The purpose of this article is to present a comprehensive picture of labor oral history studies which have accumulated in Japan and to show labor oral history’s possibility to bring new aspects into research. Labor oral history studies have accumulated to a considerable extent in Japan over the years, to which the author has made a small contribution. Although the author’s document retrieval is not complete, this article would encourage historians to utilize Japanese oral histories as it gives their general outline to researchers both within and outside the country.
This paper examines the formation of job- and competency-based human resource management (HRM) in Japan, drawing on oral histories from the steel industry to trace the path of development. At Nippon Steel and Nippon Kokan, the personnel systems evolved from the prewar academic background-based status system to the postwar academic background-based status system and finally the competency-based grade system. The process of shedding the postwar academic background-based status system required the concept of competency, which established its foundation due to two contributing factors. First, the existence of job-based wages brought the nature of specific jobs into clearer light. Second, recruiting high school graduates for blue-collar jobs created uniformity among the workforce in terms of academic background—and that enabled assessments on competency-based, not academic, criteria. Middle school graduates and university graduates came from altogether different academic back-grounds, but high school graduates came in with similar levels of knowledge—a prerequisite for applying work-oriented criteria. Despite those similar trends, Nippon Steel and Nippon Kokan would then embark on different paths in developing their respective personnel systems. Whereas Nippon Steel essentially perpetuated its job-based wage structure, Nippon Kokan converted its existing job-based wages into competency-based rates—and the difference emanated from the companies’ HRM policies.
This study has examined, through the oral history method, with what kind of lan-guage and logic management officers and union officials persuaded negotiating partners and workers into the construction of mutual-trust-based industrial relations, presenting three case studies. The following three points have been revealed. (1) At Ishikawajima Heavy Industries and the NKK Kawasaki Steel Works, labor-management consultation bodies had been established in its’ own thinking, at early stage. On the other hand, the Tokyo Kinzoku Federation promoted a labor-management consultation system based on the basic principles of the Productivity Movement. (2) Ishikawajima Union tried to persuade its members into the construction of co-operative industrial relations, stressing workers’ merits. Personnel and labor management officers at the NKK Kawasaki Steel Works had been sharing their survey data with workers and having discussions with them based on such data on the understanding that scientific data was objective information crucial for constructive discussion. (3) At small and medium-sized compa-nies, not only trade unions but employers were distrustful to the Productivity Movement. Therefore, the Tokyo Kinzoku Federation had to persuade both sides. For that purpose, it provided occasions for education and discussion with regard to productivity im-provement and the labor-management consultation system.