Improving the lives of workers is primary responsibility of labor unions

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, labor unions play a major role in improving the terms and conditions of workers. As a national center of trade unions, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) should make steady efforts to stabilize employment and the livelihoods of employees.

Rengo held a general rally ahead of next month’s House of Councillors election and reaffirmed that it would seek victory for the 55 candidates it is backing. “It’s important to send to the Diet as many politicians as possible who work hard to protect the lives of fellow workers,” President Tomoko Yoshino said.

In its basic policy for the upper house election that was decided in February, Rengo stated that it would “seek to cooperate” with two opposition parties — the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP).

Until last year’s House of Representatives election, Rengo openly supported both parties. This time, however, Rengo seems to have distanced itself from the CDPJ, which formed a united front with the Japanese Communist Party in the last lower house election. Rengo could not focus its support on the DPFP alone.

In 1989, Rengo was formed through the merger of the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo) and the Japanese Confederation of Labor (Domei), among other labor unions, with the goal of achieving a change of government led by non-Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) forces. Sohyo supported the then Japan Socialist Party, while Domei backed the now-defunct Democratic Socialist Party. Rengo’s stance regarding the upper house election this summer is different from its conventional policy of seeking a two-party system.

Yoshino has met with LDP executives since the end of last year and attended an LDP party convention in April. She has called on the ruling party to close the wage gap between men and women, and to expand social insurance coverage, among other issues.

It is quite natural for labor unions to urge the government and ruling parties to reflect the labor force’s opinions in national policies.

However, some say Rengo is too close to the LDP. There is also confusion spreading among labor unions as to which party to support.

Unlike when Rengo was formed, the attitudes of labor union members have diversified. As long as it has become difficult to unify support for political parties and candidates, there is no longer a need to enforce decisions on which party to support and other issues.

The weakening of Rengo has been highlighted for a long time. The number of affiliated labor union members is 7.04 million, more than 1 million fewer than at its peak. Critics also claim private-sector labor unions are focused on regular employees, so Rengo does not represent all workers.

According to a Rengo survey of its affiliated labor union members, support for the former Democratic Party stood at 39% in 2016, while the combined support for the CDPJ and the DPFP was 35% in 2019. Meanwhile, support for the LDP increased from 17% to 21% during the period. This may be partly due to government-led spring labor-management wage negotiations, in which the government has asked businesses to raise wages.

The primary responsibility of Rengo is to create better employment and work environments for workers. It is necessary to carefully listen to the voices of workers, including non-regular workers, and make efforts to eliminate long working hours, improve the treatment of non-regular workers and enhance vocational training, among other matters.

It is hoped that these activities will lead to improved corporate productivity.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 2, 2022)