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RENGO Hosts a Symposium in Commemoration of 2012 United Nations International Year of Cooperatives

RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), together with the Central Council of Workers' Welfare Associations (Chuo-Rofukukyo), an organization that promotes welfare activities for workers, hosted a symposium on the social role of cooperatives which was held in Tokyo on October 3. About 200 people from RENGO-affiliated organizations and related organizations participated.

The symposium was held to commemorate the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives designated by the United Nations on the theme of "Toward the building of a safe and symbiotic society". Its objectives were to spread the values of mutual aid and solidarity in society, think once again about the social role of cooperatives, reconfirm the need for strengthened links between trade unions and cooperatives, and thereby promote the further development of cooperatives.

In Japan, in light of trends in the United Nations and the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), the Japan Joint Committee of Cooperatives (JJC) called for cooperation from cooperatives and other nonprofit organizations in the country and in August 2010 launched the National Organizing Committee for the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives, which has actively promoted various activities relating to the International Year of Cooperatives. Furthermore, regional organizing committees have also been set up at the prefectural level so as to carry out regionally individual and characteristic activities. Through various events, RENGO, Chuo-Rofukukyo and their affiliated organizations have actively participated in the activities of the National Organizing Committee for the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives.

At the opening of the symposium, RENGO General Secretary Hiroyuki Nagumo addressed to the participants appealing that while actively facilitating the activities of cooperatives and promoting employment, let's reach out our helping hands to such people as non-regular workers and the unemployed who are in most need of them.

Next, the University of Tokyo Professor Emeritus Naohiko Jinno delivered a keynote speech titled "Building a Society in Which People Live Together: Expectations for Trade Unions and Cooperatives." Professor Emeritus Jinno remarked that while both the market mechanism and democracy have ceased to function in the present day, it is needed for every one of us to have a fellow feeling and to wish that no one should be unhappy and everyone should be happy. Trade unions, cooperatives, and other nonprofit private sector organizations, which are organized on their own initiative, should join together to build a society that places its top priority on human life."

Next, Mr. Koji Yamamoto, vice president of Chuo-Rofukukyo, served as the moderator for a dialogue session between Professor Emeritus Jinno and RENGO President Nobuaki Koga. In the dialogue, President Koga stated that, in order to realize a secure society built around work as its core which RENGO advocates, and, in the same sense, in order to build a system that reaches out our helping hands to the people who need them most, trade unions will further team up with cooperatives, labor banks and Zenrosai (National Federation of Workers and Consumers Insurance Cooperatives), which are workers welfare business organizations."

After the dialogue, observations were made by the Central Labor Bank, Zenrosai and the Japanese Consumers' Cooperative Union (JCCU) to which consumer cooperatives in various parts of Japan affiliate, all of which are cooperative organizations for workers' welfare. The symposium ended with the adoption of an appeal.


In the present society which holds various problems including expansion of poverty and disparities, social exclusion and social isolation, expectations for the role of cooperatives which foster a symbiotic consciousness and promote social participation, are anew gaining momentum around the world. The United Nations has designated the year 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives in appreciation of their contributions to overcoming issues that cannot be solved by the market mechanism alone and is calling for their recognition to be enhanced in each country so as to encourage and promote their development.

In such a circumstance, RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) and the Central Council of Workers' Welfare Associations (Chuo-Rofukukyo) organized today the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives Commemorative Symposium to think once again about the social role of cooperatives and to variously discuss how the cooperation between trade unions and cooperatives should be. Through the discussion in the symposium, we reconfirmed the necessity to further promote the development of workers' welfare businesses like Labor Banks and Zenrosai (National Federation of Workers and Consumers Insurance Cooperatives) which have been created by the trade union movement itself, and of cooperatives including consumer cooperatives.

Many important issues were proposed. Going back to the starting point of mutual assistance and solidarity among people, what must be done so that such people as non-regular workers, the unemployed and the retired who are most in need of mutual assistance can come to participate in mutual aid mechanisms? How should trade unions and cooperatives cooperate with each other so as to display their social roles in such areas as the eradication of poverty, support for finding self-reliant work, social inclusion, and local community development? Shouldn't the funds of working colleagues be circulated in cooperatives to utilize them more effectively to solve social issues? Shouldn't these efforts be harnessed to the socialization of the trade union movement and to its organization expansion? It is necessary for us to sincerely confront these questions and come up with concrete answers.

Rather than allowing the International Year of Cooperatives to end as a one-off event, we appeal that, while making the best use of today's discussions as a starting point, even more in-depth discussions be continued in the workplaces and the communities. We call on trade unions and cooperatives to join hands and take action, one by one starting with what can be done, toward "a secure society built around work as its core" and "building a society in which people live together".

October 3, 2012

2012 International Year of Cooperatives Commemorative Symposium
JTUC-RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation)
Chuo-Rofukukyo ( Central Council of Workers' Welfare Associations)

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