July 11, 2008

Workers Erupt in Durban, in Peru--and in Nishinari

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South Africa: One day province-wide strikes called by COSATU to protest soaring electricity prices and also the threat they pose to jobs slammed the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal on July 9, paralyzing industrial Durban. Five more are slated for next Wednesday, to be followed by a national shutdown August 6.

Peru: A one day national strike called by the CGTP union federation to protest soaring prices, especially of food, and neo-liberal policies on July 9 saw 200 arrested and the government building in the Madre de Dios region burned.

These strikes actually made the US news in the last two days--the business news anyhow. And well they might. Anger and unease in the working class of various countries is growing as inflation mushrooms and crisis looms. And these were political strikes, aimed at the government rather than individual firms or employers associations.

But I'm writing this to kick you another place name to go with KwaZulu and Madre de Dios--Nishinari.

Nishinari is a neighborhood in Osaka, Japan. The action there was almost 4 weeks ago and took place on a much smaller scale, 2 days, around 200 people. Day laborers in Nishinari rioted, fighting the cops with rocks and firebombs, setting up burning barricades. The workers were angered by police brutality, lack of jobs and the earlier arrest of a leader. Even the Japanese economy has taken on a more neo-liberal shape, with a growing section of the populace driven into poverty even as the social safety net shreds.

But 200 people? Last month? Hey, Jimmy (I hear you grouse), I'm as partial to riots as the next lefty, but what on earth makes this worth writing about?

Well, four things. First, frankly, is the simple fact that an important Financial Times reporter named Michiyo Nakamoto spun a whole op-ed piece around Nishinari yesterday, talking about phenomena like Japan's almost 2 million "freeters"
who take on whatever temporary jobs they can find and generally have no benefits. Thousands of freeters, in their 20s and 30s, sleep in internet caf├ęs and are unable to find stable employment because they lack a permanent address.
Second, she seems to not only report on but unite with a growing Japanese critique of neo-liberal deregulation as trashing Japan's prized egalitarianism and social solidarity.

Third, though Nakamoto doesn't mention it, I seem to recall Nishinari being the site of similar struggles two decades or so ago, with young radicals joining in with the day laborers then and helping them organize. I wonder if the same dynamic is at work here, given that a short report in the Daily Yomiuri led with the arrests of "nine men and a high school girl."

Fourth, I just like the little rush of optimism I get from commentary like Nakamoto's conclusion that
it may not be too far fetched to conceive of the social unrest witnessed in Nishinari spreading to other parts of the country.

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