TAKANO,Fusataro, Strikes in Japan: Labor Report from 19th Century Japan(14)

Labor Report from Meiji Japan (14)

  Strikes in Japan

TAKANO, Fusataro.


Hongo, Tokyo, Japan, February 24, 1898.
With the advancement of civilization and the development of the modern system of production in this country the industrial slavery which characterized the condition of Japanese workers of the past is fast disappearing. In place of ignorant contentment and passive submission there is awakened in the minds of the workers a spirit of resistance, thereby weakening the chain that held them in bondage for years past. This growing spirit was fully indicated by recurring strikes we have been witnessing during the past year or two. Whatever might have been the causes of those strikes they show beyond disputation that Japanese workers are no longer the willing slaves they used to be, and they further indicate the capability of our workers to resist industrial abuses, the final outcome of which must be the entire abolition of industrial injustice practiced upon working people of this country.
Let us see how far the facts bear us out in our hopefulness. The first strike that was ever recorded in the industrial annals of this country occurred February, 1890, when about 200 masons of this city went on a strike, demanding the discharge of cheap laborers employed with them. This resulted in a complete success to the strikers after twelve days cessation of work. The succeeding three years found the industrial arena in a peaceful condition, or rather the workers were still ignorantly contented with their hapless condition.
In January, 1894, another strike broke out in a cotton spinning mill in Osaka, when 200 operatives struck against unjust conditions of work exacted by an engineer of the mill. Although the strike ended in partial success, after five days laying out, accompanying circumstances made it somewhat conspicuous. Owing to physical violence, resorted to by some strikers, four strikers were arrested, tried and sentenced to one month imprisonment and a fine of three yen. This conviction was brought about in accordance with a clause in our criminal code which provides that, "All workmen engaged in industrial or agricultural labor, who with object of increasing salaries or changing the conditions of the aforesaid labor, shall have employed stratagem or force against their masters or against other workmen so as to hinder the work, shall be punished with imprisonment with hard labor for a period of from one to six months and a fine of from three to thirty yen." This was the first and last case for which the clause was called into operation. Since this occasion there were several strikes in which violence was resorted to but the clause remained unapplied, and it is hoped that it will so remain until it is repealed.
Seven months after the strike of the spinners the war against China was declared, and until the spring of 1896 the minds of the whole nation, irrespective of their social ranks, were completely enveloped in the affairs of war.
During the war period industry was at a standstill, and though considerable scarcity was felt in some trades, owing to a large number of workers being called to the field of military operation, no serious conflict took place between capital and labor. When the war was over, and industry resumed its normal course, employers found themselves dealing with quite different sets of men. Nor is it surprising. The extraordinary high wages paid to workers in the field, as well as to those who remained at home during the war period, enabled the workers for the first time in their lives to enjoy the "life of plenty". To them it was tasting a forbidden fruit. The pleasure and comfort of the high-wage conditions they enjoyed worked innovations in their minds. It made them reluctant to return to their former life......the disire for a life of fullness had grown strong in their bosom. And this desire furnished an opening for the influence of advancing civilization, from which the workers heretofore stood comparatively unaffected. They were made aware of the social inequality under which they were suffering. After awakening, realization follows. Every injustice inflicted upon them added fresh fuel to the flame, and the spirit of revolt soon became rampant. Demands for increased wages began to be heard on all sides. Fortunately for employers, they were able to satisfy this craving of working people for higher wages, owing to the great activity of industry, which commenced shortly after the war. Still there were ten strikes within a brief period of four months......September to December......engaged in by over 4,000 workers, in aggregate. It was during this period that the great strike of the Moji coal carriers occurred, involving 3,000 men, the largest number of strikes ever engaged in one instance.
As to the causes of these strikes, six of them were made for increase of wages, three of which resulted victoriously, and four against condition of work. When the year 1897 dawned, things presented different aspects. While industry retained its activeness, abnormal rise of life's necessaries, which at the end of the year amounted to 43 percent rise in average in comparison with the same period of previous year, took place. Naturally, this rise of prices greatly affected working people, and the struggles to cover up this outlet by gaining higher wages were inaugurated, thus bringing the year to be the most prolific of industrial conflicts.
As many as forty strikes affecting 7,000 workers, to say nothing of their dependencies, occurred within the year, thirty of which were made for increase, one against reduction of wages and nine against conditions of work.
The results of these strikes were, twenty-two ended in success (twenty-one for increase of wages), six in partial success, and four in failure to strikers, (the results of remaining four cases are unascertainable).
Such were the achievements of our workers during the past year, and when we come to think of it, that they were achieved with no systematically organized body backing them, no one can help to predict a bright future for our workers.

American Federationist, V, No.2(April,1998), 31-32.
and Railroad Trainmen's Journal, XV,No.5(May, 1898), 376-378.

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Edited by NIMURA, Kazuo @http://nimura-laborhistory.jp