Assistance by Japanese unions to UE struggles is a potent
reminder that international solidarity is not a one-way street.
Several Japanese unions are coming to UE’s aid in a first
contract struggle, while UE’s sister union in Japan intervened to help
overturn an unjust firing at a Wisconsin plant owned by a Japanese
As reported in the UE NEWS,
the union is engaged in a growing campaign to gain a first contract for Local
758 members employed by the Glastic Corp. in Jefferson, Ohio. Glastic is owned
by Kobe, a billion-dollar global giant based in Japan.
Responding to an appeal by the International Federation of
Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), Japanese unions
have rallied to UE’s side. Through the intervention of ICEM’s Japanese
Affiliates Federation, the Kobe Steelworkers Union contacted senior Kobe
management in Japan and urged the company to negotiate an agreement with the
The Kobe Steelworkers Union and Tekko Roren, the national
steelworkers’ union, also extended their solidarity to UE’s Glastic
members and expressed hope that "their contact with the management in
Japan will make it possible for the UE local to smoothly carry out its first
negotiations with management there."
Daisaku Kouchiyama, president of CSG Rengo, the Japanese
chemical workers’ union, who also serves as vice president of the ICEM and
chairperson of the ICEM’s Japanese Affiliates Federation, also expressed his
solidarity with UE.
"The support from our brothers and sisters in Japan comes
at a critical time," says UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley. "On
those few occasions when negotiations have taken place, Glastic
representatives have conducted themselves in an arrogant and insulting manner.
It’s a disgrace when a billion-dollar global giant like Kobe Steel exercises
the worst labor practices in the U.S. while presenting itself as a model
corporate citizen back home."
Glen Ritacca probably never
expected to become a principal actor in an international incident. But when he
was fired during a UE organizing campaign at the Iris USA in Pleasant Prairie,
Wis. in early fall of 1998, the union’s allies in the militant Japanese
labor federation Zenroren went to work on his behalf. Union contacts made by
Zenroren (the National Confederation of Trade Unions) put pressure on the
parent company, Iris Oyama, that resulted in Ritacca’s reinstatement.
A UE leaflet at the plant gate pointed out the benefits of
international labor solidarity; local Iris management responded by calling the
union organizers liars!
When Ritacca was fired again, Japanese labor officials again
complained to the company, helping to achieve a monetary settlement. In a
letter to the UE National office Masatoshi Takahashi, secretary-general
of the Miyagi Prefecture Federation of Trade Unions expressed relief that
there had been a settlement but regret that it did not result in Ritacca’s
"We cannot contain our wrath in the face of such
continuous unionbusting and the dismissal of an American worker by the
Japanese company," Takahashi wrote. He pledged his continuing support for
UE’s organizing efforts in a letter that made a strong statement of