Struggle and Purpose in Postwar Japanese Unionism

Struggle and Purpose in Postwar Japanese Unionism

Struggle and Purpose in Postwar Japanese Unionism

Struggle and Purpose in Postwar Japanese Unionism

Excerpt

Status, purpose, and lineage are the themes of this study of the postwar Japanese labor movement. Japan’s most important postwar industry, steel, provides a setting appropriate for the consideration of workers and unionists, but also managers and politicians. The time of the study stretches from 1943 to 1984, with particular attention paid to the first two decades. Between 1943 and 1963, Japan went from being a vast empire, spanning oceans and continents, to a defeated, occupied, and outcast nation that had just begun to reemerge onto the international stage. During these years of tumult, what were the larger processes that provide the context for this study?

The most basic was the political sea change, long in the making, that made government officials and others in positions of public authority—specifically, in this study, politicians and corporate managers—responsible to the nation (kokumin) instead of the imperial state. As happened elsewhere, the distinction between nation and state was obscured in the process of Japan’s modernization. The leaders of imperial Japan (as it became after 1868) subsumed the nation within the state, despite early and continuing popular resistance and pressure for more of a nation-centered polity. The destruction and nearly complete dismantling of the coercive apparatus of the imperial state under American military occupation brought to rapid completion the process of making officials responsible to the nation, now clearly defined as the people (kokumin). This was the essence of the postwar democratization of the Japanese state.

The second process at work was the social transformation, long prepared and awaited, that lowered the barriers of status and class, permitting hitherto low-status individuals—in this case, workers and trade unionists—to become men of high moral purpose (shishi). Unionists were now able to join government officials, politicians, and business leaders in legitimately justifying . . .

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