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Japan’s Organized Labor Mobilizes Against War
by Reza Fiyouzat
June 11, 2004

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The Japanese government is fully determined to expand its role in the regional wars conducted by the US. The rewards for such support may yet prove to be more lucrative opportunities for the expansion of Japan’s own realm. We should not underestimate the will of the Japanese right wing establishment.

Some Japanese historians and historians of Japan may in fact find similarities between the US’s intentions in Iraq today and Japan’s intentions and methods in setting up a puppet regime in Nanjing, in 1940, a full three years after their initial invasion of China. Parallel to their military expansions, colonial powers are always mindful of laws governing their citizens' actions at home. The enactment in Japan of National Mobilization Act in 1938 enabled the state takeover of key industries, while eradicating the rights of individuals and citizens’ groups. By 1940, “all political parties were dissolved and were replaced by the state-sponsored Imperial Rule Assistance Association,” (The Columbia Encyclopedia, sixth edition, 2001).

Against this historical backdrop, it is instructive to look at a legislative package, titled, Emergency Legislation, cleared through the Japanese diet’s Lower House last month, which is now under deliberation in the Upper House. This legislative package is to create the legal framework that will dictate the shape of people’s lives in an emergency such as a terrorist or a military attack. Given the lack of any real threat directed at Japan by any state, and given that Japan has historically been the one invading and occupying its neighbors, it is odd that the government of Prime Minister Koizumi should be creating a legal framework for the eventuality of Japan coming under attack.

The Emergency Legislation is a legal framework similar to the Patriot Act. In the April 17 issue of the pro-government newspaper, Daily Yomuri, the editorial reads, “The bill on the protection of the public from a military attack, a central pillar of the legislation, is inseparably linked to the law on a situation that could escalate into an armed attack. The latter law governs the conduct of Self-Defense Forces troops in the event of a military attack.” The almost-hidden key phrase, ‘a situation that COULD escalate’, now that international illegality has been clearly scaffolded, allows the government to declare any situation, no matter how spurious or vaguely ‘threatening’, as one demanding national mobilization if not a preemptive strike.

The legislation, having cleared a Lower House committee, in which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and their coalition partner, New Komeito, and the main official opposition, Democratic Party, hashed out their differences, was ratified by the Lower House with zero open floor parliamentary debate. The minority (true) opposition in the parliament was thus never allowed an airing of fundamental differences concerning violations of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

It is indicative of the substance of the Emergency Legislation that many progressive labor unions, as well as peace activists would actively oppose it. There are provisions in the bills that call for obligatory increased work hours to be performed by workers in an ‘emergency’ situation, while some provisions call for fining, suspension, firing or incarceration of workers who refuse such demands. There are other provisions restricting or banning the right to strike. Other provisions allow for government’s take-over of private property of citizens and/or corporations.

In the run-up to the deliberations over the Emergency Legislation in the Lower House last month, some labor unions called for and had organized many rallies, with the biggest one held on May 21, when workers, peace activists, student and religious’ citizens’ groups gathered to oppose Koizumi government’s dispatch of Self Defense Forces to Japan, and against the Emergency Legislation. This rally was attended by something between nine to ten thousand people, mostly workers, plus groups of politically-conscious students and peace activists (for information in English, see: Anti-War Joint Action Committee; The next demonstration, on June 4, brought out 1,600 participants. More rallies and demonstrations are organized for June 10th and June 13th. The organizers are intent on keeping up the pressure on the legislators, whose current session runs until June 16.

The unions and organization calling for and participating in the demonstrations vary widely. They include unions for: teachers, journalists, railway workers, contractors and construction workers, ship workers, hospital workers and nurses, clerical workers, actors, civil servants, women’s groups, religious groups (one Christian, and one Buddhist), and consumer groups; and all these from different branches from different prefectures in Japan.

The speakers at the rallies have focused mainly on the links between the wars waged by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq and Koizumi government’s violations of Japan’s pacifist constitution, disguised as following the Security Pacts signed with the US and fulfilling Japan’s international ‘Humanitarian Obligations.’ The biggest fear among some peace activists is that the Koizumi government may use the Emergency Legislation to start a preemptive war against North Korea.

At the rally where ten thousand people attended, in addition to a great number of uniformed policemen, it was instructive to see a massive presence of plain-clothed policemen numbering forty to fifty, all with cameras and notebooks at the ready. During both the rally and the march, the plain-clothed policemen were frantically taking pictures, taking down names, and comparing notes.

In a metropolis housing twelve million people (sixteen to seventeen million during the work day), the gathering of about ten thousand people for a demonstration can hardly be considered a threat to the stability of the nation. Given that Social Democratic Party, whose former head spoke at the rally, had once been in a coalition with the ruling LDP, and given the relatively small number of people, why all the plain-clothed policemen in such a frenzy identifying, taking pictures, and writing down the names of organizations attending? A good seventy percent of the attendees, as is the usual case in Japan, were middle-aged or older, extremely law-abiding.

So, what was the big threat? It must surely have been the symbolism and the audacity to contradict the official policy.

Reza Fiyouzat is an applied linguist and freelance writer working in Japan. Iranian by birth, bi-national by passports (a US citizen), his writings have appeared in CounterPunch, and (in English and Portuguese) on the Brazilian website, Revista Espaco Academico. He can be reached at: