It has been the large-scale enterprises, private
and governmental those largely identified with the old Zaibatsu cartels and
military establishment, which have furnished the bulk of unionism in postwar
Japan. These, of course, are the very sectors of the Japanese economy which are
synonymous with the modern industrialization of Japan -- coal mining, shipping ,
cotton textile spinning, chemicals, transportation, communications, electricity
and gas as well as steel and iron.
Growth & Development
On the right and supporting the newly established Social
Democrat Party was the Sodomei (The Japanese Federation of Labor). On the left stood
Sanbetsu (The National Congress of Industrial Unions) which is predominantly under Communist control
but also favoring socialists and other left-wing groups.
this period, Sanbetsu claimed almost twice the membership strength of Sodomei.
Sanbetsu comprised of 21 components with 1.6 million members and its major
constituents were government workers, miners, electric power, transportation,
and other heavy industry groups. Sodomei, a confederation of 24 district federations and 4 industrial unions with a membership of 850,000 drew its
support mainly from light industry and the smaller enterprises. It is also well
represented in textiles and shipping.
SCAP and Diet restrictions upon government worker unions and the 1949 revisions of
the Trade Union and Labor Relations Adjustment Laws however caused Sanbetsu to
crumble steadily during the years 1948 to 1949.
Sodomei and various other non-affiliated national unions, all of which were anti-
or non-Communist, later formed the Sohyo ( The General Council of Trade
Unions of Japan) on July 12, 1950.
Currently, there are 4 national trade union centers in Japan:
Sohyo (The General Council of Trade Unions of Japan)
-- with a membership
of 4,200,000 is the largest and hence dominant national trade union center and
represents left-wing political radicalism.
(2) Domei (The Japan Confederation of Labor) -- with a membership of 1,800,000
ranks second and is noted for political moderation
(The Federation of Industrial Unions)
-- has a membership of
(4) Shinsanbetsu (The National Federation of Industrial Unions) has 69,800 members and have usually associated themselves practically, if not ideologically, with Sohyo.
Today, in any case, Sohyo and Domei stand as the two major rival organizations in
Japanese labor. Domei has shown its viability in a consistent policy
characterized by conscious avoidance of ideological implications and a steady
rise in membership, whereas Sohyo has pursued an erratic line of action
vacillating between left-wing political radicalism and traditional
unionism that has emphasized economic interests exclusively.
The principal functional distinction between the national organization and the
enterprise union is that the former largely looks after the political activities
of the labor movement and the latter concentrates on the economic. Concentration of the upper structures of the Japanese labor
movement upon political functions should not come as a surprise. The initial
drive to achieve wholesale reform of the Japanese society, the radical heritage
of the prewar labor movement with its rival ideologies, and the realization that
Japan's economic viability depended to a major extent upon central government
policy drove the national organizations toward their preoccupation with
political functions. At the same time the traditional concern with permanent
attachment to enterprises meant a primary emphasis on economic activity at the
local level. Accordingly, the chief function of the national organization has
remained a political one and it is also here that rival ideological and
political groupings contest to exercise control.
One evidence of the failure of the enterprise unions to rely upon the national
organizers for carrying out economic functions is the latter's lack of personnel
and funds. Heavy staffing of the enterprise unions accounts for the relatively
large proportion of the funds expended at the local level.
The national unions are hardly equipped to carry out these economic functions
because collective bargaining relationships are mainly at the enterprise level
and this would require detailed supervision in administering labor agreements.
The lack of collective bargaining leadership at the national level stems to a
considerable degree from the hesitancy of enterprise union leaders to accept
positions as national officers because they are often unwilling to exchange
their powers for the relatively minor role that a national leader plays in
enterprise union affairs.