Address from the President at the 68th Meeting of the Central Committee

02 October 2014
Nobuaki Koga, President, RENGO

For the Central Committee, recognizing the issues for the next year is an important challenge as we reflect on how the two-year action policy, which was adopted by the 13th Biennial Convention held a year ago last October, has been implemented during the past year. I would like to offer some of my opinion on the advancement of the RENGO movement from here on.

Right now, Capital in the Twenty-Firs Century by the French economist Thomas Piketty is the topic of conversation worldwide. It diligently analyzes long-term data spanning three centuries from more than 20 countries and researches the causes of and changes in economic growth and income distribution, which is becoming unequal. Piketty draws the conclusion that under the capitalist market economy, return on capital tends to grow at a faster rate than economic growth, resulting in the decline of labor’s share of income. Even if distribution to capital increases, its benefits are not broadly shared on an equal basis among all people, but rather are concentrated among a portion of the wealthy class. The only exception was the period from World War II until the 1970s. During this period, war turned much of capital into ashes, and income redistribution schemes such as progressive taxation were adopted. Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a tour de force that provokes us to think about the essence of capitalist market economy in which we live.

From the perspective afforded by the Piketty’s book, we can point out three problem areas when reviewing the Abe administration’s economic management over the past two years. The first problem is, Where is the government headed and for whose benefit is it? Abe’s economic management places people and workers in secondary and tertiary positions, and gives primary consideration to how investors and stock prices will react. “Revitalization Strategy 2014,” approved by the Cabinet in June, seeks to mobilize people, objects, and money to improve “earning power” and create “the world’s best environment for business activities.” Its intention of increasing profit margins and stock prices in the near term is plain to see. Discussions on degrading worker protection rules are also taking place in this context. To prop up stock prices as domestic and foreign market conditions become suspect, the Abe administration even seeks to lay its hands on the pension premiums we contributed to. It is an outrageous growth strategy that sacrifices citizens and workers.
Second, it is not clear what kind of society Abenomics seeks to realize. Abenomics has succeeded in arousing hope in investors. However, it does not seek to light the flames of hope and security in society five years or ten years later. Instead, Abenomics exacerbates a variety of risks. What the government must do now for the reconstruction of Japan is to present a future design plan for this country to the people. It must form consensus on how to rebuild a deteriorating employment situation and create a sustainable society that supports the country’s super-aging society and rapidly declining population. According to Piketty’s conclusion, economic growth does not immediately promise the prosperity of the people. Rather, the economic growth that can make more citizens happy is the concept of inclusive growth. Therefore, we must pursue such growth.
The third problem with the Abe administration’s management is that important policies governing the future of this country are being decided by the government, the ruling parties and a handful of regime loyalists. Not only is the degradation of labor laws being proposed in places where worker representatives are not present, the administration employs glaring methods that disregard the people. These methods include the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets passed at the end of last year and Cabinet decisions in July related to the country’s right to exercise collective self-defense. It is critical that the basic attitude of those governing the country is to listen carefully to the candid talk about the administration that it would rather not hear.
In any case, we must advance the RENGO movement from now on while confronting the Abe administration, which has carried out the actions mentioned earlier. Here, I would like to touch upon a few of the challenges of the movement.

The first challenge is to gather the strength of all workers and prevent the deterioration of worker protection rules. Last weekend, we held a gathering at Tokyo International Forum and started the third stage of the campaign “STOP THE UNEQUAL SOCIETY! Raise the Standard of Living.” During the next two months, we are expanding our call to stop the debasement of worker protection rules nationwide, while summoning not only trade union members, but all the people in the local community. I ask all of you to call workplace colleagues and your community to action.
During the second stage of campaign, which began in October 2013 at the Biennial Convention, we devoted our energy to efforts such as presenting the deterioration of the Worker Dispatch Act. We also worked to defeat the amendments to the Worker Dispatch Act, which was rejected at the previous National Diet session. However, the content of the bill was presented again in almost the same form at the extraordinary session of the Diet. The proposed amendments deviate from global standards in two areas. First, rules in the vast majority of countries stipulate that dispatch work, for which employment is unstable, is “temporary work.” The main principle is to convert dispatch workers to more stable regular employees. Also, the principle that workers dispatched to a workplace must receive the same treatment as regular employees there is being codified into laws. However, the government’s proposed amendments do not rectify the unstable employment or poor treatment of dispatch workers. The amendments are instead bad law that makes it possible to make dispatch workers work indefinitely on dispatch. If this degradation is permitted, we will live in a world where regular employees are replaced by dispatch workers, and the occupations available to our children in the future will be only dispatch work.
Also, “Revitalization Strategy 2014” contains a heavy amount of efforts such as the creation of “a new working hour system to break the link between the length of time spent on work and wages.” RENGO has made demands to the government and the ruling party that “worker protection rules are the minimal rules that allow workers to lead lives with human dignity”; the government “should not consider worker protection rules in the same vein as economic regulations.” Instead, the government should “focus on revamping deteriorating employment as the centerpiece of Japan’s revitalization, halt the growth of an unequal society, and set in motion an economic virtuous cycle through a bottom-up approach.” Nevertheless, the new working hour system presented by the government calls for the adoption of the so-called “white collar exemption,” where overtime does not have to be paid, no matter how much an employee works. I cannot understand how it is acceptable that working hour rules to protect workers’ lives and health can be ignored and workers made to work if their annual income is more than 10 million yen. If the proposal is adopted, the next step will surely be lowering the standards of the income requirement.
In Japan, workers whose physical and mental health is damaged due to overwork continue to increase. Unfortunately, death and suicide from overwork is increasing. In the midst of these conditions, we cannot permit a zero-overtime-pay system that is established simply from the logic of employers without seeking legislative revision that could regulate excessive working styles such as placing an upper limit on overtime work. The proposal is also against the spirit of the Death from Overwork Prevention Act, which was enacted unanimously in the last session of the Diet.
The adoption of a monetary settlement system for dismissals and accepting cheap foreign workers on the pretext of insufficient labor are also major issues. RENGO is resolutely opposed to these measures.
Efforts to prevent the worsening of worker protection rules are at a crucial period from here on. We must prioritize the most urgent issues and use RENGO’s total strength to expand our movement. I ask all of you for your active participation.

Our second challenge is the Spring Struggle for a Better Life. For the 2014 Spring Struggle, all RENGO trade union members carried out efforts to raise monthly wages in order to “escape from deflation,” “create a virtuous economic cycle,” “raise the standard of living,” and “correct social inequality.” As a result, we elicited the response from employers of regular wage increase of more than 2 percent for the first time since 1999. While improvements in wages over the long term have been slow under deflation economics, the raise in wage level is a significant achievement, even though it cannot be said to be sufficient if we look at the intent behind our demands. However, we still as yet have not moved forward in correcting the issue of disparity in wage between employees in small companies and large corporations and between regular and non-regular employees. The legal minimum wage has increased the most since its current system. However, we cannot help but say that we are at still at the midway point in raising the wage to a livable level.
Based on such results and challenges, and looking at the socioeconomic climate directly in front us, the Central Committee will study and decide the direction to take at its meeting in December. It is no exaggeration to say that the 2015 Spring Struggle will be a watershed moment that determines the future of Japan – whether we can escape from deflationary economics and place sustainable growth on track, or whether wages will stagnate and we fall into bad inflation where the cost of living increases. Let me describe the basic perspectives that govern our review. First, private consumption, which makes up 60 percent of domestic demand, must not slow down in order to realize a virtuous economic cycle. Toward this end, it is essential that monthly wages increase continually and stably. Another issue to address is “raising the standard of living” for non-regular employees and workers in small and medium enterprises and rectifying disparities between them on the one hand and regular employees and employees in large companies on the other. In addition, we must accelerate our efforts toward carefully reducing the actual working hours to realize decent work (humane, rewarding work) and work-life balance.
For 2014 and beyond, I ask for your spirited discussion in a variety of venues as we share the recognition that the 2015 Spring Struggle will involve Japan’s labor movement and social responsibility for relations between management and labor
I would also like to offer a word on the government-labor-management meeting, which was reconvened the other day. As I have said before, exploring common understanding on major social and economic issues between the government, workers, and employers, who are primary stakeholders in society, is extremely important. So reconvening the conference itself is to be lauded. At the end of last year, the conference worked on the issues of “raising wages,” “workers in SMEs,” “career advancement and improved treatment of non-regular employees,” and “improving productivity and nurturing human resources.” RENGO’s role in these discussions is to check and follow the progress of these issues. I think the progress of these issues will be the greatest theme of this conference. A new economic virtuous cycle does not simply end at the end of the 2014 cycle. It is important that it continues for the medium term.

The four efforts described above are important pathways to solving the problems of the growing gap between the rich and the poor and growing employment that is unstable and low-paying. RENGO is making active contributions to these efforts while making a sharp distinction between issues that should be discussed between labor and management on the one hand and issues that should be handled at the tripartite conference on the other.

°°The third challenge we face is realizing a 10 million member-strong RENGO and strengthening the foundation of the RENGO movement. Needless to say, what should form the center of collective labor-management relations are trade unions. We must reverse the unionization rate and spread the scope of collective labor-management relations efforts. We are also expanding and strengthening trade unions, the source of mobilization, communication, and influence that advances the movement to create the society we seek. I ask you to once again to affirm that expanding the organization is the most important challenge for the RENGO movement, assign full-time staff to advancing unionization even in affiliates and local organizations, and accelerate our efforts.
To achieve the goal of forming a 10 million member-strong RENGO by 2020, it is essential to foster human resources who can create and build up trade unions. At the same time, also indispensable is studying new methods of unionization and membership structure. In the first half of this fiscal year, RENGO Headquarters set up our first full-time team dedicated to organizing efforts and carried out activities for which the headquarters, affiliates, and local organizations acted as one. For the second half of this fiscal year, I would like the team to strengthen the internal system of the headquarters so unionization based on collective bargaining rights can be advanced. We have also finally completed the list of trade unions in RENGO membership with the cooperation of RENGO affiliates and RENGO local organizations, and can take a step further in utilizing the data for unionization. I want to boldly take on the challenge of the goal of 10 million member-strong RENGO while continuing to challenge ourselves always with new methods.
Meanwhile, the objectives of “advancing efforts that can share the RENGO movement person by person” and “working to strengthen communication to society” were adopted at the 2013 Biennial Convention as part of the RENGO Action Policies.
As a concrete example of these goals, comprehensive dialogue activities were given a new start. As of today, we have carried out exchanges and dialogue forums with non-regular workers and non-regular union leaders in five locations, held direct dialogues with new leaders of RENGO local organizations in 30 locations, and in addition, conducted direct dialogues with RENGO affiliates besides top three officials. Each set of partners and themes differ. However, we were able to exchange viewpoints and we listened to frank opinions. The comprehensive dialogue activities this time not only include activities that RENGO Headquarters will carry out from here on, it also creates opportunities for once again reexamining and revitalizing the workplace activities of trade unions. I ask you to make use of case studies found in “Let’s Begin Our Movement in the Workplace,” strengthen the structure of each union, and work at strengthening the foundation of the movement. We are also studying dialogues with students and holding town hall meetings in communities to create new links with the Spring Struggle. So we would also like your cooperation in this area.
To strengthen communication, we have made active use of mass media in the midst of expanding the campaign “STOP THE UNEQUAL SOCIETY! Raise the Standard of Living.” Together with carrying out opinion ads in headquarters and regions in coordination with the actions carried out, we have raised awareness more than ever through active appearances on television and by giving press conferences. When holding forums, we adopted Internet live relays and used RENGO’s mascot. Because we are working to continue our efforts through trial and error, be sure to give us your concrete ideas and suggestions.

The fourth challenge is the political challenge. At the Biennial Convention last year, RENGO revised its “political objective” for the first time in ten years. We made clear that carrying out political activities is a method for realizing the society we should aim for. Also, we confirmed that we will seek the establishment of party politics that enables parliamentary democracy reflecting the will of the people.
However, there is a great gap between this objective and the political climate we face. As a result of the national election of the Lower House and Upper House, a supermajority party was created in the Diet. We now have “one strong party and many weak parties.” Meanwhile, lack of confidence in the government and political indifference is spreading among the people, as represented by low voter turnout.
If such a climate continues, realizing “a secure society based on work” that we seek will be difficult. Of course, we must organize a mass movement, including campaigns, and make our voice heard in the political arena. However, an important challenge is to first make clear the problem areas of the Abe administration in the political arena, and develop political clout that presents an alternative choice to the people. Trade union members, including everyone in the Central Committee, understand that it is difficult to resolve issues facing citizens and workers with just negotiations within companies and industries, and that the current political situation is threatening the foundation of our way of life and work. We cannot change the reality in front of us if only executive members share this concern. The first step is to have conversations with colleagues at work and with family and friends and consider how politics is involved in the way we work and live. We must then clearly convey information from unions, and not just through the mass media. If we begin with such steady actions and activities, we can produce waves that affect society.
Regrettably, the Democratic Party of Japan, which we support, still has not regained the trust of the people. Each member of the House should feel a sense of crisis and take to heart criticism that they cannot convey what they are doing as a party as a whole to local communities and the workplace because they have inconsistent messages. We hope the party can be reborn as a party that fights against absurdities for the sake of citizens and workers.
The extraordinary Diet session convened this week will be the touchstone for the direction of the future. The focus will be on issues that are deeply associated with citizens and workers and on issues that determine how the state of Japan should be. I want the Democratic Party of Japan under new leadership to develop a debate in the Diet that reverberates in our hearts and the hearts of the people by not only standing in opposition to the supermajority party, but also summoning other opposition parties to fight together.
It is also necessary to refine the philosophy and basic policies that the Democratic Party has nurtured until now based on the experience with the change in administration, and to further carry out grassroots activities in communities and raise up young politicians who will lead the next generation. I have great expectations for the renewal of the party through concerted efforts so that it will become a party that has its foundation in citizens and workers and receives support from a variety of groups, organizations, and individuals.
We plan to adopt a special resolution with respect to unified local elections later. Upcoming local municipal elections, the unified local elections next spring, and then the nation election are critical elections for changing the current political climate. Based on RENGO’s objectives, RENGO headquarters, RENGO affiliates, and RENGO local organizations must work together by supporting candidates and turning out voters.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of RENGO. On the occasion of this quarter-century milestone, we are carrying out several commemorative activities. However, what I would like each of us to devote our spirit to is becoming aware once again of the origin of RENGO’s formation, and committing once again to the rebirth of a vigorous labor movement that serve as the cornerstone for all workers.

Because of time constraint, there are important issues I have not touched upon. I would be glad to flesh them out during this conference. Our time together is limited, but I hope everyone will engage in sincere and spirited discussions. Thank you for listening.