market economy are achieving progress, and 3) cooperation and
united effort are developing among advanced capitalist countries including EU
members on policies. I'm sure that underlying these moves are the struggles of
workers and peoples worldwide against the U.S.-led globalization, represented
by the World Social Forum, the European Social Forum, and the Asia and Pacific
Running counter to this world current, the Koizumi Cabinet in subordination to
the U.S. is pushing ahead with the extraordinary economic policy that throws Japan's
economic sovereignty away, accelerating the bankruptcy of Japanese economy. U.S.
multinationals and financial institutions have obtained funds almost for nothing,
thanks to Japan's "zero percent interest rate policy." They have invested
the funds in short-term speculation in Japan's national bonds and stock markets,
as well as in buying and selling of the yen taking advantage of violent fluctuations
in yen-dollar exchange and the Bank of Japan's intervention of several trillion
yen. This is how they make huge profits. What is more, the Koizumi Cabinet sells
out Japan's blue-chip companies that have gone bankrupt due to its "restructuring
promotion" policy to U.S. "vulture funds". This amounts to an act
of treachery against the nation.
Under the Koizumi Cabinet, top leaders and ideologues of Japan's big businesses
and financial circles have become more directly involved together with the Prime
Minister in the making of country's economic and fiscal policies, by becoming
members of the government's decision-making body such as the Council on Fiscal
and Economic Policy. In this way, they are pushing forward the writing off of
bad loans and deregulation as national strategy, with the subject of globalization
for the best interests of the U.S. and big businesses. Making the best use of
state funds and legislation and sponsored by the government, Japan's major multinationals
have adopted what is called "made-by-Japan" policy instead of "made-in-Japan"
policy. That is, they don't seek profits making by producing goods in Japan and
sell them abroad any more, but they advance to any country, any place, seeking
to maximize their profits globally. Japan's multinationals are becoming more and
more aggressive in their conduct, and they know no national borders. As a result,
Japan now faces unprecedented unemployment, job insecurity, wage cuts and income
decrease, bankruptcy of subcontractors and small businesses, and the fall of local
economy, which have caused decline in national income and demands. Japan's whole
economy is shrinking.
Zenroren considers it is vital to put an end to the autocratic corporate strategy
of big enterprises to seek their own profits no matter what destructive consequences
they would cause to the lives of workers and people, as well as to the national
economy. We think it decisive to establish rules to make corporations assume their
social responsibility. Zenroren published in July 2000 a document titled "The
Objectives and Perspectives at the Beginning of the 21st Century." This document
consists of 3 proposals: 1) Establishment of a Democratic Control over Big Enterprises
and Rules Allowing Workers to Work in Humane Conditions, 2) Establishment of "National
Minimum" for Ensuring a Decent Livelihood to the Population, and 3) Protection
of the Constitution and Fundamental Human Rights and Politics to Serve the People's
Interests. Zenroren calls for a "grand cooperation and unity of the trade
union movement" to realize these three proposals. In the 2004 Spring Struggle
too, Zenroren attaches great importance to placing big businesses under democratic
control to establish rules that will allow workers to work in humane conditions.
And it has adopted a policy for the Spring Struggle to demand the enactment of
a dismissal regulation law, and the elimination of "unpaid overtime,"
a system unique to Japan that workers do not get paid for overtime work. Our demands
include job creation by reducing work hours to 1800 hours a year, which is a government's
promise. Japanese workers work 700 hours longer a year than their counterparts
in Germany and France. We will also fight for drastically improving the working
conditions of part-timers and other workers with unstable contingent jobs to achieve
equal treatment. Regarding the adverse revision of the pension system, we will
call for a massive strike in cooperation with broader sections of the people.
Editor: The government has repeatedly announced that Japan's economy is recovering,
using the business recovery of large companies as an excuse.
Kumagai: The Koizumi Cabinet drastically revised the Labor Standards Law for the
worse to help large companies accelerate restructuring. Thus it has created a
legal framework for what could be described as "liberalization of exploitation."
The BOJ is also at their side. Taking advantage of the state structure and functions,
including the "zero interest rate" policy, it provides large companies
with abundant funds. It is unsurprising that large companies are improving in
their business performance. What about workers and the people' lives? Contrary
to the business recovery benefiting large companies, workers and the people continue
to live in a serious situation, with all the problems remaining unsolved, such
as bankruptcy and economic difficulties of smaller companies, unemployment, as
well as decrease in wages, income and family budget. What is more, the government
intends to further revise the pension system for the worse with more premiums
and less benefits, to adversely revise the medical service, and to raise the consumption
tax rate. All these, if pushed through, will impose extra burden of 7 trillion
yen onto the people, and will surely have devastating effect on people's livelihood.
I must say that the Koizumi Cabinet's declaration of the Japanese economy recovering
from the slump is baseless, far from the reality of people's lives.
I always emphasize in study meetings and other occasions that the difficult situation
workers and people are going through is by no means a natural phenomenon. If this
was a natural phenomenon, we may endure the cruel winter believing that warm spring
will come with time. However, the serious situation facing workers and the people
is a product of the misgovernment of the Koizumi Cabinet, an artificial phenomenon
created by the global strategy of big businesses that prop up the Koizumi administration.
This is why I stress that to put an end to all the difficulties we are suffering
from, we have no another way but to fight against the attack of the Koizumi government
and big enterprises. To develop the movement of workers and the people is the
only way to bring about a change in the present situation.
The direction of policy and the movement for remaking the Japanese economy depends
on what standpoint we take in analyzing its actual conditions. As I have mentioned
earlier, Prime Minister Koizumi is pushing the "structural reform" policy
that provides corporations with every possible assistance, including the adverse
revision of the company law and labor laws, to give them free hand for exploiting
the workers to obtain and accumulate the biggest profits. For this, he is shifting
burdens onto a vast majority of workers and the people, telling them to stomach
the pain. The worsening conditions of workers and the people, as the result of
the Koizumi's "structural reform," is neither a natural phenomenon nor
something inevitable. We must change the corporate-oriented, U.S.-first economic
policy serving the best interests of U.S. big businesses in the hope that it will
increase the profit obtained by the Japanese large companies, into one that serves
the best interests of workers and the people. This can be achieved by developing
a national common effort that calls for a democratic change in Japanese politics.
I am convinced that such a national struggle and movement will change the steering
of Japan's economy.
New Changes Taking Place in Different Strata of the People
Editor: You have well explained the present situation and the immediate challenges.
Now, how do you see the prospects for the future?
Kumagai: I can see people are becoming aware of the nature of Koizumi Cabinet's
bad politics that imposes "pains" on them, and criticism is growing
toward it. On the issue of adverse revision of the medical system, I had a talk
with the chair of the Japan Dental Association. This organization has been considered
even more conservative than the Japan Medical Association, and has long served
as strong vote-gathering machine for the LDP. But in our talk, the chair said
that he felt the need to think about the medical issue from people's point of
view, and Prime Minister Koizumi has failed to present prospects for the future
medical system, because the only thing he has done is to increase the insurance
premiums and the insured patients' share of medical cost. He went on to say that
such politics, if allowed to continue, would devastate Japan's medical system.
In principle, he is in agreement with us.
I'm also paying much attention to the change taking place in municipalities. To
develop local economy and to increase jobs for the residents, local governments
have taken various measures to favor enterprises concerning industrial water supply,
construction of industrial roads, infrastructure improvement and taxation to invite
them to their localities. However, large companies, under the plea of removing
fetters for their survival in the international competition, have arbitrarily
moved their production bases abroad, hollowing-out and ravaging local economy.
Thus unemployment is now a critical issue in every municipality. At the same time,
the central government is forcing municipality mergers in complete disregard of
local governments' needs for funds for education, insurance and medical systems
and social services. This policy is only worsening the contradictions that have
already become serious. Local and regional federations of trade unions, affiliates
of Zenroren, are carrying out caravans visiting all the local governments from
prefectural to village levels. They presented demands to Governors, and city,
town and village mayors, and exchanged opinions with them. Through such meetings,
trade unions and local governments' executive authorities have come to share understanding
about the problems facing municipalities, or have more areas they can work together.
These new developments indicate that there are greater possibilities for cooperation
with those we have never expected to become our partners, such as organizations
that have long considered as conservatives and local governments that have served
as agents of the central government. I take particular note of the new possibilities
for making change in the dead-end state policies and handling of economy.
Editor: To promote such cooperation, Zenroren, together with other four organizations,
namely, the All Japan Federation of Traders' and Producers' Organizations (Zenshoren),
the New Japan Women's Association, the Liberty Lawyers Guild and the Japanese
Communist Party, sponsored in 2002 and 2003 the National Exchange Meeting to Oppose
Corporate Restructuring, and to Defend Employment and Local Economy. The purpose
of this meeting was to learn from the experiences and lessons of the struggles
carried out in different parts of the country. I think this kind of effort is
very important for advancing the movement. I want to add one thing to the political
development of local governments. The JCP, having 4,000 local assembly members,
is ranked first among political parties in terms of the number of their local
assembly members. Apart from it, a new change is also taking place in the situation
of elections of local governments heads.
Kumagai: It is because the residents are becoming more aware of and alerted by
what consequence LDP politics will bring about. They are very much concerned that
the traditional LDP way of steering local politics to obtain state subsidies for
the unnecessary, wasteful construction of dams and roads will lead the municipal
finances and residents' livelihood to a dead end, destroying their local governments.
Needless to say, such a change does not occur spontaneously. For example, there
were cases that even those who are considered as conservatives and some LDP assembly
members jointly supported a JCP candidate for the municipal head election in an
effort to realize the pressing demands of the residents. Such a significant change
took place where there were urgent needs and an appropriate candidate that can
win the broadest support. This is one of the characteristics of new changes taking
place in not a few local governments.
Focal Points of Domestic and International Political Situations - Opposition
to the War on Iraq and the Struggle to Defend the Constitution
Editor: Let us switch to the relationship between Japan's political issues and
international politics. Japan's political subordination to the U.S. is well known
internationally. What impact do you think President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi
being in office has on the Japan-U.S. relationship in international politics?
Kumagai: The core of the matter, I believe, is the Japan-U.S. military alliance,
in which Japan is forced to be subordinate to the U.S.
Editor: The Japanese Constitution in its Article 9 renounces war, abandoning the
possession of military force as well as the right of belligerency. These constitutional
principles are fundamentally incompatible with the Japan-U.S. military alliance
binding Japan as a tributary state.
Kumagai: Exactly. The new Constitution of Japan was promulgated in 1947. But alarmed
by the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean
War in 1950, the U.S. embarked on laying groundwork for making Japan a keystone
in its Asia strategy, by using at the maximum the ultimate power of General Douglas
MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and Commander in Chief of the
U.S. Far East Command. Central to this was the Japan-U.S. military alliance that
subordinates Japan to the U.S. Based on the San Francisco Treaty signed in 1951,
the Japanese and the U.S. governments concluded the same year the Japan-U.S. Security
Treaty, which entered into force in 1952 as a military alliance putting Japan
in subordination to the U.S. Since then, Japan has been hosting almost 100 U.S.
military bases, which served as a stronghold in the Vietnam War and other U.S.
military activities. It was in this context that the Police Reserve Force, predecessor
of Japan's Self-Defense Force, was founded in 1950. This military organization
was then renamed and reorganized as the National Security Force in 1952 and Self-Defense
Forces composed of ground, maritime and air forces in 1954. However the government
tries to gloss over it, the SDF are armed forces that the Japanese Constitution
explicitly prohibits its possession by Japan.
Based on the deep reflection that the Japanese imperialism had inflicted immense
damage upon particularly Asian countries and their peoples during World War II,
the Japanese Constitution was promulgated with a resolve that "never again
shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government,"
as declared in the preamble. Asian peoples alone, tens of millions were killed
in the war, and the Japanese also suffered from enormous loss including more than
3 million human lives. Out of profound regret that Japan had caused havoc with
other nations and its own people during WWII, the Japanese people solemnly pledged
at home and internationally through Article 9 of the Constitution: 1) Aspiring
sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people
forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use
of force as means of settling international disputes; and 2) In order to accomplish
the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other
war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state
will not be recognized.
This is why the political battle in Japan has been waged for almost 50 years since
the end of WWII, centered on the struggle to defend the principles of the Japanese
Constitution that renounces war, military potential, and the state's right of
belligerency and the struggle to oppose the Japan-U.S. military alliance that
subordinates Japan to the U.S. This battle deals with the fundamental issue defining
Japan's political situation. With U.S. President Bush and Japan's Prime Minister
Koizumi being in power, the struggle has entered the critical stage. There have
been many reactionary attempts in words and actions to get the Constitution revised
for the worse. Yet each of those attempts was defeated by the Japanese people.
Now, why do I characterize the struggle against the reactionary move by Bush and
Koizumi as facing the critical moment?
The reason is this. In defiance of the United Nations resolutions and turning
his back to the global anti-war movement which had grown on an unprecedented scale
in history, U.S. President Bush arbitrary labeled Iraq as part of the "axis
of evil," and forcibly invaded the country using on the plea of its hidden
weapons of mass destruction and eradication of terrorism. But the truth was it
was all about the pursuit of U.S. hegemony. President Bush urged Prime Minister
Koizumi to establish a "war-fighting nation" system, with which the
state can forcibly mobilize Japan and its people in war of aggression waged by
the U.S. and Koizumi willingly and positively responded to Bush's demand; he railroaded
through the Diet the three emergency-related bills. Based on this legislation,
he sent Japan's warships to the Indian Ocean to assist U.S. military activities
in Afghanistan, and this time dispatched Japan's Self-Defense Forces troops carrying
heavy firearms to Iraq, where actual combat is going on, in the name of extending
"reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to Iraq." Nevertheless,
by any standards this is a complete violation of the Japanese Constitution. This
is why Koizumi fired up the Liberal Democratic Party to draw a revised Constitution
by November 2005. Furthermore, to create conditions for revising the Constitution
at any time convenient for them, Koizumi intends to submit two bills to the ordinary
Diet session starting in January 2004; one for revising the Diet Law in order
to propose the constitutional amendment and the other for a national referendum
to deal with procedures in the voting. This is the first attempt for the forces
aiming for the constitutional revision to draft the revised Constitution with
a solid deadline set.
Editor: Do you think it correct to see the decision of the Liberal-Komei Coalition
government under Prime Minister Koizumi to send the SDF to Iraq as a proof that
they are trying to resolve in a reactionary way the fundamental contradiction
between the principles of the Constitution and the logic of the Japan-U.S. military
Kumagai: As you have said, I think we are facing the extremely tense and grave
situation. Yet we have conviction and perspective for defeating their scheme.
80 percent of the Japanese population is opposed to the dispatch of the SDF to
Iraq and to the adverse revision of the Constitution. If we successfully bring
the popular voice together into a strong national concerted action, we can surely
achieve a breakthrough in the current situation. The Koizumi cabinet, just like
the Bush administration, is being isolated both at home and internationally.
In this regard, there's one thing I want to make the point. Japanese mass media
except for some mass rallies against the war on Iraq organized abroad, do not
report about rallies and campaigns against the Iraq war carried out at home. However,
during the period since Bush started invading Iraq till the end of 2003, rallies
in opposition to the war on Iraq, to the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq, and to the
adverse revision of the Constitution have been organized in all the 47 prefectures
of Japan with more than one million people participating in them. Zenroren, and
regional and local federations of unions always take active part as key players
in these actions.
On March 20, the first anniversary of the launch of the war against Iraq by U.S.
and British forces, global actions were organized to denounce the unjust war and
to call for an end to the unlawful occupation of Iraq. Millions of people, including
hundreds of thousands of Japanese people, took part in rallies, peace parades
and other actions. We have witnessed new developments among the countries sending
troops to Iraq. In Spain, the opposition party that promised to withdraw the Spanish
troops from Iraq defeated the ruling pro-war party in the recent general election;
the president of Honduras, following his Nicaraguan counterpart, announced the
decision to pull troops out from Iraq; and the president of Poland publicly stated
that he was deceived by a fabrication to support the war on Iraq. Opposition to
the invasion and occupation of Iraq by U.S. and Britain is prevailing throughout
Another thing I want to note is the dynamism of the movement against the war on
Iraq. Before Bush started invasion in Iraq, the largest-ever international anti-war
campaign had been organized rallying tens of millions of people, and the dynamic
campaign is being carried on throughout the world. The same thing has happened
here in Japan, but I must refer to the fact that international movement has inspired
ours. The World Citizens Peace Conference held in May 1999 in The Hague, Netherlands,
adopted the action guideline. The first item of the guideline was a call on the
world's parliaments to adopt a resolution declaring renunciation of war as exemplified
in Article 9 of Japan's Constitution. And just recently, the campaign was carried
out calling for a provision similar to Article 9 to be inserted in the draft Constitution
of EU. I want to underline that these moves abroad have given a great encouragement
to our struggle to stop the adverse revision of the Constitution.
Editor: You said that both Bush and Koizumi stand alone in the international community.
Backed up by the global campaign against the war on Iraq growing on an unprecedented
scale in history, 70 percent of the governments in the world openly expressed
their opposition to the invasion. Even among the G-8 members a current searching
for a peaceful solution to the problem emerged under the initiative of the governments
of France, Germany and Russia. This trend, supported by the member countries of
Non-Aligned Movement, Arab and Islamic states, and even by China, has virtually
grown into an international united front opposing to the unlawful war. Furthermore,
the U.S. has fallen into a serious budget crisis.
Kumagai: Bush is pressing other countries to share the financial burden of war
cost under the plea of helping "Iraq's reconstruction" and giving Iraq
"humanitarian assistance," but his demand has largely been rejected.
As a U.S. high official appreciated Japan as "open-handed," it is Koizumi's
assistance that enables Bush to continue war and occupation in Iraq. The U.S.
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has announced its fiscal outlook that the country's
financial deficit of the fiscal 2004 would be 477 billion dollars, going far beyond
the record high 375 billion dollars of fiscal 2003, and that the deficit would
remain the same high level from the fiscal 2005 onward. The biggest cause of the
ballooning of the fiscal deficit is the growing expenses on defense including
the cost of war on Iraq. It is expected that in the worst case the U.S. troops
will stay in Iraq up till 2013, with its cost reaching 200 billion dollars. The
accumulated trade deficit had also increased to 446.8 billion dollars by November
2003, exceeding the all-time high annual deficit of 2002, which was 418 billion.
Such an enormous growth of the twin deficit will cause the collapse of the dollar
and steep rise of interest rates, fast making the U.S. economy more and more vulnerable
to serious damage.
The U.S. economy has been said to be making a steady, dynamic growth. However,
what seemed to be the growth was in fact an illusionary "prosperity"
prompted by the strong dollar, relatively high interest rates, and the high stock
prices beyond its real strength created by the inflow of foreign funds. Trying
to grab a tiny share of that "prosperity," the U.S. people bought stocks,
seemingly enjoying a bountiful life. But Bush's invasion in Iraq has brought to
the surface the distortion, vulnerability, and contradictions of the U.S. economy
built on casino economy, whose consequence can well be explained by the case of
the bankruptcy of Enron.
The Koizumi Cabinet, always placing its military alliance with the U.S. over everything
as its unconditional code of value, has been pushing ahead with political and
economic policies in subordination to the U.S., as I mentioned before. After it
invaded Iraq, the Bush administration has been intensifying more than ever its
political and economic pressure on Japan. Yielding to pressure from the U.S.,
the Koizumi Cabinet and the Bank of Japan are buying the dollar in its desperate
effort to save the dollar from collapsing, which is the result of the ballooning
fiscal and trade deficits of the U.S. To this end, they made an intensive exchange
intervention, which amounted to more than 20 trillion yen in 2003 alone. The amount
was about three times more than the record high 7 trillion yen's intervention
the BOJ did in 1999. The Koizumi Cabinet intends to further intensify the exchange
intervention, through its plan to lift the intervention limit from 79 trillion
yen of the fiscal 2003 to 140 trillion yen in the 2004 fiscal budget. Compared
with Japan's general account totaling 81 trillion yen, we can clearly see what
extraordinary effort the Japanese government and the BOJ are making to support
the dollar through exchange intervention.
Prime Minister Koizumi upon his inauguration made a public commitment to placing
the financial reconstruction at the center of Koizumi's structural reform, and
to containing the issuance of the government bonds less than 30 trillion. On the
ground that for the implementation of his reform people should endure the "pain,"
he has drastically cut the budget items related to people's daily life, increased
deflation pressure, sharply decreased Japan's general tax revenue from 47.9 trillion
yen at the time of his taking office down to 41.7 trillion yen. As a result, he
has no alternative but to issue a large amount of government bonds, which will
totals at 36.6 trillion yen in the fiscal 2004. Koizumi's policy on "financial
reconstruction" is actually furthering "financial collapse." Underlying
this is his political and economic policies in subordination to the U.S., which
put U.S. interests before everything no matter what consequence it would bring
to Japan's politics and economy. In this context, our struggle against the war
on Iraq, against the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq and to defend Article 9 has close
ties with the global anti-war movement. It also goes hand in hand with the struggle
for the establishment of Japan's political and economic sovereignty, through which
the Japanese workers and people can achieve job security, better living conditions,
Challenges Facing Japan's Labor Movement
Editor: Let us move on to the next subject: actual conditions of Japan's labor
movement. When I talk about the worsening situation of Japanese workers, I am
frequently asked how the labor movement fights back, and some also comment that
Japan's labor movement seems to be too docile. Will you speak about Japan's labor
movement today; where it stands and what challenges it is facing?
Kumagai: I think there are two major issues concerning Japan's labor movement.
First, in Japan, with a few exceptions such as seamen's unions, trade unions in
general are in-house unions. That is to say, Japan's trade unions, although organized
by industries, do not function, as they should. Industrial unions are supposed
to conduct at the national level collective bargaining with the management to
conclude an industry-wide agreement on the basic working conditions, based on
which local and regional organizations and workers can negotiate with respective
companies on wage drift. But here labor conditions in principle are decided on
in each company through collective negotiations between labor and management and
according to the labor agreement they conclude. This is why Japanese unions tend
to attach weight to the corporate performance, and inter-corporate competition
reflects on inter-worker competition to a great degree. On top of this, massive
dismissals, personnel reduction, "streamlining" in the name of restructuring
pushed ahead with by large corporations have increased unemployment rate to an
unprecedented level, and employment insecurity is more widespread than ever. Under
such circumstances, Japanese workers and unions, for whom job securing is a matter
of life and death, are wavering. Companies are intensifying their ideological
offensives that they are destined for bankruptcy unless they prevail in international
competition. No company can exist without workers but workers have not been able
to counter such an ideological attack that workers owe their life to companies,
and trade unions have even become supplementary elements in the corporate profit
securing strategy, degenerating the roles trade unions are supposed to play.
Secondly, the reorganization of the labor front in 1989 had negative impact on
Japan's union movement. One of the weak point of Japan's trade unions was that
their leadership made it obligatory for the members to vote in elections for a
specific political party, the then Socialist in this case. Yet, the General Council
of Trade Unions of Japan, Sohyo, led the labor movement in the struggle against
"rationalization" and for wage increase. Along with the struggle against
the intensification of exploitation of workers demanding better working conditions,
it stood on a position to oppose the LDP's misgovernment, and took active part
in the movement against the Vietnam War or in the struggle against the Japan-U.S.
Security Treaty. It thus maintained a policy to take on the government's basic
policy in the anti-war struggle for peace as well. In 1980, the Socialist Party
reached an agreement with the Komei Party on policies based on anti-communist
political principles to approve the Japan-U.S. military alliance and the Self-Defense
Forces, which had little difference from the LDP basic policies. Sohyo actively
supported this agreement, and amidst the rightist reorganization of the labor
front based on the labor-management collaboration, it gave up the struggle against
the Japan-U.S. military alliance, the Self-Defense Forces, and even the "rationalization."
Sucked into the course toward harmonious labor relations, it dissolved itself
to form the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Rengo, in 1989.
There had been several attempts to reorganize the labor front to the right, but
one of the factors that radically accelerated the move during the 1980's was the
critical situation facing the postwar capitalist system, which had become obvious
in early 1970's. At the beginning of 1970's, the very basis of the postwar capitalist
system was chapped by two "shocks." One was what is called "Nixon
shock," the suspension of conversion of dollars into gold, the accepted alternate
system for the gold standard, by the then U.S. President Richard Nixon. Another
was "oil shock," price hike of cheap oil, which had been underpinning
the economic growth after the war. These two "shocks" that struck the
market one after another triggered a fundamental change in the accumulation mechanism
of the postwar capitalist economy, leading to the economic stagnation and depression.
It gave a serious blow to the accumulation mechanism of Japanese economy, which
had achieved a high growth of 10 percent since 1960's. Japanese economy could
not escape from the depression. In search of a way out of the grave economic crisis
facing the country, the Japanese ruling class, big corporations and financial
circles, launched what is called the "second reactionary offensive"
in the postwar era, centered on the exclusion of the Japanese Communist Party.
It was in this context that the Socialist Party degraded itself toward the right
through the policy agreement with the Komei Party. Japan's ruling class took advantage
of the Socialist's shift to the right as a driving force to push Sohyo toward
the right in the labor front. This is how they drove the existing national center
into dissolution and set up Rengo whose policy was based on the harmonious labor
Rengo, formed as the biggest national center in Japan, is basically a federation
of unions in large companies. Its policy of labor-capital collaboration is so
unique that any similar example is hard to find in European countries. Recently,
a new move has emerged among Rengo-affiliated unions in large companies to give
up their basic points. For example, the trade union of Toyota Motor Corporation
changed its labor movement policy from the one to achieve "improvement of
fundamental working conditions" including wage increase, to another that
seeks to "enhance workers' sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in work".
In other words, its new policy is to organize the entire workers to "improve
the quality of labor" assisting the company in its profit making and business
expansion. Such an extraordinary policy of labor-management collaboration as Toyota
union's will, I'm sure, only help to expand contradictions not only with other
Japanese workers and labor movement, but also with unions affiliated with Rengo
Editor: It seems to me that such labor-capital collaboration which is increasing
contradictions with workers and the labor movement is not completely unrelated
to the struggle of Zenroren, which has been displaying initiative in defending
the rights of workers and people, as well as in organizing movement and policy
making. Zenroren was founded to rally "fighting unions" against the
formation of "union federation that does not fight." It will celebrate
its 15th anniversary in November 2004. What kind of struggles has it carried out,
and what are its achievements?
Kumagai: You've just mentioned that Zenroren was founded to "rally fighting
unions." Since its third national convention, our focus has been to bring
all trade unions together. To realize urgent demands of workers and people, we
have been carrying forward various struggles for more than ten years, opposing
outrageous corporate restructuring through dismissals of workers and downsizing,
and demanding job security, increase in minimum wage level, and shorter working
hours. We have also been fighting against the adverse revision of the Constitution
in defense of peace and democracy, advocating enhanced rights for workers and
people. We have been waging these struggles through united actions and cooperation
with broader sections of people. I want to draw your attention to such efforts
of Zenroren has had impact on the movement and policies of Rengo, another national
center, expanding areas where unions can work together beyond affiliation on common
demands and policies, putting aside those Rengo-affiliated unions in large companies.
We think this is a very significant advancement.
The government and Rengo have taken a strategy to ignore Zenroren since its foundation.
However, they cannot disregard any more the development and achievement Zenroren
has made in its over ten years' struggle, and the government has no other choice
but to acknowledge Zenroren as a delegate to the International Labor Conference,
annual meeting of the International Labor Office. Various channels of dialogue
with Rengo have been opened. In particular, issues related to workers' rights,
employment and problems facing part-time workers are the areas where we have found
common demands and policies with Rengo. I believe such change in Rengo's attitude
towards us has something to do with the fact that Zenroren's movement has made
more visible the gap existing between Rengo's policy and the reality of workers
of its member unions. And all these have produced contradictions between Rengo-affiliated
unions in large corporations and Rengo.
Editor: In this regard, do you think Zenroren's "dialogue and cooperation
with all unions and workers" policy has had some impact?
Kumagai: I think it has had quite a big impact. In its national convention in
1995, Zenroren adopted a policy to promote dialogue and cooperation with all unions
and workers beyond their affiliation. It took a year or two to bring this policy
home to our member unions. But it has certainly helped to change even the quality
of the movement of Zenroren members, because it urged them to work out ways for
promote "dialogue and cooperation" with all unions irrespective of their
affiliation, not to speak of Rengo members, but with unions of various stances
including neutral labor unions which are not affiliated with either of the two
national centers, and with unorganized workers.
Editor: Does this "dialogue and cooperation with all unions and workers"
policy has prospects for overcoming one of the weakness of Japanese trade unions
organized as company unions?
Kumagai: We have already seen such prospects becoming visible in the effort for
promoting dialogue and cooperation at local level. Zenroren is composed of industrial
federations of unions and regional federations of unions. This organizational
feature of Zenroren is helping greatly to cover for the weakness of "company-centered"
Japanese trade unions. It is important not to limit the movement to achieve demands
of workers in a certain workplace within the unions of the same industry. Workers
in other industries and unorganized workers in the area where that workplace exists
should be mobilized in the movement through "dialogue and cooperation"
on urgent demands they can agree on. This is decisive to overcome the "company-oriented"
mindset of unions. Learning from the practical examples that our members successfully
got their demands achieved through promoting "dialogue and cooperation"
with broader sections of workers, we are convinced that the "company-oriented"
mindset can be overcome. Animated by their own success in gaining good results
through dialogue and cooperation, our local and regional federations are most
active of all our members now.
Editor: It seems to me that Zenroren's movement has been steadily expanding with
greater initiative and influence not only among its member unions but also among
Rengo-affiliated unions and workers, and in movements of various sections of Japanese
Kumagai: In the past year alone, united actions were developed on the largest
scale in these decades, in struggles against the adverse revision of the pension
and medical service systems, against the "war-waging nation" laws, against
the war on Iraq, and against the adverse revision of the Constitution. Zenroren
has honestly been playing a key role in these struggles, and has won deeper trust
from various organizations. Such a relationship of trust is a precious achievement
Zenroren should treasure in its effort for future development.
Editor: Could you give me some examples of achievements that will make a difference
in the couple of years to come?
Kumagai: First is the achievement in the struggle against the adverse revision
of the labor laws. In responding to the big corporations' demand for "liberalization
of exploitation," the Japanese government has pushed ahead with a series
of adverse revisions to labor laws. Through the struggle against these adverse
revisions of labor laws, cooperation with Rengo was developed. Our united effort
with Rengo successively put a certain brake on "overtime unpaid work,"
one of the characteristics of Japanese type of exploitation of workers. United
with the parliamentary struggle, we were able to get the Health, Labor and Welfare
Ministry to issue two instructions, which made clear the employer's responsibility
for labor hour management. Workers in workplaces have been using these instructions
effectively to report to the Labor Standards Inspection Offices in their localities
about the reality, and many of them have succeeded in getting the unpaid salaries
for their overtime work paid by the companies. The amount of the salaries companies
paid for unpaid overtime work has reached several million yen. Apart from the
success in reducing unpaid overtime work, we defeated the government's attempt
to insert the Labor Standard Law a provision that will give the employer freedom
to dismiss workers. Instead, we were able to get a phrase inserted in the Labor
Standards Law which says that the dismissal of a worker by the employer will be
invalid if not recognized as acceptable to current social standards for the lack
of objective and logical reason.
Second is the achievement in the struggles on the national task. In the struggle
against the "war-waging nation" laws, which aimed to mobilize Japan
and its entire nation in a war of aggression started by the U.S., Rengo-affiliated
central organizations, industrial federations of unions, and individual member
unions have come out to organize concrete united actions. I think the movement
of Zenroren and other sections of people, as well as the global anti-war movement,
had influence on it, but it still was a big change that Rengo declared opposition
to the war on Iraq in the rally held in march, 2003, because it had always refrained
from expressing its position on such political issues as this one.
Thirdly, national cooperation against the government's policy of destroying people's
livelihood has developed and expanded. As I said earlier, the Japan Medical Association
and other organizations, which had been considered as support base for the LDP,
spoke out against the Koizumi Cabinet's plan for adversely revising the medical
service system, and four other physicians' organizations joined us in the united
action. Underlying such a big change is a rapid growth of the unified movement
of workers and various sections of people. This is really a change of great significance.
Editor: What is the focus of the strategy for the 2004 Spring Struggle?
Kumagai: We are focusing on obliging big companies to assume social responsibility.
Referring to the policy of Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren)
for the Spring Struggle, its chair Mr. Hiroshi Okuda, CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation,
has made clear that corporate management further reduction of wage and other working
conditions is needed and that the labor and the management should work together
for improving productivity. Although Toyota's current profits have reached the
record high of over 1 trillion yen, he still insists on cutting wages. As I mentioned
earlier, Toyota's labor union does not demand higher wages and better working
conditions, but distribution of wages according to "results" of job
performance within the total budget for personnel cost, while the company has
continued to slash the personnel expenses. In so doing, it helps to heat up competition
among workers serving as complementary element in the company's pursuit of higher
productivity and profit. This is nothing but the abandoning of the starting point
as trade union. No demand for wage hike by the Toyota Motor Corporation Union
means that unions in Toyota-related companies and subcontractors do not demand
wage increase as well. We attach a great weight on the effort to stop such an
outrage by big corporations and to make them assume their social responsibility.
Editor: Specifically, what are your demands and how will you organize the struggle?
Kumagai: First is the struggle for higher wages. Our slogan is "Stop wage
destruction, higher wages for all workers." One of Zenroren's main themes
for the 2004 Spring Struggle is the improvement of job opportunities and labor
conditions of part-timers and young people. It focuses on raising the minimum
level of wages, through increasing hourly rate of part-timers and the conclusion
of a labor-management agreement on in-house minimum wage. Large companies are
publicly proclaiming that they will not compromise on wage increase, and will
decisively abolish periodic pay raise and introduce a performance-based pay. We
will fight against such an attack, demanding "10,000 yen hike for every worker
in every company."
Secondly, we will fight to defend employment. Zenroren's another theme for the
2004 Spring Struggle is to oblige large companies to assume their social responsibility.
We will fight against corporate restructuring and destruction of employment, calling
for working rules to be established. As Keidanren admits, massive restructuring
by large companies has rapidly increased the occurrence of massive conflagration
and accidents in factories, and health destruction of workers. Now that corporate
restructuring that causes unemployment, hardships of life, and frequent occurrence
of accidents of grave consequences, has become a matter of national concern, Zenroren
will appeal to the broader public opinion and fight against restructuring and
destruction of employment that undermine workers' lives and health.
Regarding the struggle against restructuring, our immediate focus is to secure
employment and working conditions of "non-regular employees" of state-run
hospitals, to win victory in the struggle of former national railway workers by
urging the government to settle the problem in accordance with the ILO recommendations,
and to stop the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation' streamlining plan
to dismiss 110,000 workers. We will hold the government accountable for these
Thirdly, we call for national efforts to achieve urgent common demands of various
sectors of the Japanese people by encircling the business world, large companies
and the Koizumi Cabinet. We give greater weight to the struggle against the adverse
revision of the pension system considering it as the "biggest national task
in the 2004 Spring Struggle," and the "second wage struggle." Zenroren
calls on all trade unions to go out on strike. Setting the February 25 General
Local Actions and April 15 Strike for Better Pension System as decisive turning
points, we will seek to bring the broadest sections of people in an united effort,
with which we can stage a fist counteroffensive against outrageous practices of
the government and the financial circles. We are resolved to make our struggle
a historical one by succeeding in placing them under democratic control through
national united effort.
Fourthly, the fight against the adverse revision of the Constitution and the dispatch
of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq is also important. This is the major political
task in the 2004 Spring Struggle. Under such slogans as "Employment instead
of dispatch," "Invest in pension, not in military expenses," and
"Never to send our students to battle fields," we call on all union
members to take actions and on all Japanese people to join hands in the struggle.
Editor: What is most needed for Zenroren's movement to make a significant leap?
Kumagai: To increase membership.
Editor: Zenroren has proposed a fund-raising campaign for membership expansion,
Kumagai: The 2003 Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's Report on the basic statistics
on trade unions indicates that the number of unionized labor had decreased, and
the rate of organization had dropped to 19.6 percent, 0.6 point down from the
2002 statistics. The organization rate has continued to decrease since 1983, when
it fell below 30 percent to 29.7 percent. To stop this downward tendency and turn
it upward, we proposed a fund-raising campaign for promoting the effort to increase
the membership. Exposed to the massive dismissals and downsizing, an all-out restructuring
attack by large companies, workers in workplaces and communities have started
to recognize the decisive need to be unionized, so that they can defend jobs and
improve labor conditions. Our regional and local federations receive more than
12,000 requests for help a year in finding solutions to dismissal, unemployment,
job insecurity, wage cut and all other problems facing workers. In the process
of working out on solutions, about 400 unions come into being in a year. Our call
for the fund-raising campaign is aimed to get this new move into high gear and
achieve a big leap in increasing our membership.
Editor: In closing our interview, please give us your comment on behalf of Zenroren
about international solidarity.
Kumagai: I have talked about the actual conditions of workers and their background.
I think the major factor underlying what we are facing now is Japan's extraordinary
subordination to the United States. After over fifty years' U.S. domination, Japanese
government's political and economic policies are in a serious deadlock with no
way out. So, the challenge for Japanese workers now is to work out their strategy
to beat off the U.S. hegemony, and to impose regulations on multinationals' outrageous
conduct. When we speak about international solidarity, we must bear in mind the
base is the struggle of workers and peoples against attacks from big corporations,
financial circles and governments in respective countries. And on that base, we
must to seek a way for encouraging and supporting united effort and solidarity
between workers and peoples of different countries in various struggles including
the campaign against the U.S. war on Iraq or the struggle to oppose the U.S.-led
globalization. Again, such united effort should be built based precisely on agreed
demands. From this point of view, we should pursue united effort with Asian countries
and developed capitalist countries on concrete issues, taking into account the
differences of historical and social backgrounds of each country. This is my view
on how we promote international solidarity.
Editor: Thank you very much.