Labor unions in Japan have been facing critical issues. Membership has fallen from 35% in the 1970’s to 18% today because of the increase in temporary workers who are not usually organized by unions, and who now make up 30% of the workforce. This has led to a decline in the union presence. Now labor unions are seeking a new direction, shifting to be based more in local communities, collaborating with other nonprofit organizations and cooperatives, and trying to organize more temporary workers who are not protected.
With this background in mind, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation – Rengo (JTUC-Rengo) has been eager to incorporate community organizing into their work. Community Organizing Japan (COJ) proposed an organizing workshop to Rengo which took place June 19-21, 2014, thanks to the effort of Shugo Ikemoto, Secretary General of COJ who has a strong connection with Rengo. COJ invited Dr. Marshall Ganz and conducted the workshop together with a teaching team of 10 Japanese-speaking coaches, led by Katsurako Matsuzawa and Kanoko Kamata, COJ. The workshop was conducted in simultaneous translation for Marshall’s lecture, and group work was in Japanese. We had 28 participants from various industrial and corporate unions such as energy, electric, automotive, chemical, railroad, education (teachers), telecommunication and so on. The pedagogy – interactive lecture, skill practice in the group work, and debrief was relatively new to many participants.
In the end the participants learned a lot. Mainly they are fascinated by the snowflake leadership structure, realizing that current situation is more like a “dot.” Also coaching seems to be a key learning for them. “I realized I am always telling people what to do, but it does not develop leadership of others,” said one participant from Rengo. They are also fascinated by the power of story, although there was hesitation at the beginning. Eventually they realized how the Story of Self helped to build relationships quickly and deeply, also how Story of Us creates community and now creates urgency.
Community Organizing Japan looks forward to working closely with Rengo and their union members to realize their vision.