Labor unions staged daylong rallies across Japan on Saturday to mark May Day with a call on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to safeguard their jobs in the face of near-record unemployment.
During a rally in Tokyo, opposition party leaders stressed their commitment to toppling the Koizumi administration, asking participants for cooperation in Sunday’s three local elections in a move to beat ruling coalition-backed candidates.
“We would like to establish a new government by cooperating with other opposition parties by the end of this year,” said Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition group.
Takako Doi, head of the Social Democratic Party, said the opposition parties must reject an emergency legislation proposal to cope with foreign military attacks.
Hirohisa Fujii, secretary general of the Liberal Party, said the opposition camp’s victories in the three elections would become a driving force for a change of government.
The three are two parliamentary by-elections and a gubernatorial election in Tokushima Prefecture.
Although May Day is May 1, many Japanese unions, faced with dwindling union ranks, last year began marking it on the first day of Japan’s Golden Week holidays.
Officials with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the umbrella group that organizes the May Day rallies, said a total of 900,000 people turned out at 630 rally venues nationwide.
In Tokyo, an opening ceremony for the rally organized by Rengo headquarters started at 10:30 a.m. at Yoyogi Park, where some 100,000 people gathered.
Rengo President Kiyoshi Sasamori criticized the Koizumi administration, saying that it has not taken effective measures to prop up Japan’s sluggish economy.
“The number of unemployed people has been increasing,” Sasamori told the crowd. “Have any effective measures been taken against the prolonged economic slump? I will demand the administration be changed unless it hears the voice of the people.”
Rengo officials said that the theme of this year’s rallies went beyond traditional labor concerns such as unemployment and job security.
To inject new vigor into May Day, Rengo leaders embraced causes espoused by nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations, turning the event into what a senior Rengo official called the “touchstone” of the 21st-century May Day movement.
“We have decided to take up the themes of peace, human rights, labor and the environment as the new keywords for May Day in the 21st century,” Rengo said in a statement.
At Yoyogi Park, 27 groups, including NGOs and other private ones, set up booths to publicize a variety of causes. A small zoo was set up for children. Farmers took advantage of the event to erect stalls in the park to sell fresh produce.
Economic issues, however, remain central to the May Day platform. The umbrella group said that with Japan’s prolonged economic slump, there have been successive corporate bankruptcies and job losses due to restructuring.
With unemployment hovering at record highs, participants in the May Day rallies urged the government to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Labor leaders also urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to change his policy of making structural reforms the top government priority.
Koizumi had indicated he wanted to attend the May Day events, but instead decided to go on a weeklong tour of Vietnam, East Timor, Australia and New Zealand.
The Saturday rallies took place in 23 prefectures across Japan, while two prefectures will hold May Day rallies on Sunday, and 20 on May 1.
Two other major umbrella labor organizations — the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the National Trade Unions Council (Zenrokyo) — will also hold their rallies on May 1.
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