Inside this Issue:

Learning About Free Trade Zone Workers in Sri Lanka
A report on the APWSLCouncil Meeting in Sri Lanka

Interview with Postal Worker
Watanabe Hiroshi page

Peace Cycle Tour in Malaysia page

NGO Corner: Rodo Joho page

Okinawa Port Workers Union Strike page

From the Editor page


@Learning About Free Trade Zone
Workers in Sri Lanka
A report on the APWSLCouncil Meeting in Sri Lanka


by Takahei Masahito

This was my first time attending an APWSL Council Meeting since 1989, when the CM was held in Japan. This was also my first visit to Sri Lanka. I felt I was somewhat familiar with that country because of my acquaintance with Anton Marcus, whom I met in Japan. I knew he had been active as the South Asia Sub-regional Coordinator for many years and in organizing workers in Free Trade Zones (FTZs). I wanted to see the country in which he is working and get first-hand information of the movement he is organizing.
The APWSL Council Meeting was held in Colombo from November 6-10. It was the rainy season then but the climate was rather moderate, reminding me of early autumn in Japan. It was not as hot as I feared. The only problem was the fierce attacks by mosquitoes. The hospitality of the people was perfect and I enjoyed Sri Lankan meals very much, although it took some time to get accustomed to the hot spices.
During the CM, two exposure tours were organized. We visited a tea plantation area near Kandy on the first day (Nov. 6) and the Katunayake Export Processing Zone on the third day (Nov. 8). Kandy, a beautiful town developed under Britain's colonial rule, is 200 km from Colombo. The plantations are located in the pleasant surroundings of mountains.
World-famous Ceylon tea (I bought many packages of it for souvenirs) bears the history of both Tamil workers who came from India and local Sinhali workers. The plantations are now in the process of privatization. I got a better understanding of the people who are producing those products sold in the world market. I was impressed by the young workers who are working at incredibly low wages but still look very confident. I was also impressed by the cheerfulness of children there.
The most exciting experience for me during the CM was what I saw at the workers program commemorating the 20 years of FTZs in Sri Lanka. I had some knowledge about FTZs in Sri Lanka through a leaflet distributed at an exhibition held in Japan for promoting overseas investment. I knew that "developing countries" are introducing Import Process Zones or Free Trade Zones in order to promote industrialization. I knew that capitalists of industrialized countries in the North are investing in factories in these zones in order to utilize low-wage labors. When I visited the FTZ in Katunayaka and was shown workers' residences, the reality of the poor living condition of workers caught me by surprise. The workers meeting, exhibition and cultural events, which we attended on that day, were about how foreign capital is exploiting and suppressing workers with the help of the government and how workers are fighting with courage and creativity, fully utilizing their limited legal rights. I felt that their agony and their struggle are deeply integrated with the world economy, which Japanese people, as workers of the North, are also taking part. I want to make more people in Japan more conscious about this interrelationship.
Three days were allocated for reports and discussion. Robert Reid was finishing up his 6 years' of activity as the first full-time coordinator of APWSL. During his term in office, APWSL extended its scope of activities dramatically. The strengthening of the organizations and activities of National Groups, the extended and continuous initiatives of "action alerts" and exchange programs are some of the visible achievements. Based on the Constitution of APWSL, which was adopted at the last Council Meeting in Nepal, a female coordinator, Rubina Jamil, from Pakistan, is to replace him.
Robert spent only twenty minutes presenting the Coordinator's report. Each of the 14 national groups presented a country report in 10 minutes. As Upali Magederagamage of ACFOD pointed out in his special report at the first session of the CM, the Asian financial crash has brought about immediate effects on the whole region. Each report took up the economic difficulties and attacks on workers in each country. Workers are struggling in a very unfavorable situation. Nevertheless, each national group of APWSL has been developing its activities. It was a pity that we had only 2 hours for all the country reports. Sharing information and experiences among us should be a more important part of our program. We should have allocated more time for the country reports.
Another important problem I felt was that the balance sheet of the activities of the last three years and the proposal for the action plans for the next three years should have been prepared and distributed to each national group well before the CM. We had difficulty in preparing for the CM or actively participating the discussion. For many of the participants who do not use English regularly, this problem was more serious.
One of the focuses of the CM was the election of officers. Ms. Jamil was elected as the new coordinator without any competing candidates. On the other hand, the male Convenor was elected by vote for the first time. APWSL Japan nominated Yamasaki Seiichi for the seat. The Sri Lankan group nominated Robert Reid. As Mr. Yamasaki could not attend the CM, Mr. Kitahata from Japan explained our reason for nominating him. The statement by APWSL Japan, which was sent to each national group before hand, raised a series of questions about the nomination of Robert Reid. Some members of NZ groups also raised questions although it was not an official statement of the NZ group. However there was no discussion on these questions. As we did not have any experience with voting between competing nominees, it seemed that we had different ideas about democratic procedures for election. As a result of the vote, Robert was elected as the male Convenor. We believe that this reflects his achievements and our trust in him. We believe that he will continue his commitment to APWSL as a new Convenor who will fully support the job of the new Coordinator. As regards the East Asia Sub-regional Coordinator, Lee Sung-Kyung was elected. She is the first sub-regional coordinator from Korea. We hope our experiences and cooperation in the East Asia Exchange Program will be further developed under the leadership of Ms. Lee.
I would like to thank all our friends at APWSL Sri Lanka and workers in the Katunayake FTZ for all their hard work and hospitality. We had a very pleasant and fruitful Council Meeting.
Takahei Masahito is a member of the steering committee of APWSL-Japan and the former editor of APWSL-Japan News. This report was translated by Kitahata Yoshihide, one of the coordinators of APWSL-Japan.


1- Children at the tea plantation in Kandy
2- Ms. Binda Pandey from Nepal, where the last APWSL CM was held, presented her country report.(11 Nov.)

The workers practiced and performed thier songs, dances and plays at an evenig cultural festival.(8 Nov. Katunayake FTZ)

4 woekers live together in one room of a small house near factories in Katunayake FTZ

APWSL delegates share their experiences with young workers at a FTZ. The second person in front line is Anton Marcus who interpreted for them.(Katunayake FTZ)



@ What I can do as "a little child"
An Interview with a Christian Postal Worker

by Tohno Haruhi

@ Mr. Watanabe Hiroshi @


Watanabe Hiroshi, age forty-two, is a worker at the Urayasu Post Office in Chiba Prefecture, in a suburb of Tokyo. I first met him last year in the postal workers' exchange visit to New Zealand that was coordinated by the APWSL Japan committee. He is tall and gentle. I have come to know that he is a reliable organizer and he was asked to join the steering committee of APWSL last year. Mr. Watanabe is a member of Zentei, the Japan Postal Workers' Union, which has organized fifty-two percent of all postal workers in Japan. He used to be a local representative of Zentei, but he took a leave from his activity for seven years because of his illness and family circumstances. Since last autumn, he has resumed his activities again as the secretary general of the Urayasu branch of Zentei.

I had an interview with him about his life story including his conversion to Christianity.

Q: You were born in 1956, so I suppose the student movement was on the decline when you were at college. Would you tell me what kinds of activities you were doing at your university?

At first I joined the student movement. I established a circle and was deeply involved in volunteer activities such as supporting the Shimada Case, and taking care of handicapped children. The Shimada case is a false charge that occurred in 1954. A five year-old kindergarten pupil was kidnapped and murdered in Shimada City in Shizuoka prefecture. The police arrested Masao Akahori, who was 24 years old at that time, and mentally handicapped. A support group for him was made, and I joined it. As for caring for handicapped children, I was involved in one circle as a volunteer member. In those days it was difficult for a child designated as handicapped by the official health check-up at age 3 to get ordinary child care. So one of those children's parents made an organization to look after handicapped children by themselves. There were 16 groups in Yokohama where I went to university.

Q: Would you tell me your motivation for working at a post office, and what was the atmosphere at your workplace when you started to work there?

Through the support activities for the Shimada case, I met Michiko who was working in a municipal nursery as a teacher. She and I decided to marry. I made up my mind to take an examination to enter the post office, and quit my university in the last year. My first workplace was Gyoutoku Post Office in Chiba Prefecture, and I was in the savings section there. I felt that co-workers had good relations with each other. They had such a strong sense of solidarity. Whenever someone was in trouble, others immediately helped. The smallest unit of union activity consisted of a group of five people. Each group leader collected union dues, and distributed the Zentei Newspaper once a week. I remember that union members could consult the union officials about any trouble they had. In some workplaces, shop floor meetings were held once a week. Out of seventy co-workers, there were at least forty that I felt I was on good terms with in the workplace. In 1979, when I had just started to work, based on the sense of unity, a resistance movement was carried out at our workplace. Now I feel it is strange, but that workers' resistance movement meant that workers ignored managers' directions. For example, we did not pin our nametags on our chests, and we preserved our workplace's custom of leaving work 15 minutes earlier than the fixed time. As is often said "Zentei fights for the rights", and we actually tried to preserve what we'd already got, and to expand our rights.

Q: What made Zentei able to have strong power to change that policy in order to take a more coordinated line with the management? And what kind of changes happened at your workplace?

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications started the Marusei, which was a retrenchment policy, and started to show hostility toward labor unions. Zentei had a fight against the Marusei by refusing to deliver New Year's Greeting Cards from the end of 1978 to the beginning of 1979. Although this fight was the hardest one Zentei had ever experienced, nothing came of it. A feeling of defeat was left in the workplace. Zentei turned to take a more coordinated line with the management. Although the headquarters of Zentei took a coordinated line with the management, it took some time to influence the shopfloor level, since workers had a stronger sense of unity there. So, resistance was still going on for a while. The Ministry introduced a new wage raise system based on job assessment. Some workers began to break with work customs, and as they got promotions, our sense of unity collapsed.

Q: You were a local representative then, weren't you?

Every post office has a union local, and there is district headquarters for each prefecture. In the fourth year since I started working, I became the chairperson of the youth division of the Ichikawa local, and in my sixth year, I became the chairperson of the youth division of the Chiba district, and in my seventh year, I was the secretary general of the Ichikawa local. But as a representative of a labor union I was doing the opposite of what I really wanted to do.

Q: How did you come across Christianity?

In the third year when I was secretary general of the local, my wife got sick and entered the hospital for a long time. Moreover I fell sick and I took a sick-leave for a year and a half. During the leave I did the housework and took care of our children, while taking my medical treatment . Ms. Shizuko Oshima, who is a Christian herself, and who established the first shelter, "Help", for foreign women in Japan, was worried about me. I began to visit a clergyman Father Kubota, at Kitamatsudo Church. Father Kubota experienced the student movement in the late 60's and was expelled from his divinity school and got involved in the Christian social movement. What I talked with Fr. Kubota was not about Christian teaching, but I found myself reading the Bible. After I returned to work, however, I kept away from labor union activities. I continued doing housework, looking after my children and reading the Bible for seven years.

Q: What have you gotten from Christian teachings? Do you have any favorite phrase or word in the Bible?

W: The Book of Ecclesiastes reads "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die."When I read it, I remembered my doctor's words, "Sometime the time would come; the time when your energy and power would emerge from within. Wait till that time comes." Seven years have passed since I came across Christian teachings, and I have come to think that such willpower will come out from within me only when I decide by myself how to live. I thought Jesus' challenge to change people's mind, to make a social revolution, was too radical, but I found that nothing will happen unless we have the willpower to do it. In any time, there exists a very few number of "little children" who wish to live after Jesus, and I hope to become one of them.

Q: What triggered your renewed willpower to do something?

The weaker the unity became, the lower the union density became. In 1988, the organization rate was about 70 percent, and now it is down to 52 percent. Once union density went down, the Ministry imposed unreasonable demands. One of the policies was regular personnel transfer. Workers are ordered to change their workplace against their wishes. In Chiba, it started two years ago. I couldn't help being angry, when I knew that the management tried to transfer a 55 year-old worker. No merit can be found in a 55 year-old person's being transferred. I thought that transferring a worker aged 55 would mean forced retirement. I couldn't tolerate it. I stopped to think about how to express my feeling that I couldn't tolerate it. At the workplace, the number of young workers have increased, and what used to be common sense is no longer so. Since I was not a union represent at ive then, I wondered what I could do. I made up my mind to go on a hunger strike. I began on the 25th of April last year. I did not declare it. I put up no campaign board, but I worked as usual, and went about my daily life.
A few days after I began my hunger strike, some people became aware that I hadn't taken any meals and asked me the reason. I answered "I'm on a hunger strike because I cannot tolerate the transfer policy." Worrying about my physical condition, some talked to me. Especially one of the young members of the union took me to a hospital. On the third and fourth day, I was persuaded to stop my action. Even union officials of the local and the district gave me calls to stop it. I wondered why they were so nervous about a hunger strike by only one worker. The action was only for four days, but some became aware of it, paid attention to it, and showed reaction. I felt that I am not alone, although the management has broken
the unity of workers on the shopfloor. If I didn't express my feelings to show that I cannot bear this transfer, people around me would not have shown any response. I thought that you can be a labor activist not by being a union representative or official, but by being a "little child".

Q: What were you surprised by when you went to New Zealand for the postal workers exchange last May, just after your hunger strike?

It was my first experience to have an exchange with a foreign labor union. I was surprised at the daily life of the workers. They are not rich, but they enjoy their lives. They seemed relaxed and they all had their own roles in the community. They naturally take on volunteer work, such as helping the elderly or school children, as a part of their own lives. They regard it not as a duty or mission, but as one element of life. They seemed to take more joy in their daily life than in working. I used to think only of my workplace; if the working conditions became better, people can do what they like with their remaining time. I envied the workers in New Zealand, when I compared them with the Japanese workers who cannot enjoy their lives.

Q: You have become a steering committee member of APWSL Japan. What do you expect from it?
W: Big unions are also involved in international exchanges of workers, but the rank and file members don't know about it. I think it is necessary to make these exchanges familiar to them.

Tohno Haruhi is one of the coordinators of APWSL Japan. This article was translated by Okuyama Yasue, who is a student in Mr. Yamasaki's English translating and interpreting class for labor activists.


Japanese Army Veterans Complete

Third Leg of Peace Cycle Tour in Malaysia

by Noguchi Yutaka


Three APWSL Japan members visited Malaysia on a Malaysia Peninsula Peace Cycle Tour, last November. This is a translation of an article by one of the participants, Noguchi Yutaka, for the APWSL Japan's monthly Japanese newsletter, "APWSL TODAY".

The Malaysian Peace Cycle Tour started in 1994. The Tour was organized by Japanese workers and followed the path of the Japanese Imperialist Army's invasion into Malaysia during World War II. The Japanese Army landed in Malaysia in December 1941 and penetrated south to Singapore by riding on bicycles. The aim of the Tour was to follow the path of invasion using bicycles and to meet the survivors of the atrocities and to remember the cruelty of the war. Last year's Tour was held from November 8-15 and was the third in a series. We started from Pinang and traveled to Kuala Lumpur. The Tour will be continued from Kuala Lumpur to the final destination, Singapore, in the year 2000.
33 Japanese workers flew to Pinang via Singapore and stayed in the city for four days. There we were able to meet the survivors of the War and hear what the Japanese Army did to them and their family members. Ms. Sin Liang Chooi told us how her husband who was a teacher at the Chung Ling Middle School killed himself in jail. He was arrested by the Japanese Army for anti-Japanese activities. Rather than getting himself killed by brutal torture, he chose to die by smashing his head against a prison wall. Ms. Sin told us with tears in her eyes how his colleagues were killed. They were tortured to death by being dragged around by motorcycle or were stomped on the stomach after having water poured in through the mouth and anus. On November 11, there was a memorial service for the victims, which we attended and made a tribute of flowers. The news of the memorial attended by Japanese workers made it into the headlines of the local newspapers the next day.
After the memorial service, we left Pinang on our bicycles and headed to Taiping. On November 13, we visited the village of Bukit Merah, near the city of Ipoh, to see the continuing invasion of Malaysia by Japan. A Japanese chemical company, Mitsubishi Kasei, has a joint venture factory there called the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) Ltd. ARE produces red coloring for TV picture tubes. But in the process, they were dumping radioactive waste in the village, causing grave damage to the villagers. The density of lead in the children's blood was enormously high. The rate of miscarriage and stillbirth was 15 times the national average. There were high incidences of leukemia, cancer and congenital disabilities. When we visited the factory, it was shut down. We saw the factory from the outside. There was a warning on the factory wall, "Don't trespass or you'll be shot!" Then we visited two families of the survivors and realized the seriousness of the damage. I was furious with anger against the capitalist Mitsubishi Corporation, which seeks only profit and neglects people.

This article was translated by Yamasaki Seiichi, one of the coordinators of APWSL Japan.

Ms. Sin talks about how her husband and his colleagues were killed.

A monument for the massacre at Ilong-Ilong village, Negeri Sembilan state. The Japanese Army killed everybody in the village and burned the village down.

NGO Corner

Introducing Rodo Joho,

Japan's Alternative Biweekly Labor Information Source

by Inagaki Yutaka

Inagaki Yutaka, the youngest on APWSL Japan's steering committee, interviewed Asai Mayumi, a staff member of Rodo Joho (lit. Labor Information), which is an organization for networking among workers and it issues a semi-monthly magazine, Rodo Joho. She has been a staff member of Rodo Joho, since February 1996. As Mr. Inagaki is young and somewhat unaware of Japanese labor movement history himself, there is no doubt that overseas readers will find the following article interesting and exciting since it gives some overview of the reorganization of the labor movement over the past two decades and provides alternative perspectives and criticisms.I asked Ms. Asai how she got involved in Rodo Joho. As member of the editorial board of Rodo Joho, she had written a series of commentaries for two years and eight months prior to joining the staff. In addition, the magazine carried her reports about the Kokuro Tosodan, a corps of workers fighting against unfair dismissals resulting from the privatization of the Japanese National Railways, and her experiences based on talks with their families. She said, "However, I felt a sense of distance between my pages and the others", showing me back numbers of Rodo Joho issued at that time.

Eto Masanori, editor in chief, was kindly present at the interview, and added the reason why he wanted her to join Rodo Joho, "I was thinking that we need a movement from underneath involving independence and voluntariness, not a labor movement which just chants slogans. Before Ms. Asai joined Rodo Joho, the magazine did not contain pages showing such sorts of movements. In fact, Rodo Joho stuck to the mainstream of the leftist labor movement, and accordingly, it could not address the changing realities. I found that her way could give us hints for grasping the reality of present conditions, confronting the reality, and considering what Rodo Joho should be turned into."

Rodo Joho was first issued in 1977, twenty-one years ago, when the labor movement was controlled by Sohyo, the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan, which was in the mainstream of the labor movement in Japan and was starting to decline in strength. New Leftists and union activists of the left wing of the Socialist Democratic Party all over the country were anxious about the movement as well as its future. Since the Oil Shock caused even middle-ranking companies to go into bankruptcy, we often saw labor disputes related to bankruptcy at that time. A sense of emergency prevailed among workers and union activists. They were thinking that a nationwide network of workers and union activists should be formed and a new kind of labor movement established. In January, 1977, the first National Workers' Discussion Meeting was held in Osaka, and the participants decided to issue Rodo Joho. At that time, the struggle against the partially-completed Narita Airport was very active, supported nationally by farmers, workers, and activists. Finally, the decision to issue Rodo Joho was successfully connected to the sense of emergency felt by the decline of Sohyo movement, and the struggle against Narita Airport. The magazine increased its the sales from 3,000 copies at first to 10,000 copies and more in 1979.

However, Japan's corporate community completed its system for controlling workers throughout the 1970s. The right-leaning reorganization of the labor front began in 1980. It meant the collapse of the Sohyo-controlled labor movement. Trade unions were losing their own initiative in the corporate community, although they carried out a campaign against the this right-leaning reorganization of labor. In 1989, Sohyo was forced to close down its own organization, and in its place a more conservative group, Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, was established. In the meantime, the sales of Rodo Joho were falling. The magazine, however, continued to be issued two times a month despite such a serious situation.

One staff member left Rodo Joho, and then Ms. Asai was appointed as a new staff member. Ms. Asai modestly introduced herself in her first-written postscript (in the March 1, 1995 issue) as follows: "if you are pleased with me, such as I am, I hope my participation will lead to the improvement of Rodo Joho, the sales of which are falling, even if the improvement is minor." She says, "at first, I didn't know anything about personal computers, I didn't know about the labor movement, and I didn't know anybody. I made efforts to learn everything, but some of such efforts might have been meaningless." But Mr. Eto said, "There wouldn't be a Rodo Joho now without her presence."

"I brought in a sense of living, not ideologies," Ms. Asai said, adding that she had imaged that labor movement was "behind the times". Seemingly, the reason is that she was confident that the coop movement in which she had been engaged before was "in the vanguard of the era." However, she said that the labor movement was becoming gradually more clear to her after she joined Rodo Joho. In fact, she realized that the Workers' Collective she had thought was first created by the coop movement was actually launched by the labor movement through the process of reconciling long-term disputes and workers livelihoods based on workers' voluntary production throughout bankruptcy disputes in the 1970s. "Rodo Joho has changed, and I also have changed," she said.

I asked Asai how she felt about her trip to Otoineppu, Hokkaido to see families of dismissed workers belonging to the National Railway Workers' Union (Kokuro Tosodan). She said to Mr. Eto with a smile, "I was tricked by this guy." That is because she was expected to visit them as just one of a group of participants on a tour, but finally she was the only person who went to Otoineppu since the upper house election overlapped the schedule for the tour. Nevertheless, she found that "this is a real Workers' Collective" when she saw the production cooperative managed by the Kokuro Tosodan, while the movement of Workers' Collective by coops is based on the principle that "Workers' Collectives make sense." Here at Otoineppu, she first experienced the struggle of production as a means of continuing the struggle. Ms. Asai said that the labor movement should be a "workers' movement" involving food, clothing and shelter. She confirmed that their struggle against Japan National Railways is quite different from the labor movement she was thinking about from the outside. In her report, she placed an emphasis on families of workers belonging to National Railway Workers' Union (Kokuro). From her straight-forward style, we can learn that the wives and children of the workers support the struggle despite various their worries or troubles, and struggles with their husbands or fathers. The struggle for making JR cancel the unfair dismissal of Kokuro members is still under way. Thanks to her report, I feel informed of the strength of Kokuro Tosodan.

Before the interview, Ms. Asai showed me a small pamphlet. The title, "We will never yield to bankruptcy." is written in bold type on the front cover. The pamphlet, a manual for workers, tells them what to do when they face bankruptcy. Bankruptcies are frequent in small or medium-sized companies in the ongoing depression. The number of bankrupt companies with the debt amounting to over 10 million yen (about US$80,000) was over 1,500 companies a month until last November; now the government's policy of special loans has been decreasing the number a little since that month. However, bankruptcies are expected to increase again toward the end of the fiscal year in March.

Last year we had a big success in conducting a nationwide campaign of "No regressive revisions of the Labor Standards Law" against changing the law for the worse. This year the campaign with the slogan of "No Bankruptcy and No Unemployment" will be carried out nationwide. Both campaigns may be the first voluntary national labor movements organized from underneath since the disorganization of Sohyo. The pamphlet held by Asai will be a bigweapon for the national movement.

Regarding the future of Rodo Joho, Ms. Asai said, "The magazine is not yet Labor Information for all. The effort in addressing living issues including the environment and feminism are still insufficient. The nature of what Rodo Joho intends to deliver is OK, but the way to do it is out of fashion." I am afraid that the labor movement itself may not progress unless it involves matters of ecology and feminism based on internationalism; and Asai holds that it is important especially from the viewpoint of the Workers' Movement. She hopes that she will create an opportunity to encourage youngsters to join the labor movement or Rodo Joho through different sorts of activities.

When I asked Ms. Asai whether you have something to tell friends in other countries, she said, "I started from the coop movement, then got involved in the environmental movement, and now I have joined labor movement. There is a thread leading to a sense of values in all of them; it's a way of life or a sense of values. to give you an example, opposing deregulation is to enable workers to live and work comfortably". I felt that her way of explaining that opinion of hers was the most convincing during the interview. At Sanrizuka where the struggle against Narita Airport is still going on, a brand-new method of struggle, the "Movement for an Experimental Village Addressing Global Issues", has just started, proposing an alternative, that is, a society where producers and consumers are in direct contact with each other. Ms. Asai will act as coordinator in the discussion at the symposium for the Movement for an Experimental Village scheduled in March. "Agricultural values and the system of distribution proposed by the movement, I think, should be paid attention to in the labor movement as well. I want to seek alternatives based on this sense of values, although the wind of deregulation is blowing hard in the world," said Ms. Asai.

This article was translated by Akimoto Yoko, a member of the APWSL Japan editorial committee.



31 Workers Laid Off at US Military Port All-Okinawa Port Workers Union Strikes to Demand Reinstatement

@The Ryukyu Harbor Transportation Co. sent official notice of layoff to 31 workers on December 18th, 1998 due to the failure of their bid to obtain loading and unloading work at the local US military port, which the company had carried out for the previous 26 years. In response to the bid result, the US military took away the company's access to the military port. The stoppage of access automatically terminated the company's other businesses, which were related to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, such as rustproofing fences.
The All-Okinawa Port Workers Union, which has 830 union members, rose "to demand withdrawal of the layoff notice and to fight against the deregulation of ports," and staged a sit-in in front of the Naha Military Port gate. Then, as early as December 1, 300 members waged a 2 hour strike.
Mr. Kenichi Hamada of the Democratic Socialist Party (a representative of the Lower House) took the issue seriously and flew to Okinawa to join the 250 union members at a "layoff withdrawal rally" on December 14th. A Diet fact-finding commission led by Mr. Shimabukuro, a Socialist Party representative of the Upper House, also joined the meeting. The next day, the Commission, along with union official Mr. Ikemoto, visited the Okinawa Port Transportation Association, the General Office of Okinawa Transportation, and the Department of Labor at Okinawa Chamber of Commerce, to conduct hearings and to relay the workers' demands. The group announced at a press conference that they believed the company had not tried to avoid laying off workers, and furthermore, that the US military unfairly interfered with the businesses of Ryukyu Harbor Transportation Co., which were outside the scope of its contract. Upon the arrival of the fact finding commission, the company announced that it would postpone the layoff decision until the end of December.
A second fact-finding team was organized by Diet members Mr. Hamada and Mr. Shimabukuro, along with Mr. Teruya Hironori of the Democratic Socialist Party, known as a "Pro Constitution" advocate (he is a member of the Upper House). The group went to the American General Headquarters, located at Yokota Military Base, on December 21, and the US Army Consulate on Okinawa, the Naha Defense Facilities Agency, and the Okinawa branch of the Japanse Foreign Ministry on December 22nd, to demand employment security for workers at US military ports and the issuance of access passes to the harbor so that the company could carry out business for the Japanese Self-Defense Force.
The US Army Consulate replied that 1) it did not and would not intend to interfere with the company's contract with the Japanese Self-Defense Force, 2) it would issue admission passes to the company for the business of rustproofing fences, and would guarantee admission in case the contract was extended beyond the current fiscal year, and 3) admission would also be extended for other work relating to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, such as artillery exercises.
The layoff notice, which was to be finalized at the end of December, was postponed on December 29th, but it was announced on January 9th, 1999 that the company would lay off 30 workers (one had already retired) on January 10th. The All-Okinawa Port Workers Union is demanding that the company that won the bid hire the 30 dismissed workers under the same terms of employment.
Employment at the US military port has been secured by the company practice of "bid sharing" for 26 years. Even before that, different companies hired the same workers who had worked at the same site. The current disturbances in the employment situation seem to be influenced by the change of the US chief commander, the defeat of former Okinawa Prefectural Governor Ohta in his bid for re-election, the new US-Japan Security Treaty Guidelines, and the global trend towards deregulation.
Mr. Takeshi Oshiro, the Chairman of the All- Okinawa Port Workers Union,once said, "Okinawa no longer needs sympathy. The New Security Treaty Guidelines will Okinawanize the whole nation." (APWSL Japan Editor's note: the New Security Treaty Guidelines approved in 1997 greatly increase U.S. military prerogatives and guarantee greater access to Japanese civilian locations such as sea and air ports).

This article from "Rodo Joho" was translated by Wada Yuko for our newsletter.


From the Editor:

This is the first issue of Volume 9 for the 1998-9 year and as with the last issue, we are coming out a few months late. To the extent that the delay is due to my busy schedule this past year as a graduate student and full-time junior college instructor, I apologize for falling behind. This has both forced the Japanese membership to write and translate more articles by themselves and I think we have some interesting interviews and personal reports in this issue. I hope you enjoy reading them and found them worth the wait. If you have any comments in English, please direct them to me at jmcl@gol.com
As for corrections from the last issue, there are two for the report of the AGM in October (page 7). The paper drafted by Watanabe Ben and Yamasaki Seiichi mentioned in paragraph 3 should be entitled,"On the Possibility of Reforming the Japanese Labor Movement Through International Solidarity" instead of "A Study of the Transformation of the Japanese Labor Movement Through International Solidarity." A final version of this report should be published in the Bulletin for the Center for Transnational Labor Studies later this year. Second, Nakahara Itsuo was left out as Treasurer in the mention of executive committee members.
In addition to the writers and translators, we would like to thank the following people for contributing to this issue:

Photography: Noguchi Yutaka
Editing: John McLaughlin
Layout: Takahei Masahito
Printing: Nakahara Itsuo
Mailing: Noguchi Yutaka


@top of the page