A Minister’s Slip Of The Tongue?
Why U.S. And Japanese Workers Need Solidarity

John Catalinotto
28 January, 1999

A Japanese government official spoke his mind on New Year’s Day. What he said should be taken as a warning to the working class in both the United States and Japan that it’s past time to build international solidarity.

Japanese Justice Minister Shozaburo Nakamura made some true but usually unspoken remarks about U.S. policy. Greeting ministry officials and prosecutors, Nakamura accused the U.S. government of using military threats to protect U.S.-based economic interests.

“America’s ‘free-market economy’ is not free,” he said. “It is the kind of freedom that can let loose atomic bombs and missiles when another country looks to be winning.”

Facing a U.S. government protest, the Japanese prime minister quickly demanded an explanation from Nakamura. He apologized at a cabinet meeting the next day and withdrew his statement.

While Nakamura had to pull back, really he said little more than U.S. policymakers admitted in the 1992 Pentagon “White Paper,” which insisted on U.S. economic and military hegemony in every world region.

No Accident

But that doesn’t end the story. Nakamura is no accidental figure. He is a former business leader who has been elected seven times to Japan’s lower house of Parliament. He has been a cabinet member since July 1998. The fact that a mainstream Japanese politician accused Washington of bullying reflects an attitude undoubtedly shared in important sections of the Japanese imperialist ruling class that are tired of being pushed around by U.S. interests. This weariness grows as the Japanese capitalist economy stays mired in its worst depression since World War II – and as international economic competition sharpens.

Nakamura also complained that Japan has been unable to change its pacifist constitution. Washington imposed this basic law during the occupation. It dictates that the Japanese armed forces be used only for defending Japan’s islands. It makes Japan’s military perpetually subordinate to the Pentagon, even in the Sea of Japan.

Tokyo’s military expenses are a distant second to Washington’s, but they have been expanding every year. If Japanese imperialism continues to expand its war machine, this will increase the burden on the Japanese workers and be a threat to other Asian nations.

Working-class and anti-war organizations in Japan – especially the communist organizations – will undoubtedly oppose a militarist policy.

It may seem unreasonable that U.S. and Japanese imperialism would confront each other militarily at present. Ever since U.S. imperialism dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then occupied the country, Japan’s ruling class has subordinated its interests – albeit unwillingly – to the joint conflict against the Soviet Union, People’s China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Today, however, there is no longer a Soviet Union. Differences between the two powers emerge almost daily. Nonetheless, U.S. and Japanese bosses still find time to unite in their criminal aggression against north Korea.

U.S./Japan Workers Need Solidarity

Whatever happens in Japan, workers in the United States can serve their own interests only by opposing Washington’s bullying and by striving to build solidarity with the working class throughout Asia, including the Japanese workers.

In a 1997 conflict over port rules, that’s exactly what the International Longshore and Warehouse Union did. In the fall of that year, Washington tried to impose work-rule changes in Japanese ports – in effect telling the Japanese unions that the U.S. government should set their labor rules. The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission even called on the Coast Guard to stop Japanese container ships from entering or leaving U.S. ports.

ILWU President Brian McWilliams pledged that the North American union, which loads and unloads ships on the West Coast in the United States and Canada, would defy the FMC and work on any Japanese ships calling here.

This type of united labor action needs to be fortified. It’s unfortunate that the Steel Workers union has recently joined in steel company ads pushing the phony and racist slogan of “buy American.” This is a bosses’ slogan. It is designed to break solidarity between Japanese and U.S. workers – and it totally ignores the fact that U.S. firms are notorious for their runaway shops.

The anti-war movement here must also make it clear that it opposes the continued occupation of Japan by 47,000 U.S. troops in 78 U.S. military bases and installations – 40 in Okinawa alone. The International Action Center set a good example here on Oct. 21, when it held a demonstration in solidarity with the Japanese and Okinawan movement to oust U.S. bases. And of course the movements in both Japan and the United States should fight to stop any aggression against Korea.

Nakamura’s statement is an early warning of a bosses’ conflict that workers must not take sides in, except to fight the ruling class at home.


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