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solidarity visit to japan

During our solidarity visit to Japan we were assisted by Asia Pacifc Workers Solidarity Links Japan.

kanagawa city union

On 17 December 05 we visited the Kanagawa City Union (KCU), a suburb of Tokyo. Kangawa is a worker’s town.The union office atmosphere was so heated that not even lighting would have distracted the intense discussion that was taking place. It was a meeting on report backs from various unionists. Their passion and activity immediately came through to me. The thing that surprised me upon hearing their self-introductions was their different nationalities: Korean, Japanese-Brazilians, Japanese-Peruvians and of course, Japanese. I found out for the first time the extent that the Japanese government was using migrant labour to solve their economic crises.

The KCU’s Chairman, Mr. Murayama, gave us a brief outline of the union. I immediately felt that the organizational structure of Japanese trade union was quite different to Australian or New Zealand unions. In particular, I found the concept of a "foreign workers union" very new. The economic development of both New Zealand and Australia has been such that it has historically always relied on migrant labour. Foreign workers are generally within the umbrella of a wider trade union. However, the growing membership of KCU indicates that is it orientating correctly to the changing Japanese society.

The highlight was sitting in on a union negotiation. Victory for the KCU! 

women’s trade union tokyo

Ms Tani explained the situation for the union. The most interesting issue was a historical overview and the way the Women’s Liberation Movement developed in Japan. Issues like domestic violence and sexual harassment were focused on more so at the birth of the movement than the Equal Pay issue.

I was invited to a live concert to hear Ms. Kobayashi; a woman who had been singing blues since the days of Women’s Liberation Movement.

Her songs were about the struggles of women in a sexist society. Her songs of struggle brought about laughter and even tears from the crowd.


We met Ms Shigematsu from Zentouitsu in the afternoon. There were similar issues to the KCU in terms of fighting for migrant worker’s rights. Japan is increasingly reliant on these migrant workers but they have no corresponding rights.

yusei union

The postal reform that Koizumi is initiating has received considerable coverage in the mainstream media here as well. Because of this, I was extremely interested in the response of the postal workers. Mr. Nakashima explained that the postal reform has been an issue that has divided Japan; even avid supporters of the LDP feel uneasy about this. The question is how the postal workers can best fight back in this situation. Only a minority of workers are in the Yusei union so the fight against the reforms is a long one.

Twenty years ago, NZ’s major state assets were similarly privatized.The experience of this has lead to deterioration in the conditions of workers. It is a similar experience again to the Rail workers in Japan. Undoubtedly it is the heroic actions of the rail workers who still continue to fight today that have maintained the working conditions Japan-wide. The fight against the privatization of the Post is a struggle worth waging and it has the legacy of the Railway workers to rely on.

nagasaki peace memorial

On the 7 January we visited the Nagasaki Peace Memorial. Professor Takazane was generous enough to guide us through. I listened to his horrific explanations of what the Japanese military had done during WWII to the Koreans and Chinese. Nagasaki Peace Memorial is different to the more well-known Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Memorial.

zenkoku ippan nagasaki rentai union

That evening we got on a busand headed out for Nagasaki’s industrial heart, the Mitsubushi factories.I suddenly got a flashback of the horrific photos of all the forced Chinese and Korean labourers who vanished in the bomb as we reached the Akunoura bus stop.

I got the clearest picture of the trade union situation in Japan from talking to Mr. Yoshikawa and the Mitsubishi workers. My puzzles over the fractured unions were in part answered by the explanation of the yellow company unions that exist in Japan.

In response to yellow unions, the left in Japan have historically split. The problem is that these split unions only account for a tiny minority of workers. Thus the workplace struggles are muted because the workers are fractured. These splits are an issue that the unions must overcome in the coming years. 

I would like to thank the unions that helped make this trip memorable and inspiring. In particular I would like to thank Mr. Takahei and APWSL Japan and Mr. Nakashima from Yusei Union Nagasaki for being such a generous host.

Shomi Yoon




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