Japan's 74,500 trade unions were represented by four
federations in the mid-1980s: the General Council of Trade
of Japan (Nihon Rodo Kumiai Sohyogikai, commonly known as
with 4.4 million members--a substantial percentage
public sector employees; the Japan Confederation of Labor
Nihon Rodo Sodomei, commonly known as Domei), with 2.2
members; the Federation of Independent Labor Unions
Roren), with 1.6 million members; and the National
Industrial Organizations (Shinsanbetsu), with only 61,000
In 1987 Domei and Churitsu Roren were dissolved and
into the newly established National Federation of Private
Unions (Rengo); and in 1990 Sohyo affiliates merged with
Local labor unions and work unit unions, rather than the
federations, conducted the major bargaining. Unit unions
banded together for wage negotiations, but federations did
control their policies or actions. Federations also
political and public relations activities
(see Interest Groups
The rate of labor union membership, which was 35.4
1970, had declined considerably by the end of the 1980s.
continuing long-term reduction in union membership was
several factors, including the restructuring of Japanese
away from heavy industries. Many people entering the work
the 1980s joined smaller companies in the tertiary sector,
there was a general disinclination toward joining labor
The relationship between the typical labor union and
company is unusually close. Both white- and blue-collar
join the union automatically in most major companies.
subcontracting workers are excluded, and managers with the
section manager and above are considered part of
most corporations, however, many of the managerial staff
union members. In general, Japanese unions are sensitive
economic health of the company, and company management
brief the union membership on the state of corporate
Any regular employee below the rank of section chief is
eligible to become a union officer. Management, however,
pressures the workers to select favored employees.
maintain their seniority and tenure while working
union activities and while being paid from the union's
and union offices are often located at the factory site.
officers go on to higher positions within the corporation
are particularly effective (or troublesome), but few
in organized labor activities at the national level.
During prosperous times, the spring labor offensives
ritualized affairs, with banners, sloganeering, and dances
more at being a show of force than a crippling job action.
Meanwhile, serious discussions take place between the
officers and corporate managers to determine pay and
adjustments. If the economy turns sour, or if management
reduce the number of permanent employees, however,
strikes often occur. The number of working days lost to
disputes peaked in the economic turmoil of 1974 and 1975
9 million workdays in the two-year period. In 1979,
were fewer than 1 million days lost. Since 1981 the
of days lost per worker each year to disputes was just
percent of the number lost in the United States. After
the economy entered a period of slower growth, annual wage
increases moderated and labor relations were conciliatory.
the 1980s, workers received pay hikes that on average
reflected the real growth of GNP for the preceding year.
for example, workers received an average 5.1 percent pay
while GNP growth had averaged 5 percent between 1987 and
moderate trend continued in the early 1990s as the
national labor federations were reorganizing themselves.
Data as of January 1994