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Japanese Social consultation Against Globalization
Japanese Social consultation Against Globalization
  • SUMMARY
    This essay intends to describe how Japanese social actors ― unions, employers, and the government - have constructed social consultation against the challenges of globalization. In particular, this research looks into how the social actors at the regional level have cooperated to overcome the increasing instability of employment that globalization presents worldwide. This investigation attempts to show why the actors have decided to take a collaborative approach instead of bilateral or unilateral ones.
    Experiencing the process of economic integration since the 1970s, Japanese social actors have continued social consultation to deal with the challenges that the integration provides. In particular, employment instability has been one of the major challenges that the social actors have had to deal with. When the social actors face economic difficulties, they usually turn their misfortune into blessing by engaging in social consultation. It is well documented that Japanese actors mobilized Sanrokon (national tripartite social consultation) to restrain wages and stabilize employment, which finally enabled them to overcome two oil shocks and advance national competitiveness. However, the 1980s and the 1990s witnessed the weakening of Sanrokon while the rapid appreciation of the yen prompted outflows of foreign investment, industrial production hollowed out, and unemployment grew. Sanrokon has eventually been phased out as its meetings have been suspended since the late 1990s. Nonetheless, Japanese actors have diversified social consultation. Accelerated employment instability urged the national actors to embark on social consultation outside Sanrokon, which produced tripartite agreements on employment problems.
    What has happened in prefectures? Globalization has affected each prefecture in different ways since individual prefectures have distinctive economic structures and labor market conditions. This paper investigated social consultation at Aichi and Saitama prefectures. In both Aichi and Saitama, regional interest organizations of labor and capital have been engaged in social consultation with various government bodies. On the one hand, unions and employers’ associations seek to persuade government to reflect their agreements reached during the continuing bilateral studies and discussions. On the other hand, the government shares information with unions and employers over public policies and forms mutual understandings among the participants. In this process, Aichi and Saitama have developed social consultation and strengthened collaboration among the social actors. In Saitama, the social actors have transformed their confrontational relationship to find a better way to relieve employment problems. Despite their lack of financial resources, the prefecture governments have become more ready to initiate tripartite meetings. A variety of informal but flexible meetings have enriched social consultation and produced a shared strategy against employment problems.
    The different economic structures and labor market conditions in Aichi and Saitama have affected regional social actors to form distinctive social consultation. Aichi’s economic activities are based on larger companies with higher competitiveness than in the case of Saitama. Employees in Aichi also enjoy higher wages and higher employment stability than their colleagues in Saitama. The social actors in Aichi have paid more attention to inward foreign investment to create employment and to the mismatches in the labor market. Compared to the case of Aichi, Saitama’s social actors have been more concerned with relieving employment instability of small and medium sized companies. Their agenda on social consultation is broader than in the case of Aichi because Saitama social actors are obliged to incorporate the issue of industrial restructuring when discussing employment problems.
    It is not clear whether social consultation at the prefectual level has improved the employment situation. Ten years have not yet passed since regional social actors actively started to focus their discussions on employment problems after the collapse of the bubble economy. However, the advance of social consultation has enabled them to coordinate different interests among them and form a shared strategy against the challenges that they face. It is an open question whether Japanese regional actors turn their misfortune to a blessing. Nonetheless, one thing is clear. Each actor alone is not able to solve the problems that the regional economy meets in the process of globalization.