Business-friendly LDP gets cozy with key union Rengo ahead of upper house elections

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rengo President Tomoko Yoshino, left, attends an LDP Policy Research Council meeting chaired by Yoko Kamikawa, an LDP acting secretary general, at party headquarters in Tokyo on Monday.

In an extremely rare occurrence, the head of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) attended the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council meeting on Monday.

The main supporters of Rengo are current opposition parties the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People.

The LDP invited Rengo President Tomoko Yoshino to hear from her about labor policies, in a move apparently aimed not only at gaining votes from labor union members in this summer’s House of Councillors elections, but also at driving a wedge into the opposition parties by getting closer to Rengo.

“It’s necessary to have solutions to the issues of working women and non-regular workers,” LDP Acting Secretary General Yoko Kamikawa, who chairs the Strategy Headquarters for Living the 100-year Life, said to Yoshino at the start of the meeting. The two women sat next to each other. “Rengo’s vision has something in common with this.”

Afterward, behind closed doors, Yoshino explained about labor issues, including the wage gap between men and women, and answered questions from LDP lawmakers.

“We shared some issues to a large degree,” Yoshino later told reporters. “I think we would be able to work together to realize policies.”

While Rengo presidents have had many opportunities to participate in expert panels of the government, their participation in LDP meetings has been rare. This was the first time since 2012, when then Rengo President Nobuaki Koga did so.

According to sources, Kamikawa visited Rengo headquarters in Tokyo in early March and sounded Yoshino out about the possibility of her attendance, and Yoshino willingly accepted the request.

Since last year’s House of Representatives election, the party has been trying to get closer to Rengo, with LDP Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi playing leading roles. The two party executives met Yoshino separately at LDP headquarters in December last year. In February, Yuko Obuchi, chairperson of the LDP’s Party Organization and Campaign Headquarters, dined with Yoshino, and the following month, Aso did the same.

Aso was in Fukuoka City on Sunday giving a lecture when he disclosed part of his discussions with Yoshino.

“I asked her whether Rengo wants to study labor policies with the LDP,” the former prime minister said. “I stressed that the LDP is best if Rengo wants to realize policies.”

The LDP has attracted the interest of Rengo in its action policies for 2022, adopted in the party convention in March, which stipulates that the LDP will “actively promote meetings with Rengo and other friendly labor unions.”

There are concerns within Rengo over Yoshino’s move, which could be taken as an approach to the LDP before the upper house election. Rengo, however, has been building multilevel relations with the LDP. For example, Rengo General Secretary Hideyuki Shimizu has also had contact with LDP executives.

The CDPJ, the largest opposition party, deepened its cooperation with the Japanese Communist Party in last year’s lower house election, which resulted in hardening some distrust within Rengo. The DPFP, whose main supporters are labor union members in the private sector, has been deepening cooperation in policies with the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito. The LDP intends to drive a wedge into CDPJ-DPFP relations.

Junya Ogawa, chairperson of the CDPJ’s Policy Research Committee, expressed his displeasure at Rengo’s move.

“It must be careful not to be taken advantage of by the LDP,” he said.

Kazuya Shinba, secretary general of the DPFP, on the other hand, considers Rengo’s move as favorable.

“It’s quite natural for Rengo to make proposals to the ruling party,” he said. “There’s no problem whatsoever.”