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National Railworkers’ 20 Year Battle


Japanese Labor History, JR FuSaiYo Mondai

I’ve found these National Railworker struggle group(Tosodan) guys to be approachable and fun on a personal level. Whenever they’re not overwhelmed with their own court cases and union democracy issues they’re always ready to jump in and support peace and environmental issues. I stumbled upon them by chance thanks to the Fukuoka Jubilee movement during the 2000 G8 summit held in Okinawa and Kyushu. Since then I’ve seen them going to show solidarity with people fighting US military bases in Okinawa, joining study groups to leprosy patient facilities, adding to demonstration to save forests from pump-storage dam power lines….They helped me borrow a megaphone for environmental activists…

These guys are walking, breathing (for the most part, there have been suicides resulting from the upheaval, it’s a 22 year old struggle, 52 deaths and the average age is now 56. Ja) bits of Japanese labor history.

Prime Minister Nakasone admitted in a magazine interview that he wanted to break the Socialist Party. The way to do that was to Take away the militant union umbrella group first, which meant the key was the National Railworker’s Union, Kokuro. Sure the national rail lines had a lot of debt, given the discretionary budget and the way politician feed off it – blaming the union guys that made the trains run on time (in a good way) doesn’t hold up as a rationale. You don’t see the privatizers able to explain any progress made on the reasons (excuses) they used to ram through privatization in 1987. You would think the media would have reexamined all this with the string of fatal rail accidents over the last couple years.(ILO information, scroll down for English) All this background didn’t come up in the trial but the judge did recognize there was discrimination in the rehiring process. 

The judge acknowledged that there was discrimination but that the terminations are effective. There’s some contention over a statute of limitations(Jiko). Of the 1017 railworkers that weren’t rehired as the National Railways was split up into private JR (Japan Rail) entities 966 were members of the National Rail Workers Union (Kokuro) which opposed the privatization. Other rail worker unions had a much better chance of being rehired, investigation might reveal them being co-opted to go along with the privatization scheme. Even though one of the JR heads gave testimony that ‘There wasn’t union discrimination’ the judge pointed out that the difference in hiring rates showed the intention to weaken the union, Kokuro ( Ja Article). The judge added 50,000 yen (5,000 US dollars more or less) to the first rulings compensation of 5 million yen (50,000 US dollars) since the intention to weaken the union can be inferred. Both sides are going to appeal, the union guys don’t think they’re illegal firings should be rules as ‘effective’ (Yuko) (Ja article).

I found a terse English language article on yesterda’s court ruling to blockquote below. There’s background information in this 2006 article on another labor issue.

Court upholds JNR union discrimination ruling

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court ruling Wednesday to recognize that the defunct Japanese National Railways discriminated against employees who belonged to a labor union when hiring for the 1987 launch of Japan Railway companies.

The plaintiffs were National Railway Workers’ Union (Kokuro) members who were not taken on when JNR was privatized and split into six JR passenger railway firms and one JR freight company in April 1987.

Instead, the Kokuro members were transferred to the JNR Settlement Corporation–now the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency (JRTT), an independent administrative institution. But they were all dismissed from JRTT in 1990.

(Mar. 26, 2009)

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