The labor movement

Authored by: Lonny E. Carlile

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Politics

Print publication date:  February  2011
Online publication date:  February  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415551373
eBook ISBN: 9780203829875
Adobe ISBN: 9781136818387


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The Japanese labor movement is a notable exception to the generalization that Japanese civil society organizations are characterized by small memberships, small professional staffs, small budgets, and localized areas of operation (see the Kawato, Pekkanen and Yamamoto chapter in this volume for discussion). Recent estimates place the total number of union members in Japan at over 10 million (MHLW 2009), making it in terms of sheer numbers the largest segment of Japanese civil society outside of the ubiquitous neighborhood associations. According to Nakamura and Miura (2005: 193), Rengō, the hegemonic national center of the movement, employed 100 fulltime staff members at its Tokyo headquarters with a budget of 4.5 billion yen. It maintained a network of 47 regional organs that together commanded 771 fulltime staff members and budgets totaling 9.5 billion yen. The largest union industrial federations similarly maintain staffs of several hundred and operate large budgets with extensive nationwide networks of local branches. It is clear from this alone that the labor movement is a major presence in Japanese civil society. Politically, in addition to constituting a sizable number of voters, by virtue of this organizational apparatus unions are in a position to use the dues that they systematically collect along with ad hoc contributions for political purposes and to mobilize members for demonstrations and election campaign work. This means that, theoretically at least, the labor movement has the potential to be a formidable player in Japanese politics. The question that naturally arises, then, is to what extent, in what way and to what purposes has such potential been reflected in the labor movements’ engagement with the Japanese political system? This chapter addresses this question by sketching some of the key structural features of the Japanese labor movement. It then proceeds to a discussion of the modalities through which the movement has engaged with politics. Finally, it discusses recent changes in union-party relations.

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