Labor Report from Meiji Japan (12)

  A New Trade Union in Japan

TAKANO, Fusataro.

    Hongo, Tokyo, Japan, December 17, 1897. On the evening of December 1st last, with pomp and array, the newly formed union of iron workers held its opening ceremony at the Association Hall of this city with many prominent public officials and capitalists as guests. The whole strength of the union, 1,200 in number, together with an equal number of workers of other trades were in attendance. The ceremony was opened by myself as chairman of the committee on arrangement. Mr.Sakuma Teiichi, the sympathizer with labor, delivered the first congratulatory speech followed by Messrs. Shimoda Saburo, vice-president of the Lower House of Diet; Miyoshi Taizo, ex-chief justice of the Court of Cassation; Profs. Takano Iwasaburo and Suzuki Junichiro. Mr.Katayarna Sen, M.A.,of Wisconsin University[sic], was the last speaker and the ceremony was closed amid thundering cheers for the union.
    There are many features in connection with the ceremony, as well as the formation of the union, which are worthy of special notice. In the first place, there never was in the industrial annals of this country any workingmen's organization formed with so large a membership as the Iron Workers union, nor has there ever before been any meeting held under the auspices of working people which was attended by public officials and capitalists. Furthermore, when the fact is known that the large membership of the union is a product of only five months' agitation conducted by the Rodo Kumiai Kisei Kwai (see the last November number of this magazine),it reveals a remarkable growth of the labor movement in this country. Who ever supposed that a union of such dimension as the Iron Workers was capable of formation in a country where low wage conditions are prevalent?
    While the formation of the union itself is, to friends of Japanese labor, a source of much rejoicing, perusal of its constitution further intensifies our gratification. Cares of the promoters of the union is [sic] visible throughout the lines of the constitution. It is height of folly on the part of organized workers to indulge in inflammatory declaration or radical utterances at present stage of our social condition, that is to say, while the workers are not sufficiently organized on one hand and the strong arm of government is ever ready to crush out organization of workingmen on the other, the founders of the union should be complimented for their wise choice of peaceful and conservative methods as represented in pure and simple trade unionism. Moreover, it is said to be the intention of the founders to keep away from any action which has a partisan political coloring, and by so doing, the union has reduced its danger to a minimum. What nonsense it would be for a labor organization to declare for any political action while its members are all barred out from political participation by reason of voting qualification (only those who are paying national taxes to an amount of 15 yen are qualified voters). The best it is able to gain by such action is an enmity of government and hatred of governing classes.
    Having steered clear away from all these dangers, the union endeavors to establish a solid basis of its organization by promoting solidarity of its members with a system of benefit which consists of a sick benefit of 20 sen per diem for a period of ninety days within a year; a funeral benefit of 20 yen, and a death benefit of 10 to 30 yen. A moderate sum of 20 sen is uniformly charged as monthly dues. Elementary education of its members, absence of which is a conspicuous feature among our workers, is entrusted to its mother organization, the Rodo Kumiai Kisei Kwai, to which body, by the way, the new union is affiliated, thus establishing links of connection with other unions to be formed by the association, This method, it is claimed, will make easier that assiduous task of federating existing unions, enabling them to present a solid front of the army of organized workers as soon as the association succeeds to organize other trades.
    At present the union has 13 sub-lodges, 10 of which are located in this city with total membership of 1,000, one in Yokohama with 200 members, and one in Omiya, where the work of that formidable Japan Railway Co. is located, with 70 members. Claim is made in behalf of the union that it will be able to establish its branches in all localities throughout this country where iron works are situated and swell its membership to 5, 000 within the coming year.
    Doubt may be entertained by some of our western friends of the future of the union. It is premature to say, at this writing, the future which awaits the union. However, one thing is certain that the foundation upon which it now rests is comparatively solid, since workers of this trade are more intelligent and higher paid than workers of other trades. That they are capable of sustaining an organization is evidenced by a fact that while the Rodo Kumiai Kisei Kwai was able to bring only 100 workers of other trades under its banner, 1,200 iron workers flocked to it during the same length of time, which goes to show that their intelligence and higher wage condition made them easier to perceive the necessity of organized effort and susceptible to the influence of agitation carried on by the association. Having these elements of success, nothing but a bright future is predictive at present for the union.

American Federationist,IV, No.12 (February,1898),272-273.
Also in Railroad Trainmen's Journal, XV, No.3 (March, 1898), 211-213.

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