Joining the GU: Now more than ever, no time to waste

Apr 6, 2012

Opinion piece by Jeff Smith

I was born and raised in Electchester in Flushing Queens, New York City. My town is a rent-controlled housing development that has provided a place for members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #3 to live comfortably in a community environment since the early 1960’s. As children, my sister and I, along with our friends, were constantly told the importance of joining a union, and the fear of what could happen if we had to work in conditions without protection of our rights.

As I boarded the plane for Osaka as a JET Program ALT, my father and mother said: “Find a union over there!” I of course didn’t bother to heed their words at the time. Although it took 18 years,I am glad to say I came to my senses before any real trouble arose.

Given my union upbringing, I was fully aware of the union-busting, illegal contracting, scab employment and scare tactics that companies (and sad to say, government institutions as well) put into effect to hinder people from getting their basic rights as workers. It is amazing how the general populace is unaware of their own rights; as ignorance is bliss, people don’t miss what they never knew they had. For people working in Japan from overseas, we are often more susceptible to the polite threats of dishonest people who will say: “In Japan, complaining causes disharmony and inconveniences others” in order to keep people in line; Japanese nationals included. The fact that many people are injured on the job without benefits, or denied salary for speaking out against an infringement on their very livelihood based upon the aforementioned adage is unacceptable.

Given the dangers present following the tragic earthquake of March 11th 2011, we must be ever vigilant of those who are unscrupulous enough to put our lives at risk-literally or figuratively-and never fall into the trap of saying: “That problem doesn’t affect me.” People are slowly realizing on a global level that we are powerless unless we ask questions and have a united front. Although last year was a very difficult one for me both on a personal and general level, joining the GU made a great difference in my life. In light of the victories the GU has attained of late with GABA and Berlitz, we know that wrongs can be put right, if people stand together and speak up. There are still many other industries out there using illegal measures with impunity because they are not confronted. For those people out there still on the fence about joining a union, let a person born into it tell you: DON’T WAIT FOR A PROBLEM TO JOIN: THE TIME IS NOW! One person’s problem could very well become yours in the near future; this may sound cliché, but it is very true indeed.