Another feature of the growth of capitalism in Japan has been the weakness of the trade union movement. Despite the progress of large scale industries the increase in the number of the industrial workers and the percentage of the organized workers to total industrial workers is very low.
In the words of Prof. Allen, “The economic structure of Japan, the system of industrial relations that exist there, and the paramount political influence are not hostile to the development of a strong labour organization.”
The trade union movement in Japan was not only weak but also started very late. The modern trade union movement started in Japan on the eve of First World War only. Before that a number of trade unions were organized in various industries but they could not work successfully. Further, at that time the government did not favour the formation of the trade unions.
In 1900 the government promulgated the Public Peace Police Regulations, which gave a serious blow to the trade union movement. During the next twelve years trade union movement made little progress. In 1912 the Friendly Society of Workers was formed not to put forward trade union demands but as a welfare organization to work for moral, economic and social well-being of the workers through mutual co-operation.
This society subsequently became the nucleus of the trade union movement in Japan. During the war this society was able to secure wage-rise for the workers and also succeeded in getting certain disputes settled in favour of workers. This success encouraged the trade union movement. In 1916 another union society known as Faithful Friends Society was formed. This union in contrast to the Friendly Society of Workers had leftist leanings.
By and large the attitude of the government to the trade unionism was not favourable and it often resorted to repressive policy and keep a constant watch over the activities of the trade unions. It was particularly harsh towards the left wing trade unions. In addition to this trade union movement was also rendered weak due to internal dissensions.
The trade unions pursuing different ideals were not able to take a united stand. Even the leadership of the trade unions, which came from the intellectual classes, also attached more importance to the abstract ideal rather than constructive activities.