EDITORIAL: Rengo’s new leader must work to restore relevance to unions

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Tomoko Yoshino, a seasoned union leader, has become the new leader of Rengo, the Confederation of Japanese Trade Unions, taking the lead of the country’s largest labor organization amid falling union membership rates and deepening divisions policies within the body.

Yoshino is the first woman to lead Rengo, which was founded in 1989 as an umbrella organization of trade unions.

Yoshino is also the first Rengo president not to come from a “company union” of a large company. She was vice-president of the Japan Metalworking, Machinery and Manufacturing Workers’ Association (JAM), an industrial union made up mostly of workers from small and medium-sized enterprises.

In another first, Rengo’s management appointed Hideyuki Shimizu, president of the Japan Teachers’ Union, the largest union of teachers, mostly public schools, to his post of number 2, general secretary, a post which was held by leaders. trade unions in the private sector.

It took an unusually long time for Rengo to choose his new leader due to internal feuds over his alliance with opposition parties and other political dissent. The new management was only selected after an unusual step of extending the deadline for selecting the candidate.

The unconventional choices for the highest positions reflect the difficult challenges facing Rengo and the labor movement.

Yoshino is taking over the leadership of Rengo at a time when the role of unions as protectors and champions of workers’ rights and well-being is growing in importance. The protracted novel coronavirus pandemic has caused massive job and income losses.

Rengo must unite under the new leadership to overcome a series of challenges.

At a press conference after being selected as the top union leader, Yoshino pledged to expand the reach of Rengo’s business by speaking with a wide range of people, including non-union workers, to fully understand the requests from people working on the front line.

His words echo the main challenges facing the organization.

One is greater diversity in working styles, with non-regular workers making up almost 40 percent of the workforce. The number of people working without a job, such as the self-employed, is also increasing. Union membership is shrinking, with unionized workers making up only 17% of all company employees.

Rengo’s relevance worsened further under the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who urged employers to raise wages to help the nation emerge from its deflationary hole.

Rengo’s political power contributed to the creation of the non-liberal Democratic Party government led by a broad opposition coalition in 1993 and the rise to power of the Democratic Party in 2009.

However, as the larger opposition group split up, Rengo is now split between two camps – one supporting the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the other the People’s Democratic Party.

Rengo drew much harsh criticism from her affiliated unions four years ago when she engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations with the government and Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), the country’s largest business lobby. , on revisions to the bill to revise labor standards. Law.

The bill has been denounced as an attempt to force highly skilled white-collar workers to work long hours without receiving overtime pay.

The only way Rengo can revitalize his organization is to tackle key workforce issues and deliver results. Poverty and economic disparities will be the key topics for the lower house elections at the end of October.

Other persistent problems include long working hours, “karoshi” or death from overwork, and various forms of workplace harassment.

Many of the non-regular workers and single parents who have been battered by the pandemic are women. As a union leader dedicated to improving the working conditions of women, Yoshino is naturally committed and well equipped to improve the lot of these workers.

We need to launch campaigns that encourage non-regular workers to join Rengo, ”she said.

Unions in different industries and companies, large and small, have very different views and opinions on the issues of non-regular workers and pay increases.

Rengo’s relevance to the well-being of workers will be strained by his ability to reach consensus on these issues for effective negotiation with employers and government.

–L’Asahi Shimbun, October 14

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