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Jan Niggemeier

Image Credit: Marcus Reichmann

Team Research Funding, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The Other Labour Movement - Community Unions' Role in Japanese Labour Revitalisation

jan.niggemeier (at) uv.hu-berlin.de

Jan Niggemeier was PhD candidate at the Graduate School of East Asian Studies (GEAS) at Freie Universität Berlin since October 2014. His thesis project, under the supervision of Verena Blechinger-Talcott, traced the revitalisation processes of organised labour in Japan.


Holding a B.A. in East Asian Politics and Economics from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, Jan completed a M.Sc. in Asian Studies at Lunds Universitet, Sweden and furthermore received a M.A. in Japanese Language at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany and Keio University, Tokyo, Japan. In the course of his Master’s research, Jan explored participants’ diversification within Japanese antinuclear activism since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. His further research interests include environmental and social movements and the institutionalisation of Green politics in East Asia.

This research elucidates transformations within the broader Japanese labour movement along examples of diverse forms of community unionism. It aims to find out, how community unions’ decision-making about organisational structures, approached agendas as well as applied tactics impacts field transformations.

Organised labour in Japan is characterised by a dominance of corporatist enterprise unions. Despite a growing casualisation and precariousness of work as well as signs of a legitimacy crisis due to a decreasing unionisation rate, most mainstream trade unions remain hesitant to expand their scope of representation beyond their core constituency of regularly-employed workers. In comparison, locally-based “community unions” strategically target these niches in focusing on the organisation of the growing group of irregularly-employed, as the most vulnerable workforce. Inspired by examples from abroad and with a strong rooting in civil society, these grassroots-level organisations develop innovative forms of workers’ representation.

The strategic role of community unions as challengers vis-à-vis mainstream trade unions as incumbents within the organisational field of the Japanese labour movement is analysed through Fligstein and McAdam’s model of Strategic Action Fields, intersecting between social movement- and organisation-theory. This analysis scrutinises data collected through interviews with organisers and members of trade unions and several different community union organisations as well as participant observation.

This research argues that despite their peripheral position and limited dimension, community unions serve as influential field entrepreneurs. In interaction with other field actors, they point out imitable alternatives to the established corporatist trade union system and can induce field transformation of Japanese labour.

Mobility Phase:

Field Research as a Guest Researcher at the Institute of Comparative Culture (ICC), Sophia University, Tokyo, February - October 2016

Research Fellow at the German Institue for Japanese Studies, Tokyo, April - September 2018

Melcher, Lisa & Niggemeier, Jan (2017), "First GEAS Graduate Conference: Individual Agency in Institutional Contexts in East Asia" (Conference Report), in: Asien 143.

Niggemeier, Jan (2016), "Food Safety and Consumer Advocacy in Japan and East Asia, jdzb Berlin, 18-19 May 2015" (Conference Report), in: Asien 138.

Niggemeier, Jan (2015), "Sayonara Nukes - Development, Mobilisation Strategies and Organisation of Anti-Nuclear Protest in Japan after the 2011 Fukushima Accident" (Published M.Sc. thesis), in: Working papers in contemporary Asian studies 48, Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University.


The Other Labour Movement: Community Unions as Strategic Field Challengers in Japanese Labour Activism. XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology, Toronto, Canada (July 17, 2018).

Community Unions as Strategic Field Challengers in Japanese Labour Activism. International Conference “Civil Society in East Asian Countries: Contributions to Democracy, Peace and Sustainable Development”, Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania (October 26, 2017).

Diversity in Transnationalisation. Processes of Labour Activism in Japan. International Conference on Cross-Movement Mobilization, Ruhr-Universität Bochum (April 7, 2017).

Going Global, but How? – Adaptation vs. Resistance to Change within the Japanese Labour Movement. EAJS in Japan Conference, Kobe University (September 25, 2016).

Adaptation vs. Resistance to Change within the Japanese Labour Movement. Social Science Study Group, German Institute for Japanese Studies, Tokyo (September 21, 2016).