Work and Pay in the United States and Japan

By Clair Brown; Yoshifumi Nakata et al. | Go to book overview
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ported age-based wage systems rather than job-based pay as a major channel of individual economic advancement. And, consistent with their enterprise orientation, Japan's enterprise-based unions have sought to implement their policies through peaceful persuasion rather than adversarial confrontation with their employers. Their voice did not go unheeded, especially when enterprise unions advised that failure to adopt, modify, or abandon the policy under discussion would be likely to adversely affect employee morale and hence productivity.

In contrast to econometric analyses of union impact on relative wages in the United States, a Japanese study found no significant evidence of union impact in Japan; however, Japanese unionism has operated to protect firm-size wage differentials in favor of large unionized companies. There is evidence that unions have made some difference in reducing hours of work; and they have attempted to increase low premium rates for overtime and to raise the mandatory age of retirement (and thus lifetime earnings for employees). They have been determined in their resistance to dismissals and in their protection of implicit guarantees of employment security, although they did not establish formal grievance machinery of the type that in the United States constitutes a curtailment of "management rights."

For unions that have placed employment security, individual advancement over the long term, and cooperative and peaceful industrial relations high on their list of priorities, lack of accomplishment through cost-raising measures is almost beside the point. To many unionists reared in the American traditions of immediacy and aggressive adversarialism, however, enterprise unionism smacks of the type of employer-controlled organization outlawed by the Wagner Act of 1935, although the popularity of the U.S. stereotype has declined sharply over the postwar period.

In the early 1950s, militant left-wing union leaders in Japan also attacked enterprise unions as company dominated. What others supported as rational and cooperative behavior they condemned as cowardice induced by an inferior bargaining position. Weakness was revealed after the big firms (with the support of the authorities) canceled a brief postwar revival of industrywide bargaining, leaving Japan without the centralized institutions on which both unionists and employers in the United States and all other industrialized countries relied to "take wages out of competition." But Japan's militant unionist produced a corrective to structural fragmentation in the form of synchronized bargaining on a broad national scale, which, they reckoned, would remove one rational reason for the passivity of employment-conscious enterprise unions. They called it Shunto, or the Annual Spring Labor Offensive.

Nakata ( 1987) documented that the ratio of peak earnings to starting earnings for male regular workers with a high school diploma in manufacturing industries declined from 7.3 in 1961, 4.0 in 1970, to 3.8 in 1980.


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