chapter  4
22 Pages

Limits and Costs of the Postwar Labor Movement

WithKumazawa Makoto

In postwar Japan, labor unions took direct action to end various forms of discriminatory treatment within corporations. They attacked differentials in employment status and differential criteria for pay raises or job security between blue- and white-collar employees. In the terms of the British analysis, Japan's blue-collar workers of the high-growth era and beyond, including unionized workers, have for better or worse become strongly individualistic and "white-collar." The core function of unions originally and necessarily is to limit competition among workers. But by the mid-1960s a mode of thinking took hold among Japanese workers that placed greatest value on giving individuals a fair opportunity to compete to demonstrate their ability to the fullest. This attitude is the very essence of Japan's postwar democracy, and its ascendance accounts for both the failure of postwar unionism focused primarily on work roles and relationships among coworkers and the much-noted "flexible deployment" of labor in Japan.