[WSF-Discuss] Japan: Rising of 'Labour's Others'

peter waterman p.waterman at inter.nl.net
Tue Apr 14 03:50:07 CDT 2009

[Peter sez: In so far as I have been arguing for many years about the 
necessity to focus on the potential of the unionised/unionisable workers 
(80% of workers worldwide), I am impressed by this account from Japan. 
I'd be interested in what readers consider to be the implications of 
this case?]

Now read on...

Which Side Are You On?
Hakenmura and the Working Poor as a Tipping Point in Japanese Labor 
Politics <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409.html>

by Toru Shinoda

This article analyzes one of Japan's most widely reported labor stories 
in recent years. The unusual degree of national attention given to this 
incident is evidence that the labor question has become a central issue 
in Japanese politics.^1 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn1> It also 
offers insight into critical shifts in the landscape of both labor 
politics and labor policy, which have implications for Japanese politics 
more generally.

*Toshikoshi Hakenmura: A Japanese "Hooverville"*

In Japan, the week or so from the end of December through the first days 
of the New Year constitute the longest and most solemn holiday of the 
year. Mainstream newspapers and TV news programs during this week are 
typically filled with mundane reports of the events of the season. But 
the week bridging 2008 to 2009 was distinctively different. Each day, 
the newspapers, TV news programs, and even websites such as Yahoo 
carried reports -- often as the top story with frequent updates -- of a 
unique camp supplying food, beds, health checks, and even spiritual 
support to jobless and homeless people gathered in the center of 
downtown Tokyo. This news drew an unexpectedly wide range of attention 
and generated unprecedented reactions, and its drama symbolized the 
recent suffering of Japanese workers and their families, especially "the 
working poor." The entire episode suggests there has been a turning of 
the tide in Japanese labor politics.

The name of the camp is Toshikoshi Hakenmura, roughly translatable as 
"New Year's Eve Village for Dispatched Workers (the full term for 
"dispatched worker is "Haken Rodosha"). In recent years, Japanese 
employment agencies have been dispatching thousands of workers on 
short-term or temporary contracts to manufacturing companies such as 
automakers. But in late 2008, many of these contracts were suddenly 
canceled as manufacturers responded to the recession by reducing 
production (these cancellations are termed "haken-giri" or "dispatch 
cuts."). During the period of their contract, these workers had 
typically been housed in dormitories for temporary employees. As their 
contracts were cancelled, the workers were ordered to leave the 
dormitory. In the current economic climate, the dispatching agency was 
hardly able to provide new jobs to these unemployed workers. Many soon 
found themselves indigent, and some were homeless, compelled to sleep on 
park benches in the cold night. Very few homeless shelters are available 
in Japan in any case, and because relevant public offices are closed, 
the holiday season is the hardest time for these homeless. This was the 
context for the opening of the Toshikoshi Hakenmura.

The idea for this village emerged from a discussion in December 2008 at 
a bar in Tokyo among activists and lawyers who had been helping 
unemployed dispatch workers. These activists organized an executive 
committee to prepare the village, which opened at Hibiya Park, Tokyo's 
relatively small "Central Park," over the week from December 31st to 
January 5th (at which date public offices for the unemployed were 
supposed to open). The organizers distributed food and lodging, provided 
counseling and employment consulting services, and helped the residents 
apply for welfare benefits. The residents pitched tents for their 
lodgings, but the space was cramped and it was hard to sleep with 
nighttime temperatures around the freezing point.

On January 2nd, the executive committee requested the Ministry of 
Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) to open its building located opposite 
the park. The Ministry promptly agreed and provided its main hall to 
lodge these homeless individuals. During these 6 days, more than 500 
unemployed and homeless workers stayed at the village, and nearly 1700 
volunteers worked there. Donations to the village totaled 23,150,000 Yen 
(about $230,000). After January 5th, the MHLW worked together with the 
Tokyo Metropolitan authorities to open temporary shelters for those 
workers who still needed accommodations. Not a few of the workers who 
came to Hakenmura spoke of killing themselves if they could not find 
some hope, and indeed, Japan has recorded more than 30,000 suicides 
every year since the mid 1990s. This compares to a steady annual rate of 
roughly 20,000 suicides over the previous two decades, and as a per 
capita ratio is double the current levels in the United States.

"Hooverville" was the term coined to describe the numerous shanty towns 
created by homeless men during the Great Depression in various American 
cities, an ironic reference, of course, to president Herbert Hoover. 
Nearly 80 years ago the spectacle of these Hoovervilles pushed Roosevelt 
and American labor politics toward the New Deal. In this light, one is 
led to wonder about the political significance of the similarly 
ironically named "New Year Hakenmura." Does it indicate a tipping point 
in Japanese labor politics?

*What Drove the Dispatched Workers to Hakenmura?*
*The 1999 Dispatched Manpower Business Act*

Why did the dispatched workers come to ask for help at Hakenmura? 
Certainly the global recession sparked by the U. S. financial crisis of 
the fall of 2008 is the direct cause. As demand for its exports 
collapsed in the final quarter of 2008, the Japanese economy contracted 
at its fastest pace in nearly 35 years. The government admits that the 
Japanese economy is facing the worst crisis since World War II. Even 
famed exporters including Toyota and Sony have not only slashed 
production and exports but have began to eliminate significant numbers 
of manufacturing jobs. Temporary workers are the first victims.^2 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn2> It is 
estimated that by the end of 2009, about 150,000 dispatched workers will 
be unemployed. The workers who took refuge in Hakenmura were an early 
group of these growing numbers of the unemployed.

But the problem of the dispatched workers is in a sense more a political 
than an economic one: they are the victims of the 1999 Dispatched 
Manpower Business Act. The Dispatched Manpower Business Act was 
originally passed by the legislature (Diet) in 1985. It was based on an 
"open list method," in which only those categories of employment listed 
by the government could be served by dispatch employment agencies. The 
act was revised in 1999, and a "negative list method" was adopted; 
agencies, that is, could provide contract labor for any jobs except for 
those specifically prohibited. As a result, jobs in the packaged 
delivery field and other related distribution industries were opened to 
the dispatch agencies, and dispatched jobs increased dramatically in 
these sectors. In 2004, jobs in manufacturing were also opened to 
dispatch agencies, where many disguised dispatched workers had already 
been hired. The number of dispatched workers in manufacturing industries 
skyrocketed to meet the higher demand of flexible production and low 
cost. At the same time, amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Law 
made it more difficult for these dispatched workers to obtain 
unemployment benefits.^3 

These legal changes were part of the deregulation policies of 
conservative governments, mainly led by the Liberal Democratic Party 
(LDP) from the late 1990s. Japan's labor unions could not significantly 
resist this neo-liberal reform of labor policy, which rapidly expanded 
the number of part-time and dispatched workers with no job security, few 
benefits, and low wages. Japanese labor policy making for some time had 
been worked out through negotiations among delegations of employers, 
unions, and public interest groups in tripartite advisory councils in 
the Ministry of Labor (former Ministry of Health, Labor, Welfare). Since 
the late 1990s, growing domestic and international pressure for economic 
deregulation had led top-down special committees attached to the Cabinet 
to intervene in such decision-making process, undercutting the role of 
the advisory councils and making it impossible for unions represented in 
these councils to veto deregulation measures.^4 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn4> Furthermore, 
while unions were not wholly blind to the anticipated result of the 
deregulation, they were not greatly concerned with the problems of 
dispatched workers because they were not union members. Japanese unions 
have for decades been basically enterprise-based organizations, unions 
whose membership is usually limited to the regular employees of the 
enterprise, especially in the manufacturing sector. Dispatched workers 
have typically been excluded from these unions.

*Who Invented Hakenmura?*
*The Community Union*

While many non-profit organizations support the dispatched workers 
involved in Hakenmura and the working poor more generally, the 
organization at the center of this action was Zenkoku Komunitii Yunion 
Rengokai <http://www.zenkoku-u.jp/> (National Federation of Community 
Unions), abbreviated as Zenkoku Yunion. The organization is a network of 
community unions, established in 2002, and affiliated with Rengo 
<http://www.jtuc-rengo.or.jp/> (Japanese Trade Union Confederation, the 
biggest national labor federation in Japan) in 2003. The community union 
is not an enterprise-based union but a regional group whose members 
consist of diverse types of employees at different work places, 
including foreign workers. While Zenkoku Yunion is a nationwide network 
of regional unions, it includes some unions which enroll specific types 
of employees across multiple companies and regions, such as lower-level 
managers and dispatched workers. Although the community unions are small 
(membership is one thousand at most), such unions are significant for 
supporting those workers who have typically been excluded from the 
Japanese regime of enterprise unionism.

The most important weapon of the community unions is an activist-style 
movement leadership which inspires members to confront their hardship. 
Indeed the union gives them strength. Leadership is not exercised 
through administrative positions and the entrenched power seen in 
mainstream unions, but through the energy, courage, intellect, 
organizational ability, and even life stories of activists and leaders. 
These militant minorities in the Japanese labor movement came from the 
ranks of veteran radical union officers, community organizers, student 
activists, and labor lawyers who have been very active in supporting 
workers outside the mainstream of large-firm employment, as well as 
workers suffering from unfair labor practices or in debt to loan sharks. 
These activists and leaders have forged a wide-ranging advocacy network 
that covers issues of workplace safety, environmental protection, and 
the rights of women, people with disabilities, and immigrants, along 
with the more traditional issues of work and employment relations such 
as job security and wages. The activity of the community union sometimes 
goes far beyond that of a trade union; these groups in fact serve as a 
sort of non-profit organization involved in various civic activities 
regarding working and living conditions, such as asylum for injured 
illegal foreign workers and their families, or support for abused women 
and workers suffering discrimination because of disabilities. Some of 
these unions also organize consumers' and workers' cooperatives, run by 
and for their members.

Because of the manifold functions and goals of their movement, community 
unions' organizing methods are also distinctive. They often focus more 
on building a social movement than organizing as a labor union; they 
"promote causes, principled ideas, and norms, and they involve 
individuals advocating policy change."^5 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn5> For example, 
they recently united both a few managers and part-time workers at Japan 
McDonald's (the Japanese corporate entity of the global hamburger chain) 
to campaign over the issue of unpaid overtime work. Effectively using 
the media and filing suit in court, skillfully backed by various public 
activities, this community union eventually forced the company to pay 
for overtime work, despite its very small membership.

Preparations for Hakenmura were undertaken in just a couple of weeks 
after the idea was generated at a party held at the end of a session of 
telephone counseling for workers run by one member union of the Zenkoku 
Yunion federation. This group of activists, leaders, and friends of the 
Zenkoku Yunion alone had the movement skills and resources to set up 
this facility so successfully in such a short period of time.^6 

*Why Was Hakenmura So Effective? *
*The Media's Rush to Labor*

While Hakenmura could not have appeared without the creative thinking 
and action of Zenkoku Yunion and its movement colleagues, there is also 
no question that these activities became so well known only due to 
widespread media attention. In fact, the organizers of Hakenmura 
anticipated such attention from the outset; hence the decision to open 
the village in the Hibiya Park, in the heart of Tokyo.

As labor questions have become central issues in Japanese politics in 
recent years, the media have been a driving force bringing these matters 
to the political mainstream. This does not necessarily mean that the 
media were radicalized from the outset. Media interest in labor 
questions was driven originally by a desire for audience ratings or 
increased sales of books, newspapers, or magazines. The media have been 
treating labor problems as a scandal in an affluent society. By 
sensationalizing the labor question, Japanese media have aroused 
curiosity as to what is really happening in workplaces of well-known 
companies where unprecedented numbers of accidents, along with legally 
questionable treatment of workers, were uncovered.

During the 1980s, labor problems were assumed to be minor issues in 
Japan, which was widely perceived at home and globally as one of the 
most successful developed countries in the world. This perception 
changed when the story of the "Lost 15 Years" (Ushinawareta 15 Nen), 
Japan's long economic slump extending from the early 1990s to the 
mid-2000s, became a dominant focus of media attention. People deplored 
the lost vitality of the Japanese economy and looked back nostalgically 
on past economic success. Since the mid-2000s, however, public discourse 
of lost economic vitality has given way to a discourse of lost equality 
in Japanese society. This is the narrative of a "divided society" 
(kakusa shakai). Japan had long been considered among the most 
egalitarian of industrialized countries. The lost fifteen years, 
however, generated a widening gap between rich and poor. One of the 
major reasons for this gap was the decline of the system of relatively 
long-term stable employment in major companies, seen as distinctive of 
Japanese society, which had supported a relatively equitable 
distribution of wealth. The retreat from commitment to long-term 
employment on the part of many firms produced a greater disparity in 
career opportunities and choices offered to the younger generation. The 
youth suffering diminished opportunities over the "Lost Fifteen Years" 
have been dubbed Japan's "Rosu Gene" (Lost Generation) in the media.

Major Japanese newspapers, business magazines, and academic journals 
have shown that the gap in income and assets has been widening and that 
the poverty rate has increased dramatically in the last decade. By some 
measures, Japan's poverty rate is now the second highest among 
industrialized countries, after the United States. This discourse of a 
"divided society" has fanned fears that Japanese society was coming to 
be divided into the two worlds of winners and losers (kachi gumi and 
maké gumi) among workers and their families.

Ever alert to new trends, the media have recently shifted their focus 
from the "divided society" to the "working poor" (Waakingu Pua). This 
term, referring to people who have jobs and work hard, but remain poor, 
was imported from the United States, where the category of the working 
poor encompasses low-paid workers, many from immigrant, single-parent, 
and minority families, many in service industries, and non-mainstream 
workers with diverse backgrounds in various industries. The term has 
much the same meaning in Japan. Non-regular jobs (off the secure track 
of "regular employee" status) in Japan have drastically increased during 
the last decade, as unemployment has risen significantly.^7 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn7> These jobs 
have been held by female part-time workers (labeled "pato", numbering 
7.8 million in 2005), young part-time or casual workers (labeled 
"arubaito," 3.4 million in 2005), contract workers, engaged directly by 
an employer on a short-term contract basis (numbering 2.8 million in 
2005), and dispatched workers, engaged on limited-term contracts through 
a dispatching agency (1.1 million in 2005). Whereas one out of five or 
six employees in Japan fell into one or another of these non-regular 
categories in 1990, by 2005 almost one out of three was so employed.

The wages of atypical workers are approximately two-thirds to 
three-fourths the level of regular workers' wages, even if they perform 
the same work. A growing number of employers indicated their intention 
to replace full-time with part-time workers because of the lower cost 
and greater flexibility. They were encouraged by the fact that Japan had 
no comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination against part-time or 
other non-regular workers, compared to full-time, in wages, welfare 
programs, or social insurance. Furthermore, as already described, the 
Japanese conservative (or "neo-liberal") government accelerated 
deregulation during these years, helping employers to more easily and 
flexibly hire non-regular workers, including dispatched workers.

The year 2006 was the turning point in the journalism of the emerging 
"labor scandal." In July, an "NHK Special Documentary," one of the 
nation's most respected programs, featured the Japanese working poor. 
Sequels were aired in December 2006 and 2007. Other broadcast stations 
followed with similar documentary programs about the working poor in 
2007 and 2008. Together these shows created a sensation, and the term 
"working poor" spread among ordinary people who felt a strong and 
growing interest in labor issues, especially as the problems of the 
working poor came to feel uncomfortably close to their own situation. 
Since then, labor questions pertaining not only to the working poor but 
also to companies' illegal employment practices and government labor 
policies have often occupied the front pages of major newspapers and 
magazines and top news of national TV news programs.^8 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn8> So-called 
"proletarian novels," originally published in the 1920s exposing the 
brutal conditions aboard cannery ships in the northern Pacific Ocean or 
workers' resistance to overseers, were republished and gained a large 
readership, especially among the youth. It appears these young readers 
found strong connections in these stories to their own circumstances. 
They also learned the meaning of solidarity among workers in these 
heroic narratives, something they had not experienced in their own 
lives.^9 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn9> 
Newspaper editorials and the commentary of TV news anchors have been 
sympathetic to the working poor; the labor question was presented not as 
a matter of the responsibility of the individual worker (to find a job, 
for example), but as a matter of social justice. It was in this context 
of growing public concern that Hakenmura became a perfect event for the 
attention of media seeking to put forward an agenda of labor questions 
needing to be resolved.

*Who Supported Hakenmura?*
*The United Front for Dispatched Workers*

While Hakenmura provided an excellent subject for media eager to put 
forward a labor agenda, the village also offered a common space in which 
almost all labor organizations across the political spectrum could 
cooperate. Hakenmura gave rise to a united labor front to rescue jobless 
and homeless dispatched workers. The Japanese labor movement had seen no 
comparably wide-ranging united front over any labor issue since 1960. 
Hakenmura in this sense revived a tradition of Japanese social movement 
unionism in which unions and social movements sought to work 
hand-in-hand to address the suffering of people.

In the wake of World War II, Japanese labor unions experienced 
remarkable growth. By 1950 the unionization rate reached approximately 
50 per cent. However, unions were organized at the level of individual 
enterprises, and working conditions were determined by collective 
bargaining between each enterprise union and the employer.^10 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn10> When a new 
national labor federation, Sohyo (the General Council of Trade Unions of 
Japan) was established in the early 1950s, it envisioned a labor 
movement that would reach out across the separate unionized sectors, and 
beyond them, to involve all unions and other workers' organizations in 
broad-based social and political movements. While promoting the 
principle that "an injury to one is an injury to all" throughout the 
country, Sohyo actively supported a strong peace movement in alliance 
with liberal intellectuals, the women's movement, the farmers' movement, 
Socialists, and Communists, and it supported long and aggressive strikes 
by enterprise-based unions.^11 

After the mid 1950s, Japanese management and unions at large enterprises 
reached settlements in which employees agreed to cooperate in an effort 
to increase productivity if employers agreed to guarantee their 
long-term employment and improve working conditions. Manufacturing 
companies in industries such as steel, shipbuilding, automobile, and 
electric machinery also established subcontracting systems for portions 
of their labor force, to reduce costs while securing employment and 
better working conditions for their own employees.^12 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn12> Membership 
in enterprise unions was usually restricted to regular workers; 
non-regular workers (part-time or contract workers) were excluded. These 
large private enterprise unions led the way toward re-unification of the 
labor movement from the mid 1970s onwards. When Rengo was finally 
established in 1989, it was perceived as the political agent of big 
business unionism.

Since the 1990s, the Japanese labor movement has shrunk significantly. 
Many workers, particularly those employed in small to medium-sized 
enterprises and those with part-time jobs, have faced worsening job 
conditions without union protection. Japan's unionization rate is now 
less than 19 per cent, and the unionization rate in small to 
medium-sized enterprises is much lower. This decline in union membership 
has reflected the rapid growth of offshore production. During the last 
decade alone, Japanese unions have lost 2 million members. But it is a 
loss in the vitality of the labor movement that has been more 
problematic than simply the decline in the unionization rate or the 
overall decline in membership. The number of labor disputes in which 
unions are engaged has been declining sharply for the past fifteen 
years. The number of strikes has also dropped steeply, and Japan could 
soon be a country without strikes of any kind. Even as numerous workers 
continued to suffer under terrible working conditions during these 
turbulent years, the labor movement seems no longer to be a vehicle for 
workers' collective struggle against unfair labor practices.

As a result, workers have for some time been seeking alternative outlets 
for the sorts of advocacy or protection that unions might have once 
provided. Whistle blowing is one of them, and the number of reported 
corporate scandals and accidents has been steadily rising. While 
scandals and accidents are the result of worsened working conditions 
which unions might have addressed, it is also true that the rising 
number of reports is a result of workers' declining loyalty to their 
companies and waning trust in their unions. It is clear that 
deteriorating standards of employment are taking a toll on Japanese 
working people. Some become severely physically and mentally ill, while 
others drop out of the work force altogether and become homeless. One 
indication that some workers retain a willingness to fight against 
unfair labor practices is the booming industry of individual labor 
disputes. The number of cases of civil litigation over labor problems 
has tripled since the early 1990s. Major issues in these litigation 
cases are claims for unpaid wages and retirement benefits, contestation 
of termination of employment, challenges to the validity of 
disadvantageous changes of working conditions and disadvantageous 
transfers. Labor administrative agencies now also receive an increasing 
number of complaints through their counseling services.^13 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn13> Lacking an 
effective system to resolve individual labor disputes, the government in 
2006 introduced the labor tribunal system. In 2004 it also reformed the 
unfair labor dispute adjudication system in order to speed up and 
strengthen its authority. The Labor Lawyers Association of Japan 
<http://homepage1.nifty.com/rouben/> (LLAJ) currently has 1400 members, 
and young attorneys continue to join.^14 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn14> Some of 
these lawyers have worked with Zenkoku Yunion and joined Hakenmura.

In this difficult situation, by broadening its goals and linking with 
other social groups, the movement has finally created a viable union 
sector for employees of small and medium-sized enterprises and 
non-regular workers. And, in support of this effort, the Rengo 
federation has switched from big enterprise unionism to social movement 
unionism since the beginning of the 2000s.^15 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn15> Since then, 
Rengo has been articulating a set of goals much more in line with the 
changes taking place in the labor market, including, among other things, 
adjusting the unbalanced power relationship in the subcontracting system 
between large and small-to-medium-sized enterprises, offering counseling 
services for non-regular workers' complaints about working conditions 
and unfair labor practices, organizing non-regular workers, 
strengthening the federation's local branches and their welfare programs 
for joint activities and mutual aid for small-to-medium-sized enterprise 
unions and non-regular workers, and defining a social minimum of working 
conditions. In defining these goals one by one, Rengo adopted the 
rhetoric of social movement unionism, which emphasizes cooperation with 
other social movements on behalf of unorganized and disadvantaged 
workers. In this new context, Zenkoku Yunion has affiliated with Rengo.

Decline in Japanese Union Membership, 2000-2006
Decline in Japanese Union Membership, 2000-2006 

As mentioned earlier, Zenkoku Yunion served as a magnet for workers 
excluded from the Japanese regime of enterprise unionism. It has also 
been a magnet for radical labor, social, and political activists who 
have been marginalized since the Sohyo-style social movement unionism 
declined in the early 1970s. These militant minorities have developed a 
web of connections with rank-and-file activists and minority leaders 
within Rengo, the National Labor Union Federation Japan 
<http://www.zenroren.gr.jp/jp/index.html> (Zenroren) led by the 
Communist Party <http://www.jcp.or.jp/> (JCP), the National Labor Union 
Conference <http://www.zenrokyo.org/> (Zenrokyo) led by the former Japan 
Socialist Party 
(JSP), new left labor groups, and new social movement groups for youth, 
women, and foreign workers. These groups together have recently 
organized the Anti-Poverty Network <http://www.k5.dion.ne.jp/%7Ehinky/> 
(Han Hinkon Nettowaaku), comprising the core members of Hakenmura's 
executive committee. In other words, Zenkoku Yunion is playing an 
indispensable role in support of Rengo's practice of social movement 

Recently Zenroren has been very active in addressing the issue of the 
working poor. The Communist Party's radical argument on the issue has 
attracted the young generation. Severely criticizing enterprise unionism 
for its failure to help the dispatched workers, the media have given 
positive attention to these leftist activities. And, behind the scenes, 
Rengo has been involved in the various activities of Zenkoku Yunion and 
its movement colleagues. When the Hakenmura project was initiated, its 
organizers asked Rengo to make great efforts in the background. In fact, 
Hakenmura relied on Rengo's physical resources, manpower, and political 
connections. This would be the first time for Rengo's members to work 
officially with members of Zenroren and Zenrokyo in a campaign; since 
Rengo was established twenty years ago, these three federations have 
been fighting against each other. When Sohyo was absorbed into Rengo, 
Communist-led groups within Sohyo split off from some of its constituent 
unions and founded Zenroren, and Zenroren originally tried to compete 
with Rengo. When it proved difficult to compete effectively, Zenroren 
sought to penetrate Rengo or work with it. Rengo has until now rejected 
Zenroren's overtures because of a strong anti-Communist allergy within 
Rengo. But now Rengo seems ready to work with Zenroren and other groups 
from the perspective of social movement unionism, so long as it is 
beneficial for all workers and their families. Hakenmura was the first 
test of this stance.

*Why Was the Government Supportive of Hakenmura?*
*The Re-regulation Offensive*

The united front in support of the dispatched workers was not limited to 
the labor and social movement. One surprising turn of events came when 
the Hakenmura executive committee asked the MHLW to open its building 
for the workers' lodging on January 2, and the ministry promptly agreed. 
This was the first time it has offered its building for workers' 
lodging. Until they heard the announcement, few if any observers would 
have expected the MHLW to take this step. And surely no one expected 
that the decision would be made so quickly, on January 2, a national 
holiday when ordinarily there was nobody at all working. But the MHLW 
acted as if it had been standing by, ready to help. Why was the ministry 
so accommodating to Hakenmura? The reason is that the foundation for a 
united political front, to be sure a carefully calculated one, had been 
laid for the bureaucrats as well. In fact, politicians of all the 
parties, from the LDP to the JCP, had visited Hakenmura to learn how 
they could help the workers. Of course, their visits were aired on 
national news programs. The person in charge of opening the building was 
a vice minister of the MHLW. He must have discussed the decision with 
the minister. One of the leaders of the Democratic Party who visited 
Hakenmura was a former minister of the MHLW, and he likely called the 
minister requesting him to help the workers.

What brought about this remarkably united political front? It 
represented a culmination of the mainstreaming of the labor question in 
Japanese politics, as all parties sought to position themselves as the 
friend of the workers. This shift was apparent earlier in the fight 
against what is called the "white-collar exemption." This exemption 
represented a deregulation of limits on working hours; it exempted 
white-collar employees, whose annual income met a minimum standard, from 
the protection of the eight-hour day and the 40-hour workweek, meaning 
they would no longer receive overtime pay if they worked beyond these 
limits. After this exemption had been discussed in the advisory council 
of the MHLW for several years, disagreement between representatives of 
labor and management stalled any movement on the issue during the summer 
2006. Nevertheless, the MHLW was preparing to submit a bill to the 
winter 2007 session of the Diet in line with the demands of management 
organizations. The Rengo federation, and especially Zenkoku Yunion, 
campaigned vigorously against the bill. Their movement peaked with 
several large gatherings and demonstrations. At this point, with 
dramatic headlines, the media threw their support behind the Rengo 
campaign. As a result, strong sentiment against the bill spread among 
the public. On the grounds that the bill was misunderstood, in January 
2007 the Abe LDP government finally abandoned its plan to submit it, 
while stating its intention to submit other bills favorable to 
non-regular workers.

This case illustrates the process by which the labor question has been 
mainstreamed in Japanese politics. First of all, labor issues became 
critical for the government. In this instance, the most compelling 
reason for the government to abandon the bill was anxiety about how it 
would negatively influence the Upper House election, scheduled for the 
summer of 2007. It was most significant, in this regard, that as the 
campaign against the bill intensified, the Komeito (the Clean Government 
Party, CGP), a member of the ruling coalition, was the first to 
vigorously oppose the bill. The CGP was competing with the JCP, which 
had already joined the campaign, for the support of working and 
middle-class voters who suffer disproportionately from the deregulation 
of work rules. The LDP pressured the government to abandon the bill 
because it desperately needed CGP support.^16 

Growing popular interest in labor questions and concern with the 
"divided society" have provided politicians with a new rhetoric 
concerning the various issues involved, leading them to seek new bases 
of support. This shift certainly occurred within the LDP. The ruling 
party has been much more enthusiastic than the opposition Democratic 
Party, which Rengo had supported, in introducing new labor policies to 
ameliorate the status and working and living conditions of non-regular 
workers. In fact, one LDP leader with a strong neo-liberal disposition 
declared that the party should become the standard-bearer of part-time 
workers.^17 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn17> 
He believed that the LDP could promote equality of opportunity and 
"second chances" for underprivileged workers much more effectively than 
more radical schemes to improve working and living conditions. From the 
viewpoint of equality of opportunity, the LDP leader was also prone to 
attack the "vested interest" privileges of public employees. Similarly 
the policies of the Abe government aimed at giving non-regular workers 
equal opportunity, not directly through promotions or pay raises, but by 
removing legal impediments to advances in position or pay. By such 
policies, the LDP leadership expected to drive a wedge among workers, 
the mainstay of the opposition party, to divide Rengo, and to attract 
some working-class support to the LDP. But as neo-liberalism has 
declined even in the LDP, this group's influence over the government's 
labor policy has been diminished.

While the debate over the white-collar exemption was heated, other LDP 
leaders formed a special committee on labor policy within the party to 
intervene in the policy making process. Their aim was to undermine the 
existing labor policy community, in which Rengo, Keidanren 
<http://www.keidanren.or.jp/indexj.html> (the Japanese Federation of 
Economic Organizations), and the MHLW have dominated.^18 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn18> This 
group's policy tendency is more anti-deregulation, especially in labor 
policy. Having specialists of labor policy among its members, the 
committee has led the LDP's labor policy development and implementation 
since the Abe government. While they have been very active in connecting 
with other labor policy networks, they have also sent their members as 
representatives of the LDP to symposiums and campaigns organized by 
Zenkoku Yunion. Their policy response to the working poor has been quick 
and flexible. Disappointed with lack of a clear labor policy among 
specialist groups within the Democratic Party, Rengo sometimes has 
consulted unofficially with the LDP committee.

Seeing the reverse tide of labor policy flowing from deregulation to 
reregulation, the MHLW has tried to swim with the current to regain its 
status as a friend of workers, a position anticipated when the Ministry 
of Labor was founded immediately after World War II. Moving with public 
opinion also represented a chance to recover its honor, which had been 
severely damaged in the scandal of massive loss of pension records by 
one MHLW agency. The MHLW was not the only organization that had to 
persevere and endure for years in the face of the deregulation policy 
and anti-bureaucratic sentiment of the Koizumi government.^19 
<http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_edn19> The 
Ministry of Finance is another bureaucratic organization that has tried 
to float on the stream of active government to help suffering workers. 
Both ministries are currently acceding to Rengo demands on labor policy; 
some of the programs, laws, and budget measures proposed by these 
ministries are products of joint work with Rengo.

In this fashion, the mainstreaming of labor politics on a complicated, 
competitive terrain has created a favorable political context and led 
the government to be supportive of Hakenmura.

*A Critical Moment for Japanese Labor Politics*

After the Dispatch Workers Village at Hibiya Park was closed, similar 
facilities were organized by local union groups and other non-profit 
organizations elsewhere, and several more are planned to open in other 
cities across Japan. Although the organizations responsible are not 
necessarily members of Zenkoku Yunion, they use the name of Hakenmura 
for their activities. There is no question that Hakenmura captured 
attention at a critical moment for labor, the labor movement, and labor 
politics in contemporary Japan. It is also certain that Hakenmura opens 
a window on the state of mind of people in Japan today: if some among us 
are suffering poverty, why don't we help them? This is a habit of the 
heart which Japanese people have for some time lost. In this regard, the 
New Year Dispatch Workers Village might mark a cultural as well as a 
political tipping point.


1 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref1> On 
recent Japanese labor politics, see Toru Shinoda, "Introduction: The 
Return of Japanese Labor? The Mainstreaming of the Labor Question in 
Japanese Politics," 
/Labor History/, Vol. 49, No. 2, May 2008.

2 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref2> Yuka 
Hayashi, "Steep Export Slide Pummels Japan: Annualized 4th-quarter GDP 
Plunged 12.7%; Further Declines Predicted," 
<http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123474240080991281.html> /Wall Street 
Journal/, February 16, 2009.

3 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref3> Akira 
Takai and Momoyo Kamo, /Dosuru Haken Giri 2009 Nen Mondai 
Do We Cope with the Cancellation in the Middle of the Term of Dispatch 
Contracts? The Problem of the Year of 2009), Tokyo: Junposha, 2009.

4 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref4> Mari 
Miura, "The New Politics of Labor: Shifting Veto Points and Representing 
the Un-organized," 
<http://jww.iss.u-tokyo.ac.jp/discussion/pdffile/f-93.pdf> F-93, 
Institute of Social Science (University of Tokyo), Domestic Politics 
Project No. 3, July 2001.

5 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref5> 
Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, /Activists beyond Borders: 
Advocacy Networks in International Politics 
<http://books.google.com/books?id=y-YH95YHIiwC>/, Ithaca, NY: Cornell 
University Press, 1998, pp.8-9.

6 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref6> For 
more detail on the community unions and their background, see Akira 
Suzuki <http://homepage3.nifty.com/sociallabor/art-e.html>, "Community 
Unions in Japan: Similarities and Differences of Region-based Labour 
Movements between Japan and Other Industrialized Countries," 
<http://eid.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/29/4/492> /Economic and 
Industrial Democracy/, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 492-520, November 2008.

7 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref7> "Nihon 
Ban Waakingu Puaa: Hataraitemo Mazushii Hitotachi" 
(Japanese Working Poor: People Work Hard But Are Still Poor),/ Weekly 
Toyo Keizai/, 16 September 16 2006.

8 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref8> Media 
Sogo Kenkyuujo <http://www.mediasoken.org/> (Media Research Institute), 
ed. /Hinkon Hodo: Shin Jiyuu Shugi no Jitsuzo wo Abaku: Media Soken 
Bukkuretto No. 12/ 
(Journalism of Poverty: Exposing the Reality of Neo-liberalism, Media 
Research Institute Booklet No. 12), Tokyo: Kadensha, 2008.

9 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref9> Norma 
Field, "Commercial Appetite and Human Need: The Accidental and Fated 
revival of Kobayashi Takiji's Cannery Ship," 
<http://www.japanfocus.org/-Norma_Field/3058> /The Asia-Pacific 
Journal/, Vol. 8-8-09, February 22, 2009.

10 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref10> Toru 
Shinoda, "Rengo and Policy Participation: Japanese-style 
<http://books.google.com/books?id=chS8jJZfP3EC&pg=PA187> in Mari Sako 
and Hiroki Sato eds. /Japanese Labour and Management in Transition 
<http://books.google.com/books?id=chS8jJZfP3EC>/, p.189.

11 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref11> Toru 
Shinoda, "'Kigyo Betsu Kumiai wo Chushin to shita Minshu Kumiai' toha 
--Shakai Undo teki Rodo Kumiai to shiteno Takano Sohyo ni kansuru Bunken 
Kenkyu" <http://oohara.mt.tama.hosei.ac.jp/oz/565/565-02.pdf> [in 
Japanese] (What Is a 'Company-based Popular Union'?: Takano Sohyo as 
Social Movement Unionism, 1, 2), /Ohara Shakai Mondai Kenkyujo Zasshi/ 
(The Journal of Ohara Institute for Social Research), No. 564, 565, 
November, December 2005.

12 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref12> 
Beverly J. Silver, /Forces of Labor: Workers' Movement and Globalization 
since 1870 <http://books.google.com/books?id=la2PBtQ64KIC>/, Cambridge 
University Press, 2003, p.42.

13 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref13> Kazuo 
Sugeno, "Judicial Reform and the Reform of the Labor Dispute Resolution 
<http://www.jil.go.jp/english/JLR/documents/2006/JLR09_Sugeno.pdf> in 
/Japan Labor Review/, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 2006, p.7.

14 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref14> 
<homepage1.nifty.com/rouben/ <http://homepage1.nifty.com/rouben/>> 
downloaded June 26, 2006.

15 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref15> 
Frege, Heery, and Turner argue that trade union movements often try to 
"recreate themselves as social movements" when they seek to revitalize. 
Their "prescription of 'social movement unionism' lists the following: 
1) Broadening movement goals to "encompass social progress beyond the 
immediate employment relationship"; 2) Forming "coalitions with other 
social progressive forces," including new social movements on "social 
identity, the environment, and globalization"; and 3) Rediscovering 
unions' "capacity to mobilize workers in campaigns for workplace and 
wider social justice." Carola Frege, Edmund Heery, and Lowell Turner, 
"The New Solidarity? Trade Union Coalition-Building in Five Countries," 
<http://books.google.com/books?id=Qk4-M15FtVgC&pg=PA137> in Carola Frege 
and John Kelly eds. /Varieties of Unionism: Strategies for Union 
Revitalization in a Globalizing Economy 
<http://books.google.com/books?id=Qk4-M15FtVgC>/, Oxford University 
Press, 2004, p.137.

16 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref16> /The 
Asahi/, January 7, 12, 19, February 7, and 8, 2007.

17 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref17> 
Hidenao Nakagawa, /Ageshio no Jidai: GDP 1000 Cho En Keikaku 
[in Japanese] (The Age of the Rising Tide: GDP 1000 Billion Yen Plan), 
Kodan Sha, December 2006.

18 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref18> 
"'Keieisha no Ronri' ni Igi wo Tonaeru Jimin Rodo Seisaku no Nejire 
Gensho (The Twisted LDP Labor Policy against 'the Logic of Management'), 
/Weekly Ekonomisuto 
<http://www.mainichi.jp/enta/book/economist/archive/>/, January 20, 
2007, pp.25-26.

19 <http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/shinoda090409p.html#_ednref19> Jin 
Igarashi/, Rodo Saikisei: Hanten no Kozu wo Yomitoku 
Japanese] (Labor Reregulation: How the Reversal Happened), Chukuma 
Shinsho, 2008.


Toru Shinoda <http://www.waseda.jp/w-gsss/top/profile/SHINODA.Toru.html> 
is professor of Comparative Labor Politics at the Faculty of Social 
Sciences in Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan. His current research 
interest is a trans-Pacific history of the labor movement. His many 
publications on Japanese and US labor movement include "Introduction: 
The Return of Japanese Labor? The Mainstreaming of the Labor Question in 
Japanese Politics," 
/Labor History/, Vol. 49, No. 2, May 2008. This article was published by 
/The Asia-Pacific Journal 
<http://www.japanfocus.org/-Toru-Shinoda/3113>/ on 4 April 2009; it is 
reproduced here for educational purposes.


URL: mrzine.monthlyreview.org/shinoda090409.html 



* 'Needed: A Global Labour Charter Movement', ESF Malmo Update: http://www.netzwerkit.de/projekte/waterman/gc

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* 'International Labour Studies in the UK’, in "Work Organisation Labour and Globalisation", Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 180-200. http://www.analyticapublications.co.uk/

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