Japanese temp workers : the culture and politics of precarious employment
AbstractPh.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
This dissertation examines the particular ways in which the Japanese employment system is becoming insecure, and how workers negotiate the emerging forms of precarious employment. I use the case of blue collar temporary agency workers to analyze the patterns of insecure workers' responses to precarious employment arrangements, both in their individual and collective forms. During eighteen months in the field from April 2008 to September 2009, I gathered ethnographic data on temp workers by working on an assembly line for five weeks. To examine the collective forms of worker responses, I joined a labor union in Tokyo and studied street demonstrations, collective bargaining negotiations, and struggles in court. A total of fifty-five in-depth interviews were conducted with temp workers, temp agency managers, corporate executives, permanent workers, and labor union officers. The predominant form of worker agency at the individual level is diligence and commitment. Temp workers work very hard, involving their psyche in finding ways to work faster and mindfully aiming for high quality output. I revisit the Marxist question of surplus appropriation, why do temp workers work as hard as they do when management rewards so little? In response to the conventional answers of "coercion" and "consent," I borrow Bourdieu's concepts of practical sense and illusio to show how they become absorbed in perfecting their jobs as they manage the particular deprivations arising from factory temp work. However, their passion and commitment generated emotional suffering because of the discriminatory treatment they continued to receive. In analyzing the collective forms of worker agency, I introduce the concept of "advocacy without constituency" to examine how particular types of Japanese labor unions called general unions and community unions make relatively small efforts to organize the temp workers while spending much of their resources on rallying, lobbying, and waging court struggles to change labor laws. I show how these small and poor unions compensate for their structural weaknesses by networking with other organizations, at times crossing the historical fissures that exist within the left.