Japanese Trade Union Confederation
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Role & Function
as of 23rd January 2014

Japanese Trade Union Confederation
Address 3-2-11 Kanda-surugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0062
Telephone +81-3-5295-0526
Facsimile +81-3-5295-0548
Website (English) (Japanese)
Membership 6.75million
Affiliates 52
Local Organizations 47
Representative Nobuaki KOGA , President

The National Center
* Countries with strong national centers have strong trade unions!

Japanese trade union organizations have a three-tier hierarchical structure: enterprise-based unions, industrial federations, and the national center at the top. There is also a wide-ranging network, with local organizations, called “Local RENGOs,” set up in all of Japan’s prefectures.

The enterprise-based unions utilize negotiations and labor-management consultations in the workplace to improve working conditions, to monitor corporate activities, and to provide services to their members.

The industrial federations for their part are composed of enterprise-based unions in the same industry. Their member unions exchange information on common working conditions in the industry, discuss industrial policies and other problems, and strive to rectify these industry-specific problems.

RENGO itself is a national center, made up of these industrial federations. From the standpoint of "defending the employment and livelihoods of all working people,” including of course RENGO union members, we work with the national government and employers’ organizations on issues such as labor standards, tax systems and social security, which cannot be settled at the industry or local level.

Further, the 47 Local RENGOs throughout the country serve as a foothold for working people in their local communities. They address a broad range of tasks, including consultation activities on issues of labor and employment. They also provide support for organizing efforts.

By bringing together the power of individual trade unions, the national center is able to raise the level of working conditions and living standards for all workers. Successes in these areas by the national center create, in turn, trust toward trade unions at the workplace level, contributing to strengthening enterprise-based unions and their industrial federations. In the past, Japan had several divided national centers, but efforts to enhance the power of trade unions resulted into the formation in 1989 of a unified national center, Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or RENGO.

Institutional and Policy-Related Demands
* Matters which cannot be solved through negotiations at the company level. . .

The primary goals of trade unions are to defend the employment and the livelihoods of workers, and to build democracy in the workplace, community and society as a whole. For this purpose, enterprise-based unions negotiate with management at the workplace, but there are many issues that cannot be solved at that level. These include social safety nets such as pension schemes for retirees, medical service coverage, and employment insurance systems; support programs that enable workers to balance family and working lives; the nursing care leave scheme and nursing care insurance program; labor standards that apply to all working people; global environmental conservation; and the achievement of national security and international peace. In order to create a society where we can live without anxiety, we must ask the following question: How should taxes be collected, and what policies and institutions should they be appropriated to?

With regard to problems that should be solved at the national government and/or municipal government levels, the opinions of working people need to be reflected to help realize better policy solutions. These efforts are what we mean by institutional and policy-related demands. This is one of the areas where RENGO exerts its remarkable strength as the national center. We have made systematic demands in areas ranging from economic policy, tax reform, social security policy, employment and labor policy, reforms in welfare / political / administrative / judicial systems, and industry and energy policy, to gender equality and human rights, the environment, education, foreign policy, and measures for medium-and-small enterprises. In national and municipal advisory councils, where essential legislation and policy measures are debated, members nominated by RENGO have articulated the opinions of labor vis-à-vis new legislative bills and major amendments to existing laws.

The Spring Struggle for a Better Life
* The Spring Struggle for a Better Life is an effort for the comprehensive improvement of living, with the specific goal of raising working conditions

Typically, the new fiscal year in Japan starts from April. Most businesses take in fresh recruits, and carry out revisions of their wage rates, promotions, and transfers at this time. Therefore, in accord with this season of change, the "Spring Struggle for a Better Life" was launched in 1955, as a time for trade unions to file demands for wage hikes and improvements of working conditions to their employers and to conduct negotiations.

During the period of high economic growth, this Spring Struggle was very effective in pushing labor's demands. Industrial federations staged unified struggles focused on wage hikes. Their affiliates made their demands simultaneously, and asked their employers for sincere responses, sometimes using the threat of strikes. A system was built under which the contents of labor agreements won by major unions had an impact on the wage rates and other working conditions of smaller unions, non-unionized workers, and public employees whose trade union rights are unjustly restricted.

Even today, the importance of conducting labor-management negotiations in the spring season remains unchanged. However, we have entered an era of low growth and economic maturity, and the needs and challenges of working people have changed significantly. In the face of fierce international competition, corporations have hardened their stance that “wage hikes and across-the-board pay increases are out of the question.” As a result, it has become difficult to maintain the traditional spillover system of wage hikes. In response to these changes, we stepped up to the challenge of "Spring Struggle reform" beginning in the 2000 season. With the aim of “restoring the unifying force and ripple effect of the Spring Struggle by raising the level of working conditions of all workers,” we have struggled to achieve comprehensive improvements in the employment and lives of workers, through priority goals: the maintenance of the wage curve, building a social security system that gives workers a sense of security, eradication of unpaid overtime, and the realization of equal treatment for part-time workers.

RENGO Vision for the 21st Century and the RENGO Assessment Committee
To change the way of thinking of workers, trade unions should begin by reevaluating themselves

Into the 21st century. . . At the turn of the new millennium, the trade union movement faces the tough reality of a declining organization rate and waning unifying power. “During the period of rapid economic growth, the Japanese trade union movement was able to exert great strength. However, if trade unions continue to carry out conventional means of campaigning without taking on these changes head on, they will lose their appeal and with it their social influence.” With this strong sense of crisis, in 1999 we set up the RENGO "Committee on Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century," holding discussions on possible directions for the revitalization of the trade union movement. Then, in December 2001, based on the committee’s recommendations, we issued a comprehensive vision for society and the trade union movement we are aiming for: “RENGO Vision for the 21st Century.” With this, we have taken a sure step forward, toward the reform and revitalization of the trade union movement based on “a welfare society centered on labor.”

Subsequently, we asked the “RENGO Assessment Committee” (chaired by Mr. Kohei Nakabo, one of Japan’s best-known lawyers) with a mandate from March 2002 to September 2003, to give us recommendations from an outside perspective. In September 2003, the Committee submitted its final report to RENGO, opening with the statement: “Workers and their trade unions should start with their own consciousness.” We have been working for the revitalization of the entire RENGO movement by responsibly implementing these recommendations. We are moving forward step by step to maintain our status as a key body that can be depended on by the weak and can win the sympathy of Japanese citizens.

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