The 2011 Spring Struggle a for Better a life got off to a start on January 19, 2011, with a meeting between the top leaders of RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) and Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation). The spring labor offensive, or shunto, is a nationwide campaign of workers conducted in spring every year to simultaneously negotiate wage raises and other working conditions with management; it has been a common practice in labor-management relations in Japan for over half a century. RENGO was represented at the meeting by President Nobuaki Koga, two deputy presidents, all of its vice-presidents, General Secretary Hiroyuki Nagumo, and deputy general secretaries. Nippon Keidanren was represented by Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura, vice-presidents, the director general, standing directors, and others.
Labor demands and management response
In approaching the 2011 shunto, RENGO had already decided to demand a 1% hike in the total annual wage, including bonuses and overtime payments, as well as the customary basic annual wage hike. RENGO also had decided to seek a higher hourly wage hike for nonregular workers than for regular workers so that the gap in working conditions between them could be narrowed. On the other hand, in a report issued on January 17, Nippon Keidanren had indicated a negative stance toward the 2011 shunto, saying that the majority of its member companies were expected to negotiate only on the issue of maintaining the basic annual wage hike. Nippon Keidanren had also shown some negative attitude toward improvement of the working conditions of nonregular workers.
Management's basic stance
According to the RENGO News (Japanese edition) dated January 19, which touched upon the contents of the meeting, Nippon Keidanren Chairman Yonekura stated at the beginning that companies are facing a severe business environment, including the persistent high value of the Japanese yen, lingering deflation, and intensified globalization. He expressed the hope that labor-management negotiations in the coming shunto would be an opportunity to draw a roadmap for realizing a better Japanese society through a thorough dialogue between labor and management based on good relations between them.
In response, RENGO President Koga called on management to reconsider its attitude, stating that while there is no difference of recognition concerning the present economic situation and future direction of business management, concrete measures must be taken to increase household consumption so as to prevent a further shrinkage of domestic demand and rein in Japan's public debt. Koga said he was concerned that if all companies moved to reduce costs, no matter how reasonable it might be for individual companies, the economy as a whole could plunge into a "fallacy of composition" and take the wrong direction, becoming unable to break away from deflation. He expressed his sincere hope that the discussion between labor and management would be developed not from a micro point of view, that is, the position of individual companies, but from a macro point of view.
Concluding remarks by RENGO
The participants in the meeting then actively exchanged various points of view before concluding statements. RENGO President Koga's concluding remarks were as follows: "In the meeting, we were able to exchange views and opinions on our mutual positions and the surrounding environment. The ILO Philadelphia Declaration states that 'poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere.' A prosperity built on the victimization of part of the people is not sound at all. Both trade unions and management are expected to share the idea that economic development is necessary for promoting the happiness of the people. RENGO has raised a new slogan, 'a secure society built on the axis of working,' as an image of the society that Japan should aim to build. We hope to set up a forum to exchange views with Nippon Keidanren so that this image of society can be shared throughout Japan. Furthermore, it is necessary to discuss the issues of how the growth strategy is implemented and how a substantial reform of the social security and tax systems is tackled as a package. As a premise of this discussion, the perspectives of fair distribution and decent work are also required."
Concluding remarks by Nippon Keidanren
Nippon Keidanren Chairman Yonekura concluded as follows: "The meeting was very meaningful with an active exchange of opinions. Labor-management negotiations in the shunto are indeed a good opportunity for both labor and management to have face-to-face discussions on the issues of the actual condition of individual companies, the business environment surrounding companies, and future prospects. The shunto practice should be respected in the future, too. With one consultation coming on top of another, it is desirable to create a virtuous circle in the form of realizing employment security, improving working conditions, and strengthening business foundations. In the meeting this time, differences in ways and means were clear; while the management side emphasized innovation and regulatory reform, the labor side stressed a review of distribution. But both sides were able to share the same ideas on employment, wages, and so on. Nippon Keidanren's single goal is to improve the livelihood of the people. In order for the growth of enterprises to be compatible with the affluence of employees, management hopes to proceed with a dialogue with the labor side on important issues."
Possible schedule for the 2011 Struggle
In the middle of February, each main enterprise-based union is scheduled to submit written demands to its company management in coordination with the industrial-level federation to which it is affiliated. Then negotiations will take place between labor and management at each company in the hope of concluding a final agreement by some specific date in March. Meanwhile, RENGO and its affiliates will develop various activities, including mass rallies and street demonstrations, in order to facilitate conclusions in favor of workers.