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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 Rule

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 in power.

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 LDP politics.

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 July.

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 with Rules

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 policy changes.

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 Forum.

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 alliance?

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 the world.

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, and rights.

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 relations.

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 like itself.

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 people.

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 issues.

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, hasn't it?

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.