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Editorial: 30 years on, Rengo must recall its origins, improve labor conditions

  • October 21, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:25 p.m.
  • English Press

How should the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, contribute to the improvement of workers’ livelihoods? The confederation must return to its roots and serve as an organization that leads labor unions.


Rengo decided Rikio Kozu would continue as its president for a third term at a regular convention. During a press conference, Kozu said, “Despite all that has happened, it is quite significant that we have solidified our unity,” alluding to the 30th anniversary of Rengo’s inauguration slated for next month.


The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called on business circles to raise wages, aiming at revitalizing consumption. It is also advocating the implementation of work style reforms to promote the active participation of diverse human resources. A decline in Rengo’s unifying force has been pointed out, while working environments have been improved under the government’s leadership.


Rengo needs to convey the demands of the labor force to the government and reflect on relevant proposals, while building constructive relations with the administration and ruling parties.


Kozu must take the reins and lead the labor unions under its wing.


Rengo was created in 1989 through the unification of the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo), which supported the former Social Democratic Party of Japan, and private-sector trade unions affiliated with the Japanese Confederation of Labor (Domei), which supported the former Democratic Socialist Party (DSP). Under the motto “improving the livelihood of workers,” Rengo sought a change of government, aiming for an administration led by forces other than the Liberal Democratic Party.


It can be said that Rengo’s support greatly contributed to the birth of the eight non-LDP party-alliance administrations led by then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa in 1993 and that of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government in 2009.


But in the aftermath of the break-up of the Democratic Party in 2017 — as the DPJ had been renamed — the unions affiliated with the former Sohyo supported the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, a party created through the break-up. Meanwhile the Federation of Electric Power Related Industry Workers Unions of Japan (Denryoku Soren) and others affiliated with the former Domei oppose the CDPJ, which advocates reducing the nation’s nuclear power generation to zero, and support the Democratic Party for the People, another party created through the break-up.


Rengo has not made clear in its action plan for the next two years which party or parties it will support. Previously Rengo spelled out its support for the DPJ or the DP, but, taking into account the antagonism among its member labor unions, it opted not to stipulate its support for any party or parties in the latest plan.


Kozu is calling on both the CDPJ and the DPFP to have opposition parties rally together.


Rengo should not neglect its roles of improving working conditions and securing jobs for workers by committing itself too much to political activities. It is important for Rengo to strive humbly for the betterment of working conditions.


Rengo’s organizational power has been declining. The unionization ratio — the percentage of total union members among the total number of employed people — which stood at 26 percent when Rengo was inaugurated, fell to a record-low 17 percent last year. It will be necessary for Rengo to strive to encourage workers to join unions by taking into consideration the demands of nonregular workers, including part-timers, temporary workers and contract employees.


Small and medium-sized companies will be required to set a ceiling for overtime hours starting next April, in line with work style reform-related laws that have been enforced. An equal-pay-for-equal-work system will also begin to eliminate unreasonable gaps in the treatment of regular and nonregular workers. Rengo should cooperate with the government so that these new systems are implemented smoothly.


It is essential for Rengo to respond promptly to the diversification of work styles and conduct activities that could secure the public’s understanding.


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