This study analyzes the growth of the largest industrial union in Japan, Zensen Domei(ZENSEN), from the postwar economic recovery era to Japan’s period of high economic growth, by using historical documents and union leaders’ oral histories.
Although the number of employees in the textile industry shrank during the period of high economic growth, ZENSEN’s number of members clearly increased. This can be attributed to the collective organization of small and medium enterprise workers and workers in the downstream industry such as distribution.
Three factors contributed to ZENSEN’s successful organization of workers. First, the organizational system was improved and centralized leadership was strengthened. Second, ZENSEN created an organizer department at its headquarters to centralize organizing activities. Third, a human resource development plan, an evaluation, and selection system were introduced to develop the organizers. In addition, ZENSEN used “enforcement and penalties” and “selective incentives” to maintain its expanded organization. In other words, ZENSEN severely penalized large company unions that dropped out of the united struggle and demonstrated the benefits of industrial policy, internationalization, information sharing, and human exchange to their company unions. As a result, in spite of the increase in the number of SME unions, large unions remained within ZENSEN.
Although limited to the case of ZENSEN, currently known as UA ZENSEN, the findings confirm that industrial unions can mitigate the difficulty of union organization and weak labor-management bargaining power in small and medium enterprises.