Tuesday, July 15, 2008
From the International Activists against G8 listserve:
Three comrades who had been jailed since July 5th were released at
9:30 this morning!
Their jail time was shorter than 23 days, the common length in the
police state Japan. We believe that it was thanks to your attention
and solidarity from the world over.
From now on, we will demand compensation for the destroyed track and
continue to protest against the unlawful crackdowns before and after
the G8. Please keep an eye on coming events.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
On July 5th, people from all corners of the world marched in the first demo against global capitalism in Sapporo City, and possibly the largest demonstration in the city's history. Called the "Peace Walk for Challenging the G8," a diversity of people from all walks of life--trade unionists, syndicalists, the Kimono and Yukata bloc, clowns, puppetistas, IMCistas, the black bloc, communists, Wobblies, etc...from Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Australia, the U.S.-- converged in Odori Koen (park) at 3 PM and marched through the center of the city. I met with two members of the CNT-F briefly, and linked up with the 200 or so people represented by giant red-and-black flags and lead by a large sound truck with a DJ blasting hip-hop, punk and reggae music. We commenced the march, but not without lines of thousands of riot police walking alongside, containing us onto one side of the street. This did not prevent us from enjoying ourselves; people danced and spirits were high, but we knew it was only a matter of time before something would escalate. At one point during the march, the truck stopped with some commotion, and the word was that the cops tried seizing it, but they were met with a lot of resistance.
The march continued on, but only for a few more minutes before the cops more forcefully attempted to seize our beloved sound truck. They managed to form a barricade in front of it, and banged on the driver's window with clubs. The driver refused to open the door, and honked the horn in protest. More and more police formed on the sides of the truck, and despite the driver's resistance and the support that demonstrators gave him from the sides, the police smashed the window, forced the door open, and violently dragged him out by his ankles (Click here to watch the video). Two other people, one a sound DJ from the top of the truck, and one a news reporter from the Associated Press were also arrested during this clash. At the time that this story was written, they are still in state custody. According to the No-G8! Legal Action Team, those detained can be held for 23 days without prosecution, and their families harassed. Furthermore, the Japanese legal system imposes collective punishment; organizers can be punished for activities that others did. Within jail, prisoners` physical movements are greatly restricted: they must ask permission to lie down or sit up.
After the arrests, the march continued without music, and concluded at Nakajima Koen (park) with a few announcements and the decision to march to the jail. Approximately 200 people walked north, stopping by a police station to see our sound truck parked next to a line of police and driven away when we approached, and we eventually reached the jail where our friends were being held. We raised flags and chanted in the face of the heavily guarded station for about one hour, and organizers stated that while our support was needed there, it was unlikely that we would have much of an effect, since the arrestees would be held for a long period of time.
We walked back to Odori Koen to relax and construct a plan for legal support, but as we were sitting a van playing loud nationalist anthems drove by. Everyone stood back up, and people demonstrated against the Uyoko dantai (right-wing extremists) , who were apparently heading up to the jail to support the police in their actions at the demonstrations. One person managed to grab a flag off of their van, but before a confrontation escalated, buses filled with riot police drove in and three lines of police formed to guard us from the van. The right-wingers demanded their flag back, and after police negotiated with the legal team, they drove away, and the police dispersed.
As the evening concluded, we were warned that the convergence center and the camp were prone to a police raid, and in general there were police and secret service agents scattered throughout the city. As we walked around, we could see an extremely visible police presence. The next day, many people left for the Toyoura camps to protest the summit, while a few of us stayed in Sapporo to do legal support work and write calls for solidarity for the July 5th arrestees. Fortunately, we managed to raise a lot of money and awareness of the issue, but there is still more work that needs to be done.For the latest updates, please visit: http://www.gipfelsoli.org/feeds/rss2/164
On my first full day in the country, I attended the annual General Assembly of the All Freeters Union in Tokyo. With the help of a friend, I wrote a very brief introduction for myself in Japanese, which I read at the beginning of the meeting. Unfortunately, there was no one available to provide any significant amount of translation for me during the gathering, and so I simply sat quietly through approximately three hours of reportbacks and voting. Although I could occassionally pick out a word like "rodosha" [workers] or "shihon shuigi" [capitalism], most of the content flew directly over my head.
Before the meeting, I stopped by a community center in the San-Ya area of Tokyo, home to the city's large day laborer community. The center provides regular meals for workers, who face significant amounts of police repression, and earn only about 6,000 yen per day when they are fortunate enough to find work. Although I was only able to visit briefly, I met some of the activists who work at the center, and lent a quick hand as they prepared to serve a meal.
A parallel day laborers' movement exists in Osaka, in the central part of the Japanese mainland. Only one day before I arrived, the city was gripped by riots stemming from police repression of day laborers there. Unlike the police we dealt with later on Hokkaido, during the G8 summit, Osaka's police are well-versed in riot control tactics, heavily armed, and extremely brutal. A brief documentary was made about the rioting (the most recent episode in a decades-long series of small uprisings), and screened at one of the protest camps in Hokkaido. I wll be contacting the filmmaker in an effort to obtain an English-language version that can be screened in the US and elsewhere.
I've been continuing to learn more about the day laborers' struggles, the parallels between the movements in Osaka and Tokyo, and the connections between the police repression, organized crime, and the political right in Japan. It's fascinating stuff, and I hope to write more about it over the next week or so as I wind up my trip and return to the US.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
After 24 hours straight of travel from Sapporo to Tokyo to Atlanta to New York, I'm finally back and able to update our blog that has been neglected in the storm of some amazing activity in the last two weeks; meetings, forums, socializing, sightseeing, protests, meetings, concerts, jail support, planning, travel and smashing global capitalism. I'm actually amazed that I made it back in one piece, and without getting detained.
When I last wrote, I was in Tokyo after a protest at the Goodwill Group with the Temporary Workers Union. On June 27, trekked down to the union office to screen my Starbucks film and discuss the IWW. This event was actually an informal gathering for information exchange or peer counciling, called Hello Union. The Hello Union gathering is open to everyone, and typically draws people who work for temp agencies (such as the Goodwill Group), non union members, as well as people from the Temporary Workers Union, Tokyo Union, and the All Freeters Union.
At the Hello Union gathering, I began with screening the film. We compared and contrasted the precarious conditions of low-wage workers in Japan with those in the U.S., and we found two main differences: in Japan it is where any one person from any industry can join as individuals as well as groups, and seek help or representation by the union. They were astounded and somewhat appalled to hear that you need to have a majority vote for union representation in your shop. The second difference they I would say they were appalled by was our lack of contracts. At Starbucks, as with most low-wage jobs in the U.S., I told them that workers simply have no stability. This is a level of precarity that the Goodwill workers were unfamiliar with.
In Japan, temp. agencies, such as the Goodwill Group (which is the umbrella conglomerate who bought out smaller temp. agencies in every sector of industry), hire workers on one-day contracts. The union organizer Sekine gave a report-back on the June 26th protest at Goodwill Group, and discussed the organizing process there, as well as updates. That afternoon, the union held negotiations with company representatives in order to win unemployment benefits that were owed to them, and to hold the government accountable for allowing the company to grow so large. By law, day workers who lose their jobs are paid 60% of their regular wage for 26 days in a 2 month period. Since Goodwill did not follow through with this because it was bankrupt, workers were asking for this from the state. hold the government accountable for paying the unemployement benefits that the company had reneged on, as it had gone bankrupt.
On June 28, me and Sabu joined representatives from a diversity of organizations and unions, at the Tokyo Action against Poverty, Precarious Labor and Social Exclusion "rally" (which is the word they use for an event in which many speakers from various organizations go on stage and discuss their work for about 15 minutes, the total event usually lasting about 3 hours). It was interesting, although hard to understand, as activists mostly from Japan and Korea reported on each others' conditions on poverty, unstable working conditions, and social exclusion as a result of neoliberalism. We spoke for approximately 15 minutes on the current and past work of the IWW in an expression of solidarity with struggles throughout Asia.
June 29th was a demonstration in Shinjuku of the same name. FW Sabu Kohso attended, but the rest of us could not make it due to rainy weather and a lack of lockers for us to store someone's pack. Check out the video!
That night, however, we all went out to the Freeters' May Day reportback. Although it was entirely in Japanese with little translation, two presenters energetically reported while we watched video footage of their festive, Japanime-inspired march through the streets, and an action at a Shell gas station. The event was accomodated with a reception of candy and sugary drinks, and in retrospect it gave us a good picture of what a Freeter said in a panel discussion later on, about the importance of having fun in our struggles.
The next morning, June 30, began the Counter G8 International Forum in Chiyoda-ku, a large conference that would begin in Tokyo and move out to Sapporo. I spoke on the activities of the IWW at the Precarity Creates panel, where I discussed our struggles at Starbucks and the NYC food warehouses. Joining me on the panel was the Freeters Union, and members of No Vox, a French-based network of grassroots social movements and organizations of "deprived peoples."
July 1 was somewhat of a free day that we spent mostly planning logistics for getting to Sapporo, and doing a little sightseeing a shopping. We walked down Takeshita-dori in the Harajuku district, called the "mecca for trendy streetwear," looking for accessories to dress David Graeber up as Bono for the G8 demonstrations in Hokkaido. That night were more panel discussions, of which I attended the one that FWs David Graeber, Sabu Kohso, and Andrej Grabacic spoke on - "The Future of Planetary Organization."
After this, we went to a Freeter's mom's apartment to sleep, and had a chance to eat a home-cooked meal and do laundry,realizing that activist moms are pretty much a universally awesome. The next day was a flight to Sapporo, so I will pause here and write on the Sapporo leg of the delegation soon.