Community Unions As Strategic Field Challengers in the Japanese Labour Movement

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Jan NIGGEMEIER, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Organised labour in Japan is characterised by a dominance of corporatist enterprise unions. Despite a growing casualisation and precariousness of work as well as signs of a legitimacy crisis due to a decreasing unionisation rate, most mainstream trade unions remain hesitant to expand their scope of representation beyond their core constituency of regularly-employed workers. In comparison, locally-based or social group-constituted community unions strategically target these niches in focusing on the organisation of the growing group of irregularly-employed, as the most vulnerable workforce. Often inspired by examples from abroad and with a strong rooting in civil society, these grassroots-level organisations of labour activism develop innovative and much more flexible forms of workers’ representation. This research paper elucidates transformations within the broader Japanese labour movement along examples of diverse forms of community unionism. It aims to find out, how decision-making about organisational structures, approached agendas as well as applied tactics by the involved actors impacts field transformations. The strategic role of community unions as challengers vis-à-vis mainstream trade unions as incumbents within the organisational field of the Japanese labour movement is analysed through the application of the theoretical model of Strategic Action Fields by Fligstein and McAdam (2012), which intersects between social movement- and organisation-theory. This research paper argues that despite their peripheral position and limited dimension, community unions serve as influential field entrepreneurs. In interaction with other field actors, they point out imitable alternatives to the established corporatist trade union system and thus can induce field transformation of Japanese labour. This paper’s analysis is based on in-field research conducted in Japan, including interviews with organisers and members of trade unions and several different community union organisations as well as participant observation within group activism.