Labor Report from Meiji Japan (21)

  Japanese Factory Legislation

TAKANO, Fusataro.

Komagoke [sic: Komagome], Hongo, Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 4, 1898.

Dear Sir,--  Your favor of September 15 came to hand just when I was in the heat of action because of the opposition to the proposed factory bill. Owing to the enormous task placed on me, I had no time to look to other matters, but my whole attention was directed toward pushing our demands. This is the reason of my delay in responding to your favor at an earlier date.

During the last two months our association directed its entire attention to amending the proposed factory bill, and active steps were taken to achieve the end. A petition signed by all the members was presented to the Minister of State for Agriculture and Commerce. A committee was sent to interview the members of the Higher Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Board. Mass meetings to herald our demands were held in this city and adjoining towns. Pamphlets explaining our demands were printed and mailed to each member of the Higher Board.

While we were making all these efforts, the bill came up, on October 26, before the Higher Board, for its consideration. After two days of general discussion, the bill was sent to a special committee of nine. For the five days following the committee was busily engaged in amending the bill, and on November 1 it reported the bill to the Board in an amended form, which was finally passed by a vote of 15 against 13. A glance at this amended bill convinces that all our efforts were not made in vain. For, the amended bill extended the application of the bill to factories using motive powers of every description while those most objectionable clauses concerning workingmen's certificate were entirely left out. Furthermore, the amended bill stipulated the amount of compensation to be paid by employers in cases of accidents to employees while in the discharge of duty. This was a significant victory for our associations as well as workingmen in general, and we are satisfied with the amended bill, though there is much to be desired with regard to protection of child laborers.

Not only are we pleased with the bill itself, but we are particularly pleased with the fact that a body composed of such well-known capitalists as the Higher Board is, has passed a bill protecting working people, and this fact will go to weaken the opposition for the bill on the floor of the Diet, to which body the bill will be presented. It is now rumored that the government will not place the bill before the present session of Diet. It is supposed that the new cabinet which succeeded the Okuma Ministry is not so zealous to push the bill as the former ministry was.

So much for the factory bill. Now, I have sad news to convey you. Our dearest and most influential sympathizer, Mr.Tesichi [sic: Tei'ichi] Sakuma, has, at last, succumed [sic:succumbed] to a renewed attack of consumption, from which he has long suffered, on November 6. This was a hard blow to us and we sincerely grieve for his departure, especially at the very moment when we are in great need of his practical advice. It is doubtful to find another like him, so devoted and zealous to protect our interests.

On the evening of November 20 we held another mass meeting in the Y. M. C. A. hall at Kanda, this city, when Mr. Kentaro ex-Minister of State for Agriculture and Commerce, adressed the meeting. For an hour and a half he held his audience spell-bound with his eloquent speech on the future of Japanese workingmen. He congratulated our workingmen on their gaining social influence and prestige as fast as industry advances. He pointed out that there is no way to properly uphold this advancing social position and influence except by organized effort, and advised workingmen to form trade unions. Further on, he warned our workers not to become an easy prey to greedy western capitalists when our land is widely opened for foreign capital and capitalists after next July, and to be ready for any possible emergency; he concluded that the formation of trade unions should be a watchword of our workers. He closed his address amidst thundering applause of the audience. It was indeed the most powerful argument for the cause of labor I have listened to since my return to this country, and it was akin to a revelation that a man of the position of Mr. Kaneko's should have so thorough and correct understanding of labor movement. Moreover, his speech was a public justification of the position we have taken, the position often misunderstood even by workingmen themselves, and we are really glad he has championed, so effectively our cause.

The AMERICAN FEDERATIONIST comes regularly to my hand.

American Federationist, V, No.11(January, 1899).

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