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Andrew Glyn

Japan: Working in ‘Hell’s Battlefield’

(January 1981)

From Militant, No. 535, 16 January 1981, p. 10.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Andrew Glyn introduces an account by Matsuoksi of work at a Japanese car factory

Every week, the Japanese motor firm Nissan (Datsun) place a help-wanted advertisement in the major national paper: “Want to earn a stable income at a super modern factory located in green forests? Two days off every other week! No previous experience required!”

The real conditions in the Japenese motor industry make a mockery of the fine words of the ads.

The industry is often held up as a model for other industries and even economies to copy. Its success has been staggering.

Already in 1977 Japan was by far the biggest exporter of cars in the world, sending abroad twice as many as West Germany. Since 1977 the value of Japanese car exports has doubled.

At the heart of this success has been continual increases in labour productivity, which in Nissan increased twelve times between 1955 and 1975.

By 1973 the industry was producing twice the number of cars per worker as the British industry. Even in the last three years productivity has risen another 40%.

How have these terrific increases been achieved? Firstly by very heavy mechanisation. By 1974 Toyota and Nissan had invested in seven times and five times as much equipment per man as BL.

Wages are slightly higher in Japan than in Britain – in 1978 in the motor industry the differential was estimated to be about 20%. But the enormously higher productivity at present more than covers the higher labour costs and the huge outlays on plant and equipment.

In 1977 Toyota and Nissan were earning 27% and 20% profit respectively on their capital employed; Leyland on the other hand, paid the inevitable cost of underinvestment. Using old models and antiquated equipment it was earning 1%.

But what’s it like to work in a Japanese motor factory? The conventional picture is of the paternalistic company looking after all the workers needs.

The following account of work at Nissan by Matsuoksi, published in 1974 in the magazine AMPO, explains why on the contrary the workers there call it “Hell’s Battlefield”.

Transcriber’s Note

Rest of article consists of extended quotes – ID

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