The General Union adopted a special resolution at the Annual General Meeting in May 2019 in support of the All Japan Construction and Transport Solidarity Union, Kansai Ready-Mix Concrete Branch (commonly known as Kan’nama).
We oppose the unprecedented attacks on that union, and have participated in various activities in support of them.
We also held a seminar, inviting the leaders of Kan’nama to come and speak. They gave us a report on their union’s history and current situation, and took questions.
As we enter this new year 2021, taking stock once more of our thoughts in regard to Kan’nama may well be a meaningful help to thinking about the future of our movement.
A HISTORY OF REPRESSION AND REBIRTH
Since its foundation in October of 1965, Kan’nama has repeatedly been subjected to harsh repression, only to be come back reborn each time.
They have had to pay dearly: in the course of the union’s history, two of its officers have been assassinated by companies’ hired yakuza thugs.
Current union chair Take Ken’ichi, who has been a leader in Kan’nama since its foundation, has been put in danger of his life several times.
The history of Kan’nama, and of its movement, and the organization that preceded it, is a history of being attacked brutally, paying terrible sacrifices again and again, yet never giving in.
It is a history of being knocked down and getting up to fight again every time.
The recent spate of abnormal repression is an extension of this history. Let us give a concrete summary.
The recent set of crackdowns resulted in the arrests of 89 members of the union. But the problem is not just how many people got arrested.
The arrest charges are a list of things that defy all common sense.
Compliance actions – in which two or three union members check up on workplaces to make sure they are complying with laws – became “attempted extortion”; handing out flyers was “forcible obstruction of business”.
When a union member requested a “certificate of employment” from the company, required in order to enroll the member’s child in nursery school, this became “attempted coercion”.
Furthermore, several prefectural police departments put their Organized Violence Divisions in charge of dealing with Kan’nama.
This is the division that deals with “designated violent groups” (organized crime), and police officers themselves who participated in the repression say they were “following orders from above”.
It goes without saying that Kan’nama itself is a legally constituted trade union, properly registered with the Department of Justice.
In other words, acting on “orders from above”, the police divisions that deal with organized crime arrested union leaders and members in large numbers on outrageous and unbelievable “charges”, held them for an extended period of time, and accused them of crimes.
Furthermore, union members continue to be constantly subjected to threats to “quit the union or we won’t offer you any work”.
All of this is utterly abnormal.
WHY SUCH EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS?
In our article mentioned above, we stated as follows:
“Why? “The answer lies in the union’s basic policy of “Democratization of industry” mentioned above. In order to improve the status of workers in this industry, this policy itself is trying to change the current ‘system’ of multi-layered exploitation and control, with the major cement manufacturers and construction companies at the top and the workers at the bottom – where a very few people dominate the vast majority. It would be fine if the union accepted this system and asked for “improvement” within that framework. However, it would never be allowed if anyone tries to touch the system itself – Here exists the heart of this ongoing repression.”
This is an essential point, so let us break it down and explain further:
The society we all currently live and work in is a “capitalist society”.
This society is one in which companies, seeking as much profit as possible, are constantly competing with each other for even more profit.
Each company fights with others to gain more more customers. When we look more closely at this competition between companies, we notice the following two characteristics.
One is that companies compete within the same industry. For example, food companies do not compete with shipbuilding companies. They compete against other companies within the food industry. This is obvious, of course.
The other point is to do with “what they are fighting for” when they compete within the same industry.
To simplify, this is “price competition”. Companies try to gain customers by selling goods more cheaply than their competitors do.
In summary, in this society, companies within each industry engage in price wars every day to gain more customers and get as much profit as they can.
There is something companies have to do if they are to sell cheaply and still make large profits: they must cut costs.
This definitely includes cutting labor costs, so companies tell their workers this: “let’s all work together, labor and capital, to grow our company!”
What this really means is: accept poor working conditions so that we can win the competition against other companies.
It forces workers to participate in the “race to the bottom” as companies in each industry compete to cut conditions for their employees.
“Expanding our company’s profits, and having part of that growth in profit paid back to our workers, is the real way improve conditions”: if a union in a particular company thinks this way, then that union would have to answer to the company’s call to “work together and grow our company”.
The company would say that “if we lose out to the competition, we’ll all lose everything. We won’t even be able to guarantee your employment”.
A DIFFERENT CHOICE: KAN’NAMA
Throughout its long history, Kan’nama in its activities has always offered another option and put it into concrete practice.
This is for workers themselves to organize an industrial union, cutting across the lines of companies, and, by making unified demands across the industry, to put the brakes on unlimited competition between employers, thereby working for improvement and equality of conditions for workers in the whole industry.
Also, in case a power relationship exists between companies that stands in the way of improving and equalizing conditions (as is, by and large, the reality), such a union can coordinate with the small and medium-sized companies – in a limited and conditional way – to help them stand up to the larger ones.
This is what Kan’nama has done.
This is the logical way for workers to free themselves from the “race to the bottom” and work on improving their own working conditions. But at the same time, it is incompatible with the logic of companies that aim to seek the maximum returns.
The union activity of Kan’nama really did step over the line into doing this – and that activity really did have results.
Small and mid-size companies saw their profits go up, and workers got higher pay and better conditions.
This is why they now face such unprecedented repression. It is fear that lies behind the crackdown.
The large companies in ready-mix concrete, transportation and construction, as well as those “above” whom the police officers say gave their orders, are deeply afraid–scared that activities like those of Kan’nama may become more widespread.
With the passing years since its founding in 1991, the General Union has through experience grown to feel more and more strongly that “in order to develop our movement and our organization, the only way forward is that of being an industrial union”.
Although the main industries we are active in are different, we have received support in many ways from Kan’nama since our early days.
This is why, if this is our path to future development as a union, we may be next to face the repression that Kan’nama is being visited with now (albeit perhaps in a different form) the future of Kan’nama is our future too.
Kan’nama has shown, though suffering grievous casualties, that the profits of companies and the interests of workers are fundamentally and essentially incompatible; and has pointed the way to how workers might seek to improve their own working conditions.
Kan’nama has always been, is now, and will always be our senior and our friend within the labor union movement.