Tozen Union, or Tozen (東ゼン労組, Tōzen) is a Japanese labour union. It was founded on April 25th, 2010 by Louis Carlet, Dave Ashton, Tony Dolan and others. It is a "godo roso" general amalgamated union, the first (in 2010) to have an all-foreign top executive. [1]

Tozen Union
Native name全国一般東京ゼネラルユニオン
FoundedApril 2010

Although membership is not restricted to any particular industry, Tozen's members tend to be from the publishing, banking, universities and foreign language teaching industries, with most members located in the Kanto region.

The union is known for high standards of democracy, transparency, multi-nationalism and for active use of the right to strike.

The executive is composed of 18 members, including President Hifumi Okunuki,[2] Chief Financial Officer is Louis Carlet, and Field Director Gerome Rothman.

Founding of the union

Tozen Union was created when foreign and Japanese members of National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu defected. The NUGW is an older union which traces its roots back to 1956, with the founding of Jōnan Chūshō Gōdō Rōdōkumiai (城南中小合同労働組合).

In 1994, the National Union of General Workers Tokyo South was formed, then renamed NUGW Tokyo Nambu in 2003. In 2004, the Foreign Workers Caucus was formed inside Nambu, which would eventually come to have 11 local branches.

On April 25th 2010, six of these branches voted to separate from Nambu and form Tozen. Other Nambu branches followed later.

Tozen obtained official corporate registration in June 2010, according to its own website.

While Tozen uses General Union in its name, it is not affiliated in any way to the General Union, Fukuoka General Union and the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu. Tozen and General Union both have locals/branches at Gaba, Nova, Bunsai Gakuen, Shane, Berlitz and Interac.


Tozen has a number of local unions at different workplaces.

  • The Japan Times
  • Linguaphone
  • Philippine National Bank
  • Syndicat des Employés de l’Institut Franco-japonais
  • Lyceé Franco-japonais
  • Sophia University
  • Gaba
  • Apple Japan
  • Japan College of Foreign Languages
  • Nichibei Eikaiwa
  • Shibaura Institute of Technology
  • Simul Academy
  • Coco Juku (Nichii Gakkan)
  • Mitsui Fuso, NCC
  • English Express

Tozen also represents ALTs[3] at various companies as well as university workers and teachers.


Tozen is an activist union, and has taken action through the courts and industrial relations bureaucracy a number of times as well as engaging in strikes, leafleting, demonstrations, rallies and freedom of information campaigns. Tozen strikes more than any other union in Japan. Tozen President (former Paralegal) Hifumi Okunuki began in February 2012 a column in the Japan Times called labour Pains, in which she details famous labour law court cases.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Then Executive President Louis Carlet on March 11th, 2011, spoke to Democracy Now! about the situation in Tokyo after the Great East Japan Earthquake. [13]

Tozen was cited by the U.S. State Department's human rights report on Japan for the union's long campaign to enroll teachers in shakai hoken health and pension insurance.[14] Tozen also spoke with political activist Noam Chomsky in March 2014.[15]

Visit to Iceland

Between February 27th and March 11th, 2019 Tozen Union President Hifumi Okunuki, Chief Financial Officer Louis Carlet, and Field Director (and Rengo Trade Union Confederation Tokyo Executive) Gerome Rothman participated in a guest lecture series organized by Iceland's second largest labour union, Efling.[16]

Based on an invitation from Efling's Organizing Division (Félagssvið), on March 3rd 2019 Tozen Union gave a presentation about its structure, history, range of activity, and the basics of Japanese labour law. [17] The event was live-streamed.[18]

And on March 5th 2019 Tozen Union led a workshop on the subject of workplace organizing.[19]

On March 8th 2019 Hifumi Okunuki, and Louis Carlet were interviewed by Icelandic television about Efling's one-day maids' strike covering the whole of Reykjavík, which took place on the same date.[20] [21]

The Language of Labour Relations

While most foreign workers in Japan are employed in the context of their native language, or English, both at the time of hiring and during their day-to-day workplace operations, employers typically attempt to dominate foreign union members by refusing to negotiate in the language of the workplace. In response Tozen Union invented and endeavours to establish the concept of The Language of Labour Relations, which contends that employers are not allowed to switch to a different language in response to their employees initiating Collective Bargaining.

In a 2016 Tokyo Labour Commission ruling on Tozen Union's case against Tokyo Gakugei University, the Commission established that employers is not allowed to unilaterally establish the conditions of Collective Bargaining, confirming that this includes the language in which negotiations will take place.[22]

The Right to Strike for Independent Contractors

In an October 2019 Tokyo Labour Commission ruling, the Commission established that teachers hired by Gaba Corporation as independent contractors have the right to strike. Tozen union and its Gaba Union Local sued Gaba Corporation to overturn warning letters issued to striking teachers. Gaba Corporation claimed that its over 1000 teachers were independent contractors, and thus were not protected by the rights of workers and Japan's Trade Union act. In a previous Osaka Labour Commission case, the Commission had recognized these employees' right to Collectively Bargain. Gaba Corporation management tried to nullify the impact of the ruling by claiming that even if the teachers had the right to Collective Bargaining, they didn't have the right to strike, which the Tokyo Labour Commission rejected based on Tozen's arguments. In Japan, the right to Solidarity, Collective Bargaining, and Collective Action (including strikes) are set in Article 28 of the Constitution, and cannot be divided.[23]

See also


  1. "About Tozen". Tozen. August 6, 2010. Retrieved 2015-02-06.
  2. "Still waiting for that last paycheck". The Japan Times. May 18, 2010. Archived from the original on May 25, 2010.
  3. "The Japan Times - News on Japan, Business News, Opinion, Sports, Entertainment and More". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  4. Court Backs Right to Strike
  5. Tepco Liable to Workers
  6. "The Japan Times - News on Japan, Business News, Opinion, Sports, Entertainment and More". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  7. "Supreme Court knocks down discipline of mentally ill employee". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  8. "The Japan Times - News on Japan, Business News, Opinion, Sports, Entertainment and More". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  9. "In 'right-to-work' Japan, employees should also have the right to rest - The Japan Times". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  10. "No legal cure-all for fixed-term job insecurity". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  11. "Oversleeping radio anchor set tough precedent for firing staff". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  12. "A promise of employment is binding, Supreme Court ruled in late 1970s case". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  13. "Louis Carlet of Tokyo General Union Talks about Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan". Retrieved 11 March 2011.
  14. "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013". Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  15. "Lectures: Union organizers from Tozen". Efling. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  16. "Skipulagning innflytjenda í Japan–Organizing immigrants in Japan". Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  17. "Efling". Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  18. "Aðferðir í skipulagningu vinnustaða–Workplace Organizing Tactics". Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  19. "Flugu níu þúsund kílómetra til að sýna Eflingu samstöðu - Vísir". Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  20. "Verkfallsvaktin: Hótelstarfsfólk leggur niður störf - Vísir". Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  21. TozenAdmin (2016-08-24). "Tozen Union Wins Precedent-Setting Negotiating Language Case Against Tokyo Gakugei University". 東ゼン•Tozen. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  22. TozenAdmin (2019-10-23). "Gaba Teachers can Strike: Labor Board". 東ゼン•Tozen. Retrieved 2019-10-30.


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