Over the next few editions of the Voice we will be running stories from union officers and regular members about why they joined the union, and more importantly, what do they do to make their union stronger.
Dan – High School Teacher
My history with the General Union goes back to about 1993/94. I was approached to join the union when I was working at a company called Interac. I resisted at first. I wasn’t planning to be in Japan much longer. I had been in a teachers’ union back home but certainly didn’t think about joining one on coming to Japan.
Things changed when the company suddenly fired a co-worker with no notice. He was a great teacher. They just didn’t need him any more. No 30 days notice, nothing. This pushed me into joining.
I kind of floated around as a union member for a while, attending a few union actions here and there. By then I had begun working at a quasi international school. We had fairly decent conditions and were treated well. But there was also a language school attached and things weren’t so rosy there. They tried to increase teaching hours per week and suddenly told some instructors they needed to work on national holidays. If it could happen in the language school division it was bound to happen in my department sooner or later. A few of us got together and organized a union branch. In addition to stopping the erosion of working conditions we saw some major improvements such as making sure all lessons were within an 8 hour shift without the need for teachers to be available all day at the company’s whim.
One of the things I learned was that if I was going to be the face of the union in my workplace I had to improve my performance and be above reproach. It helped me focus my energies and become excited about teaching again.
Since those days I have volunteered for extended periods of time for the union, and I am currently a remunerated officer. Even though I work in a high school, most of my work for the union is in the private language industry and ALT dispatch sectors. As well as trying to win improved general working conditions I think that winning direct hire for ALTs is essential to ensure the quality of education. I could rave on as to why I think direct hire and better working conditions are important industry wide but for space considerations I would say, make an appointment, come into the office and find out more, and get involved.
Jason – GABA Branch Executive Officer
I joined the union because I believe Gaba’s Itaku contracts are a symptom of the larger global problem of temporary, unstable employment and deteriorating working conditions. I believe that a strong labor movement needs to be built in the service industry, as manufacturing and industrial jobs have been exported abroad for cheap labor, and service jobs don’t provide enough to live on or provide for a family.
As a member, I attend meetings regularly, design and distribute leaflets and flyers, hand out the Union Voice and talk to others in my workplace about the union. Internally, I press to ensure our union is as democratic as possible and that the interests of our branch are reflected in union policy.
My impression of General Union so far is that it is far more progressive and flexible than some of the larger unions in Japan, and that despite our branch being perhaps the only one in Kanto, General Union has spent a reasonable amount of time and effort coming out to Tokyo to work with us.