Academic journal article Development and Society

The Changing Relationship between Labor Unions and Civil Society Organizations in Postwar Japan

Academic journal article Development and Society

The Changing Relationship between Labor Unions and Civil Society Organizations in Postwar Japan

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article examines the historical development of the relationships between labor unions and civil society organizations (CSOs) in postwar Japan, covering the period spanning from the 1950s to the 2000s. Over the sixtyyear period the policy orientations of the labor movement, the state of civil society, and characteristics of union-CSO relationships went through many changes. It is beyond the scope of this article to examine the historical changes in union-CSO relationships comprehensively. Instead, I focus on union-CSO relationships in three periods: the "post-authoritarian" 1950s, the period of controversies over industrial pollution from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, and the period of union decline and neoliberalism of the 1990s and the 2000s. Union-CSO relationships in the first and second periods were shaped by contentious politics over the pressing issues Japanese society faced in each respective period: issues of political democracy, the nation's position in the Cold War, and widespread industrial pollution perceived to be a negative consequences of rapid economic growth.

In the first period, the labor movement adopted politicized and antigovernment stances, engaging in struggles against what it regarded as the reactionary policies of the conservative government. CSOs in this period tended to be under the influence of the labor movement and leftist political parties, and union and party activists played a "vanguard" role in union-CSO coalitions. In the second period, union-CSO relationships became more distant. Labor unions were institutionalized in the political and industrial relations systems, while CSOs, especially those concerned with industrial pollution issues, acted on their own to solve grievances and distanced themselves from broad political and social issues. Some unions and regional union federations formed coalitions with community groups involved in struggles against pollution-causing factories. Labor unions and resident groups, however, were unable to form enduring and effective coalitions due to their different movement styles.

The third period saw the development of two types of union-CSO coalitions. First, the labor movement sought coalitions with CSOs to reassert the weakened social presence of labor unions. The social presence of unions had become weak because of two related factors: a decline in union density and entrenched enterprise unionism. Unions came to be regarded as interest groups representing a shrinking core segment of the labor market (i.e., fulltime workers in large firms) and as being little concerned with inequality in labor markets. Thus, the labor movement led by Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation, established in 1989) tried to reassert the social presence of unions by promoting the involvement of union members in civic activities. In this process, Rengo and its affiliated unions sought to form coalitions with CSOs, especially those CSOs that engaged in socially-relevant activities in such areas as social welfare and community building (often referred to as "NPOs" [non-profit organizations]). Second, neoliberal reforms of labor markets in this period triggered another form of union-CSO coalitions that engaged in more contentious politics: those unions representing the interests of disadvantaged workers in labor markets formed networks with social movements concerned with social and economic justice.

The second section of this article briefly discusses conceptual issues in union-CSO relationships: a definition of civil society and CSOs and issues related to the position of labor unions in civil society. The third, fourth, and fifth sections of the article respectively examine the development of unionCSO relationship in the "post-authoritarian" period, the period of controversies over industrial pollution, and the period of union decline and neoliberalism. The conclusion summarizes the changing characteristics of union-CSO coalitions over the sixty-year period and briefly discusses the state of civil society in the post-March 11 (the Great East Japan Earthquake) era. …

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