Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tokyo, Part 2: Gatherings, "rallies" and forums

by Diane Krauthamer

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.

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