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Japan Table of Contents


Labor Organizations

Postwar labor unions were established with the blessings of the occupation authorities. The mechanism for collective bargaining is set up, and unions are organized by enterprise: membership was determined by company affiliation rather than by skill or industry type. In general, membership is also limited to permanent, nonsupervisory personnel. Observers in the late 1980s viewed labor unions' role in the policy-making process as less powerful than that of business and agricultural organizations because the unions' enterprise-based structure made national federations weak and because unions were closely associated with parties that remained out of power.

The Japan Socialist Party largely depended on Sohyo for funding, organizational support, and membership during most of the postwar period. Domei performed similar functions for the Democratic Socialist Party. Sohyo was composed primarily of public sector unions such as those organized for national civil servants, municipal workers, and public school teachers. Domei's constituent unions were principally in the private sector. In the late 1980s, however, the labor movement saw significant change. In November 1987, the National Federation of Private Sector Trade Unions (Rengo), an amalgamation of Domei and smaller groups, was formed with a membership of 5.5 million workers and known as Shin Reng (New Rengo). After two years of intense negotiations, the 2.5 million members of public sector unions largely affiliated with Sohyo joined with Rengo. With 8 million members, Rengo (the Shin was dropped) included 65 percent of Japan's unionized workers and was, after the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the British Trades Union Congress, the world's third largest noncommunist union federation.

Rengo is a moderate, nonideological movement that shuns involvement with Marxist Japan Communist Party-affiliated unions. Two leftist union confederations emerged in the wake of the amalgamation of Sohyo and Rengo: the 1.2 million-member Japan Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), and the 500,000-member National Trade Union Council (Zenrokyo). The powerful Nikkyoso, with 675,000 members in the country's public primary and secondary schools, was divided between adherents and opponents of Rengo.

In the early 1990s, the relationship of Rengo to the socialist political parties remained somewhat unclear. It was likely that many old support networks would remain in place. Some noted the new confederation's potential for promoting opposition party unity, because it encompassed supporters of the socialist parties and the small Social Democratic League. However, in the House of Councillors election on July 18, 1989, Rengo withheld its support from the Japan Socialist Party and the party lost sixty-four seats. In their traditional stronghold, Tokyo, the socialists retained only one of the eleven seats contested.

Data as of January 1994