Looking Back on the IIRA World Congress in Tokyo|
Tadashi Hanami, Past President of the IIRA
The International Industrial Relations Association (IIRA) held its 12th World Congress over five days from May 29, 2000 in Tokyo. From some 60 nations around the world, 1,121 researchers far more than at any of the previous 11 world congresses registered and participated in the congress, filling nearly all the seats at plenary sessions, workshops, special seminars and other activities. Participants were buoyed by the enthusiastic debate.
The number of applications for presentation also marked a record-breaking high: 110 papers were selected for presentation from among 437 papers which had been submitted to the congress organizers. In my capacity as President of the IIRA, I delivered the Presidential Address, Universal Wisdom through Globalization. Having read through the selected 110 papers, I talked for some 40 minutes on academic research trends, noting the various issues in industrial relations and the problems of labor-management relations which are challenging today's researchers. The Address noted the shared recognition among researchers around the world that industrial relations everywhere now face drastic changes and challenges: employment instability, a decline in employment security, an increasingly volatile labor force, and the declining influence of labor unions. As a result, the framework for traditional industrial relations, which was centered around the unions, has been badly shaken and many existing industrial relations systems have begun to malfunction.
The intense interest arising from the awareness of this crisis facing the present industrial relations system has become the driving force motivating researchers to think carefully about the direction that industrial relations should take in the 21st century. This concern with the future was conspicuously reflected in many of the papers and in the subsequent discussions they stimulated. The shifts in employment from regular, core and stable or typical employment to that characterized by short-term, temporary, atypical, and non-regular employment is increasingly occurring as a general tendency throughout the world, observed not only in advanced industrial countries, but also, as a result of globalization, in many of the developing countries as well. Such shifts in employment patterns, together with the emergence of female labor and the astonishing development of information technology, have created difficulties in maintaining a balance between work and family life. The conflict between work and an individual's personal life is another outcome. The end result has been the reinforcement of diverse forms of discrimination.
The question of how to balance labor flexibility with the need to protect the socially underprivileged emerges from the universal search for a more generally effective economic management system (including various forms of deregulated activity) which will maintain and even promote social fairness. There is a strong awareness that the promotion of labor flexibility and the provision of social security nets are the two tasks to be achieved not only by European countries but by all countries on a global scale.
Faced by such tasks, labor unions in developed and developing countries have experienced a decline in their roles and functions. This has resulted in a correspondingly strong interest in whether it is possible to reinvigorate unions, and a search for ways to do so. Meanwhile, a new style of labor-management relations is emerging. On the one hand, various types of labor suppliers have extended the labor force beyond the commonly accepted framework of ordinary employment. The new supply of flexible labor includes freelancers, consultants, the self-employed, and independent specialists, together with job-seekers, consumers and grass-roots groups including NGOs and NPOs. On the other hand, the development of global linkage of enterprises beyond national borders and an increasing number of multilaterally interacting business groupings and link-ups will require a recasting of the traditional tripartite relationship of government, workers and enterprises. If unions are to reinvent themselves, one task they will have in front of them will be that of forging a new identity within the multi-dimensional industrial relationships which are now emerging. Organizing non-typical workers will be a part of this big challenge.
Employment flexibility, globalization, and the IT revolution are not only the outcome of imminent fundamental changes in industrial relations in individual countries. They are also producing substantial change and challenge the way work is regulated internationally. There is now doubt about the ILO's tripartite principle, and about the universal applicability of a single, centrally administered set of international labor standards. The ILO's tripartite principle has come under increasing criticism because labor unions no longer represent a majority of workers either in the developed or the developing countries. Nevertheless, they are still regarded as the most representative body of workers and remain the actual representative at tripartite tables to the exclusion of, for example, various NGOs. At the same time, in the course of discussions concerning international trade and the social clauses in international labor law, doubt was cast on the applicability of Western standards in non-Western areas. In particular, the wisdom of perfunctory legalistic approaches, including the mechanical application of certain social standards as universal laws and trade sanctions was questioned. Here, one sensed that there was a search for more flexible ways of implementing the clauses involving, for example, economic and technological assistance, advice, instructions and recommendations.
Held at a time of advancing globalization, the congress was convened in Asia for the first time since the Sixth Congress in 1983. A total of 286 participants attended from Asia as well as Africa, Oceania, Central and South America and the Middle East. The number balanced well the figure of 290 participants from North America and Europe, and effectively emphasized the importance of the perspective of the developing countries in discussions about industrial relations. In line with this atmosphere, Professor Luis Aparicio Valdez from Peru has been appointed president-elect of the IIRA, and will be the first president from a developing country. Mr. Tayo Fashoyin from Nigeria was elected the IIRA new secretary. The further globalization of this international academic association which in the past has elected Westerners to its major posts is another significant outcome of the Tokyo congress. As the second IIRA president from Asia, I feel a certain sense of achievement here.
Finally, as a Japanese participant looking back on the five-day congress, which was filled with the enthusiasm of many specialists from all over the world and their commitment to discussing the reform of labor-management relations amidst today's rapidly changing situation, I have come to feel that the approach to labor issues among Japanese researchers as a whole is somehow too restrained and lacking a sense of urgency and crisis consciousness. It is the somewhat extreme sense of urgency and crisis consciousness that is the impetus behind the strong interest in labor studies outside this country. That sense of urgency is also the source of the present vigor which continues to drive the IIRA forward.
(From next issue, a series of special editions which feature the Presidential Address and the Rapporteurs' General Reports to the IIRA World Congress will begin.)
We are pleased to hear a lot of nice words about the 12th World Congress from around the world. Below are a few excerpts from the letters of appreciation we have so far received from the participants.
It was the most successful, the best organized and most interesting conference, either international or in the US, that I have been to in many years.
I thank you and all others who strove hard for the phenomenal success of the Congress. It was organized with such perfection that others will find it difficult to surpass the high standards set by the JIL.
I thank you and your brilliant team for such a worthwhile and well-organized conference. I got such a lot out of it and was deeply impressed by the care that had gone into its planning and administration.
From everywhere I hear praise and satisfaction. ‘The Tokyo congress was the best.' That is what they say. Everything seems to have been as good as it possibly can. I have not heard anyone complain about anything. I have only heard people express satisfaction and admiration. You have given the world a splendid illustration how things can be truly well organized conference.
Several people have already told me how much they enjoyed and how beautifully organized it was. I would not have expected anything else from you and your team! But standing ovations (which took place at the closing ceremony) are rare in the IIRA.
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