Published in Japanese: June, 2017 as Chapter 7 of Transformation of Labor Movement—3-Decade Fight Against Privatization of National Railways
English translation: February, 2019;
For maps of Privatized National Railways and Doro-Chiba members' workplaces, see JR Companies' map, Chiba Prefecture map, and Chiba Pref. railmap. (note: The members of Doro-Chiba drive not only the trains in Chiba prefecture but also those on Sobu/Yokosuka Line from Chiba Prefecture through Tokyo to Kanagawa Prefecture.)
The Movement Principles of Doro-Chiba Nearly 40 years have passed since the privatization of the Japanese National Railways (JNR), and 30 years since the break away form Doro and formation of our independent union, Doro-Chiba. The history of this union's struggles has created a continual challenge to what is regarded as the “common sense” of the Japanese labor movement. I am convinced that we have defined an approach to the labor movement and worker solidarity that does not have a direct precedent in older struggles. Perhaps it is grandiose to put it this way, but I think we can say that Doro-Chiba has waged its own revolution within the history of the Japanese labor movement.
Hiroshi Nakano, former president of Doro-Chiba, always maintained that: “if workers can avoid being pulled into a way of thinking that denigrates and derides their status as workers, I'm convinced that they can win any dispute,” the actuality of revolution lives on inside the unionists of Doro-Chiba”, and that “the revolutionizing of the labor movement is the change most badly needed today.” The members of the Doro-Chiba are not by any means special activists. They are normal workers who wouldn't be out of place at any union. It's when these workers affirm the social meaning and righteousness of their struggle, based on their experience in individual confrontations that they themselves have resolved to wage, that they are capable of great power.
By building experience over multiple struggles and campaigns, workers are capable of building a unity that can endure any offensive, and thus, for the first time act as the protagonists of society. It's for that reason that workers must always be trusted by the union, so that they can frankly communicate issues that arise in the workplace, as well as in society at large, to the union, and the union must in turn develop that information into tasks for the struggle. These are the movement principles that Doro-Chiba has resolutely adhered to. I believe that they are completely different from the typical labor movement approach of “organizing around demands.”
A Class-Conscious Labor Movement In an earlier era, all political forces involved in the labor movement would have identified themselves as class conscious worker movements. You would find express provisions such as: “breaking the chains of capitalist society's exploitation and winning the emancipation of the workers,” and “aiming for the construction of a socialist society” in the constitutions of trade unions. However nowadays, the term “class-conscious labor movement” is out of vogue. Workers' unions have largely lost the power to resist capitalism and have abandoned a class-conscious standpoint.
In comparison, Doro-Chiba has fought for just that: the road to a class-conscious labor movement. Workers will never be able to live a humane and fulfilled life simply by waging a constant fight to improve working conditions and labor rights within the capitalist system. As Marx said, capitalist society is nothing more than one particular society in history, born at a specific stage of mankind's historical development. In other words, it has a beginning, and an end. Defeating the power of the capitalist class, and creating a society where workers become its protagonist is the basic standpoint of a class-conscious labor movement.
Above all, what we ourselves can say with confidence is that we have not only verified that standpoint theoretically, we have built that movement in reality with the strength of our membership. Doro-Chiba has not achieved this on our own. We have achieved it with the help of comrades from around the country who have supported, and fought in our own struggle as if it were their own.
A Labor Movement for the Era We are living in a world in which society is wholly collapsing due to the accumulated contradictions brought on by neo-liberal offensives. Reactionaries who had previously lain hidden are now given an open embrace, and plans to revise the constitution and march the country towards war are in motion. Former Doro-Chiba President Nakano always emphasized the points below as critical to decipher exactly what kind of period we are living in.
1. The imperialist system (capitalism) can no longer provide for the workers.
2. The imperialist system (capitalism) has no means to prolong its domination besides war.
3. The historic life force of the imperialist system (capitalism) has expired, and become shackles on the development of society.
4. The revolt of workers around the world has begun with the energy of a prairie fire.
This assessment of the times we are living in will have an increasingly important meaning as a guide for practice in the situations we confront.
All political forces and organizations has stood petrified before neo-liberalism, and helplessly retreated in its wake. No one was able to propose how to create a movement that could stand up to neoliberal offensives and also find mass support. “How can we build a program to resist neo-liberalism that is based in both practice and reality?”, “Amid the large-scale retreat of the labor movement in Japan, how can we again create fighting labor unions (solidarity) at the workplace?” These are not questions which have easy answers; however I believe that particularly within the history and experience of Doro-Chiba we can find living lessons that can be applied for the benefit of the labor movement in the era we are living now.
Splitting to the Left Doro-Chiba was formed on March 30th, 1979. At the extraordinary district convention held that day, 1,400 union members of District Chiba of Doro decided to split from from the national headquarters of the Doro (National Railway Motive Power Union) and declared independence.
As it deepened its divergence from the main union's leadership, District Chiba's independence became a focal point of the entire labor movement. Its emergence meant that entire districts of the national Doro (50,000 strong), had cleaved itself from the main union to form a new one based on an irreconcilable internal debate around the struggle to halt jet fuel shipments bound for Narita Airport.
What drew the most attention was that this was a “split to the left”. In the struggle for union power throughout the 1960s and 1970s, left factions had again and again lost out to right factions in major private companies, and the Japanese labor movement had as a result endured many bitter experiences. Splits to the right resulted in labor union integration with capital, or the complete hijacking of existing unions by right-wing factions. Any left unions that survived shrunk to minority factions. Worker's unions lost their traditional meaning, and were integrated into frameworks for dominating the worker. In particular, after the “strike for the right to strike”* struggle of 1975 (スト権スト), the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo, 総評), which had functioned as a central pillar of the Japanese labor movement up until that point, quickly lost its militancy and raison d'etre.
* For more details, see We Live on Railways by former president Nakano.
During this period, a campaign to prevent jet fuel shipments to Narita Airport was waged, which became the decisive factor in the formation of Doro-Chiba. The struggle was waged over 5 years from 1977 to 1981, creating an intense head-on confrontation with the government's twin strategies of opening Narita Airport and crushing the struggle at Sanrizuka** which opposed its establishment. During this period, five union members were fired without reason, and Mitsuo Setoyama, the justice minister at the time, bellowed for criminal charges to be brought against the District Chiba of Doro.
** see We Live on Railways.
The workers were risking their own jobs to fight in solidarity with the Sanrizuka farmers. While the rest of the labor movement retreated and lost momentum, the struggle alongside Sanrizuka held the flag aloft, earning unexpectedly broad support and shows of solidarity. Given that the Chiba Prefectural Labor Federation (県労連) as well as the Chiba Prefectural Transport Workers Federation (県交運) agreed to provide total support, and the Sohyo National Conference and others announced aid for the struggle, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the fight against jet fuel deliveries earned support from the entire Japanese left wing.
It was at this point that the Doro headquarters began working together with the state to put a halt to the campaign of worker-farmer solidarity action, going so far as to orchestrate the administrative dismissal of the Chiba District's executive officers, who had refused to give up Sanrizuka struggle. These were the birth pangs of Doro-Chiba; an unprecedented conflict within the post-war labor movement, which had continually retreated in the face of the rightward push.
However most thought that “even if District Chiba is correct here, there's no way they'll be able to maintain their organization.” That was a reasonable judgment given the “common sense” of the labor movement at the time, and even those who agreed with District Chiba thought the same. Despite that, District Chiba was able to withstand the persistent attempts to break up the organization by making split among its membership that arose shortly after its formation, offensives that were led by the Doro national headquarters together with JNR management, and in that process create a powerful unity that would later be put in play in the fight against the division and privatization of the JNR.
The Transition to Neo-liberalism At the time, we did not fully understand the historical significance of Doro-Chiba's emergence. However looking back, I believe one can conclude that this was one inevitable challenge to revitalize the labor movement, coming amid the major historical turning point, the beginning of an era in which global offensives, later defined as “neo-liberalism”, would assault the working class one after the other.
Parallel to the formation of Doro-Chiba in 1979, the Thatcher administration came into power in the UK. The actions of this government would serve as a premonition of intense attacks against the labor movement around the world. Two years later in 1981, Ronald Reagan became president of the United States, and the Nakasone administration emerged in the subsequent year (1982). These three would go on to create policies on the same axis, platforms that held many points in common: capital offensives that drastically upended the working conditions and economic circumstances for labor movement to face around the world.
Attacks on the Coal Miners When Thatcher was inaugurated, she plainly described the character of the offensives to come: “Confronting the power of the unions, attacking the social bonds that interfere with competition, dismantling or diminishing the policies of the welfare state and privatizing public enterprises.” “And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” Plainly, Neo-liberalism was nothing more than state violence unleashed upon workers and society at large.
Thatcher focused her policies on destroying the coal miner union, known at the time as the country's strongest organized labor force. The previous administration had been thrown out as a result of a coal miner strike, which showed how much power and influence the British coal workers had over the working class as a whole. If this power could be dismantled, the entire labor movement could be smashed. After that, the entirety of public service enterprises could be privatized, and all of society could be collapsed into the principle of competition. Once that was done, the economy would be jump-started, and Britain would become a wealthy society. These were Thatcher's claims.
She began with an intense attack on the labor unions at public steel companies and nationalized automobile companies as the first step of all-out onslaught, then gutting employment and labor union laws one after the other, banning sympathy strikes and pickets, and criminalizing strikes that were waged without a vote from a union's entire membership. Her administration also set aside a huge coal reserve to prepare for strikes, increased police manpower and hired strike-breakers. And lastly, she positioned Ian MacGregor, feared in the U.S. as a “union buster” as head of the National Coal Board. With these preparations in hand, her administration suddenly announced the closure of coal mine collieries in March, 1984.
On the other hand, the miners, mostly around 40 years of age, were led by the legendary president of the National Union of Miners, Arthur Scargill, in whom they held great trust. A strike was immediately called. The strike was fought bravely, with neither side giving an inch for a full year. It was not just the miners; the larger working class of Britain believed that their future was on the line in this struggle, and supported it.
That said, this year-long strike was an exhausting fight. The organizers and their families sold their cars and televisions in order to somehow make ends meet and carry on the struggle. They created a regional strike center where they coordinated meals and brought their children for daycare. This was also a heroic struggle, in which miners lost their lives or were arrested in physical confrontations with strikebreakers. In these conditions, the British coal workers held their strike for a year, but on March 3rd, 1985, after reaching the point of exhaustion, they voted to end the strike and resolved to save their strength for the future. In this way, the offensives of neo-liberalism began, soon to be unleashed across the world.
Reagan and Nakasone The policies of the Reagan administration enacted in America were almost exactly the same. As soon as Ronald Reagan became president, he crushed the federal air traffic controllers' strike (PATCO strike). While mobilizing strike-breakers (including personnel from the military) against the air traffic controllers, he announced the termination of all 15,000 strikers. This attack also included a merciless blacklist provision which dictated that all fired PATCO union members could never be re-hired, cutting off their very livelihoods.
It should be noted that PATCO was, to begin with, a conservative union that supported the Republican Party. However, put in a situation where working conditions had deteriorated to such an agonizing point that employees were collapsing in sickness, the air traffic controllers felt their only option was to go out on strike. This strike was likely entered into with the hopes that Reagan, who they had supported during the election campaign, would work something out for them. However that hope turned out to be nothing more than a fleeting apparition. Once Reagan made an example of PATCO, the US labor leadership shook with fear and quickly gave in. In this way, the reality of American society --shocking poverty and social misery in the world's richest country-- was reinforced and expanded.
In Japan, an ocean apart from the American events, Prime Minister Nakasone forced through the division and privatization of the Japanese National Railways. This orchestrated conspiracy of the ruling class was prepared with the chief purpose of dismantling the Japanese labor movement. As I will describe later, it was also an attack that would leave an unknowably deep impact on the domestic labor movement.
From its formation to the present day, Doro-Chiba has waged many tough struggles in the face of neo-liberalism, struggles that were based on the strength of its membership's unity.
I can say with certainty the following. First: we have always held internal debates among our membership on the question of how to organize concrete solidarity and campaigns that have clear goals in mind, and resonate with the era we are living in. Second: Despite state-coordinated attacks, and also attacks by the great capital conglomerate of the JR Companies1 upon our union, we never buckled under. Third: no matter how tough the situation, we never lost sight of the interests of the entire working class, and the advance of the entire labor movement.
The Doro and Train Accidents Doro-Chiba's predecessor, District Chiba of Doro, was not a fighting labor union from the start. If anything it was led by a typical right-wing faction of the Mindo (民同the “Democratization Federation” that opposed communist party influence in Japanese unions), that favored labor-capital collaboration, and many of it's locals , when Productivity Campaigns were enacted by management, refused to go on strike despite instructions from union headquarters.
The Doro after all had its origin in a rightward split from the existing Kokuro (National Railway Workers' Union, 国労) , railroad industrial union, standing in opposition to the 1951 modernization and standardization of special benefits for engineers (which were far above other workplace positions), and favoring the establishment of salaries according to craft. At the time the union presented itself as a Locomotive Worker's Union (機労, the Kirou), however in 1959 they changed their name to the Douryokusha Rodou Kumiai (Doro動労 , National Railway Motive Power Union, 動力車労働組合) in response to the modernization of train technology, and affiliated to the then national trade union center, Sohyo.
What caused District Chiba of Doro to transform into a fighting labor union was both the appearance of young workers who were pushing the union towards a class-conscious movement orientation, and an outbreak of serious train accident and safety incidents. In particular, successive railway accidents on the Jouban Line at Mikawashima, and the Keihin-Tohoku Line (at Tsurumi station) which happened in May 1962 and November 1963 respectively, hold a significant meaning considering the history of the Doro . The Mikawashima accident left 160 dead, and the Tsurumi accident killed 161. These were devastating accidents in which the trains derailed and plunged into other nearby trains. Without any safety measures in place at all, the JNR were stacking more and more trains on the schedule to keep up with the great wave of economic growth, and the strains enforced by massive railroad cost rationalization became the trigger for these accidents.
It's not hard to imagine how shocking these incidents were to workers staffing the commuter and freight trains at the time. The question of how to confront this shocking reality was debated with great fury. It was in these circumstances that the workers began a campaign to demand rail safety.
However, when accidents occurred, the JNR set up accident prevention committees in response, whose base-line assumptions were that there were “no labor-management disputes around the problem of rail accidents.” Worker representatives would attend the committees, but not under the premise of workplace struggle; instead matters would be resolved by integrating them into a worker/management collaboration framework for accident prevention. Amid a society-level media denunciation campaign to blame the loss of dozens of lives on the errors of the train drivers, there was also the prevailing mood that it would be impossible to position these accidents as a front-line issue for the labor movement. However in the workplace, where accidents were the most serious and sensitive topic for those on the rails, there was a constant unvoiced fury among the workers: “Isn't this the result of cost rationalization? Don't try to pin the responsibility on the drivers!” “Tomorrow the target will be on us.” Despite the wide gulf between the feelings of railway workers and the positions of their unions on the topic of accidents, they were told that to accept “the unfortunate reality”.
At the next national convention of the Doro (the Aomori Convention), held after the Mikawashima accident, the union's membership furiously refused to ratify a labor-management agreement that had provided for the establishment of an Accident Prevention Committees, and the aftermath of this confrontation resulted in every member of the executive board resigning their posts. The Doro withdrew from the Accident Prevention Committee and management-labor relation became sharpened. However, the union soon found itself losing steam. They were not able to formulate a direction for future struggles. For instance, during the trial of a rail engineer who was sued for professional negligence around the accident, the lawyer that the JNR had appointed, along with the Doro's own counsel, were only able to beg the court that extenuating circumstances be taken into account in the case. This replay of defeatist defense strategies used in previous rail accidents resulted in the trial being concluded with only one resolution against the JNR: that the company had to perform maintenance on its Automatic Train Stop (ATS) infrastructure.
There Was a Way Skipping a bit to the future, we can see that these scenes of membership protest occurred many times in the Japanese railway worker movement. Take for instance, the 1986 Kokuro Convention at Shuzenji, held months before the division and privatization of the JNR. The “great compromise” that the leadership of the Kokuro had proposed at the convention was met with outraged opposition by delegates and was rejected during voting, again resulting in the en-masse resignation of the executive board. A new executive was elected, but it was unable to define a new direction for the union, a situation which resulted in rank-and-file members leaving the union on a scale of 10,000 to 20,000 a month.
The same thing happened in the year 2000. In discussions around the fate of 1,047 workers fired from the JNR and refused re-employment in the JR after privatization, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) told Kokuro executives that the union would have to affirm at a convention that the JR Company has “no legal responsibility” for their dismissal, an order the union executives accepted and attempted to pass at the next interim convention. Upon hearing this unprecedented proposal, the affected workers and their families confronted the leadership with outrage: “who are you to make decisions about our lives!”, which resulted in the podium being occupied and the convention dissolved. These workers and their families would go on to organize a “Fighting Tosodan” (闘う闘争団) and push forward their cause independently, however they also were unable to define a direction that could surpass the Kokuro's line which resolved that “the only solution is to ask for a humane resolution from the government.”
What we can see here is first: the reality that, from the problems around accidents and rationalization, to mass firings, or state-organized offensives like the division and privatization of the JNR, the Japanese workers' movement up until this point has only been able to passively respond to issues as they arise, and second: while it was relatively easy to raise one's voice as an opposition faction, creating an independent movement that could stand on its own was much more challenging.
Despite that, it is clear how much outrage there was in the workplace, and that the rank and file were demanding a direction for fighting back. There is no reason that this outrage couldn't be organized, and transformed into the power of workers' themselves. When stand-offs and confrontations around a struggle's direction arise during practical decision-making, bringing these positions into an organization-wide discussion, and building that discussion into practical activity can develop the energy to change the power relationship with capital. Above all, this process strengthens union members and builds their unity. Doro-Chiba's struggles are a rare example of this process succeeding.
50,000 Personnel Cut One more turning point came for the national railway worker movement in the period between 1967 and 1969 when the JNR enacted the 50,000 Personnel Cut Program and implemented a Productivity Campaign that became known as the “Marusei” offensive. Even while the memories of the Mikawashima and Tsurumi accidents were still fresh in mind, the JNR authorities were moving forward with a proposal to dismiss 50,000 employees in the name of the “reconstruction of the JNR”. Of those 50,000, more than 10,000 came from the elimination of the engineer's assistant position, most of these positions being occupied by union members of Doro, chiefly its youth section. The campaign against this offensive would result in eight or nine strike waves, and became the most intense struggle against rationalization in Japanese railway labor history. However, unable to find effective methods to fight back against offensives pushed in the name of modernization, the struggle ended in defeat.
The debate around safety carried on, with inevitable confrontations against the outcomes of rationalization, however internal debate mostly resulted in opening investigative commissions inside unions, with academics in tow, who would appeal to the public about safety risk of one-man-crew trains. This pattern in which workers would fall into formalized ways of thinking, alien to their workplace struggle, would often play out when struggles met dead-ends. It was during this process that the anti-rationalization struggle met a significant barrier and lost momentum.
Looking back, what was really needed during this period was the organization of a struggle that wouldn't compromise, one that could harness the collected power of the union's membership to position the horrifying reality of the Mikawashima and Tsurumi accidents as the most critical point of struggle for the labor union. Had that happened, the union could have avoided a situation where they publicly stood for “absolute opposition to rationalization”, but in actuality were pinned into solely passive responses to capital's offensive.
The Marusei Struggle The 1969 accession of Satoshi Isozaki, who had previously been responsible for the firings of more than 100,000 railway workers with the implementation of the Act on Limitation on Numbers of Personnel (定員法), to president of the Japanese National Railways, set off a chain of events that would result in what became known as the “Marusei Struggle”. Taking advantage of the weakness of unions in the period directly after 50,000 personnel cut via rationalization, the company opened an intense union busting offensive. This attack was led by workplace management and took the form of “educating” = engineering the belief among workers that “socialism and communism are wrong”, and that “the true purpose of a labor union is to work together with management in opposing communism and raising productivity””. This brainwashing resulted in many workers breaking with the Kokuro and the Doro and taking independent action, taking what was referred to at the time as the “Marusei”, a red stamp affixed to documents that verified increases in productivity, as their symbol of opposition. At the time, unfair labor practices were running rampant in these workplaces, causing many workers to leave their jobs and forcing both the Kokuro and Doro into serious crisis. However, at the 1971 national convention of the Kokuro, President Nakagawa's declaration that it would be better to “fight back than sit down and wait to die” became the turning point of a counter-attack against these Productivity Campaign offensives, which eventually overturned them. The motive force for this movement came from the widespread activity of young workers in the workplace and the streets, which I will now describe.
Appearance of the Young Workers Within this turbulent period, young workers who demanded reforms at their regional union headquarters and opposed the unchallenged domination of existing unions began to appear and take leadership power in their workplaces, even in Chiba. Hiroshi Nakano, who would later go on to become the Doro-Chiba President, worked at the time in the Chiba diesel engineers' depot, and the Shin-koiwa engineers' depot became a base for the union's Youth Section (青年部). These young workers, with Hiroshi Nakano leading them, waged a powerful struggle in their depots to break the autocratic domination of their managers, and for the democratization of unions. This effort captured the attention of other young workers, strengthening the unity of the youth organization and boosting its membership.
In the background of these events were two major milestones: the formation of the Anti-war Youth Committee in 1965, which encouraged young workers and students to become a motive force of history and stand up in the workplace and in the streets, and the fever pitch of the 1970 AMPO/Okinawa struggles.
In 1968, Shin-koiwa Local Youth Section President Makoto Takiguchi was arrested on trumped-up charges and fired from the JNR. This triggered the beginning of the “Marusei” offensives in Chiba. President Takiguchi's dismissal came due to drinking a beer before his sleep break on an overnight shift, a practice that was widespread among engineers at the time. However, the parent Chiba District executive board refused to recognize that he was being targeted, and declined to use union resources to fight on his behalf. Despite that, this dismissal went on to become a turning point that started a real struggle for reform of the Chiba District; “If the local won't do it, then we will.” Hiroshi Nakano took the lead and established a group “Takiguchi Defense Committee” (滝口君を守る会), which was eventually joined by almost all of the union's membership. Their organization also won at court and succeeded in getting the dismissal rescinded.
During the 1969 spring labor offensive, while other locals refused to strike, the Chiba diesel locomotive local fought the strike through to the end, including defending the local's workplace against an assault by the riot police, who attempted to enter the workplace by force. The Chiba District was helpless; in reality the shop floor workers had taken complete responsibility over their actions and were operating independently. Already at that point it was clear that the right-wing Mindo faction in power at the executive board of the Chiba District had lost all authority and leadership.
Problems with the Youth Organization However, during the same period, a new problem arose. This was an organization-busting attack by the Kanto Area Youth Section (関東地評青年部) and the national Youth Section headquarters (本部青年部) against the Chiba District's Youth Section . The Kakumaru faction (革マル派)* had infiltrated the Doro, and taken power in both of these youth organizations. Elsewhere, the organization had joined the side of the state, attacking social struggles at the height of the 1970 AMPO/Okinawan struggle, and at the same time worked to undermine attempts to organize militant struggles at the workplace like those of the Youth Section of Chiba District. With their bizarre pocket theory of “organizational realism”, the Kakumaru faction sought to remove anyone and anything alien to their line, and eventually take complete power of the Doro by any means necessary, including at times working with the authorities.
*Later, Kakumaru's top leader Akira Matsuzaki made a display of cozy relationship with the most reationary and reactionary forces including the Federation for the Victory over Communism established by Moon Sun Myung of the Unification Church.
These conflicts began with a beating in 1970. Later referred to as the Minakami Incident (水上事件), this was the beating of members of the Chiba District's Youth Section by leaders and members of the Kanto Area Youth Section at a three-day kick-off rally for the Kanto Area Spring Labor Offensive. After this incident, terrorism and assaults occurred regularly at each meeting and rally of the Youth Section, and escalated in intensity. Despite repeated entreaties to prevent these attacks, local headquarters simply looked the other way.
The Chiba District Youth Section strongly protested this state of affairs, leading them to boycott organization activity. This produced an absurd situation in which the Doro headquarters called for the dissolution of the Chiba District Youth Section for failure to comply with organizational mandates. Headquarters then took the step of eliminating the union membership credentials of the six standing Chiba District Youth Section members, and establishing a board of inquiry. The Chiba District was issued orders that it must comply with the directives of national headquarters and liquidate its youth section.
In March 1972, while this conflict with Headquarters was developing, a massive rear-end collision accident occurred at Funabashi station, demolishing a train full of commuters. It was the struggle around this accident that, even today, serves as an unshakable pillar of unity for the shop floor of Doro-Chiba, and I would like to touch on it in this next section.
The Beginning of the Sekigawa/Nakano Administration The Doro Chiba District executive board accepted the demands of national headquarters and called an emergency convention in January, 1973. However the delegates that assembled instead raised a resolution demanding the withdrawal of the “organizational direction” issued by national headquarters against the Chiba District Youth Section, with the overwhelming support of 45 to 14. After this vote, the District's executive board had no choice but to announce their resignation and the convention was dissolved. Subsequently, supplementary conventions were held in February, March and June. At each convention, national headquarters staff would arrive to give “organizational direction”, prompting fierce and uncompromising debate. However, the membership did not bow to these mandates by headquarters, and each supplementary convention was concluded with an effort to “clarify the beliefs of all union members at the next regular convention.”
This was the beginning of a bitter struggle to give birth to something new. As the District union had refused the organizational direction of national headquarters to their faces, no one knew what would happen next. No one was prepared for this eventuality; it was not easy to elect a new executive board. Then came the regular convention of September of 1973 where, after the convention went over the allotted time and had to be continued outside the convention hall, newly elected President Susumu Sekigawa and Secretary Hiroshi Nakano, along with the Chiba diesel engineers' depot local executive board, led the decision to take hold over the local's Executive Board and create a reborn Doro Chiba District.
At that time, the Doro Chiba District had a membership of 1,400 people. In the subsequent years as it redefined itself as a fighting labor union, the District's mettle would be tempered and strengthened in the process of standing up for itself, and engaging as an organization in the debate around what a labor union should be, specifically by organizing concrete struggles, encouraging each member to think seriously about its direction, and confronting vicious efforts to destroy its organization by Doro national headquarters and the right-wing remnants of the original District's Executive Board. It was because that process of serious debate had been undertaken across the entire local that the executive board was able to take responsibility and establish a new direction with the membership.
Here was an important evolution which would eventually overturn the existing common sense about Japanese labor unions, something completely different from the Doro's Aomori convention after the Mikawashima accident. Doro Chiba District had on its side the conviction that the struggle of union members in the workplace would, no matter how small, be the deciding factor in establishing the union's direction.
Establishment of a Line of Anti-rationalization and Rail Safety Struggle
More than 500 Injured In the process of Doro-Chiba transforming itself into a fighting union, there was a struggle that had decisive significance. This was the struggle around the Funabashi accident that occurred in the previous year (1972). On March 28th, at 7 a.m. in the morning, one train rear-ended another in an area on the Sobu Kankou Line nearby Funabashi station, resulting in a severe accident. Somehow none were killed, however over 500 people were injured in the sprawling collision. The driver of the train in question, Masahiro Takaishi, was arrested at the accident scene.
The Chiba District as well as the national headquarters of Doro were directionless in the face of this tragedy, claiming that “with 500 injured, there is no way to quickly put together a struggle”, and that a struggle around the accident “would do nothing to help the driver”. However, on the shop floor, everyone felt that “this accident could have happened to any of us”, “tomorrow I'll be the one targeted”. With no outlet, the frustration of workers on the shop floor grew.
It was at that point that the first powerful industrial action around rail accidents began, with rank and file membership directly confronting the District's officials. They pushed their way into the police station and took back the arrested driver. Since there was the Council of the Public Corporation and Government Workers Unions solidarity strike planned on April 27th, the railway workers entered into a work-to-rule struggle for 25 days starting April 3rd, and their combined efforts brought the Sobu Line's schedule to a jittery trudge.
The rail workers spoke clearly: “All responsibility for this accident lies with the JNR. Don't let them foist their guilt onto the driver.” “Accidents are the most essential point of struggle in the fight against rationalization.” In the grim aftermath of Funabashi, these workers' entry into an uncompromising struggle by means of strikes was without precedent. This was a fundamental criticism of the official and traditional union's line at the time: their use of Accident Prevention Committees, and entreaties at court to recognize the “extenuating circumstances of the driver” and the view that rail accident is no concern of labor movement. These criticisms became a significant turning point in thinking and action.
Subsequently, former Doro-Chiba President Hiroshi Nakano described the change in consciousness as follows: “I had long been thinking whether we could surpass the limits of the existing anti-rationalization struggle, but when this accident occurred; I thought “this has to be it!” “With the accident crisis, we see the contradictions inherent in rationalization appear in their most concentrated form. At the same time this is the weakest point of the JNR, the company's Achilles heel.” “If we fought to expose this point, we would be able to overturn the logic of the existing anti-rationalization campaign, and turn it into an anti-rationalization struggle that goes on the attack.” The work-to-rule struggle around the Funabashi accident became a struggle to push through the dead-end and isolation of the anti-rationalization movement in the wake of Mikawashima and the 50,000 Personnel Cut Program.
In particular, it was quite important that the union rank and file had taken the initiative to enter into a long-term work-to-rule action directly after the accident occurred. This was a struggle to show not only the JNR management, but also society as a whole, the powerful will of the workers. It was also waged while dozens of accident survivors were interned at a hospital near the site of the accident. Their struggle in these circumstances showed the broader Japanese society that they were serious.
The work-to-rule action was also something that could never have happened without the strong will of activists and union members on the shop floor, and its enactment reflected the commitment of the membership. In other words, the tactics of struggle were tied to the deep outrage that the membership felt, and reflected their commitment to the struggle and its social meaning; the Chiba District was able to fully take on board the feelings of the membership and launch into an explosive struggle: “For us, accidents are the biggest problem that we have to confront,” “This is the fight I was waiting for”. The previously suppressed feelings of the rank and file were channeled through the struggle, and became clear to all involved.
A New Anti-Rationalization Struggle Anti-rationalization struggles up until this point had been focused on opposing offensives proposed at collective bargaining by capital such as firings, worsened work conditions etc. In that sense, capital already had the groundwork laid down upon which it could execute. Demands were typically kept to realistic negotiations, for instance to reduce the amount of proposed redundancies by one or two workers, demand a shortening in work hours in exchange for accepting workplace rationalization, etc.; all of the trade-offs were written off as “unfortunate, but inevitable.”
Unions existed simply to raise a voice of opposition to finalized “rationalization proposals”, offensives enabled by processes entirely within the jurisdiction of capital and completely beyond the power of labor unions. Additionally, since labor unions were not allowed to go beyond the territory of defensive opposition to capital offensives (management “proposals”), specific topics around the railroad industry such as train driving, train inspection/repair, maintenance of track, , stations etc. were all sectioned off and negotiated separately according to occupation and timing, leading to a situation in which unions would be picked off one by one without any knowledge of what was happening to other workplaces or workers in other crafts. Ultimately, every move was based on passive reaction.
However, by positioning the accident issue at the forefront of labor union's essential tasks, the Chiba District of Doro was able to overturn that relationship. This was also a process of the rank and file finding pride and responsibility in their struggle and labor, and using that to strengthen their unity. In taking on the duty to protect any union member who had caused a rail accident, the classic and fundamental union slogan of “all for one and one for all” became more than a slogan, and came to life among the membership.
As the Chiba District began to emerge as a fighting union over this year, there was a real confidence in the struggle around the Funabashi accident. It was for this reason that the newly-elected executive board of Chiba District immediately opened a new struggle to further develop the line of anti-rationalization and for rail safety.
The new line of struggle proved its validity in the struggle to demand the improvement of the conditions of railroad tracks as a typical example. The early 1970s was a period of great economic growth, and Chiba prefecture's population was rapidly increasing. Accordingly, the number of trains put into operation was also increasing; however the required infrastructure, equipment and rail tracks were not keeping up. As tracks and other infrastructure fell into disrepair around them, Chiba District mobilized its membership to perform checks on all tracks, not only to demand improvements to the JNR, but also to independently assess areas of the tracks that were found to be dangerously under-maintained, and instruct the membership to slow down rail speeds in these areas. This resulted in thousands of minutes of delays piling up on commuter train schedules at Chiba Railway Management's headquarters. When the next revision of the train schedule came around, the union demanded that these delays be built into the schedule until definite improvements could be made to railway tracks. The District executive at that time described this struggle as the “transition from a defensive to an offensive anti-rationalization struggle”. This was new dimension in the fight against rationalization.
Struggle Around the Amagasaki Accident From that point, the anti-rationalization and rail safety struggle was successively waged. Perhaps the most representative example of this in later years was the union's denunciation campaign around the rail fracturing after the Amagasaki accident (a derailment that occurred on the JR West Company Fukuchiyama Line between Kobe and Osaka) in 2005.
The Amagasaki accident claimed 107 lives—106 passengers and the driver—and was the most severe incident on the Japanese railways since the Mikawashima and Tsurumi accidents. The same year, JR West (the division of the JR in charge of the Kansai and Chugoku Regions) had put forth the motto of “Let's make some money!” and implemented labor policies which did not permit a minute's delay on train schedules, took employees who couldn't meet schedules off their schedules with “day shift education” programs, and emotionally intimidated them. The driver who caused this accident was someone who had experienced these attacks. On the day of the accident, he had slightly overshot his station stop position and called the conductor and asked not to report the incident to the superiors. In order to make up the time lost at the previous station, he wound up pushing the train past its recommended speed limit. Unable to make it around the curve, the train derailed, colliding with an apartment complex next to the tracks, an impact so powerful that it resulted in the train being crushed to the point of becoming nearly flat.
Everyone was able to point out the issues lurking behind the Amagasaki accident. However, the only union that stood up to struggle was Doro-Chiba. It was just at this time that JR East (in charge of the Kanto, Shin-etsu and Tohoku Regions of Japan) had entered its fifth year of large-scale delays to regular rail inspections, after eliminating whole swaths of maintenance of track sections, and outsourcing existing railway work to subcontractors, producing an exceptional situation in which railroad tracks in the Chiba region were frequently breaking. Doro-Chiba had problematized these issues before the Amagasaki accident occurred, and ordered a speed-down for areas identified as risky, however it was this accident that prompted the launch of a struggle of safe driving (slow-down as union's action) . This was a struggle launched with the knowledge that their efforts would be labeled “illegal” in the aftermath of rail privatization, and that members of the union may be personally targeted.
Predictably, the JR East Company took an exceptionally adversarial stance towards the campaign of denunciation and attempted to crush their efforts. They quickly labeled the union's campaign as an “illegal dispute”, calling thousands of managers to the company's Chiba headquarters to organize a retaliatory campaign which involved dispatching three attendants with check sheets and clocks on every driver's cabin that Doro-Chiba drivers were operating. Being constantly surveilled in the tiny driver's cabin while driving is one of the worst irritants for a driver, and while voices of frustration came from the rank and file, the union still managed to wage a 100 day campaign amid heated intimidation and punishments from management, with the force of its entire membership.
As the struggle went forward, the union did what it could to identify parts of the track that were falling apart, photograph them and publicize them on the Internet. Union members distributed flyers to passengers with pictures of locations that were visible from train stations and asked them to observe these issues for themselves. Thanks to help from the union's support organizations, there were frequent tabling and flyer distributions to make passengers aware of the campaign. As a result of this support, the union received many phone calls and emails expressing support for their efforts on a daily basis. No matter how much the JR East Company tried to hide the truth, whole workers employed on the maintenance of track section, regardless of the difference of the unions provided Doro-Chiba with detailed information about the persistent outbreak of rail breakages. This was the first time in Doro-Chiba's history of activity that it received so much support and sympathy.
These voices calling out the neglected maintenance situation drove the Chiba Branch Office of the JR East Company into a corner. Large-scale rail replacements began, and continued day after day. Eventually, the length of rails replaced reached several hundred kilometers. Doro-Chiba members in charge of freight trains which transported rails were able to confirm exactly how far their struggle had pushed the JR Company to take action.
In the midst of this struggle, a collision and derailment accident occurred on the grounds of the Makuhari Car Center. This was a serious accident in which the derailed and inclined train tore down the yard's cleaning equipment. I will not go into the details of this accident, which is already reported in the chapter 4. It is important to confirm the fact that we were able to protect the driver of the derailed train by waging a campaign from the workplace to thoroughly expose the contradictions in rationalization that caused the accident.
The first time the union had waged a strike to defend a driver was in 1989, directly after privatization was enacted, in a campaign around a collision accident that occurred in Higashi-Nakano. The ongoing struggles to stop the outsourcing of repair and maintenance of train and yard work are unmistakably a development of previous campaigns against rationalization and for operation safety. These twin struggles are pillars of Doro-Chiba's activism that will not change in the future.
The Anti-Rationalization Line The struggle against rationalization brought on by capital is the most important and essential challenge for the labor movement. That said, unfortunately it has only been waged in very inconsistent ways. Surveying the history of the post-war labor movement in Japan, there are almost no examples of anti-rationalization struggles that have been fought to the end.
Enormous debates took place around the line to be taken in the struggle against rationalization. For example, a statement that a true anti-rationalization struggle would have to merge with and develop into the overthrow of capitalism is a passage taken from the “Direction for the Anti-Rationalization Struggle” adopted at the 28th regular congress of the Kokuro in 1967. At that time, the Kakumaru faction raised a slogan “absolute opposition to rationalization” to demonstrate its theoretical superiority over other labor unions by quoting from the Capital and other sources.. The Japanese Communist Party also positioned rationalization as “a national problem” and tried to create a “social movement” while always avoiding confrontation with capital.
However, neither of these approaches had any application to rationalization offensives that were actually carried through in reality. For instance, the noble claim that a true anti-rationalization struggle would have to merge with and develop into the overthrow of capitalism immediately turned into submission by an excuse that “there is no alternative except compromise within capitalist society”. What was missing was a line that could create material, practice-based struggle gathering the anger of workers in the workplace amid the difficult conditions that exist within capital's domination, and could build solidarity and confidence for workers themselves to become protagonists for enacting social change. Abstract theorizing proved to be totally powerless and useless. Further, it was through the struggle around the Funabashi accident that Doro-Chiba was able to first establish a class-based anti-rationalization struggle which went beyond the existing limits of the workers' movement, namely: the split between the overt militant position and actual miserable deed, or passivity/compromise with capital.
A Union-busting Offensive Against the Chiba District Let us return to the problem of splitting with the Doro's existing leadership. From headquarters' point of view, it was an outrageous behavior of the Chiba District that it had refused the organizational guidance of the union headquarters and established its own executive. It was inadmissible also for the Kakumaru faction, who held a leadership of the youth section as well as the Tokyo District and held a considerable influence on Doro heaquarters. As a result, debates within the Doro began to sharpen more and more towards the dissolution of the Chiba District.
That was when a new issue arose. This was the issue around jet fuel transport to Sanrizuka (Narita) airport, which I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
1976 marked the birth of the Fukuda administration, which stated in its inaugural address at the beginning of 1977 a policy in favor of both opening of Narita Airport, and the “normalization of labor relations.”
The biggest bottleneck towards the opening of the airport was the controversy around jet fuel transport to the planned airport. The government was unable to even begin construction on a fuel shipment pipeline due to the opposition of citizens living next to the construction site of the pipeline. The government then came up with a provisional plan, instead of pipeline, to use freight cars to ship the fuel on the railway track in Chiba. This was now a problem which Chiba District had no way of avoiding a confrontation with. The union's youth section had been standing in solidarity with the Sanrizuka struggle for years, and all the workplace concerning with freight cars transport (engineers' depot of Narita and engineers' depots of Sakura, Shin-Koiwa and Soga) were 100% organized by the Chiba District. Furthermore, at the time, the importance of the Sanrizuka struggle was extremely high, as it was the strongest fortress in the struggle against state power in Japan at that time. The union had to address how to respond to this grave situation.
Beyond that, the Japanese government had declared that the opening of the airport was a national priority. It was clear that taking even a slightly vague position on the jet fuel transport could result in intense union-busting attacks at the workplace. Doro national headquarters, JNR management and the government had already joined hands to attack the Chiba District, and they were apparently preparing to drive a wedge into the membership of Chiba District by establishing a right wing company union. The offensive to dissolve the Chiba District was approaching its most critical and concentrated point.
Doro national headquarters opened its 31st interim convention in Tokyo in March of 1976, with the objective of tabling a motion for the “re-registration of the Chiba District”. “Re-registration” meant eliminating the union credentials of all of the District's members and “re-registering” only those who would take a written vow of allegiance to headquarters' policies; in other words, this was an offensive aimed at eliminating the Chiba District.
Parallel to this was the critical challenge posed by the jet fuel issue. Pressured between these two developments, had Chiba District made a poor judgment even once, it could have led to the organization's collapse.
In the Doro, the right to declare a strike was held completely in the hands of national headquarters. Even if a single District wanted to launch a campaign or industrial action around issues specific to its membership, they would need the approval of national headquarters to do so (these were known as “authorized campaigns”). This meant that if proposals to stop jet fuel transport did not go through headquarters, the union could not act on its own.
Towards Independence from Doro Headquarters It was here that the newly-elected executive of Chiba District made an important decision. They determined that there was no other way forward than to try to massively reform the Doro itself. To pitch this line to the membership, Chiba District made a dramatic appearance in the interim Doro convention with 500 members solidly organized through the heated discussion within Chiba District. On the convention secretary Nakano gave a powerful speech. “We hereby end our boycott of Youth Section activities and will return to a united action with the Doro. However, that does not mean that we withdraw what we have claimed up until this point. We are going to push our views forward in order to develop the Doro into a fighting union.” The Doro headquarters was totally taken aback by this unexpected dynamic attitude of Chiba District. Considering the fact that nearly 40% of the convention delegates had been won over to opposing “re-registration”, to make the situation favorable to Chiba District, Doro headquarters was unable to adopt the resolution for re-registration that day. This was a very important victory.
As the next step, the Chiba District tabled a special resolution in favor of the campaign to stop jet fuel shipments at the Doro's regular central committee meeting of the same year. Given the importance of the Sanrizuka struggle, even the Kakumaru faction could not openly oppose the motion, and it was adopted unanimously on the spot. The fact is that the process up until its adoption had been a continuous battle within the Doro, at times on very tenuous ground.
Proposing Four Standpoints The executive of Chiba District proposed a direction for upcoming struggles based on four “standpoints”. Not just a simple campaign of support for the Sanrizuka struggle, this struggle had to be a pro-active campaign by the whole Chiba District membership, with the full weight of the organization behind it. The first standpoint was that of solidarity between workers and farmers, solidarity with the Sanrizuka struggle, the second: for safe driving, which required opposing the shipment of dangerous jet fuel, third: a refusal of further labor intensification given that in spite of the confirmation on the earlier labor negotiations the JNR Chiba Branch Office was unable to offer a shortening of working hours due to a lack of personnel, and fourth, the resolution that the union would fight back against any attacks against its organization combined with the jet fuel shipments. These were the four standpoints proposed.
Furthermore, two things were heavily emphasized. One was the question of what should be done about the crisis in the labor movement. The government had proclaimed the “normalization of labor relations” as one of its chief policy goals, and the Sohyo at the time was unable to offer any opposition to the widespread right-wing re-alignment of the labor movement; itself in a state of slow withdrawal. Chiba District's executive described the campaign around jet fuel as a needed redefinition of the kind of struggles that the era demanded. The second was that given the continual deterioration/deviation of the Doro, it was inevitable that Chiba District would have to protect the solidarity it had managed to build among its membership during its anti-rationalization and safety campaigns.
Also in terms of action, the proposal included an executive directive to have 50% of the membership participate in the Sanrizuka local assembly, and mobilize union members for what became a long, hard-fought campaign consisting of powerful work-to-rule actions to stop training runs by engineer credentialed JNR managers who were sent to Chiba to operate jet fuel freight trains, strikes that would then prompt the Minister of Justice to swear in the Diet that he would bring criminal charges against these actions. This struggles were planned to organize total mobilization of union membership and organizational efforts were made to realize this policy.
“We are engaged in this struggle to be able to walk with pride in the bright sunshine” Just as this slogan created by the chair of the Narita Local at the time described, the struggle against jet fuel shipments not only managed to gather more support, solidarity, sympathy and praise than any of those involved had anticipated, it also greatly changed the consciousness of the membership and built important experience that gave them confidence and conviction in their activities. This was why the commitment of the membership remained steadfast over the span of this five-year struggle, even in the face of the targeted dismissal of five union members by JNR management.
To Win Over the Membership of the Entire Nation-wide Union The struggle against jet fuel shipments made everything very clear. While Chiba District was urgently organizing their struggle, freight cars with fuel shipments were being sent one after the other to Chiba, driven by managers with engineer credentials (not by the drivers belonging to Chiba District). This was something that could not happen without the approval of Doro national headquarters. Furthermore, in the regular national convention opened directly after the struggle began (the 1978 Tsuyama convention), headquarters suddenly pushed through a resolution to “ draw a line in the sand between us and the Sanrizuka struggle. We cut ourselves off.” Any of the membership who did not obey this directive would be dismissed from the organization for disobedience. While members of the Chiba District were risking their jobs to oppose the jet fuel shipments, they were being threatened internally by disciplinary measures from their parent organization. That was the reality.
On the other hand, even as the convention was opened amid cat-calling, angry confrontations, and violence that resulted in a Chiba delegate having his ribs broken, there were 124 delegates (close to a fourth of the delegates) who co-operated with Chiba District in proposing a revision to headquarters' motion. The revision stated that “learning from, showing solidarity with and fighting alongside the unbending struggle of the Sanrizuka-Shibayama Anti-Airport League is the most important task of the entire class struggle” and that the “struggle of the Doro in solidarity with Sanrizuka, which thoroughly pursued this task, was correct. The struggle of the Chiba District was by no means isolated within the Doro.
That said, at the 104th Regular Central Committee Meeting held on March 30th, 1979, Doro headquarters decided to organizationally punish the Chiba District for refusing to lower the flag of Sanrizuka struggle. In response, the Chiba District called an interim district convention on the same day. On receiving the decision by national headquarters to eliminate the union credentials of the entire District membership, the interim district convention of the Chiba District immediately transformed itself into founding convention of Doro-Chiba. Here, Doro-Chiba's establishment as an independent union was declared.
Doro-Chiba had not been sitting around with their arms folded. Since the membership was aware of headquarters' rapid deterioration in direction, the Chiba District took the initiative to contact many Districts and individual comrades in the wider range of Doro and hold meetings with them. They had agreed to put forth a motion at the 1979 National Convention to reverse the administrative punishments assigned to the Chiba District, and, were its tabling to be refused, leave the hall, change locations and announce the re-foundation of the Doro under the flag of struggle.
Ultimately that plan did not succeed. It should be noted, however, that it was because the District members started with the serious objective of winning the entire Doro union to their side that they were able to endure the attacks of headquarters to break up Doro-Chiba by financial and physical intimidation in the subsequent years, and succeed in gaining Doro-Chiba's independence. For more than a year, Doro headquarters advanced attacks on the District's organization that included buying the votes of specific delegates with cash, physically attacking, with the approval of the JNR, workplaces where the local was strong, destroying union offices, and showing up at the houses of members to threaten families that if their husbands or wives stuck to Doro-Chiba, they would wind up out of a job. Unionists would be surrounded at their driver shift destinations and “educated”. Given how much the District's membership were tempered while standing strong in the face of these attacks, the struggle to split from the Doro and for independence is possibly the most significant in the union's history. Each member of the union had to think seriously about what kind of union they were going to build, and about what Doro-Chiba meant to them.
It was only later, during the maelstrom of the division and privatization of the JNR, that Doro-Chiba's efforts to organize workers on a national basis led to comrades at Mito, Takasaki and Western Japan declaring independence and joining Doro-Chiba in a new Doro Federation in November 1986.
Doro-Chiba wound go on to wage a large-scale five-day strike in March, 1981 to oppose the resumption and extension of jet fuel shipments, which had originally been scheduled to expire after a three year period according to the Diet decision. Four unionists lost their jobs as a result of this struggle. However, it was thanks to the experiences earned at that point that the union was later able to stand up against the division and privatization of the JNR and to carry it through. In actuality, the government initiative to divide and privatize the nationalized rail system was already in motion unbeknownst to all at this point.
Similar to the struggle around the Funabashi accident, the union's experience in the struggle against jet fuel shipments helped Doro-Chiba learn how to build powerful worker's solidarity in outright confrontation with what is occurring in society at the time.
Problems We Confront Now Doro-Chiba staged two strike waves against the Division and Privatization of the JNR. For 30 years since then, we have been carrying on the same fight, with the message that the Division and Privatization of the JNR is not a problem belonging to the distant past: it's still an urgent issue for today.
There are no other examples in the Japanese labor movement of a union that stood in the face of full-scale state repression and maintained its organization without organizational splitting. There are also no examples of organizations that have fought this long struggle without compromising with their employers. Given that, we must re-examine the meaning of these struggles. Without this re-examination the Japanese labor movement will be unable to reclaim the power it once had .
36 years have already passed since the establishment of the Second Ad Hoc Commission for Administrative Reform.2 In other words, half of the history of the post-war Japanese labor movement has been in some way defined by, and cannot be discussed without an account of, the struggle against the Division and Privatization of the JNR. It is not just the labor movement. Japanese society as a whole has been defined by the fundamental change of social structure and social power relationships that arose from the JNR's privatization.
The problems of precarious employment, economic disparity, poverty, the post-war labor law in jeopardy, the collapse of the social security system, medicine and education, the abandonment of rural society, attempts by the government to revise the constitution and to wage war, and the appearance of nationalism and anti-foreigner movements are all defined by this historical turning point; that proves the significant position of the Division and Privatization of the JNR in post-war Japanese history.
What then was the Division and Privatization of JNR? I would like to assess its class character here.
First, it was the largest-scale attack of union busting and a massive firing offensive on the post-war Japanese labor movement ever enacted, against the background of a capitalist crisis without exit. A total of 401,400 JNR workers in 1981, when the offensive began, were reduced to 205,600 employees in 1987 when the Division and Privatization was implemented. In just six years, 200,000 railway workers were expelled out of their workplaces. In the same period, the Kokuro (National Railway Workers Union) , which was the strongest and most influential affiliate of the then national trade union center, Sohyo, was reduced from a membership of 244,800 to 40,400. More than 200,000 members either left the union, or quit their jobs amid the aggressive anti-union offensive. These attacks were the tip of the spear for the introduction of neo-liberalism in Japan, and at the same time its most exemplary and violent implementation. The executive leadership of the Japanese labor movement was scared and collapsed like an avalanche in the face of this reality, resulting in the voluntary dissolution of the Sohyo.
Second, it was the JNR Reform Act that enabled the Division and Privatization. This act refused to maintain JNR workers employment in the newly privatized JR (Japan Railway) Companies; instead it stipulated that the JR Companies newly hire recruits from the existing pool of JNR employees. “New recruits” meant that the JR had the freedom to decide who to hire. In this way, the freedom to fire in the JNR was legalized. This law would go on to enable rampant unfair labor practices, and yet none of the legal responsibility would fall on the JR Companies. The JNR, scheduled for annulment, held all responsibility. This act was a state-level normalization of unfair labor practices, one aimed at breaking the established base of the labor movement. Workers experiencing the offensive doubted what they were seeing: “Can they really do that?” However, not only were these changes, that is de fact legalization of unfair labor practice, implemented with brute force throughout the JNR, they would later be referred to as the “JNR method” and utilized as critical methodology for future privatization offensives.
Additionally, among the forces that actually enabled these offensives were the Kakumaru faction which usurped the Doro leadership. This organization claimed that “union jobs have to be protected”, and shifted into a pro-JNR privatization line, creating a “Labor Cooperative for Reform of the JNR” , issuing a declaration in favor of collaboration with management, exiting the Sohyo and leading attacks on the Kokuro. They declared “not to allow transfers to the new enterprise any who obstruct these reforms.”
Third, the Division and Privatization of the JNR did not stop with the expansion of privatization to wider Japanese society. It was an offensive aimed at the reactionary overthrow of the “post-war democratic” system of the state. Prime Minister Nakasone forced through JNR privatization with the call for a “final liquidation of post-war politics” and carried out the Division and Privatization of the JNR under the slogan of a “quiet revolution.” Afterwards, he would publicly state that: “I made a conscious decision to break the Kokuro, which would lead to collapse of the Sohyo and then the Socialist Party”, with the “goal of tidying up the ante-chamber, a tatami room, for the installation of a splendid constitution in the alter”, goals that are now becoming reality.
Fourth, given that this offensive led to an unparalleled situation in Japan, one which included the self-imposed collapse of the national trade union center, it would not be an exaggeration to state that the privatization of the JNR was the most intense and thoroughly implemented neo-liberal attack on an international level.
Fifth, later to be described as “globalization”, similar attacks with the aim of increasing exploitation and plundering has drawn even the far corners of the world into the principles of competition, provoking large-scale workers' rebellions. This was a historical situation wherein the international conditions of class struggle were being rewritten.
Sixth, the class confrontation waged by Korean workers, which began with the Great Workers' Struggle in 1987, must be expressly mentioned. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) was born amidst this movement, which has formed the vanguard of workers around the world fighting against neo-liberalism. 30 years later, this has not changed. The Korean struggle is moving forward stronger than ever. In that sense, it was a “chance, yet inevitable encounter” that Doro-Chiba would later join hands with the KCTU in their fight, and continually learn important lessons from them.
The Division and Privatization of the JNR was an offensive enacted with the structural characteristics I have described above.
Polarization Within the Labor Movement Faced with this offensive, a large-scale polarization occurred around the direction of the labor movement, particularly the following points.
First, the Left Mindo (left wing among Democratization League = left wing social democrats) labor movement, which had formed the mainstream of the post-war Japanese labor movement, was thrown into a process of collapse in its essence. The most representative example of this collapse was the miserable state of the Kokuro, which was unable to enact even one effective opposition campaign against the attack in its retreat.
Second, the policy taken by the leadership of Doro under the hegemony of Kakumaru. Judging that middle-of-the-road policies would no longer valid for their survival, the leadership of Doro, led by Kakumaru degenerated to the point of using any dirty tactic, playing an active role of agent in carrying out mass dismissal of railway workers or in organizational disruption of the Sohyo, in order to jump into the lap of state power and maintain their organization.
In contrast, Doro-Chiba chose to fight the privatization offensive head-on.
The question of whether organizations were able to see the essential character of the JNR privatization was a fork in the road. The Kokuro held that “the LDP would by no means hand over to private enterprises the control over the Japanese National Railways, which it had regarded as a part of its property. The privatization bill is just a threat, and we should keep our heads down for a bit during the dispute is raging.” On the contrary, we saw from an early stage that the privatization was set to be a historical benchmark attack against working class, something qualitatively different from capital offensives until that point and launched an intense discussion over this issue among the membership. What enabled us to reach this conclusion was the process of emerging as a fighting Chiba District and separating organizationally and declaring independence from Doro headquarters, a struggle that we organized with our own judgment and our own decisions. It was thanks to our everyday campaigns, and our efforts to address the numerous issues that emerged within them, while building solidarity among our membership, that we were able to grasp the true character of the privatization offensive. Our confidence that our organization's solidarity would not break over trivial, everyday issues gave us a base to stand on, which in turn allowed us assess the magnitude of the attack on the horizon. Practice and consciousness are two sides of the same coin.
The fact that Doro-Chiba was able to fight against privatization, while the Kokuro was not, I believe, is largely owed to the experience and strategy of mobilizing our union in the period after the struggle against the Productivity Movement. For the Kokuro, they had mostly never consciously confronted the question of what a union should be, and therefore could not build everyday decisions into actual struggle, that could harness the power of their membership, and build their experience to tackle the actual issues they faced.
During this period, while the JNR had announced the “normalization of labor-management relations”, there were instances where punishment against strikes were announced but not actually implemented by management. After workers had smashed the Productivity Movement, a situation arose in which labor unions had complete control over workplace. Some argued that the labor-management consultation system in workplace was in fact the highest achievement of the anti-rationalization campaign. However, the agreement on setting-up of this workplace consultation system was in fact nothing more than a formal organizational recognition on the paper with no actual substantial contribution to the struggle against rationalization. It became instantly clear that this was the case, and that this system held no water at all, when the Division and Privatization of the JNR began.
If one compared the experience of Kokuro headquarters and Doro-Chiba within this process, the gap was as wide as could be. The strategy for building a movement and its viewpoint within existing unions (including but not limited to the Kokuro) was completely different from Doro-Chiba's. It was these subjective conditions that produced a significant difference when the JNR privatization confronted the unions head-on.
Protecting Solidarity It was not, however, an easy matter for Doro-Chiba to find ways to preserve the solidarity of its membership as the state attacked labor unions by its stormy all-out onslaught of the privatization offensive.
In order to reduce the JNR's labor force of 400,000 people down to just 200,000 prior to privatization, the JNR made job cuts of tens of thousands of workers, starting with train schedule reorganizations in 1983, creating “surplus staff” (redundant) in the workplace. Like a raging rain, large-scale media campaigns which branded JNR employees as enemies of the state and management offensives to enforce “workplace discipline” battered the railroad workplaces. It was not easy to find ways to fight back against attacks like these in such an environment. During these years, while Doro-Chiba organized discussions and maintained unity in principle around the meaning of the privatization offensive, while dealing with daily attacks in the workplace, it took a long period of uphill battles to make up our mind and find out how exactly to fight back.
Going on the offensive in these conditions meant accepting the risk of dozens of firings. Could the organization withstand that? Where would it be most effective to organize struggles? If Doro-Chiba opened a new initiative or campaign, how much influence could it command? What sort of goals should be placed for campaigns? What impact could arise if the organization avoided struggling? If Doro-Chiba decided to fight, the organization could not accept an outcome where it wound up splitting and losing many members. How could the union fight back while strengthening its internal unity?
An answer to any of these questions cannot be reached by theorizing alone. Above all, the confidence that the membership had built in their own solidarity was the most important influence on the decision to fight back.
It was the final report of the Committee to Rebuild the JNR on July 26th, 1985, which steeled the Doro-Chiba executive committee's resolve to stand up against privatization. One month before this report, Prime Minister Nakasone had dismissed the president of the JNR with a single missive because of his indecisive attitude. It made the matter clear for us that there was no other road forward besides preserving worker unity and fighting to the end. This was evident because as for the numbers, one in three JNR employees were slated to be fired. It was apparent that if Doro-Chiba didn't organize with a clear direction for their struggle, no matter its strength, the organization could collapse among questions of who would survive the firings and who wouldn't. Engineers would have to keep their hands on the controls and conduct their trains even while filled with unease about whether they could lose their job. If the Doro-Chiba membership weren't able to unify around the aims of the struggle, a serious accident could have occurred simply by stress and nerves alone.
That said, while most of the membership was unnerved by the firing offensive, they were filled with outrage and resolved to risk their jobs if necessary to oppose privatization.
At the union's 10th convention in September of 1985, the call to struggle rang out. Three goals were set out for the campaign to oppose privatization. First, to expose everything about the true nature of the division and privatization agenda that the government was advancing, information that was hidden from the public due to the lack of a visible counter-attack by JNR workers. Second, to lead decisive strikes that could spark a rebellion in the larger body of JNR workers. Third, to lead strikes against privatization and reverse the power relationships of the time, where JNR workers were subjected to insults and ruthlessly bashed in the media.
Two Strike Waves Once the decision to fight back against privatization had been made, the union had to push forward without fear, holding the conviction that “as long as our unity holds, new possibilities will arise in the struggle”. Doro-Chiba organized regional rallies and local conventions which invited family members of the union's membership. Here, activists gave heartfelt speeches that explained everything about why they had to fight back against privatization, and engaged in earnest discussion with their families, who in turn gave the union their trust. Serious and earnest discussion was held: “When we strike, many people will probably be fired. At the very least, we should be prepared for the dismissal of main local union leaders. That said, if we don't fight back, one out of three of JNR workers are going to be fired anyways. If the union doesn't put out a clear direction and organize around it, we could wind up in bitter feuds with other members and their families we know and whom we've worked alongside for years. If that happened, unity would be out the window. No matter how bad it gets, let's choose the road of struggle.”
Doro-Chiba also brought requests to support the struggle to other unions and organizations. The slogan “as long as our unity holds, new possibilities will arise in the struggle” was not just a motivational phrase. Given the impact of the coming offensive, Doro-Chiba was resolved to, and began concrete organizational work to spread the movement against the JNR's privatization nation-wide to the mass of railway industry workers, with the conviction that even if ultimately many workers were fired, they could be protected by massive industrial action.
This is why we launched the first strike wave against privatization in November, 1985; with absolute confidence that Doro-Chiba's solidarity would not be shaken no matter what reactionary measures came.
Immediately, the JNR came out with repression. 20 workers were fired, Doro-Chiba was fined 36 million yen in damages, and JR management transferred some of operations under Chiba Branch Office's jurisdiction to other jurisdictions in order to turn our members to “surplus employees”. This was by all means an attack with the aim of destroying Doro-Chiba. Despite it, the organization's unity was not shaken.
At the same time, Doro-Chiba was confronted with the question of whether a strike campaign could again be waged, this time against the punishment edicts from management. To set the stage for the following year's division and privatization, throughout 1986, management put intense union-busting and “selective employment ” offensives into play with unprecedented intensity .
In January, the Doro and other unions issued a joint labor/management declaration that expressed open support for privatization, and announced organizational penalties against Doro-Chiba's first strike wave. In February, eight related pieces of legislation tied to the JNR Reform Act were passed in the Diet, and JNR management issued orders to draw up documents for selective dismissal or re-employment in regard to the entire workforce. In March, a final revision of the national train schedule was enacted, which resulted in the firings of tens of thousands of workers, and in July, JNR management set up 1,010 “Personnel Utilization Centers” across the country, which were in fact isolate internment camp for unionists and activists.
Doro-Chiba refused to be swallowed up and disoriented by this offensive. After the first strike wave, national media finally began broadcasting actual stories about the unrestrained violations of labor practices undergirding the JNR's division and privatization. Doro-Chiba was also able to continue its control of train driver workplaces in Chiba despite the wave of reaction, while many colleagues in the Kokuro refused to scab and began to rally around Doro-Chiba within the strike wave. Without these efforts to push the movement in the workplaces forward, the significance of the first strike would have been largely lost.
In the interest of keeping the momentum up, we decided to begin a second strike wave, starting with a non-compliance and work-to-rule struggle (including slow-down) to protest unjust dismissals of union members as response to the first strike wave, as well a struggle to prevent training for the job transfer by management. Given that we were already in a situation where 20 unionists had been fired, launching a second strike wave was a difficult decision to make; however the determination of the membership was unbending.
Accomplishments in the Struggle By the end of the second strike wave, while 28 workers had been fired by management via the application of the Public Corporation Labor Relations Law and another 12 were effectively fired by being refused re-employment at the JR, Doro-Chiba was able to secure working places in the JR for its membership by maintaining its unity amid the industrial actions. This was the most significant accomplishment won by the second strike wave.
The second accomplishment was that this second strike wave was able to serve as a last line of defense to prevent the Kokuro from collapsing. During the Kokuro's October, 1986 convention in Shuzenji , the anger of delegates opposing privatization boiled over and the “bold compromise” with management that had been proposed in the July regular convention was rejected, resulting in the resignation of the entire executive board. This major blow to the compromising Kokuro leadership was clearly a great accomplishment that resulted from the second strike wave.
The third was that our tiny struggle contributed to the birth of the 1,047 Fired Workers' struggle (the largest post-war labor dispute). The struggle to reinstate these workers would be carried on uncompromisingly within the new JR Company structure.
The fourth accomplishment was that we created the conditions for struggles against the outsourcing and casualization offensives that would later be undertaken within the new JR framework.
The fifth was that Doro-Chiba itself was able to create the conditions to outgrow from the old husk of the Doro-Chiba itself, and push forward its own fresh line. The union's struggle within the JR resumed after the transfer, albeit amid very harsh conditions for the membership, of whom 40 had been fired by management. Above all, Doro-Chiba found itself more and more faced with a serious situation in which it had to protect its organizational and financial base. Most of those fired had to go find new jobs, and among those who remained as full-time union officers worked part-time into the night while maintaining in the daytime their activity in the strike campaign. The union made national call-outs for donations and support, which included selling consumer goods and other fund-raising efforts. However, it was these difficulties that in turn changed the consciousness of the membership and would go on to create the basis for a new struggle.
Taking the campaign against the JNR's division and privatization as a turning point, Doro-Chiba was able to begin initiatives together with comrades nation-wide to work towards the rebirth of the labor movement, including the creation of the National Coordinating Center of Labor Unions Collaborative , and the yearly November National Workers' Rally, held in Tokyo. These were major leaps for Doro-Chiba, but they were also steps that could only be taken after enduring the trying times of the struggle against the JNR's privatization.
The sixth accomplishment was that a new front in workers' international solidarity struggle developed during this campaign. This new stage emerged thanks to the confidence we were able to create as an organization amid our long-term campaign against the JNR's privatization, and our consistent struggle for the revolutionizing of the labor movement.
Surpassing the JNR Niigata Struggle I believe that there is a seventh accomplishment of the second strike wave, that it was, from the perspective of labor movement history, able to break new ground that charted a course beyond previous militant movements like the 1957 JNR Niigata Struggle and the 1960 Miike coal miners Struggle in Kyushu Region.
The 1957 JNR Niigata struggle was a labor-management confrontation that contributed to the birth of the revolutionary left in Japan. During this year, JNR workers in Niigata, Hiroshima, Tokyo and more stood up in struggle, protesting unjust dismissals as reprisal to the Spring labor offensive. The campaign in Hiroshima and other cities ended quickly, however the workers of Niigata, where the Kakudo had an organizing base, managed to carry on an unyielding strike. This strike would create the rude and audacious arrival of a new struggle to overcome the Mindo union's domination over workplaces. Many young workers watched this struggle with great excitement, and eventually hurried to join it. After 19 union members were arrested amid heavy state intervention, the Niigata struggle unfortunately ended with a breakdown in solidarity, leading to the dropout of many of the membership. This is incidentally one of the reasons that the Tetsuro union (company union) was later born.
The same was true for the Miike coal miners' struggle. Known as the largest labor dispute in the post-war period, in which the workers involved waged a truly militant campaign, the Miner's Union itself was eventually split by a “second union” loyal to the company and set up out of the defectors from the Miike Miner's Union. This Miner's Union went on to agree to the mediation scheme of the Central Labor Commission chief Keizo Fujibayashi that ultimately led to the defeat of the strike wave. The statement issued at that moment by Sohyo president Kaoru Ota that “There are no unions who can avoid splitting when state power throws all of its power against them” blatantly exhibits the “common sense” of the traditional Japanese labor movement.
With its unbroken unity and ongoing significant presence in the JR companies, Doro-Chiba's struggle to launch a second strike wave in the face of division and privatization was able to break new ground in the effort to uproot this so-called “common sense” from the labor movement.
Struggle for reinstatement of 1,047 dismissed railway workers
Struggling from the Ground Up Doro-Chiba had maintained its unity, and were now organizing inside the JR Companies. However, struggling under the new JR framework meant that we had to mostly rebuild struggle from the ground up. 28 unionists had been fired via the application of the Public Corporation Labor Relations Law (公労法); how could their livelihood be secured? How should the union organize a campaign to reinstate the dismissed 12 workers who had been refused re-employment in the JR, and sent to the Japan National Railway Settlement Corporation? Even after privatization was implemented, the waves of forced re-assignment and transfer, union-busting and forced drop-outs from the unions on union members carried on. How should the union fight back? The balance of power in the workplace changed drastically: all union activity on the shop floor was suppressed and targeted for disciplinary procedures. The company would even cut employee hourly pay on the pretext that unionists spent as usual a few minutes to pay union dues before conducting their first train in the morning. How could Doro-Chiba regain the dominance in the workplace? The union had thrown its all into the struggles up to that point, and now it was bruised and battered.
That said, healing the organization's wounds and tackling one by one all of the new issues that had arisen after the enactment of privatization could only be accomplished by carrying out struggle. There was one good thing that the privatization brought to us. The union gained the right to strike*. With this new power, Doro-Chiba began a campaign to fight back against the new workplace reality after privatization; we began to organize “long-wave” strikes among unionists who had been re-assigned to positions such as train station bodega sales, a series of strikes that would move from station to station (“rotating strikes”, today Chiba Station, tomorrow Kameido Station, etc.). This campaign allowed the unionists to regroup and work together with those who had been forcibly transferred, those still at their previous workplaces, and those who had been fired.
*Under the system of National Railways, workers were deprived of the right of strike bound by their status of public employees.
It was during this period of re-organization that in December, 1988, a grave rear-end train collision occurred at Higashi-Nakano station on the Sobu Line, killing an engineer and one passenger. The cause of this accident had been the direction given by a guidance memo circulated by management that illegally required train drivers to keep their trains moving even beyond stop signals, spurred on by a company attempt to reduce the “on-track time” of trains in service. Doro-Chiba analyzed the circumstances of this accident and relentlessly pursued those responsible , organizing a strike on the 1-year anniversary of the Higashi-Nakano accident. This was the first strike that stopped JR trains in the post-privatization period. In this way, the union took its first major step within the new national JR framework.
The 40,000 unionists remaining in the Kokuro had not lost the will to fight. The majority of the 7,600 workers who had been denied employment by the JR and sent to the JNR Settlement Corporation due to contractual “3-year employment limits” were Kokuro unionists, whereas Doro-Chiba members had 12 members affected. The Doro-Chiba workers opened a lawsuit against the JRs, and fired members of the Kokuro and the Zen-doro filed complaints to the District Labor Commissions demanding re-employment by the JRs.3
In the process of these actions of lawsuit and demand, incidents of rampant unfair labor practices in course of the Division and Privatization of the JNR were revealed one after another. Every District Labor Commission ruled these firings to be illegal one after another. This meant that, even under the privatized JR system, the confrontation over the division and privatization of the JNR remained unsettled. Doro-Chiba was able to carry on its struggle with a campaign to restore the jobs of those who had been fired. Even today, this campaign is the main factor preventing the division and privatization of the JNR from being swept into the past. From this point on, we have been continuously forcing the enemy to face the issue of the division and privatization of the JNR as a “problem of today” in our confrontations.
A Second Wave of Firings In March, 1990, three years after the initial firing offensive amid the transfer from the JNR to the JNR Settlement Corporation-- the railway labor movement was again confronted with a tough question: how to fight back against an incoming second wave of firings? Unfortunately, the executive leadership of the Kokuro once again held a defeatist position vis-à-vis the Japanese National Railways Reform Act, and considered unionists transferred to the JNR Settlement Corporation to be “burdens” of the union. This is one reason why Kokuro headquarters went on to work through the arbitration of the Japanese Socialist Party to reach a political solution that would end workplace disputes around firings only to save face. In a situation where hundreds of thousands of its membership were being faced with “organizational restructuring”, the Kokuro entered into preparations for a strike, however that was simply a tool brought up to work out political solution and in turn to close out the struggle.
We believed that the struggle around the JNR absolutely must not end this way, and appealed to the workers to organize strikes that could fight against and force management to reverse firings. It was in this tense situation that our organization was attacked. On March 18th, the day before the strike, unionists from the Chiba Driver* Local and Tsudanuma Local were locked out of their offices by the JR East Company, actions that could have doomed the strike. We decided then and there to move the action up half a day, and went on strike earlier than planned. The sudden work stoppage significantly disrupted train schedules in the route from Chiba's Bosou peninsula to the metropolitan area. For those pursuing a “political solution”, these actions were far beyond their expectation. Their efforts for an “amicable solution” ended here.
* Chiba Driver's Local is located in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture
The JR alleged that moving the strike up from the initial start time announcement constituted an “illegal dispute method”, and lashed out with repression: the company fired many union members and demanded the striking union more than 22 million yen in compensation; and yet this forestalling strike had created something decisive. More than 1,000 workers across the country who had been moved to the JNR Settlement Corporation and targeted for firings chose to fight, refusing to sign letters of voluntary retirement, which meant they were forced to be dismissed, or “restructured” This movement became the “Reinstatement Struggle of the 1,047 Fired Workers”. These 1,047 workers chose to dedicate their lives to the fight against the JNR's division and privatization, and gave rise to what would become the largest labor dispute in post-war Japan.
What was at stake here were the issues that affected the rights of all workers, and the future of the labor movement. In the previous year, 1989, the Sohyo had been dissolved, and instead Rengo was established. In Japanese history, there are two previous examples of national trade union centers being pressured into dissolution. One is 1940, when all labor unions were nationally dissolved into the Sangyo Houkokukai (the Industrial Patriotic Association), which operated during war-time under the surveillance of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association. The next instance was in 1950, when the Sanbetsu (All Japan Congress of Industrial Unions) was dissolved in advance of the Korean War, and Sohyo (General Council of Trade Unions of Japan) was established under the sponsorship of GHQ (General Headquarters of the US Occupation Forces). The key point is that the dissolution of a national trade union center is a grave problem that only occurred during times of war. And this is what had happened with the division and privatization of the JNR. As Sohyo dissolved, for unionists who realized the significance of its dissolution, there was absolutely no way to lower the flag of struggle.
The Glory of the Workers' Movement A clash emerged between two ways of understanding the predicament and struggle of the 1,047 fired workers.
President Nakano of Doro-Chiba continually made the case that the 1,047 unionists who “refused to surrender to the division and privatization offensive, and who have vowed to fight to the end to win back their jobs, should be known as the glory of the post-war Japanese workers' movement.” “In that sense, the Kokuro should claim itself to have become the most powerful labor union we have, given that it gave birth to a committed organization of 1,000 highly disciplined and militant full-time organizers.” “If we can harness that power to its full potential, it wouldn't be impossible to run Rengo out of the workplace and resurrect the labor movement.”
In actuality, the more than one millions workers nation-wide who harbored a feeling of crisis in the face of the dissolution of the Sohyo and the state of the labor movement found hope in the struggle of the 1,047 Fired Workers for the reinstatement of their jobs, and gathered under their banner. In this sense, while the struggle against the division and privatization of the JNR had been once forced into retreat, its second chapter was thus beginning.
Unfortunately, Kokuro headquarters treated this struggle of the fired workers, who were motivated by their own righteous outrage, and who had already sworn to dedicate their lives to restoring their livelihoods, as “burdens” for the union activity and slowly retreated step by step in the face of the division and privatization offensive. They held to the line of seeking a mediated “political settlement.” One after the other, the Kokuro accepted the demands made by the government and the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) as “conditions for a political settlement,” namely: to “pass a union convention motion in favor of accepting the Japanese National Railways Reform Act (NRRA) ”, “clearly state that this act 'contributes to the development of the JR'”, and “affirm that the JR has no legal responsibility for worker redundancies at a union convention.”
These demands were strange on their face; anyone could see that these were not issues that could be ratified or decided at a convention. They were in fact a manifestation of the fact that the ruling class itself was not confident that the framework of the National Railways Reform Act could be successfully implemented. In the off chance that the law itself was ruled illegal, the division/privatization offensive itself would have collapsed from the inside. To buffer their chances, the government tried to the firings and transfers by getting the Kokuro to agree to “approve the Reform Act”, and to declare that the JR had “no legal responsibility” for firings of workers caught in the middle.
Elsewhere, the 1998 reactionary ruling of the Tokyo District Court stated that the JR had no legal responsibility for workers who had been fired, a ruling which was later narrowly upheld by the Supreme Court's razor thin majority of three to two. In fact, the “legality” of privatization was hanging by a thread.
In this sense, had the Kokuro launched a serious full-frontal attack against it, the NRRA offensive was vulnerable enough that it could have been smashed.
Organizational Polarization Around the 1,047 Workers' Campaign Within the conflict around the implementation of the NRRA, an important polarization occurred in the Kokuro during its July 1st, 2000 convention, called specifically to recognize the declaration that the JR had no legal responsibility for firings during the JNR's privatization (based on the “four-party agreement” that had been reached in the Diet). During this convention, outraged opposition from members of the 1,047 Fired Workers Association, as well as declarations of support from their families resulted in the podium being occupied and the convention being called off. In the aftermath, the LDP and other political parties told the Kokuro leadership: “Your promises have fallen apart. You need to purge your organization of this Fired Workers' organization that opposes the political settlement;” an order that the Kokuro would go on to accept. This resulted in a committee of inquiry being established above the 1,047 workers' organization, and the livelihood support for the fired members being cut off. Then, in a shocking incident, to get the membership to ratify the “four-party agreement”, the Kokuro requested that riot police be mobilized for this extraordinary convention, notifying police of the locations of activists associated with the group who had arrived to distribute flyers, which led to their arrest4.
Outraged by how far the union had gone in its betrayal of its mandate, most members of the 1,047 Fired Workers Association went on to create a “Fighting Tosodan” to protest Kokuro Headquarters' policies, and began their own independent struggle. This was the beginning of a new campaign that held great possibilities. Specifically, the three organizations that joined hands to create the new group (the Kokuro Tosodan , the Doro-Chiba Sougidan and the Zendourou (All National Railway Locomotive Engineers Union) Sougidan overcame political differences among them to open a Liaison Committee for the 1,047, and file a class-action lawsuit against the former JNR for unfair labor practices) .
Still, the people who formed its leadership were former members of opposition wings within the framework of failed Kokuro, and had no perspectives for further struggle beyond the idea of pursuing a “political settlement.” Thus, the same mistakes were repeated. To advance the “political settlement,” repairing relations with Kokuro headquarters was prioritized above other matters. Demands to reinstate the fired workers were dropped in favor of “humanitarian settlements”. the liaison committee was essentially abandoned, with representatives of the committee at one point claiming that their work was simply “cleaning up in the fallout of defeat”. The organization gave the Democratic Party a blank check, repeatedly denouncing and declaring Doro-Chiba's militant uncompromising line to be a “suicide charge”.
During the same period, the second wave of division/privatization attacks at the JR was beginning, including a large-scale outsourcing onslaught that involved the forced transfer of thousands of workers to subcontractors, however the Fighting Tosodan showed no interest whatsoever in these crucial issues.
Don't Extinguish the Flame of the JNR Struggle Amid this 20 years of conflict around privatization and its outcome, the 1,047 Fired Workers' struggle came again to a serious crossroads in 2010. The “four-party/four-organization” front that had been formed to advance the “political settlement,” along with the government/the ruling Democratic Party and the Komeito, agreed to a monetary settlement, and along with it to lower the flag of struggle (the “April 9th Political Settlement” . This agreement took on principle the following points: “that the 1,047 workers in question were ultimately fired despite the JNR Company providing all appropriate employment alternatives”, “the government has fulfilled all of its responsibilities for those workers”, and that “despite having performed due responsibilities, considering the fact that these workers are of advanced age, some sort of humanitarian settlement is needed” (statement of Seiji Maehara, Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation).
In these statements, it was clear for Doro-Chiba that the struggle around the JNR could not be allowed to be brought to a close. In this severe situation, Doro-Chiba had to tackle a trying problem over what to do next. A 20-year old struggle was threatened to come to an end; even if Doro-Chiba carried on the struggle, how much social influence could really be attained through it, wouldn't the campaign just result in an isolated and thus meaningless struggle? However, even at this difficult crossroads, Doro-Chiba was committed to having complete trust in the opinion and decision of its membership. The fired Doro-Chiba members, as well as members who had gone on to work at the JR had no illusions that such a “conciliation” should be accepted.
Parallel to this renewed struggle, members at the JR were putting their jobs on the line in a brand new sustained campaign to stop the outsourcing of railway work. It was this concrete struggle in workplace that gave Doro-Chiba the momentum to establish a direction we could be confident in.
In the midst of this critical situation, through the efforts of significant numbers of comrades and colleagues, the JNR National Struggle Movement (Nation-wide Campaign to fight against the Division and Privatization of National Railways and to support the struggle of dismissed 1,047 national railway workers for the reinstatement) was set up. This was a move “that lacked common sense” from the traditional view of the labor movement given that this organization was proposing a new movement 20 years after the initial round of dismissals. However, the organization's rallying cry of “Keep the JNR struggle flame lit!” was by no means met with isolation. A truly broad array of workers from many different generations rallied around the group.
This allowed the JNR National Struggle Movement to open up new possibilities. On June 30th, 2015, the third bench of the Supreme Court found that the criteria for rejecting employment for the 1,047 fired workers were based on unfair labor practices. We were also able to confront the court with the fact that the person who ordered the creation of the guidelines that refused reinstatement in the JR to the workers in question was in fact the President of the JR foundation board, Eishiro Saito. The division and privatization of the JNR was a state-mandated violation of labor laws, and the argument that the JR had no legal responsibility was a fabrication. The truth was finally there for all to see. This was a ruling that could never have happened without the focused effort of the JNR National Struggle Movement. The organization managed to gather close to 200,000 signatures in a three-part petition campaign against the court and the JR. These signatures were gathered one by one on foot at workplaces around the country.
Additionally, the activists involved in this struggle also played a critical role in the dire aftermath of the earthquake and nuclear power plant disaster in the Tohoku Region in 2011, in sparking an early debate about how the workers movement should address the disaster and what kind of struggle to organize afterward. Activists involved in the movement also played key roles in pushing forward solidarity between the Seoul Regional headquarters of the Korean Railway Workers' Union and Japan's Doro-Chiba. The JNR National Struggle Movement has thus proved to be an epoch-making active body of movement.
Borne from the long struggle of those who came to form the JNR National Struggle Movement, the Supreme Court's ruling clearly showed that the railway division and privatization offensive was by no means unbreakable.
The Campaign Against Outsourcing The division and privatization offensive was later carried on in the workplaces in a different form: outsourcing railway work to subcontractors.
The JR East Company announced a “re-employment opportunity system” (Senior System) in 1999, and a mid-term executive plan called “New Frontiers 21” in the year 2000 for workers who had reached retirement age, but these plans were really just new forms of capital offensives in the post-division and privatization period. They in fact were the first steps in a further implementation of outsourcing and casualization nation-wide, aimed at dismantling the pension, health-care and social security safety nets.
In 1995, the Keidanren had announced a “Japanese-style Management for a New Era,” and during the years of 1999 to 2004, revisions to the country's Worker Dispatch Act allowed dispatch work to be widely liberalized. In 2000, international accounting standards were applied to Japanese company accounting law, which led to massive changes in the organization of workplaces. All companies were urged to embrace outsourcing and employment casualization. In the same year, the required age for receiving pensions was steadily ratcheted up as a consequence of revisions to the pension system. Then in 2001, the Koizumi administration took power with the mission of “quot;structural reform with no sanctuary,” moving aggressively to privatize National Universities, National Hospitals (via the Local Independent Administrative Agency Act), and the post office. The second wave of privatization offensives had thus begun.
The central pillar of the offensives was outsourcing. At the time, MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) had analyzed what was known as the “outsourcing revolution” brought about in the USA of the 1990s, and issued reports claiming that “Outsourcing is the critical ingredient to create industrial organizations capable of raising immense profits”, and that “companies would have to evolve to be capable of implementing outsourcing until the figure of the company itself was no longer visible.”.
Within the JR, this offensive began with the proposal of the aforementioned “Senior System”. This was a nasty attack on elderly workers, with the aim of casualizing them on a mass scale, taking advantage of the fact that companies were obligated by law to provide employment extensions for workers over the age of 60 in the wake of the raising of the pension pay-out age. Note that the “Senior System” that JR East Japan proposed was not a mechanism to extend employment ages, it in fact subjected workers of advanced ages to “new hire” rules which required them to take employee entrance exams to prove their aptitude and earn transfers to affiliated companies. This was nothing more than a second wave of division and privatization. Furthermore, although this point was completely obscured at the time of the proposal, it was also a system that only applied to those belonging to unions that had signed the collective bargaining agreement with the JNR, an agreement that contained a clause binding unions to “labor/management collaboration to deepen and advance sub-contracting.”
The Senior System was a foul conspiracy between JR capital and the JR East Union*, with the goal of breaking up labor unions and massively outsourcing existing railway work. Collective bargaining was held without notifying workers outside of the JR East Union that a critical precondition to “help advance subcontracting” would be a condition of re-employment, information that was only publicized at the end of the bargaining session. Re-employment notifications were also ostentatiously advertised around the JR offices with the phrasing that “the only workers eligible for re-employment are JR East Union members, who helped push forward the reform of the JNR”, serving as an advertisement of the advantages of labor-management collaboration. Within this strange atmosphere, the Kokuro flailed helplessly and signed agreements with management to accept the “Senior System,” which included the provision about increasing outsourcing.
* During the process of the Division and Privation of JNR, Doro controlled by Kakumaru merged other right wing companies unions into JR Soren, consisted of JR West Union, JR Central Union etc.; JR East Union is the largest.
Refusing the “Senior System” Agreement In contrast to these compromises, the only union struggle that absolutely opposed outsourcing was Doro-Chiba's campaign to stop the “Senior System Agreement.” However for the membership, since they were part of the Doro-Chiba union, opposing the agreement meant that they would be denied re-employment and fired when they turned 60. Timing-wise, many of the union members were approaching retirement age, and extending employment was the most pressing issue for them.
Other unions had already agreed to the JR's terms completely. However, what did it mean for labor unions to just accept the Senior System as “an inevitable reality”. After serious consideration, Doro-Chiba's conclusion was that no matter what, a labor union could never endorse outsourcing, which inevitably meant the casualization of the workforce.
The Doro-Chiba membership was able to stand firm on this point because they had the valuable experience of putting their jobs on the line against the division and privatization of the JNR. Most of the membership believed that “if we sit back and accept this, what we fought for back then will lose its meaning.” Another reason was that we still had the strength in the workplaces to confront and debate these harsh issues, together with those members most affected. There were no wasted efforts in the experience of struggles we had accumulated. That said, the campaign against the Senior System was an agonizing experience by any measure. Doro-Chiba union members who were of the required age were brought in for one-on-one meetings with management in April, and told repeatedly that they would not be eligible for transfer, and would not be recommended for re-employment. However if they left Doro-Chiba by the end of August, their eligibility for the re-employment opportunity system would be re-considered. For five months, management carried on with this dirty attempt to pressure these members to abandon our union. It goes without saying that every member of our union has a family and a private life. It was not easy to continue to fight against the reality they were confronted with.
Abolish the Senior System In the subsequent five years until the Senior System was defeated, 33 unionists were refused re-employment and consequently fired from the JR. Dozens of others approaching the age of 60 wound up leaving with tearful faces. However, it was because Doro-Chiba chose to face these difficulties head on that we were able to maintain an unbroken 17 year struggle against outsourcing.
Our task was to thoroughly analyze why the JR would resort to such a dirty approach, expose the underlying logic behind the outsourcing offensive, and make it clear to the membership. The consciousness achieved in facing that offensive head-on, namely that outsourcing is the most central offensive undergirding both privatization and neo-liberalism, held the most meaning for the struggles that would come afterward. It has also become clear to us that the existing precarious status of the more than 20 million casualized workers in Japan had resulted from the failure of labor unions to put up a counter-attack against the many different forms of outsourcing offensives. There were also no previous struggle against outsourcing to draw upon for reference. It would not be going too far to say that the existing labor unions had played a criminal role in that sense. The more the membership of Doro-Chiba came to understand these aspects of their struggle, the more they came to grips with the magnitude of the fight to stop outsourcing. “While there may have been voices of protest against the awful realities that casualized workers found themselves in, there were no examples of unions building a challenge to the actual process of workforce casualization. How can we talk about rebuilding the labor movement without that challenge?” This was a question we had to ask. In this sense, the fight against privatization was an evolution of the anti-rationalization/pro-rail safety struggles that arose during the neo-liberal offensive in the 1970s. The workers began to share the common conviction that they couldn't leave their children and grandchildren in a world with only casualized employment.
We spent five years fighting the “Senior System,” until its eventual nullification. That was an important victory. The Elderly Employment Stability Act was amended, and now instructed employers to, in the event that labor-management agreement does not conclude successfully, grant employment extensions according to existing workplace regulations. Since we refused to sign onto the pro-outsourcing agreement, it eventually lost its legal weight at the JR, and the company was forced to include term extensions within JR workplace regulations.
Afterwards, all members of age who requested re-employment were granted it; however, the struggle against outsourcing did not end there. When transferred to their new positions, instead of the train car maintenance and station work which had become a locus point of outsourcing to subcontractors, our membership chose cleaning duty at the JR, which was of course a much more physically exhausting category of work. In workplace debates with members from other unions, the union members of Doro-Chiba had persuaded them of the position that the choice of cleaning duty was made as a method to oppose outsourcing. As a result, until outsourcing was forced upon them by JR management in 2012 by the total employee transfer of entire workplaces, Doro-Chiba managed to force a complete halt to the outsourcing of train car inspection, maintenance and yard work in Chiba district over a 12 year period of struggle. At the national level, this also massively delayed the outsourcing of maintenance and station work. The assurances that the JR and the JR East Union had given that they would finalize outsourcing “over a 7 to 8 year time frame” were smashed.
This diligent campaign won over workers of other unions in the workplace. During the struggle against the outsourcing of car inspection, maintenance and yard work, a group of dozens of mainly maintenance yard workers left their unions to join Doro-Chiba. Additionally, afterwards a group of 15 people working in a sub-contracted affiliated company called CTS (JR Chiba Tetsudo Service Co., Ltd.) joined Doro-Chiba. No other workers had observed Doro-Chiba's uncompromising struggle against outsourcing in a closer fashion than the workers of CTS.
During the struggle against outsourcing, I believe Doro-Chiba found a practical answer to the question of how to organize both regular and temporary workers within the JR and its affiliated companies, despite the massive stratification of working conditions and labor rights between these two types of workers.
What We Saw Within the Struggle The Doro Federation filed a lawsuit against the practice of outsourcing which sought to prove that forced employee transfers from the JR to sub-contractors were unlawful. During this lawsuit, it became clearer what new possibilities the 17 year struggle against outsourcing had opened up.
Once sued, JR East Company identified this lawsuit as its “most pressing issue at hand”, and dispatched every time more than 50 managers to pack the courtroom audience. The real objective of JR capital was not merely to defend forced employee transfer to subcontractors, but also to obtain legal justification for the transfers that arose from the division of the JNR, which was already significantly delayed thanks to Doro-Chiba's anti-outsourcing campaign. It also became clear later from the court proceedings that the state was confronted with a situation in which they would not have been able to keep privatizing railway work without bringing the lawsuit to an advantageous conclusion.
During the court proceedings, it was revealed for the first time that the Department of Labor had previously issued warning documents to the JR on many topics. During the period in which management began using outsourcing at the JR, we had demanded the Department of Labor to clarify the issues concerning fraudulent contracts and other paperwork irregularities. However the department had never made clear to us how it judged our applications.
The warning documents issued by the Labor Department covered many points. They indicated that there was great suspicion that the orders to transfer workers were based on fraudulent subcontracting and that the “purpose of loaning employees is unclear”. Evidently, the contradictions of privatizations were evident enough that even the Labor Department had to intervene. The JR side, however, then reacted to the warnings by tweaking only the wording of the sub-contractor contracts for loaned workers while changing nothing at all on the ground, thus further falsifying already fraudulent contracts.
It was evident from the revelation of the facts how our struggle had brought the JR's outsourcing offensive to the verge of failure. From here, it was just a few steps more to collapse.
At the same time, when you consider that the Japanese society as a whole is now largely based on illegal outsourcing and fraudulent contracts, the Doro Federation's court case exposed that beyond this particular example of outsourcing in the JR, the structure of ruling system in Japan, as well as the privatization, outsourcing and casualization offensives of the past 30 years, were mostly implemented illegally. These problems in themselves could indeed upend all neo-liberal policies implemented in the period after the division and privatization of the JNR. For that reason, it was not easy for the authorities to acknowledge these facts. The only unions who took the exposure of these contradictions into their own struggle and problematized them face-on were Doro-Chiba and the Doro Federation.
Had the struggle against privatization been waged in a wider range of movement, outsourcing and casualization would not have reached the epidemic scale they are in Japanese society today, and labor unions would not have lost as much power as they ultimately did. Outsourcing was not an “inevitable reality”, but instead an offensive full of contradictions, and one that could be stopped. Looking back, I think that within Doro-Chiba's 17 years of struggle against outsourcing, we managed to find an important answer to the question of how labor unions today could restore the power they once had, and how to stop the widespread attacks against workers which would plunge them into precarious employment. I think the directions that we focused our efforts on were ultimately the right ones.
Destroying Safety There is another point that I absolutely must touch on. Outsourcing has destroyed the safety of the railways in Japan from the bottom up.
As a result of farming out rail work to hundreds of different outsourcing firms, there's no one left to assume overall responsibility for the operation of the Japanese railways. What we have now is a pervasive structural lack of responsible governance and accountability. From the JR's perspective, once they had subcontracted a portion of rail work to an outsourcing company, their responsibility for that work disappeared. This was principally because these contracts stipulated that “sub-contracted work must be limited to what the subcontractor can handle independently, on the basis of their own experience and technical knowledge”. The JR's strained claims that their outsourcing contracts were not fraudulent only amplified the culture of unaccountability.
Re-organization of JR Affiliated Companies There was also a collapse in the continuity of railway technical knowledge. There is no way that these subcontractors, who had in the first place been diced up from the larger body of the JR, outsourced at every level, with their workforce casualized and budgets slashed by the JR, could still maintain a platform to pass on and develop technical knowledge.
The campaign against frequent cases of rail breakage on the tracks, which I have mentioned earlier, was a struggle to establish rail safety in opposition to the outsourcing of rail maintenance work.
On the other hand, the outsourcing offensive itself required the re-organization of the affiliated companies who would go on to serve as subcontractors. Within this process at CTS, a large-scale slashing of wages and working conditions was put into place. Further, in 2016, a management offensive was launched that aimed to significantly worsen the employment conditions and rights of those working at CTS. CTS was comprised of more than 80% contracted temporary workers, against whom the company was trying to enforce a sly interpretation of labor contract law which would allow them to fire temps within 5 years of contracting, re-hire them and, subject to the results of an employment test, “recruit them as a new hire”. Additionally, even those who managed to be chosen for “unlimited contracts” found later that this simply locked them into an hourly wage barely above the minimum wage. Worse, CTS tried to advance these changes to their employment regulations without any consultation inside the workplace.
This all became clear in late February 2016, and there was little to no time until the changes would be put into effect on April 1st. Doro-Chiba resolved that: “These changes are not just issues for workers at CTS, they relate directly to the future of workers at large,” “Look at what the outsourcing offensive has produced. We can't fight this at CTS alone; we need workers at the main JR Company to go on strike to oppose these conditions unconditionally.” Every day, they entered the train yards with the determination to let people know what was happening at their company. The CTS workplace suddenly reached a boiling point of indignation, and on March 17th, 45 unionists working at the JR Company went on strike in solidarity.
This series of actions enabled the unions to stop the enactment of the new employment regulations on April 1st. In the history of Japanese labor unions, there are likely little to no examples of a union from the main JR Company entering into a sympathy strike and fighting to the end against a capital offensive aimed at the workers in a sister company. Surely everyone at some point in the past said that a struggle like this was necessary, however I don't believe there are any examples of a real struggle that actually put the idea into practice.
The campaign against outsourcing is a continuous confrontation that even now gives off sparks on a daily basis. This 17 year process was an ongoing effort to confront the new problems that arose from outsourcing and find ways to overcome them. However, it was the experience earned from challenging these changing conditions that still gives us hope for reviving the Japanese labor movement.
Campaign Against Base Closures Here I would like to discuss some struggles that I haven't been able to touch on so far.
The first was the struggle to oppose abolition of trains bases and destruction of workplace strongholds by the management. The attacks leveled against Doro-Chiba had basically been aimed at eliminating our organization, indeed the JR did everything it could to break down the organization's unity. After the division and privatization of the JNR, stronghold workplaces where Doro-Chiba held majorities were closed one after the other, and our membership were transferred to different workplaces. The Narita yard, the Katsuura yard, the Tateyama yard, the Sakura yard, the Shin-Koiwa yard, each of these engine yards were Doro-Chiba strongholds where almost every worker was a union member, but these workplaces were all eventually eliminated. The solidarity of the membership takes its greatest strength from the workplace itself and in most cases in labor history when a strong workplace was broken up and its workers scattered, the union itself grew weak and collapse. However, in Doro-Chiba's case, even though our workplaces were pulled apart, our unity did not bend. The struggles that I have described previously in this text had indeed built these bonds of solidarity.
While our unity was intact, there were many organizational problems that were bound to slow us down if we did not fight with our full strength; one of these was a base closure offensive. Here, I would like to touch on the struggle waged at Tateyama driving yard, which was the most successful opposition to these targeted closures and itself created a new example for the labor movement. At this yard, the workers have already been fighting over 10 years since then.
The closure of the Tateyama driving yard was proposed in 2006. We immediately started a drive to organize struggle against its closure, but the workplace was filled with a mood of defeat. The elimination of a driving yard entailed shifting the train schedule that it maintained to another yard, which meant that the preparation for closure was pushed ahead without any notification to the workplace. There was no way to resist this. The district was dominated by an atmosphere of fatalism. Once you start with the assumption that you can't stop a closure, all that's left to think about is where you'll be transferred. Consequently, members of the union may wind up fighting among themselves for placement in new workplaces. In that sense, the Tateyama yard's closure was clearly a targeted attack against Doro-Chiba's organization. That's why we repeatedly emphasized upon the stand point of “absolute opposition” to the yard's closure and called for a stubborn struggle to the end . We resolved to build an organization that could fight the offensive, strengthening the Tateyama local's executive, and bringing their representatives of workplaces directly into our headquarters to begin the struggle.
What could we make happen? The closure of the Tateyama driving yard meant that the JR was preparing to embark on full-scale abolition of Uchibou Line, so we decided to mobilize our membership to develop activities to persuade regional inhabitants. The union members went from one end of the region to another, visiting and discussing the issue of the Uchibou Line with other labor unions, local governance and city council organizations, tourism organizations, business union of ryokan (Japanese inn) , merchants' associations, chambers of commerce, local newspapers and more. What came out of those discussions was a surprising level of intense anger at the JR for the abolition of the rural lines, and a deep sense of crisis that rural regions were going to be abandoned. There were also people who asked us: “what can I do to help?”.
As a result, we immediately decided to set about organizing a regional rally against the closure, and those who attended were not only ordinary workers and citizens, but also mayors of areas that had stops on the line and other leaders like the chairman of the Tourism Association, the Ryokan Union President, the head of the Chamber of Commerce and many other people from the region. Furthermore, the mayor of Minamiboso stated at the event that “although this statement may be coming late, we do have to question whether rail privatization was the right move”, and the mayor of Tateyama stated that “it's a serious issue when 70 people in a town as small as ours lose their workplaces.” Panicked, the local JR Chiba Branch issued a statement against the rally saying that its convention had “forfeited the trust we had in the community” and that they “strongly protested it.”
Social Justice After the rally was held, the atmosphere in our workplaces changed immediately. Everyone could feel that the era was shifting, and were sure that Doro-Chiba's struggle stood for a real social justice.
From this day onward, the union waged a daily protest campaign against the regional managers of the JR East Company, and while we were unable to stop the closure of the rail sector, no member filled out the second and third “preferred workplace” boxes of the form handed out by the management; just the first box was filled. As a result, the union was able to force the JR to agree that all transfers would need to be “carried out according to the applicant's preference.” This was the first and last time that the JR publicly granted during collective bargaining such an apparent concession.
When the day of closure finally came, the union entered into a strike with this statement: “Let us re-assess why we are here. We have not waged this campaign around office transfer preferences; we have opposed the closure of the Tateyama rail sector itself.”.
Reflecting on the strike and the campaign around it, one union member later described it as “a miracle of sorts.” Doro-Chiba had fought against the closure of other yards where it had organizational strongholds; however this was in a way the first struggle where not only did solidarity hold until the end, the membership demonstrated deep commitment and conviction. To the extent that this campaign became the bedrock of the unshakable bonds that the membership of the Tateyama and Kisarazu locals have maintained for over 10 years. It shows that when workers can find conviction in the social meaning of their own struggles, that solidarity will not be easily shaken. From that perspective, organizational unity action is a critical component of a class-conscious workers' movement.
This has developed into an ongoing movement against the elimination of express trains in rural regions of Chiba.
What motivated this was the March 2017 revision of train schedules which eliminated the direct train from Chiba to Tateyama station in the name of “separation of the operational areas of Kisarazu and Kimitsu”. Strong opposition of the regional citizens has given birth to an enduring body of movement, “Organization for Protecting the JR Uchibou Line and regional life” mobilizing the whole local citizens
.In recent years, rural cities have been targeted for obsolescence, with the government's doctrine of “Selection and Concentration”, triggering an ongoing total collapse of the society. In a world where neo-liberalism is trying to destroy society, reviving and reforming the labor movement means that labor unions will have to consider seriously how to stand at the forefront of this anger coming from rural regions, and seriously engage with how to organize and support it. That does not mean avoiding a struggle with capital, and replacing the class issue with a “social issue”. We have to position this issue as a critical task in the uncompromising struggle with capital, and the struggle of workers to reclaim their solidarity and pride. I would think that, not only railway unions, but any labor union that has a deep relationship with municipal organizations, education, the post office, health care/welfare and more, is obligated to work seriously towards tapping into this opposition on a regional basis.
Worker Rallies Secondly, I would like to address here the annual November Workers' Rally that we hold together with the Solidarity Union of Japan Construction and Transport Workers Kansai Area Branch (Kan-Nama), the Metal and Machinery Workers' Union in Osaka (Minato-Godo), as well as the JNR National Struggle Movement .
This collaboration emerged around the effort to win reinstatement for the 1,047 Fired JNR Workers, and to create a national network of fighting labor unions; the rally has now been held annually 20 times. The biggest reason that it has had the support to continue for 20 years is that the three unions involved have been able to use it as a base for their own uncompromising struggle with capital. The organizers have been able to carry on the event because it is based on existing struggles in workplaces and thus has a more significant power than an ordinary rally.
The deciding factor for beginning the November rally was the reactionary judgement on May 28th, 1998 at the Tokyo district court for the JNR struggle. This was a decision which stated that “even if there were unfair labor practices around the firing and hiring of JNR workers, the JR would not be held responsible for them.” A sense of crisis and fury over this outrageous ruling hit the three concerned unions: if the courts could lay down a decision like this, they would be free to bust any union they wanted to, and fire anyone they wanted to.
Furthermore, the struggle against this judgement has been playing an important part in not only the railway worker struggle, but also as a base for organizing workers nationally for the revival of the labor movement. This led to developments such as a campaign for international worker solidarity in 2003, and in 2016, a call-out to engage in a “Tokyo-Seoul International Joint Action” against Korea's Park administration, together with the headquarters of the KCTU Seoul Regional Council.
The November Worker's Rally, as well as rallies held by the International Liaison Committee, and the Japanese/Korean Worker's Theoretical Exchange committee in the three days around its convention has evolved into a unique and innovative initiative. Now is the time to bring together the voices of anger rising nationally to create organizations and movements in our workplaces. Our task from here is to make real, substantive developments with the platforms we have already built.
International Worker Solidarity Third, I would like to touch on the struggle for international worker solidarity.
The impetus for this campaign came from the struggle against the division and privatization of the JNR, and a strike campaign against the second Iraq War in March, 2003. Given the grave international situation that arose after the 9/11 attacks in New York: the invasion war on Afghanistan, the subsequent invasion war on Iraq, as well as Japan's complicity in these wars, Doro-Chiba decided to wage a strike against the Iraq invasion together with the 2003 Spring Labor Offensive. The strike went on for three days, and all of Doro-Chiba membership gathered in Tokyo's Yoyogi park for a demonstration against the war. The strike stopped nearly 600 trains, and was reported widely upon across Japanese society.
This was a struggle that Doro-Chiba set out upon based on its own convictions; however the strike received unexpected attention from elsewhere. It was from the United States, where the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), dock-workers from San Francisco, who were trying to organize campaigns against the Iraq war despite suffering intense repression.
It was during this same period that members of Doro-Chiba met the leadership of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), and after one chance meeting after another, an international solidarity campaign was born. This campaign would develop in a way that surpassed our expectations, and as a quite normal development quickly worked its way into being one of the foundational and unshakable components of Doro-Chiba's own struggle.
The campaign for international solidarity had a lot to teach us. As Doro-Chiba struggled daily against the difficulties we faced, international cooperation gave us a clear hope and confidence. At the same time we learned somewhat surprisingly that it was the struggles that Doro-Chiba had held fast to and continued to wage resolutely, including the fight against the JNR's privatization, that resonated the most internationally. It was with a shocking revelation that we could confirm that amid the neo-liberal offensive, war and privatization were the biggest common threats facing the workers of the world. Additionally, this solidarity was not merely a formal exchange of ceremonial greetings between the leadership of the two organizations, the rank and file experienced together that they could build unity by joining hands in a common fight, something that we would not have anticipated beforehand.
In South Korea, on April 24th, 2015, the first wave of a general strike began, kicking off a two-year struggle led by the KCTU to force President Park Geun-hye from power; this “first wave of the Revolution” was an inspiration to workers around the world. We have much to learn from this struggle in our effort to revive the labor movement in Japan.
When Han Sang-gyun was elected in 2015 to the President of the KCTU and called for a general strike, many unions rejected it, and said that the KCTU could not achieve one in the organizational situation at that moment. However, it was the process of organizing to oppose that harsh reality that changed the KCTU itself and contributed to open up a new historical situation.
With 800,000 union members now, the KCTU declared that “the November, 2016 people's resistance was not a movement to change the face of the president. It was the beginning of a struggle to change Korean society from the bottom up.” “The social general strike is, under the current legal regime, an illegal strike. However, the illegitimate power holders do not have the authority to smear a political general strike that has taken the demands of the people on board with the brush of an 'illegal action'. We believe that the demands and strength of the masses are in fact law and justice.” In organizing a social general strike that went beyond the general strikes of industrial unions, and its union-wide ambition to “organize 2 million workers”, the all-out fierce struggle of the KCTU has infinite living lessons for the task of evaluating what standpoint the labor movement should organize around.
There is a definite meaning to the fact that we have built a deep relationship of trust with the KCTU, and that we exist alongside them as “protagonists of the struggle”.
The Second Wave of the Division and Privatization
Currently the workplaces of the JR are embroiled in a second wave of the division and privatization offensives. These offensives are not simply the executive strategy of a single corporation, but instead an offensive put into play as a national priority, a state strategy.
By enacting “company division into subsidiaries and worker transfer”, i.e. the wholesale destruction of employment and labor unions, and “strategic downsizing” to withdraw the JR from countryside areas, thus eliminating “unprofitable rail lines”, the JR is trying to expand this offensive to society as a whole.
Last November, JR Hokkaido's presentation of its “rail line divestiture plan” was a shocking content. The company has claimed that nearly half of the rail sections currently in operation in Hokkaido, amounting to 1,237km of track, are “unsustainable in an independent capacity”. These rails will be removed from most areas besides Sapporo and Hakodate, meaning that local governments in 44 rural towns and villages will lose their access to the railway as well as their train stations, pulling them back to the transportation standard of the 30th years of the Meiji period (the last decade of the 19th century). Railway companies will wholly abandon the operation of these lines. The withdrawal of the railway companies means the destruction of rural society. Despite this, the government is assertively pushing this plan forward.
This is not a problem limited to Hokkaido. There is already discussion in the halls of power that “Shikoku doesn't have the conditions to maintain the railways,” and “all trains will have to be abandoned in favor of buses”.
Elsewhere, JR East and JR Central have been the most assertive leads in advancing the Abe administration's “selection and concentration” policies, and are responsible for this wholesale attempt to cut off rural rail lines. The reality that the division and privatization of the JNR has given birth to is “the Collapse of the JR”.
Described as “deepening the horizontal division of labor” outsourcing is on the rise in workplaces across the Japanese railway industry. Work responsibilities will be carved up and divided among smaller companies to the point where there is nothing left in the main body of the JR Company, and management are preparing to herd workers into transfers to these companies. These plans are extremely offensive way to destroy employment, and in turn, attacks on labor unions. JR management is trying to turn the clock back on even the compromising labor settlements put in place in the aftermath of the JNR's division and privatization by the capital-labor alliance of the JR East union and the JR-Soren under Kakumaru's leadership.
Outlooks for the Struggle The “Work Style Reform” currently being advanced by the Abe administration is the next target in the struggle, and the campaign against it is a battle for the future, not just of the JR, but also for all workers across the country. We return to the principles of Doro-Chiba emphasizing that “as long as our unity holds, new possibilities will arise in the struggle”, and declare that we are ready to stand up to fight.
All labor organizations except Doro-Chiba stand frozen, averting their eyes from the critical importance of the plans for wholesale transfer of all workers employed at the JR by the company's management. We have to start by telling the truth about what is actually happening on the shop floor, believing the colleagues working in it.
Next, we must assess the Achilles heel of the enemy and thoroughly take advantage of it. The first weakness of JR capital is that unlike 30 years ago, the results of privatization and outsourcing are plain for all to see, and this experience has led all to declare: “It's enough!”.
What privatization gave birth to was not any kind of “wealthy society”. The only product was 20 million casualized jobs, disparity of wealth and poverty. The “freedom to fire” spread throughout the society. Privatization was an offensive designed to disarm the labor union. It sealed workers in a slave-like cage with no rights and low wages while the capitalist 1% grew fat and satisfied. Privatization is the incitement of workers to race against each other to the very bottom. We must add trace these feelings of outrage and integrate them into the struggle.
The second Achilles heel of JR capital is that this privatization offensive has meant the widespread collapse of railway safety standards. The workplaces of the railway cry out earnestly for the rebuilding of an anti-rationalization/ safe driving struggle. We must also work to step out and organize workers of subsidiary companies of JR . The platform for fraternizing with these workers has been built over 17 years of struggle against outsourcing.
War and Constitutional Revision The capitalist crisis without exit has given birth to protectionism, chauvinism and nationalism, which have divided and shrunk the world economy, exacerbating the economic crisis and produced a great expansion in military spending and drive for wars. This ominous process is now underway. The appearance of the Trump administration demonstrates that we are standing at an important turning point in history. However, that turning point is at the same point producing a radical uprising in the working class around the world. Standing at the forefront of that rebellion is the struggle of the Korean KCTU, who have overthrown President Park Geun-hye.
“War and privatization,” “War and Work-style Reform”, “Invasion wars abroad and the class war at home”, these are the true forms lurking behind the Abe administration's offensives. Constitutional revision and war are becoming realistic political processes under their rule. A crisis of war on the Korean peninsula confronts us. The source of this decisive changeover was the forced adoption of the 2015 cabinet decision that recognized exercising of the right of “collective self-defense” for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and the adoption by the diet of the security laws with an aim of actually waging war.
Furthermore, the government forcefully introduced the conspiracy crimes, reminiscent of the Maintenance of the Public Order Act of 1925, which had made the most oppressive police state and paved the way to WWII. A the same time, the government has announced its plans to enshrine a new constitution in the year 2020. This new constitution would clearly stipulate the status of the Self-Defense Forces in the Article 9, and thus annihilate its 1st and 2nd clauses that forbids the right of possessing war potentials. The three principles of prohibiting arms export have been scrapped; newscasters who were critical of the government on TV news have been swept out, and Abe, along with the nationalist extreme right politicians who gather around him, have been bending education administration to push forward an agenda of war education as they see fit. The entire society is starting to move on the basis of “war logic”.
Determined to never repeat the bitter experience of the past where labor unions were incorporated in the Sangyo Houkokukai (the Industrial Patriotic Association), and collaborated with the war, the post-war Japanese labor movement set out organizing on the principal of “never allowing war to be waged again”. However, as the Korean War began in 1950, National Police Reserve were mobilized to restart military armaments of Japan. The LDP advocated for the creation of a “self-determined constitution” and signed the AMPO (Security Treaty) agreements with the United States. While it may have slowly lost its luster, opposition to constitutional revision and war has always been at the root of the labor movement, and has always been recognized as its most important task.
The state offensive that called itself a “definitive departure from the post-war politics”, materialized in the enforcement of the division and privatization of the JNR, and the dissolution of the Sohyo, was an attempt of overturning this wide-spread and deep-rooted consciousness once and for all. 30 years on from these historical events, the Abe administration has emerged with the agenda of “breaking away from the post-war regime”, and now tries its hand at loosing the last remaining clasp holding back the tides of war.
Opposition to War and the Tasks of the Labor Movement Once more, every position that labor unions hold on war are back in focus. Before the first World War, socialists of the world gathered in Basel, Switzerland where they solemnly vowed to “exert every effort in order to prevent the outbreak of war by the means they consider most effective” and “in case war should break out anyway, it is their duty to intervene in favor of its speedy termination”. However, when the reality of war began to take hold, socialists in many countries collapsed into war collaboration in the name of “defense of the homeland” either in fear of jingoism born from the war, being swept into patriotism or simply fearing repression. This is a lesson of history that anyone can recite.
Now the same events are occurring. While holding up the placards advocating “constitutional revision”, “the use of collective self-defense”, “compulsory military service”, “expanding the installation of nuclear plants”, and coddling up to the ultra-right Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) organization, the right-wing union UA Zensen (Japanese Federation of Textile, Garment, Chemical, Mercantile, Food and Allied Industrial Workers Union), who have taken upon themselves the role holding down, first of all, “rebellion of casualized workers”, have been empowered by capital to expand their organization and to build the largest labor federation in the country. The Abe administration is deeply involved in this union.
The Abe administration has, since UA Zensen's inception, done everything in its power to exert pressure on Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), removing its ability to influence wages and labor policy, and integrating Rengo into the administration's efforts to change the constitution. To this end, the Abe administration has made the Diet's Labor Policy Council toothless, and pulled Rengo into government-manufactured spring labor offensives, as well as the “Work Style Reform Council”. As these changes were enacted, the Japanese Federation of Chemical Workers' Unions (46,000 members) have left Rengo, and the movement for independence from Rengo is gaining steam from within the Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers' Unions, the Federation of Electrical Workers, the Japanese Association of Metal, Machinery and Manufacturing Workers (JAM), the Japan Federation of Basic Industry Workers' Unions and the Japan Federation of Electric Wire Workers' Unions affiliated to the Japanese Council of Metalworkers' Unions..
Constitutional revision and war are being prepared in the here and now. However, these preparations will inevitably create new conditions for the revival of the labor movement. We have to unflaggingly position “war” as a problem for the labor movement. The labor movement does not exist only to win better wages and working conditions in the first place; its most essential component has always been determining the direction in which this society is going to move.
Last year, 2016, the voices of several hundred thousand people standing against the security and war laws filled the area in front of the Diet. These assembled voices expressing a deep sense of crisis at the age we are living in, and an irrepressible fury holding the message that “war has to be stopped”. In spite of this, it has been twisted into a “crisis of constitutionalism”, an ideological attack by the conformist opposition parties that try to seal everything into the decision-making of the Diet, rendering the opposition movement useless, desiccated and confused. Workers became conscious of the power they hold when they begin to organize themselves. That is the true starting point for the labor movement, and the first step towards change.
The Struggle Against Privatization The Abe administration has embarked on a labor offensive known as “Work-Style Reform” that represents a historical turning-point in post-war labor law, employment and labor policy. The aim of this legislation is to build up a society in which “the number of full-time employees are reduced to zero” (all the workers to be casualized), and “companies are granted a free hand to fire”. These laws would also legalize one-sided changes to work regulations and launch devastating attacks on workers' basic rights.
Second, this administration is fully committed to pushing through the “privatization of Japanese society” en masse. The March, 2017 full privatization of the Osaka city subway and buses passed in the city's municipal legislature represented a capital acquisition of 1.4 trillion yen, making it the largest privatization offensive since the division and privatization of the JNR. The Tokyo metropolitan government is trying to wage the exact same privatization offensive in the capital. Next, the complete privatization of city water services held by local municipalities via “Water Services Law Reform” is being planned, and the forced privatization of local municipal organizations via what is known as the “top runner method” is also being proposed.
Third, the state is claiming that “the yearly decrease in population is a national crisis. We must swiftly reform the social security system, even if it means making painful cuts”, and in doing so is attempting to disassemble the baseline conditions for people to live in this society.
Fourth, by pivoting around the growth strategy of “selection and concentration”, the government is mounting a state-level firing offensive. The state has declared that “896 municipalities are at risk of dissolution”, and that “Up until now, discussions around how rural administrations should function were stuck in the framework of de-centralizing state power. Not anymore. To halt the weakening of national resilience, we are making an argument for building 'defensive population reversal line' as administrative/economic units of the state that can”, “There is a limit to the number of cities that can function as 'defensive reversal lines'”, “We can't save every town”, “Rural cities without the ability to attract foreign currency will have to fade out with natural selection” (from the Masuda Report). These changes clearly exceed “reforms”. The government is moving in a straight line towards the total destruction and collapse of the whole society. This is the reality that neo-liberalism has given birth to.
However, from the viewpoint of revival of labor movement, it is clear that we are being confronted with a decisively important problem. No matter how much is privatized, no matter how many workers are casualized, no problems are ever solved in today's underlying problems of Japanese society in crisis. Employment is being destroyed wholesale; education, pensions, health care and social security are being destroyed wholesale; and rural society is being destroyed wholesale. With the eugenic declaration that towns “outside of central cities that can serve as a beachhead against population decline are bound for natural selection”, schools, hospitals, health care centers, post offices and all other institutions are forced to abandon rural society. When that happens, and despite the chaotic situation, it is a decisive moment for the workers on the railways, in the municipalities, education, health care/welfare, the postal system and more to take a central role in building unity and organizing the voices of the furious residents of rural society through reviving the labor movement in these areas. This is by no means an impossible task if we can follow closely the consciousness of the workplace and workers in rural regions, and bond our efforts to the concrete organization of their struggles.
Bringing the Doro Federation onto the National Stage This crisis in rural regions is one reason why we have started a new initiative to create a nation-wide Doro Federation. The struggle of Doro-Mito to refuse working with exposure to radiation, to oppose the forced return of residents to irradiated areas and the extension of the Joban Line (coastal line in the contaminated area adjacent to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant), and the strikes they have organized to demand the deactivation of nuclear plants hold promising potential that could make important impacts on the era we live in. The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 was an epoch-making incident that shook the existing ideological status quo pushed on the population. Fearing an explosion of anger in Fukushima, the Abe administration set out to organize a campaign of division that claimed that “the dangers of the accident had subsided” and that “Fukushima is safe”. However, you can't erase reality. When flame is put to that contradiction, it could become the power to change this society, alongside the Okinawan struggle, another volcano in class struggle. The Doro-Mito union is standing at the vanguard of this potential.
The Lessons of Doro-Chiba Lastly, I would like to sum up the concepts and principles of labor movement that Doro-Chiba has held fast to.
First, no matter how small the labor union is, it must have a perspective that does not forget the interests of the entire working class, and the progress of the entire labor movement. The principles that “workers are the protagonists (master) of society” and that “the struggle of organized workers is the power that changes society, and creates history” must not simply be a verbal confirmation. Just when these perspectives actually penetrate every layer of a concrete struggle in reality, a unity that could withstand any attack can emerge. This is the most important lesson acquired throughout Doro-Chiba's long experience of struggle.
Second, unions must not forget the foundation of Marxism, that capital and workers exist in an irreconcilable relationship, and must not make the sense of this relationship vague, instead endeavoring to embody clearly this contradiction. This is not a problem of tactics. This is a critical fork in the road when considering where the labor movement should be heading. It is worth revisiting the campaigns against rationalization and for safety, the campaign against the division and privatization of the JNR, and the campaign against outsourcing. There is no other way for labor unions to create a struggle to absolutely oppose a capital offensive, except to trust workers, and draw out their anger and strength.
To do that, unionists must put forth an unflagging effort that links deeply with the feelings of workers in the workplace, and organize struggles based on workers' own experiences, struggles which workers can themselves identify as correct. The biggest difficulty constantly facing the labor movement is organizing unity and struggles inside the workplace. The answer to the question of “what next?” is always present with those in the workplace. Struggles must also be evaluated not on their direct results, but on whether they strengthened worker solidarity or not.
Third, unionists must be aware of the historical era their struggle takes place in. Together with coworkers in the workplace, they must always assess what kind of era they are living in. If unionists close their field of vision only to their own workplace or the industry they work in, they will be unable to make use of their own power. They will be unable to even grasp the true nature of the offensive that is confronting them. The task of being aware of the era one's struggle takes place in must be taken along with the dictate to “never make light of, or look down on workers” and “thoroughly trust colleague workers”.
Fourth, without a correct line/direction of struggle, workers will fail to organize. That said, a line/direction alone is not enough to organize an entire workplace. “Correct line, mutual obligation and deep empathy”. former President Nakano always emphasized that “It is people who makes the labor movement. Think about how your colleagues feel.” Whether a given line or direction is correct will be tested by whether workers in the workplace identify it as correct based on their own experience, as I have described above.
Fifth, something we must always take to heart is that prospect in a struggle does not always exist from the beginning. It is opened within the struggle. Those in the workplace with families, or with their livelihoods at stake, will always demand a concrete prospect when they stand up to fight back. Of course they would. And when that happens, it will depend on how seriously a unionist has thought through their own prospect for the struggle, and whether they can convince others of its correctness in debates in the workplace that will decide whether colleagues will take the step into the struggle. The struggles of Doro-Chiba were all outcomes of this process.
Sixth, leadership must always be questioned. The leadership and activists must never waver; if they can stand at the head of the struggle with full conviction, the unity of the workers will never break. We must never forget the sayings that “fish rot from the head down”, “if you get lost, move left”, “never fear splitting or confrontation; instead, regard it as a chance”.
Seventh, the struggle with capital is also a struggle with ourselves. To struggle means to choose to step into great difficulty. To organize workers, it is only by changing yourself that you will be able to change those around you. “We cannot do it as one person, but we also cannot do it without one decisive person”. surely this is the epitome of the labor movement.
Eighth, to be a class-based workers' movement, it is the special duty of the worker to stand absolutely against war, to strengthen international solidarity by fighting resolutely to overthrow the social force that is preparing the war, their own government, and to continually endeavor to create a workers' political party at the behest of workers' themselves.
Ninth, we have long considered and fought against the following issues facing the Japanese labor movement for an extended period;
1 A history of being constantly on the defensive against the offensives of capital
2 A history of “struggling, only to fall into split”.
3 The prevailing common sense that “workers can only achieve unity by means of daily demands”.
4 The surrender to existing reality under the name of a “realistic line”
Today, the wide scale destruction born from neo-liberalism is creating new conditions for the labor movement. I have described the prospect that we have found in our campaigns and struggles in each section, strictly based on concrete experience. To discover what this new form of the labor movement in this new age will take, I would like to pack away all old ways of thinking, and to embark together with our comrades nationwide on a new challenge to revitalize the Japanese labor movement.
The JNR was divided into 7 Japan Railways (JR) companies: 6 regional passenger train companies—JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Shikoku and JR Kyushu‐and one cargo train company, JR Freight, which cover all main islands of Japan.
Members of Doro-Chiba are employed by JR East and JR Freight Companies.
JR East Company has 12 regional Branch Offices; the Chiba Branch Office's jurisdiction includes rail lines in Chiba Prefectures, and Sobu Main and Sobu Kanko Lines, which run through Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefectures.