As Japan’s annual wage talks climax this month, one of the obstacles to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign for outsized pay raises has its roots in the 1940s: a
stunted union movement.
The nation’s top union boss, Nobuaki Koga, doesn’t
personally know what it’s like to go on strike. Koga, the
president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, says he has
mixed feelings about what became a cozy relationship between
employers and their company-based unions.
Cooperation — encouraged during the U.S. occupation, when
General Douglas MacArthur cracked down on aggressive unions —
helped fuel the nation’s rapid postwar revival. Now, weakened by
economic stagnation and the legacy of a fractured labor
movement, unions are struggling to pressure Japan’s biggest
companies, even as they post record profits amid low
Any failure to secure higher pay during the annual spring campaign risks accelerating a decline in the number of union
members, which peaked in 1994. Public support for Abe’s
government is also on the line, along with his effort to reflate
the world’s third-largest economy.
Without wage increases that induce consumers to spend
rather than save, Japan may struggle to sustain price gains to
keep its tentative emergence from deflation on track, according
to Daiju Aoki, an economist at UBS Group AG in Tokyo.
Early signs indicate that unions will have a tough time.
Toyota Motor Corp., which has forecast a bigger annual
profit than all other Japanese automakers combined, last month
rebuffed a proposal from its in-house union for the largest pay
bump since 1998.
Japan’s system today owes much to a decision by MacArthur during the 1945-52 occupation to abandon an initial move to
encourage U.S.-style unions. As the Cold War began taking hold,
he acted against left-wing groups, and banned a general strike
The so-called red purge that ensued also hobbled opposition
parties. Thousands of union members were fired from both public
sector and private jobs.
if you look at the url, the headline originally highlighted the role of america and macarthur in demolishing japan’s unions and creating a civil society subordinate to capital, but i guess they had to change it for some reason