Labor Report from Meiji Japan (8)
Hongo, Tokyo, Japan,
July 29, 1897. On June 5 last, all ship carpenters, four hundred in number, of Yokohama, the well known seaport of this country, and its two surrounding districts met and formed an organization called "Yokohama Ship Carpenters Union". The first business considered by the union was a resolution to demand a raise of 17 sen per day on their wages, which equals a raise of about 22 per cent. This resolution was passed by acclamation and a petition to the effect, setting forth the fact that wages of ship carpenters remained unchanged during the past two years while prices of life's necessaries advanced, during the same period, over 40 per cent. was drawn up and copies of it were presented two days later, to all employers.
Several yard owners, employing in all about one hundred carpenters, readily granted the reasonable demand, but all other employers, among whom was the Yokohama Dock Company, a formidable concern, heavily backed by the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (Japan Mail Steam-Ship Co.), flatly refused to concede. Petitions after petitions were presented asking......I may say begging......for the raise, but to no avail. Not only the employers turned deaf ears to the humble begging but some of them boldly challenged a strike and in the case with the dock company a threat was made of permanent blacklisting of its employes who should persist in the [demand for the] raise.
Finding no other course to pursue, a strike was finally declared on the 17th, ten days after the petition was first presented, and over three hundred carpenters left their benches. Thus began a most remarkable strike in the industrial annals of this country; remarkable, in the first place, for the absence of hasty action on the part of the strikers in declaring the strike, as is the case with the majority of strikes so far inaugurated in this country. Indeed, the strikers went through every form of humble petitioning before they declared the strike; they stood unmoved by the flashing victories of other preceding strikes hastily declared and poorly conducted. This was most remarkable in view of the prevailing ignorance among the strikers and they really deserve the highest praise for their mature deliberation. In the second place, the strike was remarkable for the peaceful conduct and orderly behavior of the strikers. Though uneducated they were backed by a union newly formed with no fund whatever, and strenuously refrained from taking any violent action or desperate measures.
Orders issued from headquarters enjoining the strikers to a total abstinence from intoxicating liquors and heated discussion in their meeting place were obeyed to the letter. So orderly and peacefully was their behavior that the police authorities, who generally take the side of the employing class, found themselves hard to deny their sympathy.
This remarkable state continued for ten days, during which time the strikers were supported by those who were working with the yard owners who conceded the demand, with contributions of one-third of their daily earnings; and on the 27th all employers, except the dock company, came to an agreement with the strikers on a compromise scale of 73 sen per day, which is equal to about 32 cents in American money, and one-half of the strikers resumed their work on the next day. The strike against the dock company still continued, but luckily for the strikers they all found work with other employers who needed an additional force of carpenters owing to the work formerly done by the dock company now coming to their yards. The dock company, on the other hand, tried to bring carpenters from other parts of this country, but found that they had been outwitted by the strikers, for long before this step was taken by the company the strike leaders notified their brother workers in other important seaports of the strike, and requested them to use their influence to keep away carpenters from the scene of conflict. This request was cheerfully complied with, and the company succeeded in securing only eighteen carpenters, after much expense and labor.
This shrewd action of the strike leaders, together with the fact that as soon as those "scab" carpenters arrived in Yokohama pickets were stationed around the company's yard and three imported carpenters were won over to the ranks of the strikers, despite strict precautions of the company against that very thing, reveal another remarkable feature of the strike; and it stands, in some respects, a favorable comparison with those strikes conducted by shrewd strike leaders in the western countries. This shrewd management of the strike and peaceful behavior of the strikers finally brought the company to terms about ten days ago, and the strikers went back to the company on the compromised scale of 73 sen per day. Thus ended a most remarkable strike in a signal victory for the carpenters. Labor omnia vincit. [Labor conquers all.]
Special Correspondent of the American Federationist.
American Federationist,IV, No. 7 (September, 1897), 144-145:
Reprinted in Railroad Trainmen's Journal, XIV, No.10 (October, 1897), 867-868.