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Japan Workers Rally and March With US And Korean Trade Unionists

November 19, 2007
Tokyo, Japan
By Steve Zeltzer


OVER 5,500 TRADE unionists, anti-war activists and political activists rallied in Tokyo on November 4 to demand an end to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, against the privatization and deregulation of the economy and the growing repression against teachers and other anti-war activists.
The rally initiated by the militant railway trade union Doro Chiba and a national network of labor activists brought not only trade unionists from throughout Japan but a delegation of over 20 leaders, artists and activists from the Seoul Regional Branch of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions as well as a delegation of trade unionists from the United States including members and leaders of the ILWU, AMFA, UTLA and BLE-IBT.

One of the keynote speakers from the United States was Ted Ludwig, president of the AMFA Local 33, which led the strike against union busting and contracting out of Northwest Airlines to protect the jobs of their mechanics. This contracting out is a major international labor issues and Ludwig who was also representing the natioanl leadership of AMFA thanked Japanese workers including members of Doro Chiba for helping to organize international support for their struggle.
The growing economic crisis in Japan has especially affected young workers some of whom are called “freeters”. As a result of deregulation and capitalist restructuring, tens of millions of workers no longer have regular full time jobs. They are temporary casual workers with low pay, no protection and no future. Many of these workers who are now in their 30’s and 40’s must live at home and cannot afford to have families.
Young workers joined the rally and spoke about their fight to get unions and regular time off. These workers included truck drivers, postal workers and NTT telecom workers. The use of privatization by the Government and politicians from both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan have put young workers on the cutting block.
There was also a contingent of fired workers from Japan Railways. Thousands of railway workers were fired and discriminated against when the Japanese government privatized one of the most advanced rail systems in the world. Former Japanese Prime Minister Naksone in fact in an interview, which was in a Tokyo Video Press documentary later admitted that the reason for the privatization, was to destroy the militant union Kokuro. Kokuro with 270,000 members was the most militant union in Japan and had led a national strike against the Vietnam War. Not only members of Doro Chiba Kokuro victimized but also members of Doro Chiba railroad workers union. These 1047 fired rail workers are still fighting for justice and against the illegal firings.
Another important part of the rally was the defense campaign of anti-war teachers who refuse to sing the Kimagayo nationalist songs. The Japanese government is seeking to re-militarize the schools and censor books about the war crimes of the Japanese Imperial government not only in other Asia countries such as Korea, China and the Philippines but also in Okinawa where the Japanese military ordered Okinawan civilian people to commit suicide rather than surrender to US forces. In recent months more than 100,000 people in Okinawa participated in one of the largest rallies in the history of Okinawa to protest the nationalist government's orders that schoolbooks be censored to eliminate this part of Japanese history.
Today, thousands of teachers in Japan are refusing to go along with the re-militarizationand are refusing to stand when these nationalist songs are performed during graduation ceremonies.
These teachers are then fined and in more and more cases suspended and threatened with being fired. The most well know case is of Kimiko Nezu and Junko Kawarai. These are two middle school disabled student teachers that have stood up against the increasing militarization in the schools. Nezu is threatened with being fired this coming March when the court is set to rule as she is determined to refuse to stand up and there is an international campaign to defend their right of conscience to refuse to stand and support these songs. She and other Japanese teachers may also be arranging to go to the US to gain additional support. Already the San Francisco Labor Council, Oakland Education Association, San Francisco United Educators, AFT 2121 and the United Teachers of Los Angeles have backed their cause and are planning to send delegations to the Japanese consulates in San Francisco and Los Angeles. A video has also been produced by Akira Matsubara of video press called "Against Coercion" that recounts the stories of these teachers who are standing up against war. When they are suspended, instead of staying at home, some like Nezu have gone to the front of the school and discussed with the students and teachers why are taking the actions that have brought down the power of the state. There is also an online petition to support the cases.
One retired teacher has even been charged with a crime and fined 200,000 yen for handing out flyers outside one of the graduations to educate people about the issues. Racist and nationalist Tokyo prefecture governor Shintaro Ishihara has made it his personal campaign to rid the schools of these teachers and to use the state apparatus to do this. Unfortunately the right wing Rengo leadership of the Japan Teachers Union JTU has been completely silent about the victimization of thousands of anti-war teachers. Despite the fact the their union opposes the elimination of Clause 9 of the Japanese constitution that prohibits war, the JTU leadership has been totally silent and complicit in this political witch-hunt to cleanse the schools and inhibit free speech and freedom of conscience.
Nezu and dozens of other teachers attended the rally and declared that they would continue their activities despite the court cases and possible firings. The courts under the control of the Liberal Democrats are pursuing hundreds of cases that have been filed by the anti-war teachers. Republican politicians and US Democrat have also demanded that Japan ignore its constitution and go on a full war footing in order to "fight terrorism." The US government is very angry that recently Japan was forced to pull its military tanks out of the Middle East. These tankers were illegally providing fuel for free to the US military and other US military allies for thier operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Japanese government was actually lamenting about how terrible it was that it had to pull these ships out of the war effort. US Defense secretary Gates who recenty visited Japan called for Japan to continue their war supply operation and the Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda recently visited Bush and promised him that he would push ahead to continue the military operations despite opposition among the Japanese people.
Los Angeles UTLA teachers Arlene Inouye and Greg Sotir who are also organizers with a national network Coalition Against Militarism In The Schools CAMS to fight the recruiting of students into the US military http://www.militaryfreeschools.org also spoke at the Tokyo rally.
The previous Friday, Inouye and Satir had participated in a national teachers conference participated in by hundreds of anti-war Japanese teachers where they not only joined in solidarity with Japanese teachers and education workers but also reported on the increasing militarization of the schools in the United States and the role of "No Child Left Behind" in helping to mold education to a corporate agenda and towards "testing" rather than strengthening the educational system.
Inouye gave a stirring speech at the rally about how working class students in the US are being enticed into the military with bribes and coercion to become cannon fodder for the US occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Joining the Japanese teachers, Inoye said she would not stand silent while her students were sent to their deaths but would organize to halt this outrage. This was the first time at a public rally in Japan that US union anti-war teachers joined together with their sisters and brothers who are fighting militarization in Japan and it had an exhilarating affect of encouraging and strengthening the struggle of Japanese anti-war teachers.
The Korean Seoul KCTU trade unionists who spoke at the rally also reported that as a result of US supported deregulation of their economy under the IMF guise of restructuring over 60% of the Korean workers are now temporary. This has had a devastating impact not only on millions of workers but also on the organized workers throughout the country. These temporary workers are used as a leverage to threaten permanent regular workers that their jobs will also be changed and they will become temporary contract workers. New legislation that the Koreans are fighting and planning to have a general strike on November 27,2007 against on November will allow the bosses to make workers in every industry temporary.
As more and more of the workforce becomes marginalized and unrepresented by the corporate type unions of Japan, workers will be forced to seek out real unions that will defend their conditions and benefits and this network seeks to facilitate that development.
A delegation of Nova layed off language teachers and their union NAMBY also attended the rally. Over 4,000 workers were forced out of their jobs when the owner of Nova went bankrupt after milking the company of funds for his personal gain.
The mostly temporary and highly exploited foreign language teachers of Japan like all migrant workers are extremely vulnerable to exploitation since their legal immigration status is dependent on their job situation. Language schools in Japan use this status to whipsaw them and in the case of the Nova workers, many were left being owed thousands of dollars and no way even to return to their countries.
Their union, the General Union-NAMBU http://www.nambufwc.org/ received daily national publicity even in the corporate controlled press about the corruption of the owner of Nova and the conditions of the workers at these language schools.
The Tokyo rally and march also was taking place as the "opposition" party in Japan the "Democratic Party" was going through its own public scandal. Its leader Ichiro Ozawa had secretly met with the Liberal Democratic prime minister Yasuo Fukuda to negotiate a "grand coalition" government in which leaders of the Democratic Party would get top positions in the government and allow the new government to push forward permanent military actions with the US without having to have a separate bill for each military operation. The scandal broke when the usually self-censored and corporate controlled media broke the story of this back door deal and Ichiro Ozawa threatened to resign. The "Democratic Party" of Japan has promised to end the back door deals and corruption carried out by the Liberal Democrats and this scandal exposed their own hypocrisy. The leadership of the Democratic Party begged Ozawa to withdraw his resignation and stay as the leader and exposed his own bankrupt politician methods.
A critical part of the rally was the efforts to form a national rank and file workers network that will help organize the fight back. As a result of the labor management collaboration and partnerships the Rengo national leadership has with the government and bosses, there has been no mobilization of the working class against the growing attacks on their living standards and the increasing drive toward war.
During the rally at the Tokyo Hibya public theater where the rally was taking place, nationalist neo-Nazis set up speakers to disrupt the rally speakers. As the thousands of participants left the park to march through the center of Tokyo they were harassed and provoked by these same fascist groups in vans with large speakers on top of the vans.
As the police sought to prevent the union marchers from taking the whole street, the police were actively collaborating with the fascists as they tried to provoke a riot. While the police arrested one of the marchers and tried to arrest another, they were very helpful to the gangster nationalists who were actively harassing the rally and march. One fascist van even tried to run into the march and the police instead of arresting the gangsters allowed them to drive on to the next street where they continued to harass the marchers.
Companies are funding these fascist groups and many of the members of these groups are gangsters who are being paid to attack labor and left events in Japan. They have also murdered anti-war politicians such as the mayor of Nagasaki who was a national opponent of the remilitarization of Japan.
Another critical component of the role of the media in Japan was the complete censorship of this action in the middle of Tokyo. The only mention in one daily paper was that a person was arrested and another arrested person was able to get away. There was however not one word about the rally and the role of the fascists in the center of Tokyo. Like the corporate controlled media in the US, the need to keep these events out of the public view is critical. The media has also whipped up a massive political hysteria against the North Koreans for the past kidnapping of Japanese citizens. For weeks hundreds of hours of TV and mainstream media focussed on the kidnappings of Japanese by the North Korean regime. Similar to the US media after 9/11 the Japanese people were barraged with a propaganda blitz for war. While these acts were criminal, the same Japanese government tries to censor the military use of women in Korea, China and the Phillipines as sexual slaves and still refuses to compensate them.
This war hysteria against North Korea has been directly used to justify the miiltarization of Japan.
Despite this corporate media censorship, independent media actively covered the rally and march including videos on the web. Plans are already being made to build next years rally and build delegations from around the world.

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