Japanese Labor strikes
During all of my years living in Japan I have never seen a labor strike. I haven’t seen any, experienced any, read about any, been affected by any, etc. No garbage strike, public or college teachers strike, nurses strike, pilot or air traffic l strike, bus drivers strike, teamsters strike, truck drivers or taxi drivers strike. Nothing. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any strikes (which is what I believe). I simply haven’t known about any. This does not mean that Japanese do not have a right to strike. They do. They just don’t do it very much. Going on strike is not the sort of thing Japanese do. It’s contrary to their work ethic. Japanese believe that the purpose of life is to work. The individual and her rights are subordinate to the good of the group.
I know many young people who have never seen or heard of strikes. In that sense they have no prejudice or preconceived notions either; their minds are blank slates. Article 28 of the Japanese Constitution guarantees workers’ right to solidarity, and that includes the right to strike. This only causes perplexed looks on the faces of many people. If you’ve never seen or even heard of a strike before, it’s hard to really get what it is.
Looking back at why labor laws and unions were created, we see that the purpose was to address the glaring power imbalance. Workers fought to win labor laws and unions, to close the gap, and strikes are their most powerful means of bolstering their negotiating position. Without strikes, workers have no way to stand up to corporate goliaths. I doubt that the apparent decline in labor strikes means that workers are in a position of strength vis-a-vis the company. On the contrary. The decline in strikes might be a symptom here of the decline in the power and influence of unions. More and more young Japanese spend their lives as part-time rather than full-time workers, and unions have failed to recruit many of this younger generation. The younger generation is aging, so now more and more middle-aged people remain part-time or short contract workers. It affects people’s income so much that it might be contributing to the decline in marriage and the birthrate, and population shrinkage. More and more people feel they cannot afford to marry, or have children if they do marry, or have second children. Work is being chopped up into little pieces involving part-time contingent and dispatch workers, making it harder and harder for workers to build solidarity at a workplace and look forward to a stable future. Stable and durable work - the famous lifetime employment regimen - is a historical artifact. But if you think that the employment instability and threat to a middle-class lifestyle that these things represent would motivate more union recruitment and activity, you’d be wrong.
Every spring new contracts are negotiated with unions and everyone gets a raise. It’s like an escalator - although maybe a slow one. If you stick to the job, stick with the program, then you rise.