Hundreds of activists and rank and file trade unionists in front of the MPs’ Chamber near Japanese Parliament cheered and applauded when they heard the announcement ‘Vote for Post Privatisation Bill, 108. Vote against, 125’. It was on 8 August, in between the memorial days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been pursuing the neo-liberal policy just like Bush in the US and Blair in the UK, and has sent troops to Iraq. His bill to privatise the postal system and to divide its service into four sections — mail delivery, banking, insurance and shops — was the biggest ‘structure reform’ program since the privatisation of Japan National Railway in 1987.
Even though the post privatisation bill had been passed once in the Lower House of Parliament on 5 July with a majority of just five votes, it has been rejected in the Upper House with majority of 17. Not just opposition parties, but quite a big section of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members of both houses voted against the bill — 37 in the Lower House, and 22 in the Upper.
Koizumi has called a snap election for 11 September, and aims to destroy the ‘rebel’ LDP MPs by nominating new candidates who are obedient to him. The ruling LDP could split.
According to the Kyodo survey in June, 72 percent of the Japanese people said there was ‘No need for privatisation’. But the problem for workers and ordinary people in Japan is that they have no powerful voice in both the parliamentary parties and the main stream trade unions.
Since the privatisation of the railways in 1987, what was the biggest and the most influential railway trade union Kokuro has lost its 180,000 members (90 percent of its membership). This triggered the disbanding of the leftwing national trade union centre Sohyo, and the trade union based Socialist Party (SP) leadership started to follow the ‘Third Way’.
In 1994, the SP voted for the single-seat constituency (first past the post) system which has replaced multiple-seats constituency for the Lower House, and both the SP (now Social Democratic Party) and the Communist Party have lost seats significantly since then.
Now the Democratic Party (DPJ) supported by Rengo, the right wing national centre of trade unions, which has become the biggest opposition party in both houses of parliament. But they are just a Japanese version of the Democratic Party in the US. The head of the DPJ has already announced that they would not focus on postal privatisation in the election campaign, and they have never, anyway, criticised the railway privatisation even after the fatal train accident in West Japan in April this year which left 107 deaths and 540 injuries.
Without waiting the official privatisation, the Postal Public Corporation, with the help of the Japan postal union leadership, has already started to introduce ten-hour working shifts, performance related pay, mass redundancies etc. Once privatised, all the postal workers (their present status is council workers) will be dismissed and rehired selectively.
Small and local post offices which cannot make profits will be closed down. We have seen this already in the railway service after its privatisation.
But because of a media black out and the absence of strong opposition in the parliamentary parties and trade unions, those problems have not been exposed publicly. No one can predict the result of the poll on 11 September.
Whatever the result, rank and file workers and activists of various unions who have campaigned against the bill hold the key to the future of movement. Privatisation is for profit, not for people.
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