Labor Report from Meiji Japan (7)


TAKANO, Fusataro.

      The time is near at hand when we shall be called upon to show to the world at large our capacity to deal with all phases of industrial phenomena consequent upon our advancing civilization. The day of Manchesters and Birminghams, the advent of which Lord Macaulay predicted for the United States as the time when she will find it necessary to either sacrifice her civilization or surrender her republican institutions, is now approaching and the worst prediction would seem to find its fulfilment in this country. It is not free institutions that will have to be sacrificed in our case, for we have none of them, but our social peace and political stability; sustaining, at the same time, an infinite injury to our civilization.
     Since the introduction of machinery into this country, the factory system has been fast replacing the home manufactories and it has now become an indispensible[sic] part of our industrial organization. With this development of factory system, the relation of employers and employee has undergone a great change. Compassion, benevolence, faith and a word, all that were the connecting links of masters and hands have been swept away, and what now remains? Perfidy and contempt on one hand; stern insolence and perfect indifference on the other. Under this strained relation, laborers, who are always the weakest of the two, got worsted, abused, annoyed, and persecuted. Wretchedness, misery and poverty is their lot. Witness, the conditions of work exacted from the factory operatives as fully reviewed in our previous article ("Typical Japanese Workers") and the blacklisting system widely practiced among the employing class. It is idle to believe that the workers can be subjected to the odious exactions indefinitely, no matter how ignorant and hopeless they may be. It is destined, sooner or later, to burst out. Indeed, the present situation is, to us it seems, exactly the case of "the sword of Damocles hanging over the head." There is no sign so sure as industrial conflicts to warn us of approaching danger and threatening calamity. What means, if it means nothing else, the frequent occurrence of that industrial warfare, the dreadful strike. It matters not whether the strikes were made for the increase of wages, or for the improvement of the conditions of work or for some other reasons, they all go to show that the spirit of resistance is fast growing among our working men, and their supposed character of passive submission, is steadily undergoing a change, the final outgrowth and innovation of which means the death knell of triumphant capital. Let us see how far the spirit has grown and innovation has been accomplished among the workers of this country as indicated by the strikes.
     By the writer's own investigation, the strikes so far occurred in this country are as is shown in the next page.*
     In view of the pronounced lack of compact unity on the part of our working people as evidenced by non-existence of labor organizations, it is singular that a united action in the shape of a strike was resorted to by the workingmen. Yet, this singularity goes to reveal the real condition of spirit rampant among them. Furthermore, judging from the frequency of strikes, the workers are now quite familiar with their potency, the knowledge of which, without the restraining power of labor organizations, can not fail but to make them resort to deadly weapons, one of the most frequent occurrences in this country; developing at the same time, a more dangerous character of strike than those mild affairs we have been witnessing. Thus, the reign of our industrial chaos will be complete.

DateNo.of strikes and Names of EstablishmentsCause of StrikeDuration of StrikeResult
Feb.,1890Mason of Aoyama, TokyoAgainst employment of cheap
Jan.,1894200 male operatives of Temma Cotton Spinning mill
of Osaka
Against unjust treatment by an
6d.Partly Succeeded
Sept.,189623 male operatives of Miye Spinning Mill of NagoyaAgainst a foreman1d.Failed
Sept.,189613 Oil-men of Miye Spinning Mill of NagoyaFor increase of wages1d.Failed
Sept.,1896100 male and female operatives of Miye Spinning
Mill of Nagoya
By misunderstanding1d.Failed
Sept.,189632 Mail-carriers of Kobe Post OfficeFor increase of wages14d.Failed
Sept.,1896200 Tailors of Shiba, TokyoFor increase of wages5d.Succeeded
Oct.,1896Operative of Owari Spinning Mill of NagoyaFor increase of wages...Failed
Oct.,18963,000 coal-carriers of MojiFor increase of wages1d.Succeeded
Oct.,1896140 Tabacco choppers of KagoshimaFor increase of wages4d.Succeeded
Oct.,1896Clerks at the Iyo Mine, IyoUnknown.........
Oct.,1896300 Tobacco choppers of Fuchu, BingoUnknown.........
Jan.,1897Rice-pounders of FukushimaFor increase of wages.........
Jan.,1897Operatives of Yokohama Silk and Cotton MillFor increase of wages.........
Mar.,1897140 coppers of Nada distlling districtFor increase of wages.........
Mar.,18971,500 umbrella-makers of TokyoFor increase of wages5d.Succeeded
Apr.,1897Electric line-men of Tokyo E.L.Co.For increase of wages2d.Succeeded
Apr.,1897Coal-miners of Takashima Mine, NagasakiAgainst conditions of work12d.Partly
Apr.,1897100 Silk weavers of MatsuyeFor increase of wages.........
Apr.,189750 Servants of the Home Dept.,TokyoFor increase of wages3d.Failed
May,1897Workmen of the salt manufacatories at SuwoFor increase of wages.........
May,1897630 boatmen and stevedores of the Nippon Yusen
Kaisha, Tokyo
Against management6d.Partly

     Turning our attention to the laws governing strikes in this country, we find a clause in our criminal code which provides that "All workmen engaged in industrial or agricultural labor, who with object of increasing the 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 labor for a period of from one to six months and a fine of from three to thirty yen." (Chapt. 8, Article 270). Only a single case was recorded so far when the clause was applied to strikers. That was when six of the strikers of the Temma Cotton Spinning Mill at Osaka*** were arrested and tried on the ground that they used force to compel other operatives to join their ranks. Two of them, however, were acquitted and others sentenced to two months major imprisonment and a fine of three yen. To this decision an appeal was taken, and the sentence for three of them was modified to one month major imprisonment and a fine of three yen.
     Added to this clause in the national statute, there is a city ordinance in operation in the city of Osaka which unconditionally prohibits strikes with a fine of from 5 sen to yen 1.95.
     Thus it will be seen that the national statute views a strike as illegal when any stratagem or force is used. At the same time, the terms of stratagem and force are wide enough to include everything, even peaceful persuasion can not be excepted. Although there were no cases reported for which the clause was applied but to those using brute force, it is fair to assume that the original intention of the law-makers was to apply it to every case of strike since there are many clauses in the statute dealing with almost every possible case of violence and false pretension. With the case of the city ordinance, the spirit that animated the enactment of the ordinance is quite apparent. The city of Osaka being the industrial centre of this country, the Manchester of Japan, it is natural for the city authorities to fear possible contingencies likely to occur under the factory system prevalent in the city, and in accordance with their natural inclination, they proceeded to suppress the contingencies in a direction where least resistance is likely to be manifested against the enactment, utterly disregarding the gross injustice they are inflicting upon the working people. They have, however, little dreamed that by enacting the ordinance they are digging their own graves. There is no power potent enough to sustain such an unjust law and its existence will only serve to arouse the working people to the wrongs they are subjected; to, and intensify their animosity against authority, as the industrial history of other nations amply shows.
     We further find numerous instances of trade associations provided in their rules, and approved by local governments, fines to be imposed upon those workmen employed by the members of associations, who attempt or go on strike. To cite a case, the Association of Carpetmakers at Osaka provides in its rules that any workman who originates a strike will be fined one-third of his monthly wages by his employer, for a period of five months and for those who agree or help to strike, a fine of one-third of monthly wages for a period of three months.
     Taking into consideration the spirit of suppression of the rights of working men, as plainly indicated by the above laws and regulations on the part of authority and employers, while on the other hand, the spirit of resistance now fast growing in the mind of working people as manifested by the strikes, coupled with the wretched conditions under which they are suffering, it is easily within our surmise that the future industrial life of this country is destined to repeat the history of early English industry and unless some stringent and wise action is taken, and taken quickly, Macaulay's prediction for the United States is sure to find its realization in this country.
     May, 1897

* There are no public documents to be relied upon in investigating the subject of strikes in this country, while in the early period of this new phenomena, even newspapers failed to record, hence, the strikes prior to 1896 are wholly unascertainable. However, the first two strikes tabulated have been recalled to the writer's memory and their accuracy has been proved by private inquiries. There also were several cases of attempted strikes which have been nipped in the bud, so to speak. To mention an instance: The demand for increase of wages made on Oct.4th,1896 by several hundred rice-carriers of Fukagawa, Tokyo, was compromised by a raise of 10% of wages and the threatened strike was averted.
** By the term of force not only brute force but also influence, power and authority are included.
*** The second in the tabulated form.

Far East,II, No.6 (June 20, 1897),235-239.
A slightly abridged and modified version was also published.
See "Strikes in Japan", Gunton's Magazine,XIII(July,1897),27-30.

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