If you were a child of the 1980s, there’s a good chance that you grew up with at least a passive awareness of Hasbro’s ubiquitous G.I. Joe line of toys, comic books, trading cards, movies, and even a number of video games. There’s also a good chance that you might be familiar with the iconic slogan of: “Knowing is half the battle.“
When it comes to dealing with labor issues, the catchphrase of “knowing is half the battle” might be more applicable than you think.
KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE
The phrase rounded off the public service announcements (PSAs) that the 1985 G.I. Joe cartoon series tacked on to the end of each show in effort to make what was intended to be a children’s program more palatable to parents.
These PSAs covered topics like “Don’t do what a stranger says”, “Being a handicap doesn’t make one helpless”, “Don’t pet strange animals”, and “Don’t judge people until you give them a chance”.
The troubled kids of those PSAs would find themselves in some kind of prediciment, a featured “Joe” character would impart some wisdom, and then the distraught child would keenly announce: “Now I know!“.
That’s you (in this example).
Let’s say that have a problem with your employer and check the General Union website for information. You find an article that has the advice that you need, raise your hand in front of your torso and – in one vigorous, swift motion – fist pump the air.
“Now I know!” you proclaim.
The next day, you go to work, march into your manager’s office, confidently tell them that what they’re doing is illegal, and show them the exact laws that he’s breaking, only to be laughed out of the building.
Well, that didn’t go to plan. That didn’t go to plan at all.
DIAGNOSING EMPLOYMENT CANCER
While the General Union is, at its heart, a labor union that “help[s] both individual workers and groups of otherwise unorganized workers deal with their employment problems“, we understand that the first step in helping people with labor issues is to actually educate people about their rights and how those rights are protected by laws so that they can recognise just how and when they’re being exploited.
This kind of education is why we maintain our website and Facebook page: it’s crucically important to explain to people just what kinds of exploitation are taking place, and then inform them of what their options are.
Simply put: you can’t treat cancer if you don’t know that you have cancer.
First comes the suspicion (“This mole looks weird and I’m worried about it”), followed by research (“WebMD says that it could be cancer”), and then a diagnosis (“It looks like cancer, but it’s treatable”). After that, you place your trust in a doctor to provide the treatment.
The same applies to employment issues: you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know you have a problem.
That’s why the General Union believes that its important to get the information out there into the public domain. That’s why we write articles like our “Illegal Contract Clause” series – not to attack companies for their shady practices per se, but to make people who are being affected by those underhanded tactics, day after day, that they’re being taken advantage of.
At the very least, we want to make people aware that such illegalities exist in Japan, what to look for in contracts, and then empower them to make informed decisions in regards to what they want to do with that knowledge vis-a-vis problems they encounter.
If you think of General Union articles as “how to recognize the signs of employment cancer” guides, you can most likely appreciate what our objective is.
However, if knowing is only half of the battle, what’s the other half?
The other half of the battle is actually getting the law enforced.
ALL LAWS ARE EQUAL (BUT SOME LAWS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS)
It’s an unfortunate reality that, sometimes, laws are only as strong as the people who are willing to enforce them.
It’s one thing to be able to point at an Article in the Labor Standards Act and confidently declare that what a company is doing is clearly and unquestionably illegal, but it’s an entirely different thing to then find someone who will enforce that law for you.
This is often the source of a lot of frustration when people approach the General Union with a clear and documented issue that is having a negative impact on their life. People expect an immediate administration of the law and a resolution to their problem. That’s how justice is supposed to work and – in an ideal world – we’d love to see that, too.
However, more often than not, it’s easy to break the law and get a long head-start before justice even begins catching up.
To illustrate this point, let’s use another analogy…
SO, YOU’VE JUST BEEN PUNCHED IN THE FACE…
One day, you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, and then someone punches you in the face and runs off.
Oh no! You’ve been assaulted!
Assault is a crime, and you are without a doubt the victim in this.
However, the person who punched you has already ran away, and – even if you catch them – you have to prove that (a) an altercation occurred, (b) the person who punched you did, in fact, punch you, and then (c) find someone who will punish your assailant.
It might be a simple matter and the police might be exceptionally helpful in bringing the criminal to justice.
However, you might find yourself standing in a police office, nursing a bloody nose, only for the officer on duty to “um” and “ah” and say that they’re “terribly sorry” but they’re “very busy” and they’ll “TRY to catch the person who attacked you” but it’s “very difficult to prove” and “maybe not even worth the effort” so “please understand”.
Occasionally, the (proverbial) police officer might go outside, have a bit of a look around, and then give up with the excuse that they DID try, but…
These are the kinds of situations that the General Union encounters.
WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER
It’s for these reasons and more that we never advocate taking matters into your own hands.
We want you to be informed, and we maintain that “knowledge is power”, but there’s also a case to be made that “discretion is the better part of valor” (and also that “patience is a virtue”, we suppose).
If you’re being exploited, you should absolutely be upset about it.
You are entirely justified in seeking recourse against those who are taking advantage of you.
While banging the proverbial drum might sometimes be enough to make sure that you’re being treated fairly, but we also know that it often takes more to win some battle than just making a lot of noise about worker’s rights and labor laws.
You don’t want to a person who has knowledge of laws but no way of making those laws protect you.
You don’t want to be a person who is at a disadvantage because, although you know how you’re being exploited, you don’t know how to fight back against that exploitation.
That’s where the union comes in.
We’re here so that you don’t have to walk into that manager’s office by yourself, only to have your boss lie to your face and laugh behind your back.
We’re here so that if you have a problem – and if we’re able to help you – we’re stronger when we work together.
Now you know!