Globalization and the Paradigm Shift in Japanese Industrial Relations

Charles Weathers

in The Politics of Labor in a Global Age

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199241149
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598920 | DOI:
 Globalization and the Paradigm Shift in Japanese Industrial Relations

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Contemporary Japan is perhaps the ultimate product of ‘globalization’ in many respects. Forcibly opened to the world by the Western powers in the 1850s, the country has since focused its energies on achieving the greatest possible level of economic development. As a result, the union movement historically has been divided between a right wing, which advocates full cooperation with management and a left wing demanding more resources for social needs and programs. While unions on the right have long dominated organized labour's agenda, even these unions agreed by the 1980s that the labour movement had done too little to improve working conditions and living standards. However, the early 1990s saw the onset of a severe recession and ‘globalization’ (alternatively, a new ‘era of super‐competition’), prompting both businesses and the right‐wing unions to seek comprehensive deregulation of employment systems, against the faltering opposition of the left. As Japan shifts from its ‘paradigm’ of an industrial relations rooted in mass production and ‘lifetime employment’ to a more flexible, high tech–based economy, unions are emphasizing new strategies for protecting jobs in their own industries, and the labour movement's influence over general working conditions has been further eroded. Post‐war Japan's second ‘paradigm shift’ suggests that there are important limits to convergence, as unions spurn the social provisions of the EC, and cooperate with business to nurture Asia as an allied production base for Japan. In addition, those who regarded the Japanese employment system during the 1970s and 1980s as a ‘model’ for organizing cooperative industrial relations in industrializing societies have to confront the fact that the model itself is now in flux.

Keywords: Asia; cooperation; deregulation; employment; globalization; industrial relations; Japan; labour movement; recession; trade unions

Chapter.  10973 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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