Non-Standard Workers are the New Informal Workforce in Japan

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informal workers

New Orleans   Casual, temporary, irregular (Korea), part-time, and informal are all terms of art in different countries describing everywhere essentially the same global workforce phenomena in the race to the bottom for public and corporate employers sweating labor from workers on a come-as-you-are, no benefits, we-will-call-you-whenever-we-need-you basis.  We learned from hours of intensive dialogue with a delegation of labor researchers from Tokyo visiting with ACORN International, Local 100 United Labor Union, and A Community Voice representatives yesterday in the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse Common Space and later in our offices in the 9th Ward, that in Japan this growing phenomena translates to “non-standard” workers, as opposed to regular workers who are referred to as “standard” workers.  In the cutbacks to the public sector, most of the new hires are now non-standard workers who work largely part-time hours with no benefits confronting long traditions of more secure conditions for Japanese workers.

A delegation headed by Dr. Ken Yamazaki, a senior researcher at the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, and including graduate students, other researchers, Professor Koshi Endo from Meiji University, and Professor Tsutsui Miki from Hosei University, all from the Toyko area visited with us most of the day, and it was an education for everyone involved.  Our friends from Japan were trying to better understand community organizing models and methodologies and how such organizations, for which there seem to be no ready equivalents in Japan, are also essential in building community-and-labor based organizing strategies.  The corporation-based labor union and labor relations system in Japan creates strongly corporatist organizing and representation philosophies which seem to have made responding to new, non-standard and more informal work situations and practices, especially difficult adaptations.  Union membership is over 10,000,000 (compared to over 12,000,000 in USA) and density is closer to 20%, which is much more robust than the USA, but nonetheless declining and presenting an impending crisis according to most of the comments made by the delegation.  We talked a lot about our “majority unionism” strategy and whether or not such a strategy might work in Japan, but this was one of many impossible to answer questions.

In 2009 a delegation had visited from Japan that was interested and involved in living wage campaigns.   We learned that the national minimum wage is closer to $9.00 than our $7.25, and that there have been isolated regional “living wage” successes at establishing levels over the national minimum, but these efforts were foundering in legal problems.  There was a lot of interest in “community benefit agreements,” the “transactional” rather than “transformative” relationships between labor and community partnerships, and other issues that kept the conversation flying!

Our friends from Japan, when asked about the UAW fears that Nissan would covert the workforce in Canton, Mississippi (yesterday’s blog) to a temporary or non-standard crew, thought it unlikely.  They discounted the possibility because they saw no signs of Nissan doing any such thing in Japan despite some of these other trends in the country.

Ken and Miki had been involved in a book and research involving community organizing and its history so were especially interested in a decade by decade history of community organizing in the United States, which took all of us down memory lane.  We learned that Saul Alinsky had also detoured through Japan on his Far East tour that touched with lasting impact on our friends in Manila and Seoul, but disappointingly Ken still had not been able to find any legacy of his visit in Japan.  Saul may have been simply changing planes in 1971 or so during the visit or been a tourist for a day, all of which would have been understandable to all of us as well.

workers looking for jobs in Japan