Organizer and Chair: Patricia G. Steinhoff, University of Hawaii
Discussant: Daniel H. Foote, University of Washington
This panel examines an array of social movements that have used the courts to pursue social change in Japan. We begin by asking how the demand for change gets channeled by social movements into the legal system. From this perspective, we consider the form and nature of the social movement organizations involved and the centrality of various legal endeavors in their activities; we look at what they actually do to pursue social change through the law; and we assess the impact of their activities, both direct and indirect, on contemporary Japanese society.
The four papers take up very different social issues and quite different kinds of social movement organizations. The first two papers look at how trial support groups of ordinary citizens have helped radical students resist the state through both criminal trials and related civil suits, and have helped the survivors of company employees who died from overwork pursue their claims against employers and state regulatory agencies. The remaining two papers look at challenges to large corporations mounted by large consumer organizations over high prices and false labeling, and by crusading lawyers bringing stockholders suits against corporate corruption.
Our discussant will highlight the legal innovations that either precede or follow these social movement efforts. We will invite the audience to consider whether these initiatives from Japanese civil society are helping to break up the iron triangle of bureaucrats, politicians and corporations and create a new Japan for the new century, or are just small gestures that lead nowhere.
No Helmets in Court, No T-Shirts on Death Row: New Left Trial Support Groups in Japan
Patricia G. Steinhoff, University of Hawaii
Trial support groups are small, unincorporated organizations that assist the individuals engaged in a particular legal case and their lawyers, as a form of social movement activity. Building on earlier models, they expanded rapidly in the late 1960s and early 1970s when thousands of New Left students were arrested for violent protest activity and chose to move their resistance from the streets to the courts. Initially, they assisted the lawyers handling students criminal trials by performing paralegal, secretarial, and investigative chores, and provided various forms of personal support to keep up the morale of imprisoned defendants, making possible a resistance movement that revealed and challenged the working assumptions of the Japanese criminal justice system. Most of these support groups disbanded when the first wave of trials ended in the 1970s and many of their members moved on to form trial support groups in other social movements. However, the support groups for New Left defendants charged with the most serious crimes have remained active for over two decades. During that time they have become involved in a variety of unusual civil suits challenging the criminal justice system as well as appeals and retrials in criminal cases.
How the Dead Speak Truth to Power: Kar˘shi Activism and Japanese Civil Society
Scott North, University of California, Berkeley
Lawyer-led, health-related social movements, such as those arising from pollution, tainted blood, and defective consumer goods, are important vehicles for lay participation in Japanese civil society. This paper examines the activities of participants in struggles to gain compensatory payments for the families of victims of kar˘shi (death from overwork). It describes how lawyers, victims families, and their assorted supporters work together to amass varied forms of credibility, which give them authority to participate in fact making and the construction of scientific knowledge relative to these cases. In consequence of these activities, the victims and their supporters acquire moral ground upon which they organize their collective identity. The organization and activities of these support groups bear strong similarities to the style of voluntary social movement participation that first emerged in Japan in the 1960s. Participant observation in several support groups in the Kansai area also found factionalism, conflict over means and ends, and competition for resources, suggesting some of the limits of such groups as agents of social change.
Suing for Redress: Japanese Consumer Organizations and the Courts
Patricia Maclachlan, University of Texas, Austin
Since the early 1970s, Japanese consumer organizations have experimented with litigation as a method for obtaining redress for aggrieved consumers. During the early 1970s, for example, Shufuren filed an administrative lawsuit against JFTC labeling standards governing the beverage industry on the grounds that those standards violated the consumers right to accurate information. Later in the decade, Shufuren and a number of consumer cooperatives launched suits against the Japanese oil cartel for jacking up kerosene prices. In both the "juice case" and the "kerosene cases," as they are now called, the plaintiffs sued for minimal damages. Neither case, however, resulted in victory for the consumer side.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the significance of these and more recent cases of consumer litigation from the perspective of consumer movement activism. What, for example, do the juice and kerosene cases tell us about the Japanese legal system in terms of its receptivity to citizen action? How and why did consumer activists use these cases for broader political purposes? How did these lawsuits influence their relationship with both their constituents and the legal and academic communities? Finally, how does the record of consumer movement litigation compare to that of both consumer organizations in the United States and environmental groups in Japan?
Although the paper will focus primarily on the juice and kerosene cases, I will also address consumer movement involvement in recent lawsuits filed under product liability rules and information disclosure ordinances and highlight the differences between these and earlier cases.
Locating Responsibility: Disruptive Actions and Legal Solutions in the Japanese Labor Movement
Christena L. Turner, University of California, San Diego
Social movements which involve legal cases require mobilization strategies able to meet complex needs, address diverse demands, and sustain often contradictory activities over an unpredictable span of time. This paper will examine these challenges by looking at cases of bankruptcy struggles in the Japanese labor movement. In these struggles, the typical adversarial relationship between labor and management is complicated by the fact that owners have declared bankruptcy forcing labor unions to use legal channels to make demands on owners and financial institutions in order to wage a battle to protect their jobs.
Bankruptcies of medium and small companies in Japan have reached all time highs as economic restructuring has proceeded through oil crises in the seventies, and global economic restructuring and recessions in the eighties and nineties. Small-scale social movements emerged in the late seventies and early eighties within the labor movement to challenge the wholesale loss of jobs and the legal rights of owners to unilaterally make plant-closure decisions and control the bankruptcy process. Such disputes range in duration from a couple of years to nearly ten. Many of the traditional tactics like strikes, slowdowns, and demonstrations at workplaces become ineffective. Many typical demands for particular working conditions become obsolete. In this paper, I will examine tactics, demands, and organizational strategies used by unions fighting local legal battles with diverse national and international support networks.