The Rapid Increase in Foreign Workers
The Current Situation, its Background, and the Workers' Standpoint
(From "Labor and Liberation" Oct. 1990)
Written by Kiichiro Taguchi
Translated by Roy West
Recently it is no longer unusual to see the appearance of foreign workers
in the streets. In the past few years the number of foreign workers in
Japan has increased steadily. Last year (1989) the government revised the
immigration laws, and from this June a new immigration law will be enforced
which includes stronger restrictions on so-called "unskilled workers"
from foreign countries. However, even after the passing of this law, entry
to Japan will not cease. Foreign migrant workers are now an established
reality. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that these workers have
become indispensable for construction companies and medium and small businesses
who are now troubled with a labor shortage.
Many of the foreign workers are engaged in construction work and odd-jobs
that Japanese youth avoid for being dirty ('kitanai'), dangerous ('kiken'),
and difficult ('kitsui') (the "3 D's, or in Japanese the "3 K's").
The working conditions in these jobs are very bad. In addition to their
low wages compared to Japanese workers, foreign workers are subjected to
horrible conditions including the non-payment of wages, and lack of compensation
for work injuries. One major factor in the horrible treatment of foreign
workers is their condition of illegality.
Even though the government has taken the position of forbidding "unskilled
workers" on principle, in the midst of the recent serious labor shortage,
they are in fact allowing entrance under the name of "training".
Likewise, the labor unions have changed their stance from "absolute
opposition to acceptance", to approval of acceptance under a fixed
framework. However, whether it be the government or labor unions, the recent
attitude of accepting workers from foreign countries reflects the naked
interests of capital.
In what manner, then, should the question of foreign workers be addressed?
This essay will look at this question, and consider the approach which
workers should take by examining the policies of the government, capitalist
groups, the Communist and Socialist Parties, and trade unions.
1. The Increase in Workers From Asian Countries
The "undocumented employment" of "unskilled workers"
from foreign countries is now considered a social problem.
The number of so-called "undocumented" foreign workers who have
remained in Japan after the expiration of their period of stay to work
illegally has steadily increased over recent years. According to statistics
from the Ministry of Justice, the number of foreigners uncovered in "undocumented
employment" in 1983 was only 2,389. In 1985 the figure was 5,629,
in 1986 it reached over 10,000, and in 1988 it was 14,314. This represents
an almost six-fold increase in only five years.
Around 1985 most of the "undocumented workers" were women from
the Philippines, Thailand, and Taiwan working as hostesses, etc. Around
1986, however, the increase in male workers began to become striking, and
by 1988 the number uncovered had reached 8,929 (a 108% increase from the
previous year). This was the first time since the increase in "undocumented
workers" first began in 1979, that the number of men was greater than
women. If we look at this according to nationalities, Bangladeshi workers
were the most numerous(2,939), followed by Pakistan (2,495), The Philippines
(1,688), Korea (769), and Thailand (369). Workers from these five countries
comprised 92.5% of the total.
Of course, the number of people uncovered doesn't reveal the actual employment
conditions of foreign migrant workers in Japan. However, one important
point of the immigration authorities statistics is the change from women
to men workers. Furthermore, if we include those workers who voluntarily
went to the immigration authorities to return to their own country, we
can see that the number of male workers from Asia has increased rapidly
in recent years. Hiroshi Komai, assistant professor at Skuba University,
described the overall situation in the following way:
"The history of foreign workers is relatively new, but the sudden
increase is surprising. According to the estimates of the immigration authorities
at the Ministry of Justice, the number of illegal workers was about 100,000
in July of 1989. The estimated number at the end of 1986 was only 28,000,
and in 1987 about 50,000. Thus, the number of foreign workers in illegal
employment has rapidly increased by about 1.8 times per year. If this pace
continues, by the end of 1992 the number will have reached about 940,000."
("Economist",0 August 22, 1989)
Of these foreign workers, the overwhelming majority of the women are working
as bar hostesses or in the sex industries, while most of the men are engaged
in construction, manufacture, or service industries.
In the case of construction, they are employed by bosses who compose the
lowest level of the subcontracting layers, and in the case of manufacture
they tend to work for medium small, or tiny businesses. All of these are
the kind of dirty, dangerous, and difficult jobs that Japanese people don't
want to engage in. The service industries as well, are small, and unstable,
and the working conditions are terrible. In this sense, the majority of
foreign workers compose the lowest stratum of labor in Japan. While individual
foreign workers change (constantly) overall they are increasing, and are
Most of these workers are "undocumented workers" who have extended
their permitted stay on a tourist visa. They often work under horrible
working conditions in which they have almost no holidays, must work late
without overtime pay, are forced to give kickbacks to brokers, and are
paid lower wages than Japanese workers. Moreover, since the work is illegal,
they are deported as soon as they are captured. With these dangers to brave,
why do they come to Japan?
The following background reasons for the increase in foreign workers from
Asia should be pointed out.
(1) The extreme "economic gap" between Japan and other Asian
countries (the per capita GNP for Japan in 1987 was 5.9 times that of Korea;
12.8 times that of Brazil; 26.7 times that of the Philippines; 35 times
that of Indonesia; 45 times that of Pakistan; and 98.6 times that of Bangladesh).
(2) The advantage of working in Japan because of the "strong yen".
(3) the recession in the Middle Eastern oil producing countries where the
foreign workers had previously worked. (4) The economic difficulties in
Asian countries and the large rate of unemployment. (5) The shortage of
"labor power" in medium and small businesses in Japan.
Let's look at the case of Pakistani "migrant" workers as an example.
Pakistan is said to be the country in Asia with the largest percentage
of workers in other countries with reportedly over four million in 1985.
The number of these migrant workers is ten percent of the total working
population of Pakistan. This is the highest rate in the world.
In Pakistan, as well as The Philippines, Korea and other countries, it
is a national policy to export labor power abroad. The migration of workers
from Pakistan to other countries has passed through several stages. First,
after independence in the Fifties, this migration was primarily domestic
servants heading to Pakistan's former colonizer England. In the Seventies
there was a noticeable large scale advance into United States and Western
Europe. By the end of 1982 the number of migrant workers from Pakistan
in the U.S., Canada and Western Europe reached a total of 570,000. During
this stage, the government established an emigration authority (1971) which
marked the beginning of migrant work as a state policy.
The second stage was work abroad in the Middle East. Pakistan was the earliest
of all the Asian countries to have migrant workers in the Middle East.
In 1979 the number of workers there shot up from 40,000 in the previous
year to 140,000. In response to this development, the government enacted
emigration laws and regulations, and granted permission to employment agents.
The emigration authority was reorganized to become the "foreign emigration
employment authority". Those working abroad were required to notify
this foreign emigration authority, and evaluate the working conditions.
At the same time, a foreign employment company was established under direct
government control. By 1982-3, it was estimated that there were about 1.7
to 2 million workers abroad, with about 1.1 to 1.4 million of them working
in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern countries had small populations,
and production was dependent on foreign labor, particularly from Asia,
but with the boom based on the rise in oil prices they attracted even more
The third stage is the period since the end of the oil boom. In this stage
the number of workers in the Middle East decreased suddenly. In 1988 new
emigration was only 80,000. However, it is said that 1.2 million workers
remain in the Middle East. (These statistics are from Komai's research.)
The economic difficulties of Pakistan were serious. In 1988 the financial
deficit was close to three times greater than the national budget, and
foreign debt had reached 300 billion dollars. according to the 1980 survey
on migrant workers, 63% were from the cities, 37% from the countryside,
and those from the cities made up two thirds. Of these workers, 70% were
married, and 63% had left their family in their home country.
In Pakistan, because of the undeveloped state of industry, it is difficult
to find employment, and so work is sought outside of the country. Furthermore,
the state, which is suffering from chronic foreign debt, has gone so far
as to positively encourage the families of migrant workers through preferential
treatment because the money these workers send back to Pakistan is major
source of foreign currency. Sending workers abroad relieves domestic unemployment,
improves its international credit balance, and has become a structural
part of the economy. The majority of these migrant workers have gone to
the Middle East, but with the end of the oil boom they were forced to find
another destination. This new destination became Japan which had achieved
remarkable economic development.
With the "strong yen" adding to the differences in wages, more
and more workers from developing countries have moved to Japan. In the
case of Pakistan, wages are one sixtieth of those in Japan. Even if migrant
workers cannot earn the average wage for Japanese workers, if the "yen"
earned is sent back to their country and converted into the local currency
(of course all of the wages cannot be sent home, and most of their earnings
must be spent on living expenses as well as the transit costs, etc.) it
is possible to earn ten times or more than the income that could be earned
in their own country. Moreover, it is also possible to purchase products
that are very expensive in their own countries such as electronic devices.
If we look at how the income sent back to Pakistan is spent, the majority
was spent ceremonial events, and the purchase of foreign goods and real
What we have seen in the case of Pakistan is common to other developing
countries with a high rate of unemployment such as the Philippines, Bangladesh,
and India. The people with large debt in these developing countries are
willing to brave the danger of arrest and forced deportation for the dream
2. The Deceptive Government Response
With the rapid increase in foreign migrant workers, the government, with
the approval of the (former) Socialist, (former) Democratic Socialist,
and Komei Parties, established a newly revised "immigration law"
that will be in effect from this June. The content of this law is the following:
(1) To increase and concretize the kinds of legal residence, and clarify
their scope. (2) To simplify the immigration screening procedures through
such means as the granting of "official certificate of official residence"
at a pre-screening. (3) Clarify the regulations on "undocumented activities",
establish a system to grant "proof of legal employment" to people
engaged in recognized employment, as well as establishing penalties for
undocumented workers, their employers, and those who promote illegal employment
(imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 2 million yen).
However, those who were employed before the establishment of the law would
not be subject to penalties.
The biggest issue in this "reform" was the establishment of penalties
for employers of "undocumented workers", and those who promote
illegal employment. Currently there are over 100,000 "illegal workers",
but in order to restrict the further inflow of foreign workers, the government
has established new penalties. The government says that the new regulations
will control the entry of "undocumented workers" into the country,
and eliminate the unjust kickbacks to brokers. But will this really be
As we have already seen, as long as the situation continues to exist in
which there is a large "economic gap" between Japan and other
countries, these countries continue to have economic difficulties and chronic
unemployment, and there is a demand in Japan for low wage workers, there
will be no way to end the inflow of foreign workers through the enforcement
of penalties. Moreover, the new establishment of penalties will not eliminate
the illegal brokers. As long as the inflow of foreign workers is inevitable,
black market brokers will not be eliminated, but only driven increasingly
underground, and the underground paybacks will only become more terrible.
It is a fact that foreign workers are compelled to grin and bear deportation,
horrible treatment and discrimination. The brokers and employers who take
advantage of this situation force harsh working conditions and kickbacks
on the workers. Because the migrant workers are in the weak position in
which their employment is "illegally" and they can be forcefully
deported, they cannot protest even when horrible conditions are forced
on them. The employers and brokers take advantage of their weak position,
and don't pay wages, enforce long working hours, and provide no worker
compensation for injury. It is clear that the excuse that the enforcement
of penalties under the new immigration law will force the employers and
brokers to "bear the danger" will in fact force even more harsh
working conditions on foreign workers.
The government's policy, as can be seen in the "new immigration law",
is to declare the strengthening of restrictions on "unskilled workers",
on the one hand, while on the other hand it plans to expand the number
of foreign workers through the expansion of the framework of employment
regulations. The revision in the "immigration laws" will recognize
new requirements for the length of stay of foreign workers employed in
the fields of law, education, research, accounting, and medicine. This
is because along with the "internationalization" of business,
there is a need for technicians and lawyers from abroad. However, the number
of people employed in these areas is very small compared to the total number
of foreign workers. The basic plan of the government is to loosen regulations
on those areas that are most convenient for capital overall.
However, domestically the labor shortage, especially in medium and small
size businesses, is severe, and the demand for foreign workers is increasing.
While the government is forbidding the entrance of foreign workers, on
the other hand they make an exception for immigrants of Japanese descent
seeking employment in Japan (under the immigration laws foreigners of Japanese
descent can remain in Japan for three years to visit relatives, and can
engage in "unskilled labor" during this period). Medium and small
size companies, suffering from a labor shortage, have taken to placing
recruitment advertisements in the newspapers of South American countries
which have accumulated massive debt and are reeling from skyrocketing inflation.
There has been a remarkable increase in the number of migrant workers of
Japanese descent from South America (especially from Brazil).
In this situation a problem became the acceptance of "unskilled workers"
by using an "system of training".
Last August the Ministry of Justice presented the results of a survey of
forty companies engaged in this kind of "training". Of these
companies, eight of them were visited to inspect the conditions, and the
following was found.
None of the courses of study submitted by the eight companies were carried
out, and the foreigners were immediately put to work. There was also no
time allotted for the study of Japanese. According to one inspector: "The
stench and heat in the workplace was terrible, the work was close to unskilled
manual labor, and there was nothing even resembling training. Because of
the shortage in manpower, there was not even any time for classes."
As can be seen, even though this is not training, but work in the literal
sense, the workers are treated as "trainees" and thus given very
low wages. For example: Two Chinese workers in a foundry in Kawagushi City
earn 50,000 yen/month (1$=120Yen), two Thai women in a food processing
plant in Hokkaido earn 40,000 yen/month, seven Korean workers in a rubber
processing plant in Osaka earn 50,000 yen/month, and in an automobile parts
plant in Nagoya three Filipino workers are paid 120,000 yen/month. Furthermore,
even though "trainees" are forbidden to work overtime, in the
case of the workers at the rubber plant they are forced to work overtime
for an hour and a half. (Information from "Asahi Newspaper" June
This shows the typical situation of employment that goes on under the name
of "training". There are fundamentally three kinds of "training".
In the first, the expenses of the "trainees" are born by the
government, an international cooperative business group, Asian Productivity
organization or UNIDO. In the second model, a private technology cooperative
organization is the subject of the training and while receiving some financial
assistance from the government the technological training is entrusted
to a private company. In the third case, a private company independently
accepts trainees. The problems with pseudo-trainees occur mainly in this
Companies take advantage of "trainees" to conceal the introduction
of foreign workers because in addition to being legal, it allows them to
force harsh working conditions on the workers. Since the workers are considered
"trainees" and the supposed goal is technological training, the
bosses only have to provide food and shelter and some allowance for everyday
expenses (in the case of construction jobs generally this means 2,000/day
or about 60,000 yen/month). Any payment above this is viewed as a deviation
from the scope of training. This is just an excuse for the companies to
force low wages on the workers.
In addition to the problem of wages, another big problem is that basic
labor standards are not applied in the case of "trainees" for
the reason that they are supposedly there for technological "training"
not for "labor". Since they are not protected by workers compensation
insurance, in the case of work related injury they cannot receive compensation
according to the law.
In the case of training, it is also common for contracts to include the
condition that the "trainees" cannot terminate a contract before
they begin working without prior reasons, and "training" cannot
be abandoned half-way. This gives companies the advantage of restricting
the workers. If the "training" is abandoned it would mean forced
deportation, and in the case of the middlemen brokers, not only does the
borrowed money have to be repaid, they can even ask for compensation for
damages. For these reasons, the abandonment of training in fact does not
These "trainees" are used by businesses to conceal their employment
of foreign workers. The exact number of foreign workers disguised as "trainees"
is not known. However, according to government sources the overall number
of trainees increased greatly from 1985 when there were about 14,000, to
1988 when the number was estimated at 113,000. Of the total number in 1988,
about 15,000, were in completely private organizations.
In the government media the Labor Ministry and Foreign Ministry, who have
viewed the acceptance of foreign workers in a positive light, put forth
a number of different plans. The Ministry of Labor brought out the idea
that in order to facilitate the acceptance of workers from developing countries
to private companies as "trainees", an agreement should be reached
with the other country on the length of stay, and publications should be
established to promote the acceptance of "trainees". The Ministry
of Labour presented the idea of accepting ten thousands "trainees"
per year as an objective. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs idea to expand
the system of visas, pay wages to "trainees", apply the labor
laws and regulations, and establish agreements with other countries was
also broadcast by the mass media.
Moreover, even the Ministry of Justice, which had assumed the stance of
the firmest opponent to the acceptance of foreign workers, has said that
it will work to ease the judgement criteria for "training". According
to these guidelines, the current condition of "one trainee allowed
per 20 employees" will not longer apply to small and medium size companies
with less than three hundred workers who will be able to accept from 3
to 15 "trainees" depending on their size. This reflects the dissatisfaction
of medium and small businesses with the current criteria which only allows
large businesses to accept "trainees".
According to the ideas of these government bodies, while unskilled labor
remains forbidden, under the name of "training" "unskilled
labor" is in fact accepted. The characteristic of this system is that
the government maintains strong control, refuses permanent stay in Japan,
and permits temporary employment only with the prerequisite that workers
later return to their own country. This reflects the shameless desire of
capital to make use of cheap foreign labor at its own convenience, while
avoiding the problems that accompany the employment and permanent stay
of foreign workers.
3. The Business Group's Response to Acceptance
The stance of business groups in regards to the acceptance of foreign workers
includes all sorts of opinions ranges from supporters to opponents.
The view of the supporters of acceptance is represented by the Kansei Economic
Friendship Organization in their "Proposal on the Problem of Foreign
Workers" (February 1989). This was the first group to propose that
conditions should be made to accept foreign workers without specialized
skills or ability. Concretely they established a "dispatch center"
for foreign workers to be independently employed and dispatched to businesses.
The foreign workers would return to their home country when their period
of employment ended. Other things proposed was that there should be checks
that the treatment of foreign workers are equal to that of Japanese workers.
The group also proposed a "practical program system" of a law
to accept "unskilled workers" (March 1989). This was intended
to ease the labor power shortage domestically, as well as ameliorate the
employment situation in the countries which sent the labor power. After
studying language on the spot, they would be sent through a national coordination
agency to work for companies as "apprentices". After 1-2 years
they would return to their own country.
The characteristics of this proposal was to open the door to the acceptance
of "unskilled workers" who had heretofore been prohibited, through
a combination of dispatch and training. In other words, this was a plan
to use the word "apprenticeship" to get around the regulation
against the employment of "unskilled workers", and in fact "dispatch"
or employ workers in companies.
This was an attempt to open the road to the introduction of so-called "unskilled
workers" under the name of "training" and "dispatch".
It is clear that the background to this was the deep-rooted demand of small
and medium size businesses for the acceptance of foreign workers. This
partially "open-door" theory aimed for the employment of foreign
workers in the form of "training" or "dispatch". Even
though the workers themselves are made to work as workers, legally they
were not viewed as workers but rather as "trainees". As a result
of this interpretation, they have to work without any rights asasorkers.
The attitude of the financial world towards foreign workers has been negative.
This year the labor problem study group of the "Japanese Economic
League's" wrote the following in their presentations:
"The most important point regarding the problem of foreign labor power
is not to take the near-sighted approach of focusing on the current supply
and demand of labor power. If we calmly look at the experience of other
countries, it should become clear that the idea that foreign labor power
should be brought in simply because there is a shortage of labor power,
is fundamentally mistaken.
What is desirable is that each country stabilizes their own society, develops
their economy and builds an excellent country. The acceptance of migrant
workers will not help improve the economy of the country from which they
come. What is needed is that Japan cooperates with the particular country
to improve its industry, create jobs, and encourage autonomous development.
In this sense, what should be strongly promoted is the dispatch and acceptance
of talented people for educational and technical training ranging from
business spirit and management skills to various kinds of technical skill.
At the same time, regarding the current, as yet unsolved problem of undocumented
workers, the ministries concerned must cooperate fully, and bear in mind
the meaning of the reform of the immigration laws, so that they can take
the appropriate action to fundamentally solve this problem."
The position of the financial world is that the desire to open the door
to "unskilled workers" under the impetus of the shortage in labor
power is "fundamentally wrong", and they reproach the demand
among some capitalists for a deep-rooted "opening". What they
fear above all is that the acceptance of foreign workers will disturb their
social order. What the report is referring to by the experience of other
countries is the large scale introduction of "foreign workers"
into France and West Germany in the Fifties and Sixties. They claim that
the introduction of foreign workers gave rise to unemployment and social
friction in education and social welfare. As we will see later, in order
to avoid the occurrence of these problems, the financial world has insisted
that "unskilled workers" should not be accepted, and should be
limited to "training".
Of course, the position of the financial world that the acceptance of "trainees"
and the development of other countries' industry through foreign aid is
necessary is deceptive. It should be clear that the acceptance of "trainees"
and foreign aid would help Japanese companies achieve bigger profits.
4. The Position of the Labor Unions and the Communist Party
Until two or three years ago, the labor unions and the Communist Party
were opposed to the acceptance of foreign workers. However, in response
to the cries, particularly from medium and small size businesses, about
the shortage in labor power, their standpoint of opposition has changed
to partial or conditional acceptance. This type of stance can be seen in
the JCP and the National Construction Union which organizes construction
workers and craftsmen.
Formerly, the National Construction Union took the strong stance of opposing
the acceptance of foreign workers with such proposals as "obstructing
the employment of illegal foreign workers, and removing all dishonest,
businessmen." However, last February they toned-down their stance
to say that "they will oppose the acceptance until the authorities
concerned agree not to cause chaos in the labor market in construction".
Recently, they have taken the policy of holding out the banner of "opposition"
as an organization, while leaving the final decision in the hands of each
of the union branches." However, this does not represent perspective
of solidarity with foreign workers. The construction companies are reeling
from a serious "labor power shortage". Previously foreign workers
were opposed for the reason that they appeared as competitors, took their
jobs, and brought about a worsening in working conditions. However, with
the labor power shortage, the intentions of the union bosses could not
be ignored and this is the reason that this is being left to the autonomous
decision of each union branch. There is no guarantee that the National
Construction Union, which works for the bosses and superficial interests
instead of the standpoint of working class solidarity, will not once again
push its line of nationalism and xenophobia when the next recession arrives.
Three years ago when the winds of downsizing and "rationalization"
were blowing, the Japan Communist Party insisted in its central organ "Red
Banner" that foreign workers were one of the primary reasons that
Japanese workers were losing their jobs, and working conditions were worsening.
"Among big businesses cheap labor is attractive, and the voices demanding
"unskilled", or close to unskilled workers from foreign countries
are growing stronger. If a large number of these foreign workers enter
the country, it is clear that this would be a major factor to further spur
the firings, 'rationalizations', lowering of wages and worsening of working
conditions already being advanced by big business and the financial world."
(December 18, 1987). However, from last autumn, without any reflection,
the JCP changed its stance to the policy of "orderly acceptance".
The JCP laid out its "fundamental position" towards unskilled
foreign labor in the following manner:
"(1) The principled acceptance of unskilled foreign workers, and maintenance
of conditions for this. Unlimited acceptance cannot take place. (2) To
stand on the position of principled acceptance of the international movement
of workers,cThe government must immediately consider the following points
and concrete measures. The observance of the third article of labor regulations
preventing discrimination of working conditions because of nationality,
the conclusion of agreements an agreement between the two countries concerned,
the establishment of a framework for acceptance, the limitation of the
period of stay, penalties against violators (employers), etc. (3) Regarding
the so-called problem of "illegal workers", it is not sufficient
for the government to order their deportation in order to protect the human
rights of these people. Urgent measures must be taken to improve the situation."
("Red Banner" editorial October 10, 1989)
While the JCP advocates the "principled acceptance" of foreign
workers, they propose that the number of entrees be established, and the
period of stay limited through an agreement between the two countries concerned.
The JCP says that the entrees should be "limited" because they
will inevitably produce harmful effects:
"The harmful effects include: (1) the acceptance of foreign wage workers
will lead to a worsening of the working conditions for Japanese workers,
and an increase in unemployment; (2) this is also connected to the creation
of a new underclass, slums, and an increase in crime; (3) social costs
such as education, welfare, and social security will rise. It is an easy
assumption that the unlimited acceptance of foreign workers would lead
to this sort of situation. The experience of West Germany and France also
demonstrates this." (ibid)
The "harmful effects" that the JCP mentions are the same ones
given by the government, financial circles, and the labor unions for opposing
the entrance of foreign workers. They say that these problems are inherent
to the acceptance of foreign workers. However, this argument only sees
the surface of things.
Let's look at the problem of "increased unemployment and worsening
job conditions". It is not necessarily the case that the entrance
of foreign workers immediately leads to this result. In West Germany and
France from the late Fifties through the Sixties a large number of foreign
workers were accepted to meet the labor power shortage. The acceptance
of foreign workers did not cause the immediate worsening of working conditions
or unemployment in these countries. On the one hand, the foreign workers
supported production as the lowest stratum of workers with low wages and
terrible working conditions, while the West German and French workers benefited
from the terrible exploitation of foreign workers to gain a relatively
improved position. It even came to be said that these countries had a "two-tier
structure" with foreign workers bearing most of the dirty and difficult
jobs. During periods of the development of capitalism, foreign workers
are seen, not as competitors, but rather as a primary factor for increasing
the standard of living. The scapegoating of foreign workers by right wing
reactionaries started from the time of the serious recession during the
oil crisis. The reactionaries accused the foreign workers of stealing jobs,
and bombarded them with nationalism and xenophobia. However, in the midst
of the repression, it was the low-level foreign workers themselves who
lost their jobs.
This fact clearly shows that the idea that the acceptance of foreign workers
would threaten Japanese workers' jobs is one dimensional. Of course, it
can't be denied that even in times of non-recession, the low wages of foreign
workers appear to Japanese workers as competitors. However, the position
which opposes the acceptance of low wage foreign workers based on the idea
that they steal jobs and cause the worsening of working conditions, dazzles
the eyes with apparent interests, but cannot understand the essence of
things, and spreads xenophobia and divisions among the workers.
Capital introduces all sorts of discrimination among the workers: main
company and subcontractors, temporary and part time workers, etc. Capital
uses "disposable" part time and temporary workers as a control
valve for business fluctuations. When the business climate worsens, the
first ones to get the sack are these low level workers, and those working
for small subcontracting companies. It is the rule of capital that makes
the workers' lives unstable. This instability will not end if the rule
of capital continues, regardless of whether or not foreign workers are
The same thing is true for the problem of "increased crime and the
creation of slums" or "social security and welfare". The
greatest responsibility for the occurrence of these problems lies with
the discriminative low wages and horrible working conditions capital imposes,
and is not the fault of foreign workers. The results of research by the
French researcher Gaspard clearly show the groundlessness of bourgeois
"public opinion" which scapegoats foreign workers by saying that
they are a hotbed of crime. According to her research, French people are
the ones who commit the vast majority of serious social crimes, whereas
the overwhelming number of crimes by foreign workers are petty crimes which
come from unavoidable poverty related to their terrible treatment by capital.
("The France of Foreigners")
The position of the JCP which deflects attention away from the rule of
capital as if the responsibility lies with the foreign workers, is a reactionary
stance which propagates prejudice against foreign workers.
Based on this reactionary view, the JCP calls for "orderly acceptance",
but the conditions of establishing a "framework for admission"
and a "limitation on the period of stay" presuppose a return
to the home country. This position is essentially the same as the bourgeois
theory of admission. This bourgeois theory denies foreign workers the right
to permanent stay, and attempts to "use" foreign workers for
the convenience of capital, and avoid social problems from the permanent
residence of foreign workers. They want to thoroughly squeeze these foreign
workers and then send them back to their home country. In other words,
they aim to introduce freely disposable "labor power". The JCP's
nationalist standpoint of "orderly admission" is the same as
that of the bourgeoisie. Their conversion from an oppositional position
to the standpoint of "orderly acceptance" above all reflects
the interests of medium and small capital which is suffering from a labor
5. International Solidarity is the Standpoint of the Workers
We have seen the background to the rapid increase in workers from foreign
countries, as well as the positions taken by the government, the financial
world, labor unions and the Communist Party. In what way, then, should
the workers grasp this problem?
The development of capitalism creates the conditions for the solidarity
and contact between workers to overcome the national boundaries established
by capital. Lenin described the progressive meaning of the international
migration of workers which exceeds the nation state.
"Capitalism creates the particular form of national migration. Countries
in which industry is rapidly developing introduce more machinery, drive
other countries out of the market, and attract wage workers from foreign
countries through their above average wages.
In this way hundreds of thousands of workers move far away from their hometowns.
Against their will they are drawn into the orbit of advanced capitalism.
They are drawn out of their remote villages to become participants in the
movement of world history, and come face to face with a powerfully united,
international industrial class.
Certainly, only extreme poverty causes people to abandon their homeland,
and capitalism exploits migrant workers in a completely shameless way.
But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive meaning of
the modern national migration. Emancipation from the heavy pressure of
capital cannot occur apart from the increasing development of capitalism,
and the class struggles based on this development.
The bourgeoisie tries to incite the workers of one nation against the workers
of another nation, and cause splits between them. Class conscious workers
understand that it is inevitable and progressive to knock down all of the
capitalist walls between nations, and work in order to help the organization
and enlightenment of comrades from other countries." ("Capitalism
and the Migration of Workers", translated from Japanese)
Advanced workers must recognize the progressive meaning of the movement
of workers, and strive for solidarity with the workers of other countries
from an internationalist standpoint. The government spreads the anti-foreign
ideology that the admission of "unskilled workers" would widen
discriminatory consciousness, and lead to the breakdown of the social order.
General Council of the Ministry of Justice Immigration Authority Eitoku
Sakanaka says: "Supposing the case where our country admits unskilled
labor, in addition to the fear of ruining the national spirit by dependence
on foreign labor, or through discrimination arising against the foreign
workers engaged in unskilled labor, there is also concern that this will
effect the social order and impede the rationalization of the industrial
structure." ('Sekai' [The World] January 1990)
But as we have seen, it is the government and capital who are inciting
discrimination and prejudice against foreign workers, with fears that the
entrance of unskilled foreign workers will enlarge the slums and increase
crime. Within the country they are also bringing in various forms of discrimination
against women, rural people, and among the workers. The bring out the example
of Western Europe being dependent on foreign labor, but they hide the fact
that foreign are discriminated against with unequal conditions, and are
forced to carry out the lowest stratum of labor.
The workers' standpoint has nothing in common with this reactionary position.
Workers support the freedom of foreign workers' employment. The illegal
conditions of the labor of foreign workers means that capital can impose
horrendous working conditions, brokers are active and in-between exploitation
takes place. Of course as long as the rule of capital continues this would
not end even with the legal employment. But the legality of employment
would at least ease these conditions somewhat.
Furthermore, workers must oppose all discrimination, and demand equality
for foreign workers and their rights as workers. Only supporting the legality
of employment, is no different from the bourgeois desire for cheap labour.
For foreign workers to defend their own lives, they must secure their rights
However, the current issue of foreign workers is not a simple one. This
is for because: this takes the form of migrant work, and a small minority
of migrant workers are upper class in their own country. Some are attracted
to Japan by the wage gap between their own country and Japan, and the dream
of making a large income in a short period of time. This situation makes
the organization and creation of a movement of migrant workers difficult.
Moreover, it is clear from the example of Western Europe, which is increasing
restrictions on workers from abroad, that there are limitations on the
freedom of employment for foreign workers under the rule of capital. Workers
in Japan as workers must oppose discrimination by capital against foreign
workers, and struggle in solidarity to support their rights and lives.
However, the international solidarity of workers is not merely limited
to supporting the demands for their rights. Above all, workers must develop
the class struggle against the system of capital, and overthrow this system.
What must be sought is the overthrow of the rule of capital in Japan, and
the realization of socialism established on the power of the workers.