Labor Report from Meiji Japan (2)

Fusataro Takano

  The War and Labor in Japan

      The Peace Society may disdain our glory, England may be jealous of our success, but in the people of the United States we have true friends, and to them we have the honor to express through the kindness of the Editor of the Social Economist, our fullest appreciation of their sympathy for our cause. It is, at the same time, a part of our duty toward the American public to acquaint them with what we expect to gain from the war.
      As to its final result upon the cause of civilization in the Far East and upon our future industry and commerce, it is too well known to be repeated here. It is also within their surmise what will be the consequence of such industrial and commercial expansion upon the social condition of the Japanese people in general. But there is a still greater benefit to be derived in an unexpected quarter--un-expected because it is not only known to the general public in the United States, but to a large majority of our own people; we refer to the effect of the war upon the labor movement in our country.
      There are hundreds and thousands of laborers in the field of the military operation at present. They are working under a great hardship, but at the same time the reward for their services is amply provided for, so much so that they are actually gaining three or four times their ordinary earnings during peace periods.
      It is claimed with authority that during the past six months over three quarters of a million dollars passed through the hands of the post-office department in the field. With this figure before us, it is easy to surmise what a large amount it will come to when the war is finally over.
      We claim that this large sum of money in the hands of the laborers is the source of great good to the permanent condition of the working people and a consequent benefit upon the labor movement in the country.
      It may be suggested that they should be encouraged to save what they have earned under these extraordinary circumstances. But being the product of extraordinary circumstances it could not be saved. It is, in its own nature, bound to be spent recklessly. Whatever encouragement may be given to save it, will result in vain. Still, we need not despair, for such recklessness will greatly affect their mode of daily living, though temporary it may be. They will naturally have better houses, better food and better clothing. They will strive to have more comforts and more pleasures. In a word, they will have a taste of the heretofore forbidden fruits. We do not suppose that this enjoyment of a higher mode of living will continue for a long time, nor do we think it is strong enough to entirely change their present mode of life. Still, though short-lived and feeble in influence, it will plant at least in the minds of the laborers a seed of a new desire to be developed in future opportunity. When they finally return to their ordinary way of living they cannot help but look back to the better life they have enjoyed, and for the first time in their lives they will realize their pitiful condition. This realization will necessarily cause discontent for their condition, and the era of emancipation, if it is properly directed, will begin with this discontent.
      Thus far we have spoken of the laborers who are in the field of war. Can the remaining body of the working people withstand the influence of the high living of some of their members? Can they stand outside of that strong influence of the social surrounding? It is not common among uneducated people to be easy victims of envy and jealousy? Here, then, is another effect of that powerful agent--the discontent will bc seen ard felt, bringing the whole labor population into its fold.
      What discontent will do upon the condition of people is well known to every student of the labor problem.
Every great factor in the labor movement, such as labor organizations, strikes, etc., owes its life to that agency. The great tailors strike in New York City last September, which brought that deep-rooted and long-fought evil of the sweating system to its end, is another example of the power of discontent. 36
      How far that agent will benefit the condition of the Japanese people, will be seen in considering the present aspect of the labor movement in the country.
      Whatever may have been said about the ethical beauty of the lower stratum of the Japanese people by our enthusiastic friends in foreign land, it is beyond dispute that their material condition is most deplorable. To many thinkers in the land their conditions are the cause of much anxiety at this exalted moment. It looks as though it is almost impossible work to improve their condition. In the American Federationist of last October we argued upon the non-existence of the labor movement in our country and attributed its cause to the prevailing ignorance among the working classes. Such being their mental, as well as material condition, there is nothing to suggest but to educate, to agitate and to organize them, a work that needs years of effort and is necessarily full of hardship. This tedious method must be followed, unless the unexpected happens. But, to the great joy of the friends of the working men, the unexpected has happened. We have been furnished, as a result of the war, a most powerful agent that will facilitate the work of emancipation to a point of easy accomplishment, full of hope and perfect in its final result.
      There is, however, still another point to be gained for the cause of the labor movement in the country. To every patriotic citizen of thc country, the burning question of the day is how to sustain forever what we have gained by our brilliant militarism. The sifting of this question to its proper end will bring them to a perfect understanding of the national importance of the solution of the labor problem. This understanding will greatly help to clear the way for the labor movement, and the onward march of the movement will be far easier than what it experienced in Europe.
      Such will be the effect of the war upon the labor movement in Japan, and we, the friends of the working people, will start on our journey of emancipation full of vigor, hope and anticipation. Meanwhile, we hail the war as a great blessing to humanity, and rejoice, to the great discomfiture of England, in our grand success. Will the people of the United States join us in this grand jubilation?
Tokio, Japan, March, 1895.

Social Economist, vol.IX, July, 1895, pp. 30-33.

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