Against Japanism
Against Japanism
May 27, 2022
Mlitant Labour Unionism and State Repression in Kansai w/ David McNeil
Play • 1 hr 9 min

David McNeil joins Kota to discuss militant labour unionism and state repression in the Kansai region of southwestern Japan. 

We specifically discuss the struggle of truck drivers who work for small-to-medium ready-mix concrete companies, and whose job is to take dry concrete, water it, and deliver the wet concrete to various construction sites managed by large construction companies. They are organized by the Kansai Regional Ready-Mix Branch known as Kan’nama Shibu or Kan’nama, which is part of a larger national union called All-Japan Construction and Transport Solidarity Union known as Rentai. 

Unlike the rest of labour unions in Japan, the Kan’nama uses the method of industrial unionism to organize all workers in the same industry into the same union, as opposed to company unionism that only organizes workers in the same company and is hence more pliant towards the bosses. Since its establishment in 1965, members of Kan’nama have struggled militantly to counter the super-exploitation of their labour power and improve their substandard working conditions. 

The Kan’nama has also pursued a strategy of class alliance with their small-to-medium employers against large construction companies by organizing them into a cooperative to minimize competition and prevent them from beating the price of wet concrete down, which would negatively affect the workers’ wages, as well as the quality of the concrete and the safety of buildings in which it is used to built.

However, the Kan’nama’s militant industrial unionism and attempt at unifying their employers against large construction companies have met intense police repression and mass arrest of its members. Since 2018, 81 members of the union have been arrested on legally dubious charges including the union’s co-founder Take Kenichi who was detained for 641 days without trial. 

The union’s strategic alliance with the bosses also seems to have backfired as they hired yakuzas and even neo-Nazis as their mercenaries to attack the union and terrorize its members. 

David argues that a repression of this scale could not have happened spontaneously without a centralized coordination from Tokyo. We discuss who really made the decision to crack down on the Kan’nama and the class interests behind it. 

We also discuss why mainstream journalists have largely turned a blind eye to this struggle and what it tells us about the state of journalism in Japan.

We conclude our discussion by talking about how the union has fought back against the repression and the ways in which we can support them, as well as what this struggle tells us about contemporary Japanese society and the world at large.

Intro: Cielo by Huma-Huma

Outro: The Internationale by Ōe Tetsuhiro 

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