The labour movement in Japan has traditionally been the main backer of the left-wing parties. Ikuo Kume’s controversial book has shown that the Japanese Labour Movement has been getting stronger as labour unions have been getting weaker in other countries.
Before the formation of the unified union movement known as the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) in 1989, the two most important union umbrella organisations were the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo) and the Japanese Confederation of Labour (Domei). They influenced politics by backing financially the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) and the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) respectively. Sohyo consisted of public sector unions and Domei combined private sector unions, reflecting the political nature of the respective parties that supported them. The formation of Rengo was motivated by the need to strengthen the union movement as well as to strengthen links with politics. This paper will analyse the changing nature of Rengo political support.
Rengo’s first political act was to become directly involved in politics by putting up candidates in the 1989 and 1992 House of Councillors elections and forming a political party called Rengo Kai. In the mid-nineties, this changed to a policy of being involved in top-level back room negotiations, and finally, in the late nineties, it would seem that Rengo has become less directly involved in politics.
This paper will examine the influence that the formation of Rengo has had on the decline of the JSP and the emergence of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) through analysing the various stages of political support during the nineties. Was it laissez faire about the decline of the JSP or was that a result of Rengo direct policy and action? Similarly, to what extent did Rengo actively encourage the formation of the DPJ? It will also pose the question whether Rengo Kai and later, Shin Minshu Rengo (an attempted political party that was initially supported by Rengo) were proto-type DPJ parties. Analysing these party attempts contributes to understanding the formation of the DPJ. Special attention will be paid to the emergence of the DPJ and Rengo in Okayama Prefecture.
Sarah Hyde is a Doctoral Candidate at St Antony’s College Oxford and during the academic year 1999-2000 a Japan Foundation Doctoral Fellow based at Okayama University.