[OPE] Growing unemployment in Japan, and the spectre of the "dual society"

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Jul 27 2009 - 13:06:16 EDT

One Japanese writer points out that:

"In Japan, whoever works even 1 hour a week, whoever turns down a job, or is
employed a week a month, is considered as employed. As a result, the
Japanese have long boasted at their low unemployment rates. (...) our
real unemployment rate (...) [is] 5,4% looking for work, and 20,1% not
looking for work." http://www.jref.com/forum/showthread.php?p=112655

The Japan Statistics Office reports that:

The number of employed persons in May 2009 was 63.4 million, a decrease of
1.36 million or -2.1% from the previous year. Out of these 1.36 million
770,000 (56.6%) are classified unemployed, the rest presumably drop out of
the labour force.

But that is not all - there are, in the space of one year, some 5.7 million
extra Japanese employees, still on the payroll, who are now are virtually
redundant because there is no work at the office or factory, bringing the
total up to 6 million. It is a sort of additional "hidden" unemployment:

"Amid the global economic crisis that started last year, the number of
workers at Japanese companies during the first three months of 2009 is
believed to have increased to up to 6.07 million, the highest level since
1980, a government report said Friday. (...) A year earlier, not more than
380,000 employees were regarded as redundant. The office said Japanese firms
have done their best to maintain employment even under severe business
conditions, but they are reaching their capacity limits. Of the 6.07
million, the Cabinet Office estimates that up to 3.69 million people being
hired by manufacturers had virtually no work to do in the January-March
period, up from about 60,000 a year ago. If 6.07 million people lose their
jobs, Japan's jobless rate would reach around 14 percent, which is more than
twice the postwar record-worst 5.5 percent, according to Cabinet Office
officials. (...) The report also noted that income gaps are widening as the
number of part-time and other nonregular employees have grown rapidly over
the past years." http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090725a2.html

The official unemployment rate is set to rise more or less linearly:

"A survey by the Economic Planning Association of 36 economists from June 25
to July 2 found an average prediction that unemployment will reach 5.56
percent this October to December. The jobless rate was 5.2 percent in May.
The worst unemployment rate on record is 5.5 percent, logged most recently
in April 2003." http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090727a4.html

This would imply that from now until the end of the year, the employed
workforce would shink by another half million people or so, of which about
230,000 would be classified unemployed.

The hope is that a recovery from the recession (defined by renewed growth
of output) will bring the growth of unemployment to a halt, but this does
seem very likely, I think it is more likely that unemployment will continue
increase for several years, and then stabilise at some point at a durably
higher level.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of a longterm perspective by Ernest
Mandel sketched in an article which he showed me 25 years ago:

"How does capitalism try to overcome this growing new contradiction,
resulting from the reduction of the absolute amount of human labour
necessary to produce even a growing mass of commodities saleable under the
present (i.e. bourgeois) conditions of production and distribution? Its
solution is that of the dual society, which divides the present proletariat
into two antagonistic groups:

- those who continue to be included (or are newly incorporated,
especially in the so-called 'third-world countries') into the process of
production of surplus value, i.e. into the capitalist process of production
(be it for tendentially declining wages);
- those who are expelled from that process and survive by all kinds of
means other than the sale of their labour power to the capitalists (or the
bourgeois state): welfare; increase of 'independent' activities; becoming
small-scale peasants and handicraftsmen; returning to domestic labour
(women); 'ludic' communities, etc.

A transitional form of 'dropping out' of the 'normal' capitalist production
process is 'black' labour, 'precarious' labour, 'part-time jobs', etc.,
hitting especially women, youth, immigrant workers, etc. (...) Through
pressure in favour of a dual society, part-time labour, casual labour,
'dropping out of the rat-race', etc., capital now wants to reduce its
wage-bill to directly paid-out wages only, which will then inevitably tend
to decline as a result of a hugely inflated industrial reserve army of
labour. It already succeeds with that goal with the mass of the 'casual' and
'precarious' labourers, who generally do not enjoy social security benefits.
It wants to realise the same gains with regard to the unemployed as such. In
other words: the 'dual society' under capitalism is nothing but one of the
key mechanisms to increase the rate of surplus-value, the rate of
exploitation of the working class, and the mass and the rate of profit."

This trend was moderated or mitigated for two decades, basically by
substituting borrowed assets for owned assets, but as we now know
this proved unsustainable.

All told, this implies an increasing stratification of the labour force in
of a hierarchy of occupations, incomes and wealth, reflecting the
typical employment pattern of the modern neoliberal enterprise:

- a core of skilled employees with permanent contracts (managers,
technocrats, advisors etc.),
- a stratum of skilled and semi-skilled employees on annual contracts,
- a stratum of marginalised casual, temporary and parttime employees on
shortterm contracts, or without any contracts or insurance.
- a growing stratum of permanently unemployed or lumpenised people.

It is an easy guess that this must have profound longterm consequences for
social ideology, social integration, law & order and culture generally,
since there will be a growing number of people who are idle, but lack money
for anything but the most basic necessities. Ideologically, the first step
has been the "naturalization" of unemployment, but it is obvious that at
some point it is concluded that "some people are more equal than others" and
indeed, that the pauperized part of society - which includes a large number
of migrants - becomes viewed as a "threat" or a "plague", against
which barriers must be thrown up. Then, all ideals of social solidarity
begin to vanish, while a growing mass of people emerges on the stage
of history who are prepared to do justabout anything, to improve its lot...


E-mail message checked by Spyware Doctor (
Database version: 5.10260
ope mailing list
Received on Mon Jul 27 13:10:16 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Jul 31 2009 - 00:00:02 EDT