409.1 Politicization or continued quiescence?: The Fukushima nuclear disaster and the labor movement in Japan

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 4:15 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Akira SUZUKI , Ohara Institute for Social Research, Hosei University, Japan
This paper examines the Japanese labor movement’s responses to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, focusing on inter-union debates over the nuclear energy issues, and on the influence of anti-nuclear social movements on the labor movement.

The nuclear disaster has activated the anti-nuclear energy movements to an unprecedented degree.  Many protest meetings, demonstrations, and sit-ins were held all over Japan, mobilizing relatively large numbers of people by the standard of Japanese social movements.

Compared to social movements, the response of the labor movement, particularly the mainstream Rengo, was ambiguous, because it has avoided serious debates over the nuclear energy issues among its affiliates.  Rengo’s affiliates are divided between a pro-nuclear energy group (consisting of the unions of electric power companies and those in manufacturing industries) and an anti-nuclear energy group (mainly consisting of the unions of public-sector employees, teachers, and transportation workers).  This division of opinions makes it difficult for Rengo to come up with a clear stance on the issues of nuclear energy and future energy policies in general.  The paper examines the logics behind two groups’ arguments for and against nuclear energy, and how Rengo reconciled the different viewpoints.  The paper also examines the influence of the anti-nuclear movements on labor unions, particularly those in the anti-nuclear energy group.  The latter unions may become politicized and become critical of the Rengo leadership for not taking a clear position on the issues. 

Although a future prospect of the Japanese labor movement is not clear at this point, the paper argues that the politicization of the labor movement is a likely outcome as workers and their family members become increasingly aware of serious economic and public-health consequences of the nuclear plant disaster.