'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lehman Shokku 

From Bloomberg News:

Within two months of losing his job packing shelves at a cold-storage company in Osaka, Toshiyuki Miki says, he was homeless. “Lehman Shock” turned his life upside down, he says.

Lacking the 60,000 yen ($600) a month he needs to pay rent, Miki, 40, sleeps in cardboard boxes under the elevated Hanshin expressway in Umeda, Osaka’s central business district. It’s his home as the global recession triggered by the implosion of Wall Street banks batters Japan. About 460,000 people have lost their jobs since the Sept. 15 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., according to government data.

I never realized it would affect me in this way, said Miki, who picked up the Japanese phrase Lehman Shokku from the pages of discarded newspapers. Before, I could always find some kind of job, but now there’s nothing.

Miki’s loss of housing shows how Japan’s 2.95 million unemployed people threaten to fuel a rise in homelessness. Prime Minister Taro Aso may unveil a 15.4 trillion yen stimulus package tomorrow, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said April 6 the package will include a new social safety net for non-regular workers.

Yosano didn’t specify what help would be given to the lower-paid temporary or part-time workers. They accounted for 34.5 percent of Japan’s 55.3 million employed in September 2008 compared with 24 percent in 1999, official data show.

Yes, Japan has actually been in the forefront of switching from permanent to temporary workers:

No one knows how many like him are moving on to Osaka’s streets, charity officials say.

In 2004, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi extended labor laws, allowing carmakers and other manufacturers to use more lower-paid temporary workers and for longer periods. That helped employers cut production costs because they could hire and fire to meet demand.

The labor laws switched the burden for supporting Japan’s workforce from the companies to the government, said Wataru Kishi, in charge of welfare assistance at Osaka’s city government. The issue is whether the government can provide the support or the entire system will collapse.

Japan’s national government, which pays 75 percent of welfare costs, according to Kishi, has already pledged 1.1 trillion yen in economic stimulus to subsidize temporary workers’ jobs and house those out of work.

As capitalism has gone global, so has the intensity of the destitution associated with its turbulence. So far, there has been no spark to ignite resistance.

Hat tip to The Little Mandarin over at Calculated Risk.

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