Hearings opened in Japan today with Berlitz Japan trying to sue leading trade unionists for their part in 11 months of selective strike action over pay. Whilst the union, Begunto, were unable to win their demands, it is clear that they have management completely rattled. They now see the potential of organised labour in this industry and want to destroy it before it gets any stronger.
It is incredible what this union have achieved, despite considerable scepticism from non-unionised teachers elsewhere in the industry and scabbing from non union members in their own schools. Their action points the way forward for TEFL workers around the world who find themselves employed in unprincipled academies run on naked greed.
Whilst we can be critical of their “surgical strikes” and “compensation for strikers” as this leads to division and passivity amongst members, we do recognise that they have had management on the back foot. Berlitz made two pay increase offers (insufficient considering the 16 years of cuts in pay and the huge profits for the business over the last year or so) and are claiming nearly eight hundred million yen in damages as a result of strike action.
This is not the first time in Japan where battles between TEFL workers and employers have found their way into court. Berlitz seem determined to follow in the footsteps of NOVA, whose racism and abuse of basic human rights was only brought to an end when its unacceptable financial dealings with customers were ruled illegal and the company had to file for bankruptcy.
It is essential that Bergunto successfully fight off these outrageous legal attacks on its right to strike and that this excellent progress in unionisation and workers fighting back continues.