Union Extasy court decision tomorrow

Back in March, while I was traveling, Adam wrote a post about Union Extasy, a two-man union of former workers at Kyoto University who decided to protest the limited term contract system after it forced them out of their staff jobs. While their most visible form of protest was the construction of a tent squat underneath the landmark camphor tree in front of the famous Kyoto University clock tower (a location which is the basis for the university’s logo and the preferred location for graduation photos and the like), they also engaged in the more traditional labor complaint route of filing a formal grievance, conducting formal union/management negotiations (団交), and eventually filing a lawsuit alleging the illegality of the mandatory limited-term contract system.

While the Union Extasy squat was inspired by the “temp worker village” set up in Tokyo’s Hibiya park during the 2008-2009 new years season, unlike that particular stunt it never actually ended. Although they had originally expected it to only last for a couple of weeks before shaming university management into doing something, when they realized that things were going to take a long, long time to resolve, instead of taking down the tent they instead expanded it, adding a public area with seating that was labeled the “Kubi Kubi Cafe.”Kubi is the Japanese word for the head or neck, and has also become a synonym for “firing” or “sacking”, as beheading is the Japanese metaphor of choice for such a practice.

The university was naturally displeased with the ongoing protest, particularly in such a prominent and symbolic location, and filed a lawsuit in May or so (the date escapes me at the moment) against Union Extasy, ordering them to vacate the premises. Why exactly they had or chose to actually file a lawsuit escapes me since I would have assumed that they could just ask the police to remove trespassers without any special legal maneuvering, but I presume there is some legal reason that they took such a course of action. Aside from the existence of the lawsuit itself, there were two things that struck me as rather odd about it. First, that the lawsuit was not filed against the two men (Ogawa and Inoue) but against the Union Extasy organization itself. The second odd point, and this one if very odd, is that they were not seeking an order for the union to vacate the campus completely, but only a specified zone including the area immediately in front of the clock tower. The university was actually so cautious about acting without a court order that they did not even disconnect the power cable siphoning electricity from the clock tower building (which kept the lights and vintage iMac running at night, network connectivity naturally courtesy of the campus Wifi). Inoue let me flip through a folder of documents that had been filed in the case, and sure enough there was a map of the campus with a rectangle drawn around the very specific area. Amusingly, among the supporting evidence was a land assayer’s appraisal of the land value of the entire campus, as if the market value of the national university’s grounds-which I expect is legally impossible to sell in any event-was somehow relevant to the matter at hand.

After receiving a court order to vacate the area, they complied with it-by moving about 10 meters over to another patch of lawn, just far enough away from the camphor tree and clock tower so as to allow an unobstructed view of the landmarks.

I have spent little time speaking with the involved parties since before I went home for the summer and had not been following the progress of their protests or court case, except of course to notice that the protest squat had never ended, but I just got word that the initial verdict of their lawsuit is due out tomorrow, presumably with a party to follow. I will be there tomorrow afternoon after lunch to see how things turn out and will report on it after, but in preparation, here is a gallery of photos I’ve taken at the Kubikubi Cafe.

10 thoughts on “Union Extasy court decision tomorrow”

  1. “Tokyo’s Hibiya part”—> Hibiya Park, methinks…. Unless you mean the Hibiya part of Tokyo. It’s a very hibiya part….
    This is probably also the sort of post that should be written after the verdict, not before….

  2. Well, I really should have written this post a couple of months ago, but anyway I’ll do another one after the verdict. I also want to write something longer about Kyodai’s bohemian/activist culture, as it’s pretty unique within today’s Japan.

  3. On general principles it’s good to see individuals and small teams “stick it to The Man” so I wish them the best of luck with their case.

  4. I remember a former Kyoto City official mentioning to me that police are not allowed on Kyoto University premises without special permission from the administrators and a lot of paperwork (more if it’s retroactive).

  5. “as if the market value of the national university’s grounds-which I expect is legally impossible to sell in any event-was somehow relevant to the matter at hand.”

    Every time I hear the phrase “national university,” it gets me wondering exactly how, if at all, anything actually changed since the partial privatization of the national universities in, what was it… 2004? That would be a good topic for a post/discussion. I noticed sometime around 2007, all the joshu (助手) I knew became jyokyou (助教). Given an assistant professor’s role in the koza, I always thought joshu was a fitting title.

  6. “I remember a former Kyoto City official mentioning to me that police are not allowed on Kyoto University premises without special permission from the administrators and a lot of paperwork (more if it’s retroactive).”

    Well, not including if they’re in pursuit of a criminal or responding to an emergency call. There were a whole bunch of cases in the 1960s and 1970s about to what extent the police could go on campus and whether this interfered with Japan’s unique right to “academic freedom” under Article 23 of the Constitution.

    In this case, as this is basically a civil dispute, with perhaps only trespassing as the only element of criminality, the police will be loathe to get involved—just as they don’t want to get involved in family disputes, as we’ve discussed recently.

  7. Do you suppose the school’s intent was not to cause a ruckus by forcing them to leave, but to take away their sting by letting them become part of the campus scenery. With them moved away from the photo area, life on campus can return to “normal”. After people get used to them being there, everyone might find the topic trivial.

    Thus, the university doesn’t need the police to force them out – they might come back even stronger. They keep the status quo, wait until the cause has no more bite and then everyone tells the protesters what they are doing is useless. This could be more effective in the long run.

  8. It’s my understanding 100 research Kyoto U. support staff reached the end of their contract limit in Jan. 2009. What happened to the other 98? I’ve also read that these 100 workers were the first of 1,300 research support staff at Kyoto U. to reach the end of their contract limit so maybe those two guys will have more company on the picket line in the future.

    I’ll be very interested to see how it turns out, but my money is on the uni winning. Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific U. won a court case a few years ago that allowed them to put Japanese instructors, translators, and office staff on contracts that couldn’t be renewed past four years.

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