Rengo shift reflects job crisis

Yomiuri Shimbun, 27 January 2003

The decision by the Japan Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) to consider changing its policy to back Liberal Democratic Party candidates in the next House of Representatives election reflects the labor union's worries over the current severe employment situation, which Rengo believes will not improve if it does not cooperate with the ruling party on labor issues.

Some observers said the country's largest labor union's decision shows its displeasure with some Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) members who openly criticize labor unions. This has alienated Rengo, which has usually supported Minshuto candidates.

To safeguard jobs, we'll do anything we can, said Rengo Chairman Kiyoshi Sasamori at the LDP convention on Jan. 16. This was the first time a Rengo chairman had attended an LDP convention.

In his speech, Sasamori expressed his willingness to set aside past confrontations between Rengo and the LDP if the two can agree on a way to cooperate to safeguard jobs in the current protracted recession. He effectively said he would review Rengo's relationship with Minshuto.

The relationship between Rengo and Minshuto seems to have been deteriorating since autumn.

During Minshuto's leadership election in September, some young conservative members insisted that the party should outgrow its long-running dependence on labor unions for votes and money. The members were opposed to the wider involvement of labor unions in the leadership election.

Former Minshuto leader Yukio Hatoyama once mentioned a possible review of the party's policy in relation to Rengo.

Given the circumstances, it was an obvious choice for Rengo to launch an active campaign to improve relations with the LDP.

Senior Rengo officials and LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki are scheduled to meet on Feb. 6. Sasamori and LDP General Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi are keeping in close contact to exchange their views on labor policies.

Now, labor unions no longer support a particular party and it is thus natural to have ties with the LDP, a senior LDP member said Saturday.

However, some pointed out that even if Rengo reviews its policy on the LDP, there would not be a significant change. They said that it is unlikely Rengo will support LDP candidates in the next lower house election.

An individual federation or confederation of labor unions in the same industry, rather than Rengo as a whole, may give behind-the-scenes support to LDP candidates who are active on employment issues, observers said.

However, objection to supporting LDP candidates has also been heard from within Rengo and from members of labor unions under the umbrella of the labor organization.

Union members won't accept Rengo's abrupt change of course, as it has traditionally drawn a line between itself and the LDP, a senior labor union member said.

Meanwhile, Minshuto is trying to regain Rengo's full support.

Minshuto leader Naoto Kan met with senior Rengo officials Thursday and reportedly apologized for young members' critical comments regarding labor unions.

I haven't been told of an official decision (by Rengo about reviewing its relationship with Minshuto), Kan said Saturday. I can't do anything but wait and see how the situation unfolds.

Some observers, therefore, said it still remains uncertain whether Rengo will actually review its longstanding support for Minshuto, which has been incorporated into its official policy.