Labor Report from Meiji Japan (9)

  Prospects of the Japanese Labor Movement

TAKANO, Fusataro.

  Hongo, Tokyo, Japan, Sept. 3, 1897. It is justly remarked by some American writers that all the industrial devices which have cost generations and millions to develop in Europe and America have come to us Japanese ready made. The same can be said, we think, of the solution of the labor problem. Follies and mistakes that were made by western workers stand ample warning for us, and if we but heed them the path of labor emancipation in this country will present quite a different picture than that of western countries.
  While it is quite true that we have adopted the Manchester doctrine of cheap labor in conjunction with the Manchester factory devices, the evil consequence of which is apparent at this early date of our factory system as witnessed by the horrible conditions of work exacted from factory operatives, child labor, &c, yet precedent experience warrants us in entertaining a cheerful view for our future industrial career. It is now axiomatic with the labor movement that the peaceful solution of the labor problem can come only through organized effort on the part of working people on the one hand and through understanding of the labor movement on the part of employers on the other. With lack of one or the other of these fundamental elements, the labor movement can never have "a smooth sea" in any country. If this be true, what can we say of our future when we, at this early date of our modern industrial regime, observe these two fundamental elements in evidence. Though they are insignificant at present, they are bound to assume much importance in the very near future.
  Nor is it a matter of mere conjecture. It was only last July when an association under the name of Rodo-Kumiai-Kisei-Kwai (literally translated : Association for Encouragement and Formation of Trades Unions) was formed in this capital city with the avowed purpose to encourage and assist the formation of trades unions, that powerful and only agency for uplifting the working people.
  This association made, during its brief existence of two months, a gigantic stride in its membership, which now is 450. The members are all working men of various trades, each of whom is pledged to made a determined effort, backed by the whole strength of the association, to organize his own trade when sufficient number of workers of said trade are enrolled in the association and stand steadfastly with the organization so formed. The association is now hard at work to educate and familiarize these disciples of the labor cause to every phase of the labor problem, and it is expected that a few months in this "trades union school" will work a wonder upon the intellectual power of these disciples.
  The phenomenal growth of the association and the good work it is undertaking speak much for the future of the Japanese labor movement. Indeed, they unmistakably indicate that a powerful organized effort of the working people will be found, and found on a healthy basis, too, in active service in the near future.
  While the Japanese workers' own effort thus present a bright prospect, they have also found a powerful ally in the person of Mr. Sakuma Teiichi, the well-known Tokyo capitalist and owner of Shuyeisha, the largest printing establishment in this country, Mr. Sakuma now stands a single capitalistic sympathizer of labor, but his pronounced attitude and vast influence could not fail but to impress others of the folly of an inimical attitude toward the effort of our working people to better their conditions. With the presence of these two forces already in the field, is it still venturesome for us to predict a bright future for Japanese workers? I think not.
  For the purpose of acquainting our American friends as to how this Japanese capitalist conducts his business and establishment of Shuyeisha in matters connected with his employes, let me briefly describe it, as follows:
  The establishment of Shuyeisha is composed of two departments, viz., type printing and type founding, employing in the aggregate over 850 men, boys and girls. Nine hours constitute a day's work in the establishment, overwork being paid according to the hours so worked. In the type founding department 16 casting machines are worked with a daily capacity of 14,000. Twenty-four men and thirty-five girls are employed in the department, the highest wages of the former 18 yen*, and the lowest 6 yen per month, and the latter is paid by the day, the highest being 25 sen** and lowest 8 sen. Stereotyping is conducted in conjunction with this department, for which fifteen men are employed, with wages varying from 6 yen to 20 yen per month. A man who finishes 50 pages of octavo in a day is considered a skilled worker.
  The printing department is divided into seven divisions; proofreading, typepicking, composing, decomposing, press-room, book-binding and engine-room. For proofreading 11 men are employed, the highest wages paid being 16 yen per month and lowest 25 sen per day. For typepicking 112 men and boys are employed with wages ranging from 15 to 40 sen per day. This job is one that is peculiar to Japanese printing trade. As there are over 4,000 Chinese characters in general use beside 50 original Japanese characters, it is impossible for a compositor to go all over these characters. To overcome this difficulty typepicking was made a special job and typepickers pick only Chinese characters, arranging them in a case which will contain 810 types. The case thus arranged is passed to the composing room for final arrangement. The wages of typepickers is determined by the number of the cases picked at a rate of 3 sen per case. Most skilled in the department picks 16 cases per day, while a newly entered boy is only able to pick two cases.@The average efficiency of the hands employed is now estimated at 13 cases per day. For composition 50 men are employed, their wages ranging from 27 to 50 sen per day. The work of a compositor consists of setting types passed from typepicking department in the cases, inserting Japanese characters, which are placed before him, where they are needed. A man who sets 24 pages of octavo during a day is considered a fair compositor. The decomposition is performed by girls above 13 and under 19 years of age, with wages varying from 13 to 30 sen per day. In the press department 85 men and apprentices are employed; 10 Dowson's cylinder machines, together with some dozen hand machines are there. The average feeding capacity of hands is 1,000 per hour. The highest wages paid is 40 sen and lowest 24 sen per day. For bookbinding 11 men are employed with wages of from 23 to 30 sen per day. In the engine-room 6 men with wages of from 19 to 30 sen per day are employed.
  Among boys working in the establishment there are 260 apprentices, with terms of four and six years. All necessaries of life, including medical service and evening school education, are furnished to them free of charge. Monthly allowance of 40 sen is given to them, and when they serve out the term monthly wages of 8 to 15 yen are paid, with an addition of 10 yen or under if they assume responsible positions, such as foremen or assistant foremen.
  A special feature of the establishment, for which it stands as a unique printing establishment in this country, is its benevolent feature. There are two benevolent systems in operation. The first is profit sharing. After deducting current expenses and 12 per cent annual interest on capital, the profit of the establishment is distributed among all employes, share of each employe being determined by his or her monthly earning. The second is an annuity given to every employe who continually served in the establishment under any capacity for a period of five years. The annuity for a term is 5 yen, and for each succeeding five years 5 yen is added. There are at present 56 men receiving the annuity of 5 yen, 14 of 10 yen, 4 of 15 yen and 2 of 20 yen. Besides these benefits one week's summer vacation is given to those who continually worked the preceding seven months. The employes have their own choice to go to a summer villa owned by Mr. Sakuma, and located at Zushi, a sea coast summer resort, or remain at their own homes. Not only all the expenses at the villa is borne by Mr. Sakuma, but money equal to their week's earning is given as if they had worked in the establishment. Such is the sympathy extended by Mr. Sakuma to his employes, and if all the other employers follow his noble footsteps, the peaceful solution of the labor problem will surely be aided and perhaps achieved.

* One yen is equal to about 50 American cents.
** One hundredth of yen.

Special Correspondent of the American Federationist.

American Federationist,IV, No.9 (November,1897),210-211;
Reprinted in Railroad Trainmen's Journal, XIV, No.12
(December,1897), 1098-1099

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