There is nothing untoward or wrong that Japan’s largest labor organization is pressuring the ruling camp for policies to promote workers’ interests. But by forging closer ties with the ruling bloc, Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) could risk endorsing questionable policy measures favored by the administration or contribute to widening the rift within the opposition camp.
Rengo’s political flirtation with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party raises questions about its role as an organization representing not just member workers, but the country’s entire workforce.
Rengo, the country’s largest national trade union group, supports the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). But he has also forged closer ties with the PLD and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration in response to overtures from the ruling camp.
Ahead of last year’s Lower House election, Rengo leader Tomoko Yoshino, who took over the organization just before the elections, criticized the CDP-led opposition alliance, which included the Japanese Communist Party.
In a sign of the growing heat between Rengo and the ruling party, Kishida attended the union organization’s New Year’s Eve party in January, becoming the first LDP premier to do so in nine years. Yoshino then accepted dinner invitations with two senior LDP lawmakers, Yuko Obuchi, chairwoman of the party’s organization and campaign headquarters, and Aso Taro, vice president of the party.
Rengo was created in 1989 by a large merger of a range of labor organizations, including the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo), which mainly represented central and local government employees and supported the Shakaito (Japanese Socialist Party) at the time. ) and the Japanese trade unions. Confederation of Labor (Domei), an umbrella organization of private sector unions that supported what was the deceased Minshato (Democratic Socialist Party).
Its inaugural platform, titled “The Course of Rengo”, stated that Rengo would “cooperate for the formation of a new political force that can govern the nation and help achieve a healthy parliamentary democracy that allows a transfer of power”. Rengo seems to have forgotten his original purpose.
Rengo played a key role in unifying non-PLD groups in 1993 to help form former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s administration, Japan’s first non-PLD government since 1955, and carried the Minshuto ( Democratic Party of Japan) in power in 2009. Both administrations, however, proved to be short-lived. Since Minshinto (Democratic Party), Minshuto’s successor, was disbanded in 2017, Rengo has not supported any party. While the DPP has taken political steps to expand cooperation with the ruling camp, such as voting for the government’s budget bill, Rengo faces an increasingly serious political antinomy.
The DPP has moved to deepen its ties with the LDP in response to political pressure from private sector unions that support the party. A symbolic development took place ahead of the lower house election in Aichi Prefecture’s No. 11 Constituency, which includes the city of Toyota, home of Toyota Motor Corp. A candidate backed by the auto giant’s union who had never been beaten in the district opted out of the ballot, allowing a LDP candidate to win in the constituency for the first time.
The automaker’s union said the decision not to field its candidate was aimed at ending the showdown between workers and management for united efforts to address challenges facing the company, such as the need to achieve carbon neutrality. But it is difficult to understand why competition between the power and opposition camps for power could hamper efforts to achieve such important political goals.
The PLD’s political strategy for this year indicates that it will actively pursue political talks with “Rengo and other friendly unions”. There is no doubt that the ruling party will make more political moves in the run-up to the summer Upper House elections to woo the DPP and private sector unions who disagree with the CDP and public sector unions on policy issues such as nuclear power generation and national security.
The number of worker members of Rengo has dropped to around 7 million from 8 million when it launched. Rengo has failed to make any notable progress on its main challenge of recruiting non-regular workers to join them. Rengo should consider whether he will be able to serve workers’ interests by becoming friends with the LDP, which has close ties with employers’ organisations, including Keidanren (Japan Enterprise Federation).
Rengo must not lose sight of its original mission, which is to protect the rights and livelihoods of all workers.
–The Asahi Shimbun, March 26