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Base workers walk off; vow to do it again

Date Posted: 2007-11-22

Thousands of American Base Workers Union members across the country walked off the job briefly Wednesday in protest of defense ministry plans to cut their pay.
Hundreds from the Zenchuro on Okinawa participated in the Wednesday morning strike, which lasted four hours. The work action came on the heels of three failed meetings between the union’s chairman, Kazuo Yamagawa, and the Ministry of Self Defense. Yamagawa has strongly opposed the ministry’s declaration worker salaries will be cut 10% as an economy member, insisting wages should be going up instead of down.
Union members set up solidarity lines outside Kadena Air Base Gates 1 and 2, to register their objections to the government intension to cut salaries. The demonstrators had left the picket sites by mid-morning. Another negotiating session is scheduled within the next few days, and union organizers say they’ll strike again November 28th if their demands aren’t met. A union official says the next strike will last eight hours.
A day ahead of the half-day walkout, Japan’s Defense Minister appealed to workers not to act rashly. Shigeru Ishiba explained the cuts in wages of Japanese civilians working on American bases are necessary to keep the central government’s budget in check. He told the base worker union members Tuesday government employee salaries are “higher than that of ordinary works in Okinawa,” and asked their understanding that the issue has two sides or “two viewpoints, of whether the current salaries can be accepted by taxpayers, and whether deterrence can be maintained under the framework of the Japan-U.S. Security Alliance.”
Ishiba told workers they needed to “heed a proposal by the Finance Ministry Fiscal System Council” calling for slashing the coming fiscal year budget for maintaining the American bases. Two-thirds of Okinawa’s 9,000 base workers are union members. Nationwide, 16,000 of the 26,000 U.S. base workers are members of the union.
Yamagawa’s local workers are teamed with the All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, and has vowed to continue pressing the issue until the Defense Ministry reverses its stance.

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