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Japanese Toyota Workers Call for
"A new, horizontal type of labor union"

From: Protest-Toyota protest-toyota@list.jca.apc.org
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2006

A new, horizontal type of labor union emerged !

Tadao Wakatsuki
The Message of All Toyota Labor Union Presidents

Last January 22nd, after one year of deliberate preparation, another labor union was organized at TOYOTA jointly by the workers of Toyota Motor Corporation as well as Toyota affiliate companies, namely DENSO, AISIN, and JTEKT. The union is called All Toyota Labor Union (ATU). It was indeed ironic for Toyota Labor Union to observe the 60th anniversary of its establishment of on exactly the same day as this new union saw the light of day.

Since we started our first day at work, we have long been bounded by the union-shop contracts --- mandate that all workers at a given employer must join the union --- a structure of one corporation with one labor union has been prevailing and this system has been unchallenged for a very long time. Meanwhile, we the employees even had no right at all to choose which union to join.

ATU is completely different from the existing unions that only accept full-timers from the viewpoint of whether or not opening the door to all the employees regardless of one's employment status.

1. ATU is a single, independent, horizontal organization open to anyone who wishes to be a member on an individual basis. 2. ATU is open to ALL the workers at Toyota affiliate companies regardless of one's status as full-timer or part-timer. 3. ATU is open to managerial staff and foreigners as well.

The raison d'etre as labor unions is called into question.

The automobil industry in Japan has grown into a key industry that has a very broad base and extended its production sites rapidly toward overseas. All the Toyota group companies are putting pressures on workers to increase their global competitiveness while spreading out the cost cutting schemes at a breakneck pace. As a result, majority of the workers suffer from low wages and long working hours while being forced to work under extremely harsh working conditions where health hazards or mental problems are not uncommon and even "overwork death" is widely observed.

We believe it is the social responsibility of the Toyota group and the labor union to create a workplace where the workers can work in safety and peace without having any worres. As we now increasingly hear fearful cries raised by the workers, we cannot afford to waste time any longer to address the fundamental reason of the existence of the labor union.

Does the labor union exist at Toyota?

The reason why we ask this question is because of an event observed during the annual spring wage round in 2002. The company flatly rejected to increase the base pay though it had gained as much as 1 trillion yen of absolute profits for the previous year. Nevertheless, the union didn't challenge to the company to increase the base pay for more than three years. This incident roused the workers' anger. We were filled with resentment as we didn't find any good reason why and for whom the union is existing for while enjoying a cozy relationship that the union had with the employers. In the past, the advocacy of unified labor and management relation was as follows: "if the company improves its performance (implying that workers should do their best), the workers' living will also improve". Finally, this proved to be a false argument.

A viewpoint of building a nation required from the labor movement now

We strive to improve social status of all the workers at Toyota affiliate companies and their family members while protecting their lives, rights, and well-being through the enforcement of the workers' rights: the right to organize, the right to bargain collectively and the right to act collectively, which are all stipulated in the Constitution of Japan and the Labor Union Law.

Government and business community have together been pushing forward the neo-liberal economic scheme by placing first priority on profit seeking under the pretext of deregulation measures. Seeking only for profits and efficiency in operating business has generated and revealed rampant wrongdoings of corporations. Besides, the market-oriented philosophy encouraged by both the government and the business community has fueled a cut-throat competition among people while widening a social gap and producing poverty in this country, which as a result worsened a contradiction between developed nations' economy and aggravated peoples' living.

What we particularly want to stress is a terrible destruction of the employment rules. At present, one out of three people are hired as part-timer or nonregular employees, while one of of two young people are working under a very unstable employment conditions.

This applies to Toyota as well. As of November 2005, appoximately 13,000 people, which accounts for 40% of the total workforce of Toyota, are employed as temporarily or with a fixed term, though their work is no different from the work done by regular employees. Only with the reason that their status is not full-time, their wage is discounted down to half of full-timers' while they are placed under constant fears that they can be discharged anytime from the companies.

Are we allowed to continue ignoring such terrible situations as a labor union? The youths need a stable work and workplace as well as trouble-free living conditions. It is a mission of the union to provide a safe social environment where young generations can join hands in marriage and raise kids without any fear or worry. Creating such environment may cope with emerging social issues such as declining number of births and aging of the society. The labor movement today is truly required to have a viewpoint of building a nation.

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