Friday, 7 September 2018

Nike and its Sweatshop Problem





Link https://youtu.be/exD6tc-wI0o

Recently trainers giant Nike hired Colin Kaepernick to be its new celebrity sponsor. Kaepernick is a professional American style Football player but his fame is largely boosted by his public protesting against police killings of African Americans.


As a result this has made him a target of right wing American vitriol. As a result they greeted his lucrative and high profile new gig with alarm and outrage. Currently #Nikeboycott is trending on social media platforms, as are pictures of very strange and impotent protests of consumers destroying the Nike products that they have already bought.


So yeah that's probably not going to hurt Nike's profit margins much at all unless they get their act together.

However Nike is a pretty awful company, most well all capitalist business are, its rooted in their structure and motives for existence. Nike is infamous for its use of sweatshops and what became known in the 1990s as Corporate slave labour. Simply typing the words Nike Sweatshops into a search engine brings up hundreds of photographs, banners and placards against the companies practices. The above video is about the global consumer protests and a strike by Indonesian Garment workers. The first interview is with former factory employee Cicih Sukaesih whom famously was invited to the USA to confront Nike's top executives, they declined to meet with her, so instead she toured the country speaking to the American public instead.

The interview with Cicih Sukaesih also goes into detail about the issues with consumer boycotts as a tool of social change.


Saturday, 1 September 2018

Two Dimensional Revolution


I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice the correlation between young people engaging with words like `Socialism` and sentiments like `Eat the Rich` with anime avatars? Currently everything that can present itself as an alternative to capitalism from religious spiritualism to Anarchistic terrorism is experiencing a boom in popularity.

The other thing the kids are into right now is mass market Japanese pulp entertainment lumped under the banner of anime. Now Anime (I'm also including the stuff that comes with it like comics, games, toys etc.) is incredibly divisive, there have been arguments about its artistic merits if any, workplace practices within the industry, this one has a consensus that its generally low paid highly demanding work, but what is to be done about it is still pretty controversial, and its political content. Oh boy, that last one can get fierce.

The way I see it Anime isn't a genre or art style its a medium, animation. All anime are cartoons and all cartoons are anime. Overall Japan's animation industry is like anyone else's, its also become increasingly incorporated into the global animation industry, the credits of most of them include South Korean and Chinese studio's for example. Some films were created by Directors because it was their life long ambition to make them, others were churned out by committee so a corporation to milk a trend before the consumer base moved on to something else.

Cyber punk and Blade Runner were also hugely influential in the 80s and 90s, so there are a lot of shows from those periods about fighting the big bad megacorps. Bubblegum Crisis is one that gets highly rated for this.

However this does mean that their are some really interesting stuff for anyone if they're willing to look. For example I don't like Japanese jokes, even when I understand the pun its just a lame pun, but I really enjoy trashy, gory horror flicks, and I've been enjoying anime versions of these since I was a child, thank you very much SciFi channel and that German language channel on diamond cable.

If you're feeling misanthropic, then there are plenty of direct to video movies from the lte 80s-early 90s made by creators whom sincerely believed that humanity was a mistake and so made miserable films about humans being really horrible to each other.

If that doesn't suit you, then there are plenty of fluffy slice of life comedy series that are just about friends being hanging out and being good friends. Like Azumnaga Daioh, Lucky Star, Free! etc.

And I know of at least one Anime that called Angel Cop, which was made to promote Nazi party anti-Semitism. That is not a joke or me reading into something, the plot of Angel Cop is that a Communist terrorist movement and an American multinational corporation are both attacking the prosperous and independent nation of Japan. It turns out that both are being controlled by "The Jews"... Incidentally that was one of the earlier animes to be released in the West, you know how they handled the anti-Semitism? They just cut out the references to Jewish people, and left all the other nationalism and bigotry in.

Fortunately overtly political message anime tends to lean the over way, a number of famous and influential directors, writers, artists and animators came out of the Japanese New left of the 1960s and 70s. Including the very famous Hayao Miyazaki, and so I've decided to compile a list of socialistic ( a broad sense) anime's. For both the anime leftist and confused new comer alike. This is just a list and brief description of merits, I have seen more in epth reviews of a number of these shows and will include them, though do bear in mind I don't necessarily agree with everything the say.


Steam Boy


A story about the invention of a revolutionary new form of steam power that could improve the whole of mankind. Essentially cold fusion but with steam. Unfortunately the cost of developed this new power meant the inventors had to get investment funds from a company called O'Hara and while its pleased the research project was successful, it really wants dividends on its investment as soon as possible and the fastest way to get a quick profit is of course weapon sales.



In a sense its about how property holds back technological development. The British Imperial Government gets involved, and at first it seems noble compared to the O'Hara mega company, but it becomes clear that they wish to get a hold of the steam technology to develop their own weapons programs and prevent O'Hara from selling weapons to its Imperial rivals.

So neither government or capital come out of this film looking very good, they're both self interested and hypocritical. There's a battle scene between the police and a private security army, highlighting the similarities.

Our hero is a working class lad from Manchester and his inventor Grandad whom wanted to build a new society using the nearly unlimited energy of this new invention he largely pioneered. Its animation is beautiful, it has a very steam punk look, with tanks and fighter planes as they might have looked in the 1860s. It did get some criticism from purists because it was an early adopter of Computer Graphic animation, but it blends with the traditional animations pretty well in my opinion.

If you can, I'd recommend watching the English dub, the dialogue is full of nineteenth century colloquialism's and the cast even manage to pull off Mancunian accents.


The Wings of Honnêamise

No I don't know what a  Honnêamise is either, googling just brings up this anime film. I'm just going to call it Wings from now on. Wings is a lot like Steamboy, its about an attempt to put a man into space. Its like Yuri Gagarin the anime. It set in a world that isn't really earth, they're all humans but the nations and history and cultures are very different.
The space agency is incredibly underfunded, and the only way for them to get some support from their government to get a rocket ship and capsule built and ready for launch is to highlight its potential military capabilities. They're all dedicated to space exploration and have no interest in war but they're desperate for funds. One drawback is that a hostile nation now views the program as a threat and tensions between the two nations increase. 
Again naked greed and self interest from the powerful actively impedes scientific progress and discovery. It ends with Lhadatt the cosmonaut getting into space and reflecting and praying for humanity to improve itself. 
And unfortunately I'm not doing it much justice, its very beautiful in both its looks and its music and sound design. 
There's a video review that does show some of that off, but it does also go into extreme detail about the plot and characters so use with caution.

There is however one flaw in this film which I should mention, at one point there's an attempted rape scene. I don't why its there, its uncomfortable and doesn't seem to add anything to the story or characters, if anything it diminishes it. It doesn't last long, but it does stick out there. I've been told there are censored versions that just cut that part out, I don't know if that's true, but if it is I'd recommend watching that version.
The Great Adventure of Horus Prince of the Sun



The Adventure of Horus was an early project of Hayao Miyazaki. He and his colleagues had a mission statement to make a film about `Socialist principles`. What this meant in practice is a fairy tale like fantasy film set in a Vikingish land where Horus and his fishing village must work together to defeat an evil Wizard. The villains are all guilty of selfishness in one form or another, wealth, immortality at the expense of other lives etc, and unlike most fantasy stories where the hero and maybe a band of warriors does all the work Horus does need the help and support of the village to resist and defeat the Evil Power.

Personally I think this is perfect for young children, it has lovely singing, and talking animals, including an adorable bear cub called Koro.

Gundam 0083 - War in the Pocket

Gundam is a massive franchise, and I mean massive. There are dozens of anime series, some have continuity with others, some don't, there have been multiple films, video games, comic series, novels toys and model kits. It can be incredibly overwhelming. I've started getting into it, but I had to use a guide written up by a mega fan who had seen it all to figure out where to start and what to skip.

The franchise is famous for its criticisms of war and militarism and given that its been in existence since 1979 and is still going strong today, it maybe the longest running criticism of war and militarism in existence. Unfortunately the quality and extent of that criticism can vary wildly depending on what part of the franchise is being looked at.

With that in mind I've picked War in the Pocket as out of what I've seen its both the most damming in its criticism and accessible to newcomers. It was the first series I'd seen, I didn't really know much at all about the franchise but I had no trouble getting it.

Its six episodes long, and fairly self contained, it does have connections to other shows in the franchise but it isn't vital. It concerns a young boy in a fair away colony. There's a war going on but so far its left their part of space alone, Alfred and his friends like most young boys when there's a war on far away are obsessed with it. Trading stories and war toys etc. Then the war comes home and Alfred still obsessed with the exciting adventure gets caught up in it, makes friends with some soldiers and well the ending is very bitter.

SFDebris did a review of each episode of the series if you'd want more info, massively spoilers though.



Berserk

I've already talked at length about Berserk previously, so I'll just quickly summarise Berserk is in my opinion about power. Domination be it economic, political or personal is never benign. The rich and powerful are cruel even if they don't intend to be, those whom pursue power and wealth do so at the expense of others.

As a consequence of this the series is full of depictions of violence, torture, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, death in many forms, bigotry, discrimination, persecution, exploitation, slavery, etc. But unlike certain animes that indulge in these things for marketing its all key to the themes, plot and character development.

Guts the protagonist (with the big sword) is a damaged young man who was raised by a mercenary whom while teaching him how to fight and having a sort of paternalistic affection for him, also relentlessly exploited the power and influence he had on the boy and ultimately betrayed him. It takes him years to even start coming to terms with his trauma's and in a way he never has done. The reason he's such an excellent fighter, is revealed to be because fighting in a life or death struggle was the only way he knew how to cope with the emotional turmoil he was in. It takes him years to even tolerate being physically touched by even a friend.

Authorities of every type, religious, military, financial, governmental are shown to be self interested and harmful to the common people.

There's a review of the 1997 series




And a review of the 1997 series and manga



The Flying Ghost Ship

This one is admittedly quite light, its more a fun mystery adventure then a meaty stew of themes and political discourse. It starts out like a anime version of Scooby Doo, it even has an intelligent Great Dane. This was also another early film Hayao Miyazaki worked on in 1969. It was also the first anime to be shown in theatres in the Soviet Union, and is so popular in Russia that they redubbed it in the 90s, though I've not been able to find a reason why.

Its a light mystery involving a ghost ship, a giant robot that menaces the city, and a conspiracy between private companies and the government complete with a Roger Moore era Bond villain secret base. It has something for everyone. I won't spoil the plot since its a mystery show, but I will tell you that involves the pushing of an addictive soda drink.

Its probably the most spotty in terms of animation, at one point a character is literally slid onto the screen. But all the parts that need to look good, the robot attacks, the Ghost ship, the tanks moving into the city etc. I heard Toei had funding issues at this time, if so then they prioritised very well, the set pieces all look and move very well.

AKIRA

This is controversial for me, I know a lot of people responded to AKIRA as a story about punkish youths getting caught up in a government conspiracy to do... well something, and its probably something bad given that this a pretty authoritarian government with a powerful and very active police and army.

And if you've never seen it its worth watching. Its interesting it looks great, and I do know a few people who responded really well to a general impression of anti establishment resistance the film gives off.

But politically speaking its incredibly vague and kind of a mess, Kaneda the youth on the iconic red bike just stumbles into the plot because a mate of his gets nabbed and he's really attracted to Kei, and her rebel group is shown to be puppets of a corrupt politician. It doesn't help that the plot of the film is itself vague and kind of a mess.


Aggretsuko


Aggretsuko is a short series about modern Japanese worklife. Retsuko is an officious worker whose treated very poorly like most staff, however a combination of her being very nice and eager to help and being a woman means she's singled out for additional abuse and exploitation. She works long hours in a career that's stalled for an abusive manager whose literally a sexist pig.

She can complain about his behaviour, but her coworkers and friends point out how nothing will probably happen to him apart from alerting him that she tried to get him in trouble. Her only consolation is going to a Karaoke booth after work and screaming out Death Metal tirades about how terrible her boss and work is.

The whole show is about alienation at work and sexism. Later on she does befriend two women who are higher up in the company whom help her and she reaches a sort of truce with her sexist manager. This has put off some people who were really into the show. However this does lead to a really important bit, after some confrontations her manager reflects on why he's been so personally abusive and exploitative of his power over the office staff.

He hasn't just been demanding the staff commit to the workload and follow the companies rules, he's been dumping his own work on them and demanding of servant like behaviour too. He realises that back when he was a grunt in the company his managers treated him in the same way, only it was worse because back then there were fewer safeguards and an even more hostile workplace culture rooted in seniority. So when he became a manager he took out all his frustrations on the employee's beneath him and exploited everything shred of power he had.

There's a pretty good review of it here.




Jin-Roh

This ones a bit different, you may have seen an image of what looks like a future Nazi stormtrooper, being shared around on forums and social media, something like this


This character is from Jin-Roh. Jin-Roh is a sort of alternative history film. Japan is largely a police state with a very large and very active militant left wing revolutionary movement. The opening of Jin-Roh is a riot with a very well armed resistance taking on armed riot police. In response to this social upheaval the government created another police unit specifically to destroy armed terrorists.

Those are the fellows in the armour and glowing red eyes. Essentially they're a death squad. That and the look is probably why right wing types on the net love sharing images and clips of the film. Out of context its a powerful and intimidating image of right wing power. For me though I just assume they haven't bothered watching the film, because in context he doesn't say what they want it to say.

Jin-Roh is the story of one of the members of these special units. You may wonder why I'm including this here, well its because the film doesn't actually glorify these Special Units at all. On the contrary it comes across rather critical, the plot involves power plays between the Special Units and other rival police forces who are constantly jockeying for position in this authoritarian regime. Its also concerned with the question of how much humanity does someone in that position have left? The answer is not much, its incredibly dehumanising, that armour may look cool and intimidating but do that job for long enough and eventually all you are is a bit of armour and a gun, a miserable, sad and lonely existence.

Kill La Kill

Kill La Kill (KLK) is basically the reason I thought about making this list. When I first noticed that internet users with anime avatars were no longer just spewing racist bile or calling me a Jewish agent, a lot of the openly left wing ones had avatars based on characters from KLK or were sharing meme's images and clips from this show. So I got curious.

It popped up on Netflix and I binged the show in a couple of days. Its very watchable and I can see why it appealed. The first scenes open on a lecture about the Nazi party and it uses school uniforms and clothing in general as a metaphor for social conformity and oppression. The main character Ryuko Matoi the girl with the black hair with the red stripe, (incidentally I don't think her red and black colour scheme is coincidental) is new student, she's a rebel at heart who rejects all arbitrary rules. She quickly finds herself in conflict with the school authorities whom have a regime based on strict discipline and hierarchy.

And its quickly revealed that theirs a whole social system being built on the same lines throughout Japan, and there's a clothing company that's busy monopolising the global textile markets in the background.

 Its a great show, unfortunately there is one area that I know from experience does put off some people from getting into it. KLK involves a lot of scenes with scantily clad high schools. Unlike some anime's I don't remember it showing this in a leering way, the tone is usually self aware joking, but it still is jokes about high school students beating each other up in skimpy costumes. I don't recommend searching KLK at work, even some of the official promotional material and merchandise would raise some eyebrows.

For me its the weakest part of the show, and I can't really blame anyone for being put off because of it. Though that is a shame.

Tokyo Godfathers


Tokyo Godfathers is a film about three homeless people whom discover an abandoned baby at Christmas. They decide to look after the baby they call Kiyoko, for a night or two before handing her over to the authorities because they fear the baby will grow up to associate Christmas with abandonment. While doing this they decide to track down the parents to reunite the baby, or at least find out why the baby was abandoned in the first place.

This leads to a wacky adventure full of coincidences. The film is like a mix of Down and Out in Paris and London, a Charlie Chaplin era physical comedy. While their are jokes, the fact these people are homeless is never mocked or the subject of a joke, the humour comes from the personalities. Being homeless is depicted as rather bleak even with close friends and a sort of support network. It's full of examples of how homelessness in Japan is treated (about as poorly as everywhere else) and how the homeless survive. We see the three -a transwoman who worked as a drag queen at a cross dressers bar, a young girl runaway and Gin a man who due to debts had his family life destroyed- deal with all sorts of obstacles just moving through the city.



Official society, especially the police are no help at all and aside from handouts from a Christian group who give them a meal in exchange for being proselytised to, they're only help is from other outcasts. They could just give the baby up to the nearest police station, but all that will happen then is that the baby will be swallowed up and passed around by the foster system. At least this way the baby has a chance at family life first.

They essentially form a quasi family and mutual aid group, by working together and pooling what money and connections they have they're able to make it across Tokyo while looking after a baby.

Its really emotional, but due to the subject it covers a lot of pretty raw topics. Hana the transwoman is called a man and several slur words (at least that was how the subtitles translated them*) throughout though Hana is not ridiculed by the film and is shown to be accepted by the other homeless and the character who does insult her a lot is shown to be an well meaning but flippant and ignorant arse. Its not depicted as malicious and he is shown to care about her deeply and they have a weird surrogate relationship going on.

It also covers abandonment, the destructive power of debt, social prejudices, trauma, suicide, relationship breakdowns and how hard it can be to reconnect with family members even when both sides are willing to give it a go.

Despite the humour and the strong emotional core its still quite a sad film.


*I watched this subtitled without an English language track. Apparently while Tokyo Godfathers was localised and released internationally the company that did it didn't bother to dub it at all.

A review

Skip to around 07:42 to avoid a tiresome tangent about subbing and dubbing. 


Manga's 

Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths

Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths is a fictionalised autobiographical manga by Shigeru Mizuki based on his experiences as a conscript in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) sent to Papua New Guinea. When pushed Mizuki has stated that about 90% of it is fact. During the war the most of his compatriots were killed and he lost his left arm, and while I recall a lot of the men dying I don't recall a character losing their left arm, so I guess that was the 10% fiction.

Its incredibly bleak, the men are exhausted, starving and eaten by the wildlife and that's before the American army arrive to shoot at them. The style is like a newspaper cartoon with characters heavily caricatured, the exception is scenes of brutality which are almost photorealistic. Its a chilling contrast. Onwards doesn't just say war is physically hell and leave it at that though. It actively depicts military discipline and the officers as brutal, and it ridicules and denounces the militaristic propaganda and the bizarre cult of death prominent amongst Japan's right wing.

A character actually asks a superior why the IJA aren't allowed to surrender after a hard fight, it can't be that surrendering is a form of weakness, the European and American soldiers are allowed to surrender and their winning the battle and the war. The only answer he gets is a smack in the mouth. The unit is eventually order on a suicide march against a superior opposition. 


Capital


Capital is a two volume Manga that explains and illustrates various parts of Karl Marx's economic work Das Kapital. Not really much to say really, their is an linking story of a business that grows from a simple one man workshop into a massive cheese production factory. If you're having trouble with the original I recommend giving the manga a try.


Saturday, 25 August 2018

1960 Japan's Miners strike





Link https://youtu.be/p5G8A7oCa6I

This week, we cover the Miike coal mine strike of 1960. As labor and management do battle over the future of the mines, how will the future of the country be shaped by their clash?
http://isaacmeyer.net/2018/06/episode-245-the-summer-of-rage-part-2/
 
Hello and welcome to the History of Japan podcast, episode 245 the Summer of Rage Part II. Last week we covered the protests that brought down the Kishi government and set the tenor for the next half century of Japanese politics. A consensus on economic growth and nothing else. This week I want to talk about another protest which also stretched into the summer of 1960, and which helped set the tone for the future of post-war Japan.

Last week we looked at what is by any measure the beating heart of Japan, Tokyo itself. This week our focus is about as far away from that as you can get, a small called Miike, split between Fukuoka and Kumamoto Prefectures in central Kyushu. The area would be insignificant in the grand sweep of Japanese history except for one thing, it was one of the few areas in Japan with serious natural resource deposits. Specifically Miike was loaded with coal. Coal mining in the region goes back to the mid 1700s, when the local ruling clan the Tachibana, first started up a small mining industry to fuel a very minimal for coal. Used primarily during the Tokugawa period for the manufacture of salt.

However Miike transformed from a niche product exporter to a major cog in the Japanese economy after the Meiji restoration. Japan’s newly industrialising economy needed naturally a large volume of coal, to fuel its factories and to power it’s trains and ships, especially those last ones as the Imperial Japanese Navy was growing by leaps and bounds. Mines like Miike let the Meiji government acquire coal domestically rather pay out the nose for imports. In 1872 the Miike mines were nationalised by the government, however as was the case with most of the early Meiji experiments in state-owned corporations, they proved to be a bit of a flop. Samurai trained bureaucrats as it turned out had plenty of understanding of why coal was important, but no idea of how to you know actually run a coal mine.

So instead the mine was sold in 1899 to the Mitsui Zaibatsu. The Zaibatsu were remember these powerful economic mega conglomerates where a single family would control an economic empire owning companies in fields ranging from steel to weapons to energy to shipping to banking to God knows what else. They had tremendous wealth and influence, especially in the industrialised areas of the economy. And man Miike was a cash cow for Mitsui. The coal Miike produced became a crucial fuel for the industrialisation of Japan and for the economic expansion of Mitsui. At the same time conditions in Miike were terrible, safety precautions were relatively minimal and until a 1930 law forbade the practice, convicts were regularly forced to labour in the mine as part of their sentence.

Remember that a few years back we did an episode on the Socialist and Feminist Kōtoku Shūsui*? Well it was when she lived in Miike with her first husband and saw conditions at the mine, that this daughter of social privilege who had never really worked a day in her life became a radicalised socialist. It was really that bad. And yet coal mining was better than any of the other work reliably available in Kyushu, so people kept coming for the job. But they wanted protections and so they did the natural thing, they unionised.

Unionisation during the first half of 20th century Japanese history was to say the least, risky business. Unionised labour was considered one step from banner waving socialism and trying to unionise would get you uncomfortably close scrutiny from the government in many cases. The Miike union in particular suffered constant attacks from the government which was concerned that unionised labour could interrupt a vital supply of coal that was crucial to Japanese industrialisation. It wasn’t until after World War II that a progressive American backed occupation government allowed the unfettered right to unionisation, something that the Miike workers took full advantage of.

However just as the Miike workers thought they were securing their future, the economic winds shifted. Generally speaking the post war government of Japan was hesitant to rely too much on imports. The legacy of World War II taught the Japanese government just how vulnerable Japan was to targeted embargoes; particularly in the energy sector. However post war Japan was also not a military power and didn’t have to worry about fighting new wars any time soon. It could afford to calculate its future based on the economic bottom line and the economic bottom line was that importing energy was a lot cheaper than domestic coal was.

Natural gas and petroleum were both cheaper than coal, especially thanks to the help of the good old US of A, which was more than prepared to prop up it’s Cold War bastion in Asia, by helping to arrange favourable terms for energy imports. This was particularly true in the case of petroleum which was produced in large quantities in the American South and which had also been recently discovered in ample quantities in a previously back water place known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

So the Kishi government decided it was time to cut down on domestic coal production in favour of imports and even after Kishi left office the new government of Prime Minister of Ikeda Hayato stayed the course. Kishi and Ikeda may have had very different views on foreign policy, but in the end both men were career bureaucrats, they knew how to read a balance sheet. The decision was passed onto Mitsui which was informed the government would be purchasing less coal in the future. And Mitsui in turn started laying people off.

For the families of Miike the resulting economic catastrophe was to say the least devastating. Thirty two thousand nine hundred workers lost their jobs in 1959 as the result of coal mine closures and could not support their families as a result. Perhaps the most stark indicator of the resultant catastrophe was that the 1959 health survey of the region found only 7% of the children in the area to be in good health. The rest were suffering from inadequate health care brought on by the inability of their parents to afford doctor’s visits, or that old classic malnutrition.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the announcement by Mitsui that a further 60,000 labourers were scheduled to be let go in 1960 with further layoff planned for the coming years. Overall some 100,000 people were scheduled to be let go by 1963. Layoffs on the scale by Mitsui planned would have devastated any community economically but in the Japanese case they were uniquely troubling. The Japanese economy was remember built on a system of lifetime employment. Employers essentially offered iron clad guarantees of job security after hiring, this was quite comforting if you kept you job, but if you lost it good luck finding a company that was ever prepared to hire someone not coming straight from out of school. In such a nonelastic labour market finding a decent new job was far from guaranteed.

This second round of layoffs also targeted a different population than the previous ones. In particular the layoffs started targeting the mines that were affiliated with the miners union called Tanro a wing of Japan’s largest Union Sohyo, the one that called the general strike against Kishi. Tanro dominated mines had previously enjoyed a lot of autonomy in how they were run, with most of the major operational decisions made by a sort of workers council. The first round of implemented layoffs was not coincidentally designed to target the leadership of these councils and the Union more generally. At first Mitsui attempted to couch the move by sending letters to about 1,000 workers suggesting that they “voluntarily resign”.

When the workers burned those letters Mitsui pulled out the big guns and fired them. And so in January 1960 Tanro called a strike. This was not the first time this had happened, in 1953 Mitsui had attempted to rationalise the workforce of Tanro dominated mines by forcing workers over 50 as well as women and quote unquote “bad character” out of the mines. The resulting Tanro strike cost Mitsui over 4 billion yen and led to resignation of Mitsui’s president and only resulted in only half the proposed layoffs ever going forward with the by the by a promise extracted from Mitsui `never to attempt unilateral dismissals of mine employee’s again`. 

So it was not unreasonable for Tanro to expect to win out. After all they’ve done it before, so they can do it again right? That was particularly true because even if Mitsui could get scabs  -workers to replace the strikers- into the mines, Tanro had one other card to play. The miners could physically block the trains carrying the coal from leaving their stations preventing Mitsui from fulfilling its coal contracts. This time however Mitsui was confident in its ability to beat its miners, it was prepared to take bigger losses than it had in 1953 in order to break the power of the Union. And this time it had the backing of other coal producers who agreed to service Mitsui’s contracts while the Miike mines were shutdown. After all if Mitsui could break the Union’s power, it would be good for all coal producing companies not just Mitsui. In addition

Mitsui had two other cards to play, the first was the support of the national government, which was prepared to deploy police to the area to “keep order”. The second was the fact that the local Yakuza offered their services to Mitsui, remember the Yakuza has a very long history of anti-leftist activity, going back to Japan’s very first elections. Union busting was a speciality of theirs. Thugs associated with the Yakuza started attacking the miners in March of 1960. On March 29th Kubo Kiyoshi one of the leading members of Tanro was stabbed to death by a member of the Yakuza who managed to sneak through the picket lines.

This violence did succeed in intimidating some of the workers who broke off from Tanro to form a new union that was prepared to accommodate some of Mitsui’s demands. Partially from the economic pressure and partially because some of the union members were afraid that militant workers calling for an ongoing strike, were tied too tightly to the Japanese Communist Party. It looked like the workers were now starting to turn on each other, which meant it was only a matter of time before Mitsui won out. Indeed some three thousand miners, about 20% of the mining workforce -not the broader workforce of the town generally affiliated with Mitsui- did go back into the mines and resume mining in the middle of March despite violent attempts by the strikers to stop them. The coal trains still couldn’t leave the station but the mines were technically open for business once again.

At the same time Mitsui was very carefully containing the protest and preventing it from spreading to its other holdings. Other Mitsui owned coal mines such as the Bibai mine in Hokkaido were not subject to mandatory layoffs. Instead Mitsui returned to the old canard of voluntary retirement, essentially offering severance bonuses to ease people out instead of forcing a confrontation. It really looked that this was going to work, Union solidarity was breaking down, strikes in other Mitsui mines hadn’t materialised.

But what kept the protests going was ANPO. In light of the growing security treaty protests in Tokyo events in Miike took on a new aura. No this was not just a labour dispute it was one wing of a broader struggle against businesses and government bureaucrats who wanted to roll back the reforms of the Occupation and return Japan to the bad old days.

National Unions started to take up the Miike cause. Calling a wave of strikes in support of the Miike workers; the largest covered 300,000 workers across Japan. Activists also started flooding into the area itself, many of them in fact the same activists who’d just been protesting ANPO. They made their way south after the treaty passed and Kishi resigned in June and July. Unions across the country also started to send representatives to join the miners and their strikes and to begin collections to support the miners.

The story grabbed national headlines right next to ANPO. My personal favourite example is a letter from a Junior Highschool girl from Miike named Tanabata Sumiko published in Sohyo run newspaper in April 1960, the letter itself was from December. The letter reads in part:

“My father has done Union work for the Miike local Union since before I was born. He also works in the mines. Because my father is easy going every morning I get to talk with him a little bit about his work. My father spends every day organising or participating in Union demonstrations down at the mine, but I’m worried about him. My older sister said something the other day I think shows how things are here. `Cut off the heads of those who would cut off ours`”.

That really demonstrates I think the ferocity of feeling among the miners and their families who perceived their very livelihood’s as being fundamentally under threat. That line about slitting throats Ku-bi-o-Ku (Phonetic approximation, trans ed) in Japanese, is a reference to a Japanese colloquialism, Kubini Naru, which is a very euphemistic way of saying someone is fired, literally that their head is rolling. The letter closes by the way on a sadder and less violent note:

“soon it is going to be New Year’s and there is nothing I really want for a gift. Because my father is being laid off money is pretty tight. My family is going to be spending the New Year’s season by taking care of each other.”

The letter was likely selected by Sohyo of course to publish because of its heart wrenching ending, but it also demonstrates the extent to which this was a life and death battle for the miners. The protests continued the whole summer and into the fall, it wasn’t until October that an exhausted Miners Union caved in. Its strike funds were running out, popular interest was drying up and so on November 1st 1960, the strike ended.

The Union agreed to sit down with Mitsui and a team of outside mediators to determine where things should go from here. In the end Mitsui had the resources to wait out the protests. The mediators decided overwhelmingly in Mitsui’s favour, the layoffs mostly went ahead, safety improvements were never made and Tanro as a Union had its power broken. Mitsui had proven they could be beaten.

In 1963 a mine explosion killed 450 people and injured over 800 more at Miike, another explosion in 1984 claimed over 80 lives. The mine was eventually shuttered all together in the 1990s. If as some protestors claimed the Miike and ANPO struggles were linked attempts to defend the New Japan against those who wanted to roll back the tide, those attempts were it seemed failures. The miners lost, the protestors in Tokyo lost.

And yet as with ANPO a new consensus emerged from the ashes of Miike, that would inform the future of Japanese society. The Miike protests you see were messy, they looked bad and they undercut the new Ikeda administrations focus on the consensus for economic growth. If the goal was to paper over the difference of Japanese society by focussing everyone’s attention on getting rich, fights over how to distribute those riches were in essence counterproductive.

So government and business policy began to shift. Lifetime employment guarantees were shored up in order to avoid the kind of direct confrontation that Miike represented. Even as this was happening big Japanese firms also worked to undercut the power of Unions like Tanro. After all powerful Unions represented an organisational threat to the ability of management to guide certain business decisions.  Even if management was committing to avoiding certain kinds of actions which would upset the Unions.

Most Japanese Unions were and are what are called enterprise unions, in other words Unions not organised across an entire sector like Teamsters or Sanitation workers or what have you, but across a single business. A Mitsui Union a Toyota Union and so forth. After Miike businesses began pushing harder for unionisation along this model figuring not incorrectly that if a worker’s energy could be channelled into these narrower business specific unions it would be harder to organise mass protests and easier to keep the unions under control.

In some cases, the president of a given company would even lead the unionisation charge and become president of the Union as well. All of this was pitched to workers as more responsive and not unreasonably, after all a narrower union can respond to narrow issues as well. In my mind the most interesting way this played out was in the 1990s during the early days of the great Japanese recession. With the overt support of the Japanese government many firms avoided outright firings to the greatest degree possible even as Japan’s economy ran straight into a brick wall. The economic cost of keeping workers whose jobs no longer produced much if anything of economic value employed was considered less than the social cost of breaking the lifetime employment contract and inviting a new Miike on a greater scale.

And one that would hit places a lot close to the centre of Japan than some coal mine in rural Kyushu. That’s the extent to which fear of a new confrontation with labour became a major factor in policymaking. In the end that’s what’s interesting about the summer of 1960. It wasn’t despite what some protestors might have envisioned a great uprising against the forces that wanted to turn Japan’s clock back. In the end the establishment won both cases, a new age of progressive Japanese politics was not on the horizon.

Indeed probably the most powerful visual moment of the summer of 1960, really underscored the degree to which the progressive dream had bloomed in the 1940s had died. On October 12th 1960 the Socialist representative of Tokyo’s first District, Asanuma Inejiro was taking part in a debate with an electoral opponent that was being broadcast live on the local NHK affiliate. Asanuma had a long history as a Socialist firebrand, most recently for having gone on a state visit to Beijing and praised Chairman Mao, while denigrating the United States, at a time when Japan still refused to recognise the People’s Republic of China as a legitimate government. In the middle of the debate a right-wing ultranationalist all of 17 years old stormed the stage with a Katana and stabbed Asanuma to death.

Asanuma’s death became a stand in for the death of the old Socialist Party, for a vision that the JSP could take control of Japan from the LDP and direct the future of the country. Asanuma Inejiro was mourned nationally and in his wake peace protests broke out across Japan. But that was really it, the JSP and left-wing movements that had led ANPO and Miike had become generalised peace movements content to throw out the occasional protest while the LDP governed the country.

This shift from a left-wing that was vying for power to a left that was content to defend what it had, a peace constitution, labour laws, lifetime employment was not a direct result of the death of Asanuma. Instead his murder took on a symbolic value, the death of Asanuma became a stand in for of the old Socialist Party. And in more concrete terms it served as a threat to future socialist politicians, `stay in your lane, don’t push to far, or else!`

In addition to a weakened left, one that had gambled on two big victories and lost both what emerged from 1960 was a renewed Conservative movement. Kishi’s wing of the LDP the pro rearmament crowd was now gone from power. It would not return seriously in any meaningful sense to the political discourse until the mid to late 2000s. When Kishi Nobususke’s grandson Abe Shinzo got his first term -but not his last- as Japan’s Prime Minister.



Meanwhile, while Mitsui had defeated Tanro in a labour showdown the result was not the end of Union power altogether. Unions remained and were still capable of shows of force, but that kind of direct confrontation between management and labour became less and less common. A new understanding had been reached that Unions would accept what they were being given in exchange would restrict themselves to pro forma protests, often scheduled in advance every year with a short walk out followed by some speeches and low-key marching followed by a return to work. A far cry from the old days of Yakuza backed unionbusting.

In the end that transformation is what I think is really interesting about the events of 1960. So often commenters on post war Japan focus on this idea of harmony “Wa” of a society where conflict had been subsumed by the greater interests of the whole. Look at Western writing on Japan or even Japanese writing on Japan in some cases, from the 1970s and 1980s you’ll see this brought up over and over again. Where did it come form? The commenters wondered, something unique to Japanese institutional history, Japanese culture too, or as some more racialistic thinkers in Japan suggested Japanese ancestry itself?

The explanation really is a lot simpler, that emphasis on harmony was born out of conflict. The summer of 1960 was a compressed version of a sort of Hegelian synthesis. If that means nothing to you very simply put Hegel proposed a sort of process of intellectual evolution for humanity in three steps. First a new vision a thesis would be put forward, say the progressive vision of the Japanese left who embraced Union activism, article 9 and the image of Japan as a disarmed and neutral friend to all. Then an antithesis would come forward, an opposed agenda energised by disdain for the original thesis, men like Kishi or the Mitsui board of directors would step forward and oppose it. Finally their conflict would result not in ultimate victory for one side or the other, but in compromise, in synthesis a new path forward would be found incorporating both sides and the process would begin again.

The system that governed Japan to the 1960s until the 1990s, arguably still today was just such a synthesis. Born out of a desire to prevent further confrontation and instead to refocus Japan’s energies on the one area of agreement, on the power and importance of economic growth. It became the guiding principle of the New Japan. And hey it worked, today that’s how ANPO and Miike tend to get remembered. As bloody violent depressing footnotes on the way to that synthesis. And yet I do think they deserve a little more than that, these were events that rocked Japan, that captured headlines, that were instrumental in driving the new Japanese order forward. The Japan of today, the worlds third largest economy, rich, stable, it’s the product of ANPO, the product Miike, even the product of the death of Asanuma. And everything that grew from those moments in 1960.

That’s all for this week, thank you very much for listening.

*I believe this is a mistake as Isaac Meyer says Kōtoku Shūsui, but seems to be talking about Kanno Sugako who was his lover and grew up around mining companies.

Friday, 24 August 2018

The Truth About The French Miners’ Strike - CGT

The following is a transcription I've made of the above pamphlet by the CGT on the French Coal Miners Strike of 1948.


The Truth About

The French Miners’ Strike

(October – December 1948)


Foreword

After the Liberation of he country, the General Confederation of Labour, being concerned both with the interests of the working-class and with the general interest of the country, launched an appeal for increased production.

This appeal was understood by the workers and output rapidly reached a level, higher than pre-war.

Any Government having a sense of national interest and knowing that the recovery of French economy depended, above all, on the efforts of the working-class, would have improved the living conditions of the workers, since it was by their efforts that the country’s output had increased.

Nothing has been done in this respect: quite the contrary. For 18 months, our rulers have systematically carried out an anti-working class policy.

a)       They have reduced the purchasing power of wages by nearly 50%, by means of a deliberate and systematic increase of prices, which could only profit – and did only profit – the French capitalists, and by an unjustified and improper freezing of wages.
The situation appears clearly from a study of the following indices based on 100 in 1938 :

Retail Prices ………  1.870
Wages ………………   1.000
Capitalist Profits..   3.000

b)      To all demands put forward, the answer was : “No”. Each time the workers have declared a strike – the ultimate weapon at their command in defence of their rights – the Government attempted to break the strike by force.


It has not hesitated to use- in defiance of the Constitution – police and military forces, allowing them the use of tear-gas, grenades, rifles and machine guns against unarmed strikers who only wished to improve the living conditions of their families, by defending demands, the legitimacy of which nobody has contested, nor contests.



c)       They have continually attempted to misrepresent the economic character of the worker’s action, and tried to sow the idea in the public mind, that the unrest had a strictly political character. No honest and well informed person can to-day be taken in by this disgraceful stratagem.



d)      They have attempted -and they are attempting – to violate two social achievements : nationalisations and Social Security.



e)      It is to-day proven that the Government has carried out a policy of the surrender of national independence, a policy which gives birth to and allows the spread of unemployment (a paradoxical situation in a country where there is so much to be done) a policy which risks leading us towards the worst of experiences.



Everything in the Government’s policy is directed towards the same end.

In order to follow deliberately and with impunity the road of social regression, and to silence the powerful voice of the people, which rises vigorously to assert the truth, and to fight against insecurity and misery, the Government thinks it is necessary, first to master the working class, then to destroy or weaken its organisations. This explains the desire to encourage demands, to ferment strikes and to spread lies, so as to justify the use of force and the vote by Parliament of particularly iniquitous and undeniably anti-constitutional special laws.

This brief study giving an idea of the social atmosphere in France, at the same time underlines the responsibility of the Government and permits a better understanding of the reason for the thousands of strikes which have broken out within the last year and amongst which have broken out within the last year and amongst which the miners’ strike kas revealed itself as particularly important.

The French miners, who heroically led the struggle against the Nazi invaders, have been since the Liberation of the country the best artisans of French production recovery. They have, with courage and tenacity worth of praise, sustained an 8 weeks’ strike in order to defend their demands. They upheld it, in spite of the repressive measures of a Government which has thoroughly discredited itself in the eyes of the world opinion, and in spite of police excesses which have revolted the human conscience.

   The purpose of this pamphlet is to make known the truth about the miners’ strike.





French Miners’

Tragic Conditions



Lack of Security in the Mines

The lack of security and hygiene at places of work, caused by the reckless policy of the Government, which has taken on a real aspect of provocation towards the mineworkers was responsible during these last few months for several catastrpohes, notably at Petite-Rouselle, Courrieres and Lievin.

The catastrophe at Petite-Rosselle, on January 10th, 194, caused the death of 25 miners and severely injured 25 others.

It could have been avoided, had not the Management systematically ignored the miner’s shop steward reports, warning of the existence of fire-damp. The day before the accident occurred, the shot-firer refused to fire shots, fearing the fire-damp which a few days previously had resulted in his being confined to bed through gas poisoning.

The catastrophe of Courrieres, on April 19th, 1948, was responsible for the death of 16 workers and the severe injury of 30 others.

The responsibility of the management was clearly established and can be summed up as follows :

1.       Dust was not evacuated :

2.       No means of drawing off dust existed in the surface installations;

3.       The tipping devices were not separated from the pit entrances by a wooden partition, as the regulations laid down;

4.       Lack of maintenance of the compressors and the air pipes in the pits.

These are the results of the policy pursued by the Minister of Industry and Trade, Robert Lacoste, a policy of developing production at whatever cost, and of diminishing production costs, all at the expense of security.

Everywhere and at all times, the miners’ shop stewards drew the attention of the Managements to the insufficiency of security measures. Because their warnings were intentionally not taken into consideration and because the necessary security measures were reduced (tests fir fire-damp made every week instead of every day, etc.) since the beginning of the year in the coal basins of Nord and Pas de Calais alone, out of a total od 126.500 underground workers, there have been 90 killed. 1.974 injured and permanently incapacitated, 98.400 slightly injured and 3.000 cases of silicosis.

At Carmaux and Alibi pits, from January to August 1948, out of a total of 4.500 underground workers, there have been 4  killed and 30 cases of silicosis. There were 1.045 accidents causing slight injuries and 19 cases of permanent incapacity.

Wages Paid to Mineworkers



The Government, through the Minister of Industry and Trade, Lacoste, has asserted in the National Assembly, that the wages paid to miners are higher than those of the engineering workers od the Paris Region, since they are calculated on the basis of engineering wages, plus certain bonuses. In stating this, the Minister was in theory referring to the Miners’ Charter which as a matter of fact, he violates and induces his agents to violate daily.

He asserted, in regard to underground workers, that 5.7% have a basic wage of 14.120 frs per month, or 17.070 frs, taking into consideration various advantages, and 24.640 frs for workers with two children. In addition he asserted that the maximum wages earned by underground hewers and strippers, that is to say 30.2% of the total manpower, is 26.500 frs and 29.000 frs, and if the various advantages are taken into consideration, 36.570 frs per month for workers with children.

These statements are far from expressing the truth.
At the present time, the average wages actually paid for an 8 hour day are the following :
In a region with 5% zonal reduction
[1]:

Category 1, underground worker…………………………………….  475,30
Hewer (Coal and rock) …………………………………………………….   654,15

In a region with 15% zonal reduction

Category 1, underground worker …………………………………..  425,28
Hewer (Coal and rock) …………………………………………………..   585,20

In the Loire coal basin, for example, taking into consideration the September 1948 increases, daily wages are as follows :

SURFACE WORKERS

1st category ……………………………………………………………..  436,65
2nd                      ………………………………………………………………   456,70
3rd                  …..……………………………………………………….   493,60
4th                 …………………………………………………………….   530,55
5th                       …………………………………………………….      567,50



UNDERGROUND WORKERS

1st Category ……………………………………………..   500, 70
2nd                   ………………………………………….      527,10
3rd                     …………………………………………       570,40
4th                        …………………………………….          618,10



After the September 1948 increases, wages are divided in the following way :
Out of a total underground and surface manpower amounting to nearly 303.000 :

61.000 underground and surface workers ear between 506 and 560 frs per day.

50.000 earn between 570 and 610 frs per day.

49.000 earn between 620 and 660 frs per day.

Thus :

160.000 underground and surface workers earn less than 700 frs per day.

17.000 surface workers earn between 700 and 750 frs per day.

122.000 underground workers (piece work) earn between 750 and 1.030 frs per day.

4.000 earn more than 1.030 frs per day.

These figures are given for the region enjoying the best conditions and include a 10% attendance bonus, which is not granted to a worker absent from work during the fortnight.

These are gross wages : to establish the net wage, a 10%  reduction has to be made for social security contributions, which in other terms means that :

160.000 underground and surface workers earn between 456 and 594 frs per day : Thus 160.000 workers earn less than the minimum wage :

17.000 surface workers earn between 630 frs and 725 frs per day :

122.000 underground workers earn between 735 and 949 frs per day.

Is it necessary to point out the particularly difficult nature of the miners’ work? Is it necessary to emphasize the danger’s he faces every day ? Certainly not.

Nevertheless, it is useful to specify that, in the pits, the output is related to various factors, independent of the workers will, such as the dimension of the seams, and the rate at which pit props and material for pushing forward the roads is supplied. So as to take into consideration all of these particular difficulties, the Miners’ Charter provided for a guaranteed minimum wage.





The Lacoste Circular

Of September 13th, 1947



Since the application of the terms of the circular issued by Lacoste, on September 13th, 1947, the guaranteed minimum wage provided for by the Miners’ Charter, is no longer applied. Under the pretext of fighting against the fall in individual output, it permits the most shameful exploitation of the miners in the difficult coal seams.

In accordance with the provisions of this circular, certain workers have been paid less than 150 frs per day. At Escarpelle, in the Nord district, the best workers, hindered by various working difficulties, have received only 200 francs per day.

By a court-decision on June 3rd, 1948, the justice of the Peace at Carvin, declared the Lacoste circular illegal.

In spite of this decision, Lacoste has not cancelled it.

All these anti-labour measures, which have been directed against the miners, since May 1947, by the Minister Lacoste, compelled the National Federation of Mineworkers to protest and to insist that a new policy should be developed by the Minister concerned.

From the 20th January, until the 25th August 1948, the Federation has 12 times contacted the Minister of Industry and Trade, as well as the various Prime Ministers and the President of the Republic, so as to urge the Government to carry out the following measures :

a)       Cancellation of Lacoste’s circular of September 13th, 1947, declared illegal by a decision of the Justice of the Peace of Carvin, on the 3th of June, and which undermines the guaranteed minimum wage.

b)      Increase of miners wages based on the changes in the cost of living (minimum wage and sliding scale).

c)       Ending of methods of exploitation which by disregarding elementary security and hygiene measures, were responsible for various catastrophes since the beginning of the year.

The delays and stratagems, during 8 months, in order to reject these just demands, have proved the Government’s intention to follow a systematically hostile policy towards the miners’ rights.

In the month of September 1948, the situation was worsened still more by 3 Lacoste’s decrees.







LACOSTE DECREES

A first decree lays down the principle of a 10% reduction in the surface manpower.

During two interviews with the Minister Lacoste, on the 24th and 29th of Sept. the National Federation of Mineworkers, agreed to the principle of such a reduction. Moreover, the Miners suggested to the Minister a 20% reduction in that manpower (for the good reason that the office and managements are a shelter for hangers-on and incapables placed there because of political favouritism by Ministries and Mine Managements), subject to the Minister promising, not to use the decree for political aims, that is to say for dismissing any worker whose opinion might not appeal to the Management.

Lacoste refused to give this promise, thus proving that this reduction of manpower was only a pretext to endorse and reinforce the arbitrary methods which are tending to become established in the mines.

He asserted that this decree was without importance; reduction of manpower could be easily achieved thanks to the withdrawal of German prisoners of war and miners placed on the retiral list. If that were true, no decree was necessary.

A second decree with 3 main points stipulated :

a)       The division of mineworkers into two categories:
- On the one hand, the established workers in mining companies who benefit from the Miners’ Charter and,
- On the other hand, the workers in mining companies, who contrary to the express provisions of the Charter only become established after a compulsory period of probation of 6 months, appreciation of which is entirely subjected to the Management’s opinion.

b)      The re-establishment of suspensions and the surrender of control by Joint Committees in regard to all penalties, henceforth to be decided upon by the Management and immediately applicable.

c)       The discharging of any worker who has been absent from work for 6 days running without justification, or who accumulates 12 days of unjustified absence in 6 months.



The first two points of this decree are unacceptable to the workers, because they violate the Miners’ Charter and submit mineworkers to the arbitrary decisions of the Management. Moreover, the re-establishment of workers suspensions revives the Vichy regime, since this measure, suppressed in 1936 was re-established by the Nazis in 1940, and suppressed in 1944.

As to the last point of the decree, it has to be linked with a third decree, issued on the same day and which takes away from the Social Security bodies, the administration of safety at work and Workmen’s Compensation, as well as occupational diseases.

Thus, the Government’s intention clearly appears: it consists of giving back to managements of nationalised industries, the administration of these risks and of submitting the appreciation of whether a sick or injured worker is cured, no longer to the Social Security health services, but to doctors appointed by the Managements and placed under their direct influence.

All these decrees aim at applying discrimination among the workers and constitute a war instrument in the hands of the Management, specially invented for use against the worker’s organisations and against the C.G.T’s trade union delegates and leaders, elected by the miners.

These decrees were issued on September 18th.

As the Minister Lacoste has himself cynically acknowledged to the representatives of the National Federation of Mineworkers, the mineworkers could not, in any way, accept these decrees. The Government, above all, aimed at creating discontent among miners, to compel them to launch a strike, a strike which they thought could be broken by means of savage repression.





MINEWORKERS DEMANDS

It was in these circumstances that the National Federation of Mineworkers established the list of its main demands:

1.       Cancellation of the Government decrees which, under the pretext of making economies, violate the Miners’ Charter and the regulation of the Social Security system; cancellation of the Government circular of September 18th, which in fact suppresses the guaranteed minimum wage.

2.       Extension of the powers of shop stewards so as to ensure, at their maximum, security and hygiene in the mines.

3.       Increase of wages, salaries and pensions with a minimum wage of 14.300 francs per month and establishment of a sliding scale for wage’s whenever there is an increase in the cost of living.

4.       Respect for the laws on the nationalisation of mines.

5.       Effective fight against the high cost of living.











STRIKE VOTE

In refusing to examine these just demands, to which he himself gave rise, the Minister Lacoste used dilatory means aimed at exasperating the miners.

The National Federation of Mineworkers then decided on the 26th September last, to proceed to a wide consultation amongst the miners, on the question of an unlimited general strike for the satisfaction of the demands mentioned above.

The general referendum, embracing all the workers in the mines, and which took place between the 25th and the 30th of September 1948, gave the following results:

Total number of workers……………………………………………….. 317,506
Total present at work …………………………………………………….  259,204
Total voting …………………………………………………………………...   244,322

For Strike action ………………………………………………………  218,616
Against Strike action ………………………………………………..  25,086
Abstentions and spoiled papers ………………………………   15,502

Thus, 92% of those present at work took part in the vote. 89% of those who voted expressed themselves in favour of the strike. The difference between the total number of worker’s and the total present at work is explained by the number of prisoners of war, as well as the number of those sick, injured, absent on holiday, etc., these latter constituting about 22% of the total.

In the Moselle, 80% of the miners, by free and secret ballot, expressed themselves in favour of the strike.



The Government Attitude



Throughout the country, the Government policy was rapidly driving the workers to distress.

The Minister of Industry and Trade, Lacoste, by means that he knew workers could not accept, worsened the situation of the miners.

The miners could either submit and hence accept difficulties in their homes, insecurity, unhealthy conditions and arbitrary management in the mines, or protest by means of striking.

They chose to strike.

In order to break the strike, the Government used Jules Moch, Minister of Interior. The latter employed all means to achieve his ends: violent police repression, use of troops and war material, campaigns of slanders and lies, arbitrary arrests, pressure exercised on magistrates so that the sentences pronounced should be increased, suppression of family allowances, etc.

From there on, the miners not only fought for the defence of their demands but also for the defence od the right to strike, written into the Constitution, and which the Government is violating.





POLCE VIOLENCE AND USE OF THE ARMY

On the night of the 3rd – 4th October, a few hours before the beginning of the strike, police forces occupied the coal pits in Moselle. The Prime Minister himself on November, 23rd, admitted this during the National Assembly debates.

In fact, the use of police and armed forces, spread rapidly to other coal basins, and Jules Moch could proudly give himself the shameful appearance of a chief of staff preparing plans for attack against the enemy.

This enemy was the people of France, artisans of the country’s recovery.

Police provocations and brutalities began immediately.

They continued without any too severe consequences until the 8th October, when finally the Government’s deliberate policy of violence lead to the murder of the miner Jansek.

Jansek was taking part in a procession of demonstrators which was held by a C.RS.[2] barrage. The C.R.S. met them with gun-butts and tear gas grenades. Struck down by a butt blow on the head. Jansek, hardly up again on his feet, was mortally wounded by a second blow.

Soon, methods borrowed from the Nazis were used against arrested miners.

On the 14th October, at Petite Rosselle, the miner P.Adam was tied to a tree and beaten until he bled.
At Faulquemont, on the 20th October, 4 workers, tied in pairs, back to back, were thrashed until they bled.
On the 5th November, at Auchel, the Police Superintendent was himself a victim of C.R.S. brutalities.
Twelve miners were wounded by drunken C.R.S.
The police also broke into the home of miner Trisset. He was so badly treated that he fainted several times; each time he was doused with cold water, brought to, and finally thrown out in the street.

At Greasque (Bouches-du-Rhone) the C.R.S. fired upon a miner arrested  while picketing; they also aimed at a miner who was working in his garden and at his daughter who was holding her baby in her arms.

At Pecquencourt, the C.R.S. used the hostage system, arresting a little girl named Moniot aged 6, took her to Lemay pit, and tried to force her to say her father had broken the windows of “black-legs”.

At the same time, so as to force the workers to resume work, the police force attempted to institute a real terror regime, especially aimed against the miners’ families and the trade unionists.

At FORBACH, on October 18t, a policeman boxed the cars of a young girl who was wearing on her blouse the C.G.T. badge.

At STIRING-WENDEL, children of 14 and 15 years old were arrested; they were only released 26 days later and without having been tried.

At LENS, on October 19th, the police forced the Public Services to cut the electric power, thus depriving maternity houses and hospitals of water.

At CREUTZWALD, on October 20th, in Lisieux Street, tear gas bombs were thrown into rooms occupied by children.

On the 23rd October, at STIRING WENDEL, the old mother of Pierre Lorentz, and his wife who was 8 and ½ months pregnant were beaten up.

At Carvin, on October 28th, the police ill-treated young workers. A boy named Matazak, barely 15 years old, was savagely beaten.

Other young workers named Henauty, Treanoy and Dujardin, with machine guns pointing at their stomachs, were searched.

On the 30th October, at Lallaing (Nord) about 7p.m. in the “Printania Hotel”, the C.R.S.  fell upon customers with butt blows, breaking down the doors, entering bedrooms, and upsetting a cradle containing a 3 months old baby.

Considerable pressure was exercised on foreign and North African workers to force them to resume work.

On October 19th, in Mosellle, the C.R.S. invaded the huts of North-African workers at Zimming in Faulquemont. They attacked and batoned the workers, destroyed the furniture, smashed in suitcases, and took away North-Africans to the pits by threatening them with their firearms and carrying out arbitrary arrests.

On October 20th, at Stiring (Moselle) the C.R.S. threw tear gas bombs into the huts of the North Africans at 4 a.m. Without giving the latter time to dress, they took them to the pits with machine-guns pointed at their backs.

On the 27th October, at Rosselmont (Moselle) the C.R.S. invaded the North-African workers quarters at 3 a.m. and whipped the miners out of their beds in order to force them to work.

On November 9th, at Lallaing. 500 gendarmes and C.R.S. surrounded the quarters inhabited by foreign miners, threw out the families including half naked children, in order to force their fathers to work.

On the 10th November at Carrmaux, foreign workers were thrashed and forced into motor-lorries which took them away to work.

At Auchel, on November 23rd, the Italian workers camps were invaded by the militia who insulted and beat them, finally taking the miners away by force to work.

The Government called in troops.

The Minister Jules Moch lined up war materials, tanks, machine guns and automatic weapons. He used troops called back from the Occupation Zone in Germany, and colonial troops from North and French West Africa. On 22nd October, police forces were authorised to make use of their arms.

On the previous day a miner named Barbier had already been killed at St. Etienne.

On the 25th October tens of thousands of C.R.S. and native Moroccan infantry, protected by tanks, attacked the Nord and Pas-de-Calais pits.

On the 26th October at Ales with tanks lined up, armed forces attacked the miners with canons and machine guns, injuring several miners and killing a worker named Max Chaptal the father of two children. A nurse wearing the Red Cross armband was wounded by a machine gun bullet.

But this bloody repression had been, previously thoroughly prepared by the spread of false news, lies of all kinds and by provocation. Several thousand C.R.S., gendarmes and troops with a considerable display of war material, camped on the immediate outskirts of Ales and in the very centre of the town, petrol dumps and various kinds of war material were accumulated.

CAMPAIGN OF SLANDER AND LIES

Once more, the Government tried to make believe that the strike was a political one, ordered by the “Cominform.”

Luckily, the common sense of the French population enabled them to reject with contempt the use of lies as old as reaction itself. (Did Louis Phillippe not attempt to make believe that the strike of Lyons silk-weavers in 1831 was inspired by England?)

Then, Jules Moch and his friends in the Government, tried to justify the police violence and the use of armed forces which they had ordered, by pretending that it was a question of saving mining installations and of ensuring “freedom to work”.

On this matter it is necessary to give a few details:
From the first day of the strike, on Oct. 4th, the National Federation of Mineworkers, stated that the security of underground and surface installations would be ensured. It stressed that the strike had been legally decided upon following a free vote by secret ballot. Thus nothing could justify the presence of police forces in the coal fields. It therefore called for their withdrawal, specifying that the miners, being in need of all their forces in order to resist police attacks, would not be able, if this withdrawal did not take place, to continue to ensure the security of the installations.

The Government immediately tried to make use of this statement, and, distorting the facts, asserted that in numerous pits, safety measures were no longer being maintained.

However, on the 8th October, everywhere, except in the Lorraine coal basin which was occupied by the C.R.S. and where entrance was forbidden to the miners’ delegates, safety measures were ensured. All necessary measures had been taken by the miners themselves in order to prevent any wreckage of installations (turning over of machinery, caulking, etc.).

Between the 8th and 13th October, the Government issued mobilisation orders, an illegal measure, and, through the national leaders of “Force Ouvriere” and of the C.F.TC. [3] (with whom it was still in contact), it published press communiques, aimed at obtaining an increase in security measures, and thus beginning a resumption of work.

This attempt failed miserably and on the 10th, thanks to the resolute attitude of the miners, the illegal mobilisation order was withdrawn.

The Government increased the police forces in the Lorraine basin, gathered large forces in the immediate outskirts of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais regions, ad multiplied incidents in order to find a justification for intervention.

It was only on 18th October – it must not be forgotten that the miner Jansek was murdered on the 8th October at Merlebach- that the National Federation of Mineworkers decideded, as a warning, to suspend security measures for 24 hours.

The brutal intervention of police forces made it impossible later on to maintain the security teams.

THEREFORE, IT WAS NOT BECAUSE SECURITY MEASURES WERE ABANDONED THAT THE POLICE FORCES INTERVENED IN THE COAL BASINS BUT, ON THE CONTRARY, IT WAS BECAUSE POLICE FORCES OCCUPIED THE PIT-HEADS THAT SECURITY MEASURES WERE STOPPED.



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In addition the rulers tried to distort the facts.
At the time of Jansek’s murder, on October 8th at Merlebach (Moselle), in an attempt to conceal the crime, the radio and the press, in obedience to the Government, successively attributed his death to “being tramped on by the crowd” (sic); and then to pneumonia. Finally, Jules Moch, assured the National Assembly that Jansek died from heart failure.

In the end, under Governmental pressure, the death certificate of this murdered miner, as in the time of the Nazis, bore the phrase “death from natural causes”.

At Creutzwald, a second-lieutenant of the C.R.S. of Clermont, stated that they had been sent to Moselle, because, it was said, the population was Nazi.

True to his methods of provocation, used even before the beginning of the strike, Jules Moch claimed that the C.R.S. had only used their arms because the strikers had themselves fired. This only gave rise to a statement of newspapermen who witnessed the shooting, the text of which is given below:

“The undersigned journalists protest against the written and broadcast information which tends to deform the truth about the shooting at Firminy.

“They declare:
“1: that no shot was fired by demonstrators ;
“2: that the police force used its arms without warning.

“Anxious to fulfil their role of supplying objective information they solemnly protest against any other version of the events of October 21st.”

“For Ce Soir : R. VUILLAUME and DOUGET (photographer_; for Paris-Presse: FLORET and Guy MAZAUD (photographer): for  France-Soir: R. DELPECHE; for France-Dimanche: VALLIERE and FROMONT (photographer); for Liberation:  BEDEL: for Combat: DILLIAT; for l’Humanite:  LAMBOTTE; for La Depeche (St. Etienne): MATHOULIN; Le Patriote de Saint-Etienne: RASSON, GOUBELLY and LE PONCE (photographer); Le Progres de Lyon: MALLET; La Marseillaise (Marseille): CLERISSY; Express: Ms HARRISON; Associated Press: AUBRY (photographer) ; United Press: RUT, CONSTAD and WINTER (photographer); Presse filmee: PERSIN, BERTRAND, HESSE.”







During the police repression, at Ales,  on October 26th, the Government asserted that the strikers had stolen goods, and ransacked food stores, in that town. Jules Moch, in his speech to the Assembly on November 19th, asserted that mining stores had been pillaged in the same way as he pretended that, in the pits, engines had been mined and destroyed.

By its lies, the Government only made itself more hateful : two statements were issued to the press, one by newspapermen, the other by engineers who had both visited the pit installations, described by the Government as having been “sabotaged”; these statements indicated that all the engines were in working order and that no trace of sabotage could be seen.

All kinds of bluff were used.

On November 11th, at Montcean, in order to increase the very small number of strike-breakers who had resumed work, the whole staff of the apprenticeship schools were sent to the mines and it was proclaimed everywhere that work was being resumed.

All methods of intimidation were used simultaneously.



ARBITRARY ARRESTS

The Government ordered the arrest of active trade unionists: the best, as during the Nazi occupation, were sought in order to be thrown into prison together with common criminals.

At Carvin, on October 29th, 20 people were arrested; amongst them were Tsezefanlak, a former Auschwitz deported person; Celine Commens, widow of a man shot during the occupation; Jeanne Queva, wife of an ex-partisan (F.T.P.F.).

On the 5th November at Carvon (Ostricourt) Mrs. Driard a newspaper-seller and widow of a man shot during the Resistance was arrested without any reason.

On the 9th November at Avion, the following were arrested: a miners’ delegate, from pit 7, named Nizart, who was the first to go down the pit when 8 workers were killed by a fire-damp explosion; Augustin Allard, assistant mayor of Avion, surface workers’ delegate, ex-deportee: Florimond Surmont, former “Force Ouvriere” administrator, who had rejoined the C.G.T.

The Government re-opened the Doullens Camp, where during the war, French miners were detained by the Nazis.

On the 10th November, at Grand-Combe (Gard): Mr Delenne, Secretary of the local C.G.T. union, was arrested.

On the 13th November, Mrs. Theret,  mother of 5 children and 5 months pregnant (her last child not yet 1 year old) was dragged out of bed at 4 a.m. and was only released at 10 p.m. after a thorough cross-examination; courageously, she refused to answer.

On the 16th November, at Billy-Montigny (Pas-de-Calais). Robert Dorne,  was taken to the police station at No 10 pit. He was kept there without sleep or food for two days. He was beaten, tortured and insulted. Covered with blood, he was tied to a chair and shown as an example to those who were going to work.

At Carmaux, 5 Polish families were expelled in the middle of the night and thrown into goods-trains.

At La Combelle (Pas-de-Calais) as a meeting of the Strike Committee was breaking up, the police tried to arrest a delegate named Allezard. His comrades protested, but the militia appeared and beat an old moner named Charbonel aged 60 with rifle butts and knocked him out. The miners were thrown into lorries, like cattle, together with people who were peacefully playing cards in the Gras Café. Women who protested against these actions were pushed into the lorry and taken to the pits, which had been transformed into veritable prisons.

At Monceau, one of our North-African comrades was arrested without any reason and left to the brutality of the gendarmes who beat his naked body with straps, whips and waistbelts for hours. For 24 hours he was left without any attention or food. When he begged for a piece of bread, they brought him a crust smeared with human excrement. Being unable to prefer any charge against him, he was released in the afternoon at 4.p.m. after having been forced to wash up the mess tins of the division.

On the 17th November, police dogs were used to hunt 8 strikers.

At Courieres, on the 18th November, the miners’ delegate from pit No 4, Francis Leblond, the first to go down to help his comrades at the time of the catastrophe of April 19th 1948, was arrested.

On the 19th November, at Courrieres, the police, unable to find Jean Ville, Secretary of the local union, arrested his wife and confined her in Bethune goal.

At Guesnan (Nord) 30 strikers were arrested and ill-treated by the C.R.S.

On the 24th November, at Lessevale, at 4 .a.m., gendarmes and militia surrounded the miners’ quarter; supplied with lists of names they searched numerous houses and especially the homes of miners who had been active patriots during the occupation.



PRESSURE ON MAGISTRATES

AND

CONDEMNATION OF STRIKERS

Meanwhile, magistrates were given strict orders by the Minister of Justice, Andre Marie, to give arrested strikers the maximum penalties/ Each time a sentence seemed too light the Government lodged an appeal.

In disregard of the constitutional principle of separating the executive and legislative legal powers, the Government exercised a strict control over the magistrates. As an example the Procurator of the Republic, in Bethune, Mr. Dorny, was reduced to a lower rank for having freed strikers who had been illegally arrested.

Sentences were numerous.
Ny November 20th, more than 2.500 miners were in prison.
Following are a few examples of sentences pronounced by the courts:
Carmaux (Tarn), 7 sentences totalling 1 month and 17 days imprisonment and 100.000 frs in fines.
Montcean-les-Mines (Saone-et-Loire), 28 sentences totalling 53 months imprisonment and 112.000 frs in fines.
Courrieres (Pas-de-Calais), 8 sentences totalling 5 months imprisonment and 15.000 frs in fines.
Lievin (Pas-de-Calais), 40 sentences totalling 23 months imprisonment and 6.000 frs in fines.
Bethune (Pas-de-Calais) 60 sentences totalling 54 months imprisonment and 90.000 frs in fines.



Violation of Workers’ Rights

The decree of September 18th, had already withdrawn the administration of accidents and illness from the Social Security system.

In order to force the penniless miners to resume their work, the Minister Lacoste, arbitrarily suppressed family allowance payments to wives and children of striking miners.

Meanwhile, combining provocative and harassing measures his colleague, Jules Moch, presented a Bill establishing a credit of 50 million francs from the Ministry of the Interior budget “to make up losses of miners having suffered in exercising freedom to work” (sic).



Draft of Exceptional Laws

Finally, the Government, having already violated the fundamental laws of the Republic and undoubtedly desirous of continuing its policy of enslaving the working class with the appearance of legality, presented a Bill, heavy with consequences, to the Assembly.

Among other things, this Bill is intended to penalize “concerted cessation of professional activities, or misuse of the right to strike by diverting its professional or social purpose”; it would permit any action or any systematic abstention aiming at or resulting in active or passive sabotage, being penalised.

It is pure and simple abolition of the right to strike. Thus, the Government is attempting to suppress a right written into the Constitution, although it has no power to altar the Constitution by means of a simple vote of the National Assembly.

Moreover, this Bill aims at penalising all those who, by means of their writings or their words, might encourage such action. Apart from the fact that this Bill violate freedom of expression, it would permit the exclusion of active trade unionists from the French community (the draft eventually provides for banishment from any stated region or town and the suppression of civil rights).



It is essential to understand what happens in a country when rulers attempt to smash trade union organisations: it slides by slow degrees towards neo-fascism.





Result of the anti-national

policy of the government



By its anti-working class and anti-national policy, the Government has dealt a severe blow at our economy. It has thus given satisfaction to the wishes of American imperialists who, through the operation of the Marshall Plan in France, are trying to achieve the same results.

As a result of coal shortage in power plants, the Government drew liberally upon the hydraulic reserves. Before the strike the dams were 70% full; on the 15th November they were only 47% full, despite favourable weather. It will be possible to judge of the seriousness of our hydro-electrical situation when it is understood that the situation is considered critical at the beginning of a winter when the dams are less than 55% full.

In addition, cuts in industrial current, which have reduced by 33% the industrial quota of electric power, led to a reduction of the output in numerous industrial fields.

According to statements made to the National Assembly by the Minister Lacoste himself, the electro-chemical and electro metallurgic industries were severely hit. The production of carbide which amounted to 3.000 tons per month, iron alloys which amounted to 5.600 tons, and zinc which totalled 1.600 tons has been reduced to nothing. After a 4 weeks complete strike in the mines, the whole of the industrial output in the North has slowed down.

From October 4th until November 29th, the coal output losses were about 5.680.000 tons.

If the fact is taken into consideration that all the workers could not resume their work on the 29th November because of governmental measures of repression against the miners, the total loss of coal can be evaluated at about 6.000.000 tons, which equals at market value, 21 billion francs.

If the Government had satisfied the just demands of the miners, the additional expense would only have amounted to 2 billion francs per month.

However, far from drawing the necessary conclusion the Government, on the contrary, attempted to break the strike by placing an order with the United States for 2 million or even 3 million additional tons of coal. It is notorious that American coal, very poor in quality, containing, according to the manufacturers using it, 1/3 earth and stones, costs 2.000 frs more per ton, than French coal.

Besides, the Government, a few days before the devaluation of the franc in relation to the dollar, had-under the pretext of technical justifications- taken care, once more, to increase the price of French coal, in order to reduce a part of the difference between the price of America and French coal.

The Minister Lacoste has asserted that these additional purchases of American coal would be made at the expense of other essential purchases for our economy, such as cotton, petrol and fats. The Minister had little time to weep: on the 15th November the American Government made it known it was granting the French Government a first instalment of additional credits for coal purchases.

If the Government imports 3 million tons of additional coal (supposing it can) even if those credits are part of the Marshall Plan, it will have to pay to the account of “American Aid” in francs, the difference existing between the cost price of American coal (that is to say5.500 frs) and the domestic selling price of French coal (that is to say 3.500 frs) which in fact represents a subsidy of 6 billion francs.

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In its fight against the miners the Government used all the means in its power, hoping to hit at the whole working class by breaking the miners’ strike.

It has sabotaged public finance and our national economy.

It has followed a policy of political adventure the essential aim of which was, in disregard of the fundamental interests of the nation, the wiping out of the workers’ organisations.





[1] The basic minimum wage in France is subject to regional percentage reductions according to the area and varies from 5% to 25%, the Paris region being 100.
[2] Republican Security Companies. A national armed force under the direct control of the Minister of Interior used to put down so-called civil disturbances.
[3] Confederation of Christian Workers.

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