“Strike.” Dear reader, what do you think when you hear this word? What impression do you get? Do you see the blood, sweat and tears? Do you see an angry, vicious mob disturbing our civil society? I bet a majority of Japanese people under the age of 40 have neither a positive nor negative impression of strikes. They have no impression at all and no idea about what a strike is because strikes have become rarer in modern Japanese society. This, however, hasn’t always been the case.
In 1974, Japan saw 9,581 strikes lasting more than half a day, involving 3,620,283 workers. This postwar peak strike activity occurred when I was 3 years old. As a child, I remember seeing quite often work stoppages involving train conductors or bus drivers. The latest data is from 2013, when there were a total of just 71 strikes. I teach labor law to teenagers and 20-somethings at university, but the most challenging lectures focus on strikes. The questions I field: “What is a strike?”, “Why would anyone do something like that?” and “What is the point?”