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Labor unions in Japan

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Title: Labor unions in Japan  
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Labor unions in Japan

Labor unions in Japan
National trade union organization(s)
Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo)

Zenroren)National Confederation of Trade Unions (
National Trade Union Council (Zenrokyo)

National government agency(ies)
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Primary trade union legislation
Labour Union Law (Act. No. 51, Dec 1945)

Labour Relations Adjustment Law (1946)
Labour Standards Law (1947)
Labour Union Law (Act. No. 174, June 1949)

Labour Contract Law (2007)[1]

Trade union membership


Percentage of workforce unionized

18.5% (2010)[3]

International Labour Organization

Japan is a member of the ILO

Convention ratification
Freedom of Association 14 June 1965
Right to Organise 20 October 1953

  1. ^ Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training. Labor Laws of Japan. Retrieved 11 June 2011
  2. ^ a b c d e f Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Labour Unions and Membership (1945-2005). Retrieved 10 June 2011
  3. ^ a b c Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training website Trends in number of labor unions, members, and participation rate Retrieved on June 12, 2012
  4. ^ a b c d e Nimura, K. The Formation of Japanese Labor Movement: 1868-1914 (Translated by Terry Boardman). Retrieved 11 June 2011
  5. ^ a b c d e Cross Currents. Labor unions in Japan. CULCON. Retrieved 11 June 2011
  6. ^ a b c Weathers, C. (2009). Business and Labor. In William M. Tsutsui, ed., A Companion to Japanese History (2009) pp. 493-510.
  7. ^ Jung, L. (30 March 2011). National Labour Law Profile: Japan. ILO. Retrieved 10 June 2011
  8. ^ Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training website Labor Situation in Japan and Analysis: 2009/2010 Retrieved 10 June 2011
  9. ^ Dolan, R. E. & Worden, R. L. (Eds.). Japan: A Country Study. Labor Unions, Employment and Labor Relations. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1994. Retrieved 12 June 2011
  10. ^ Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), Affiliated unions. Retrieved 10 June 2011
  11. ^ Japan Institute for Labour Policy, Survey 2001-2002. ).ZenrorenAffiliated unions, National Confederation of Trade Unions ( Retrieved 10 June 2011
  12. ^ National Trade Union Council (Zenrokyo) Affiliated unions. Retrieved 8 June 2011
  13. ^ Japan Institute for Labour Policy, Survey 2001-2002, Directory of Labor Administration, Major Trade Unions, and Employee's Associations in Japan. Retrieved 10 June 2011
  14. ^ Nimura, K. (1997). The Ashio Riot of 1907: A Social History of Mining in Japan. American Historical Review, 104:3. June 1999. Retrieved 16 June 2011
  15. ^ Baker, D. The Trade Union Movement in Japan. International Socialism, 23, Winter 1965/66, pp.19-26. Retrieved 19 June 2011
  16. ^ Kimura, Shinichi, Unfair Labor Practices under the Trade Union Law of Japan
  17. ^ a b Benson, J. (3 Nov 2008). The Development and Structure of Japanese Enterprise Unions. The Asia-Pacific Journal. Retrieved 15 June 2011
  18. ^ Weinstein, D. (1994). United we stand: firms and enterprise unions in Japan. Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, 8, 53-71.
  19. ^ Sampō is variously referred to in English as the Industrial Association for Serving the Nation, Movement in Service for the Country, League for Service to the State, and Industrial Patriotic Society.
  20. ^ Dower, John. 'Embracing Defeat. Penguin, 1999. ISBN 978-0-14-028551-2. Page 82.
  21. ^ Dower, John. 'Embracing Defeat. Penguin, 1999. ISBN 978-0-14-028551-2. Page 245.
  22. ^ Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training Trade Union Law


  • General Union (Osaka and Nagoya areas) (en)
  • Kanagawa City Union (ja)
  • Tokyo NAMBU FWC (en)
  • Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen) (en)
  • Zentoitsu Workers Union (Ueno-Okachimachi, Tokyo) (ja)


  • RENGO (en)
  • ZENROREN (en)
  • ZENROKYO (ja)


External links

See also

During downturns, or when management tries to reduce the number of permanent employees,

During prosperous times, the spring labor offensives are highly ritualized affairs, with banners, sloganeering, and dances aimed more at being a show of force than a crippling job action. Meanwhile, serious discussions take place between the union officers and corporate managers to determine pay and benefit adjustments.

Local labor unions and work unit unions, rather than the federations, conducted the major collective bargaining. Unit unions often banded together for wage negotiations, but federations did not control their policies or actions. Federations also engaged in political and public relations activities.

Negotiations and actions

The relationship between the typical labor union and the company is unusually close. Both white- and blue-collar workers join the union automatically in most major companies. Temporary and subcontracting workers are excluded, and managers with the rank of section manager and above are considered part of management. In most corporations, however, many of the managerial staff are former union members. In general, Japanese unions are sensitive to the economic health of the company, and company management usually brief the union membership on the state of corporate affairs.

Any regular employee below the rank of section chief is eligible to become a union officer. Management, however, often pressures the workers to select favored employees. Officers usually maintain their seniority and tenure while working exclusively on union activities and while being paid from the union's accounts, and union offices are often located at the factory site. Many union officers go on to higher positions within the corporation if they are particularly effective, but few become active in organized labor activities at the national level.

The rate of labor union membership, declined considerably after its postwar high to 18.5% as of 2010.[3] The continuing long-term reduction in union membership was caused by several factors, including the restructuring of Japanese industry away from heavy industries. Many people entering the work force in the 1980s joined smaller companies in the tertiary sector, where there was a general disinclination toward joining labor organizations.


In 1987 Domei and Churitsu Roren were dissolved and amalgamated into the newly established National Federation of Private Sector Unions (連合 RENGO); and in 1990 Sohyo affiliates merged with Rengo.

Until the mid-1980s, Japan's 74,500 Shinsanbetsu), with only 61,000 members.

On 1 June 1949 a new version of the Trade Union Law was enacted. It has since been amended in 1950, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1959, 1962, 1966, 1971, 1978, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1999, 2002, 2004, and 2005.[22]

In addition to the Trade Union Act of 1945, the postwar constitution of Japan, which became law on 3 May 1947 includes article 28, which guarantees the right of workers to participate in a trade union.

While the law was created while Japan was under occupation, the law itself was largely a Japanese work. It was put together by a large legal advisory commission headed by the legal scholar Suehiro Izutaro. The commission was quite large, consisting of "three Welfare ministry bureaucrats and two scholars, a steering committee of 30 members (including the communist firebrand Kyuichi Tokuda), and an overall membership of more than 130 members representing universities, corporations, political parties, the bureaucracy, social workers, and labor."[21]

[20] After the

As the Second World War was nearing its end, on 26 July 1945, Allied leaders Winston Churchill, Harry S Truman, and Chiang Kai-Shek issued the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded Japan's unconditional surrender. This declaration also defined the major goals of the postsurrender Allied occupation: "The Japanese government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established" (Section 10). In addition, the document stated: "The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government" (Section 12). The Allies sought not merely punishment or reparations from a militaristic foe, but fundamental changes in the nature of its political system. In the words of political scientist Robert E. Ward: "The occupation was perhaps the single most exhaustively planned operation of massive and externally directed political change in world history."

1945 to the present

In 1940, the government dissolved the existing unions and absorbed them into the Industrial Association for Serving the Nation (Sangyo Hokokukai or Sampō),[19] the government-sponsored workers' organization, as part of a national reorganization of all civil organizations under central government direction[5] and as a means of controlling radical elements in the workforce.[17] Sampō remained in existence at the end of the war.

[18] Hampered by their weak legal status, the absence of a right to

[16] After the

One labour organization that did survive was the Friendly Society (Yuaikai), formed in 1912 by economic slump that followed brought cutbacks in employment in heavy industry. In the early 1920s, ultra-cooperative unionists proposed the fusion of labour and management interests, heightening political divisions within the labour movement and precipitating the departure of left wing unions from Sōdōmei in 1925. The union movement has remained divided between right wing (“cooperative”) unions and left wing unions ever since.[6]

In February 1898, engineers and stokers at the Japan Railway Company successfully struck for an improvement of status and higher wages. In the same year, ships' carpenters in Tokyo and Yokohama formed a union, and a dispute followed with demands for higher wages. 1907 saw the greatest number of disputes in a decade, with large-scale riots at Japan's two leading copper mines, Ashio and Besshi, which were only suppressed by the use of troops. None of these early unions, however, were large (the metalworkers union had 3,000 members, only 5% of workers employed in the industry), or lasted longer than three or four years, largely due to strong opposition from employers and the government's anti-union policies, notably the Public Order and Police Provisions Law (1900).[4]

In the first half of the Meiji period (1868-1912), most labour disputes occurred in the mining and textile industries and took the form of small-scale strikes and spontaneous riots. The second half of the period witnessed rapid industrialization, the development of a capitalist economy, and the transformation of many feudal workers to wage labour. The use of strike action increased, and 1897, with the establishment of a union for metalworkers, saw the beginnings of the modern Japanese trade-union movement.[4]

Ashio mine (c1895). A three-day riot in 1907 at the Furukawa Company's massive mine was violently suppressed by troops[14]

Meiji period to 1945


A further 19,139 unions, with a combined membership of 2,842,521 workers, were affiliated to other national labour organizations.[2] The labour union organizations included (with membership figures for 2001/2002)[13] the National Federation of Construction Workers' Unions (717,908) Federation of City Bank Employees' Unions (105,950), Zendenko Roren (53,853), National Federation of Agricultural Mutual Aid Societies Employees' Unions (45,830), All Japan Council of Optical Industry Workers' Union (44,776), National Teachers Federation of Japan (42,000), Faculty and Staff Union of Japanese Universities (38,500), and All Aluminium Industrial Workers Union (36,000).

  • Rengo: Japanese Trade Union Confederation (日本労働組合総連合会 Nihon Rōdōkumiai Sōrengō-kai) 33,940 unions, 6,507,222 members[2][10]
  • Zenroren: National Confederation of Trade Unions (全国労働組合総連合 Zenkoku Rōdōkumiai Sōrengō) 7,531 unions, 730,102 members[2][11]
  • Zenrokyo: National Trade Union Council (全国労働組合連絡協議会 Zenkoku Rōdōkumiai Renraku Kyōgi-kai) 1,625 unions, 158,342 members[2][12]

In 2005, 43,096 labour unions in Japan, with a combined membership of 7,395,666 workers,[2] belonged either directly, or indirectly through labour union councils, to the three main labour union federations:

National labor union federations


  • National labor union federations 1
  • History 2
    • Meiji period to 1945 2.1
    • 1945 to the present 2.2
  • Membership 3
  • Negotiations and actions 4
  • See also 5
  • External links 6
    • National 6.1
    • Local 6.2
  • References 7

The labour movement went through a process of reorganization from 1987 to 1991[9] from which emerged the present configuration of three major labour union federations, along with other smaller national union organizations.

[3] and subsequently declined to 18.5% as of 2010.[8]

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