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Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2012

HAVE YOUR SAY

Fears over Hashimoto, beefs with Berlitz story

A recipe for 'Hashism'?

Re: "How did we end up here, in 'Hashimotopia,' 2022?" by Christopher Robinson and Ben Stubbings (Light Gist, Aug. 28):

I believe that (Osaka Mayor) Toru Hashimoto's flip-flops are part of an ingenious political strategy.

Hashimoto claimed to be opposed to restarting nuclear power plants in his neighboring prefecture (of Fukui), but had no choice but to backtrack later, yet he also turned down a request by citizens to establish a by-law to enable a referendum on whether to restart local nuclear facilities.

He also said that Osakans should shoulder part of the burden currently borne by Okinawa by relocating some of the facilities at the U.S. Futenma Air Base to the Kansai International Airport site off Osaka Prefecture.

He still claims that Osaka city's embrace of a Tokyo-style administration will revitalize the second-largest city in Japan and enhance its prestige, while a lot of critics and specialists are skeptical about whether this is feasible. It seems that he has been suggesting these measures simply to gain popularity and win power, regardless of the chances of the plans actually bearing fruit.

Hashimoto also has a good sense of how to sniff out potential "villains" and punish them in a conspicuously public way. Cracking down on local government workers with tattoos, ultra-leftwing teachers or his subordinates who have been neglecting their jobs are measures that are applauded by a lot of Osaka citizens, since the existence of these people is widely acknowledged.

His strategy has been working so well that it now seems that he may have enough momentum to succeed in a general election, despite the fact he has no experience in national politics.

The Japanese should bear in mind that their homogeneity may sometimes bring about very dangerous extremism, such as that which led to the Pacific War, when Japan waged a ruthless campaign through a number of countries. I believe that the combination of this national characteristic and a charismatic politician like Hashimoto is one of the most dangerous in Japanese history.

If the Japanese were to choose Hashimoto and his allies in the upcoming national election, it would be a great gamble — a far more dangerous one than that they took three years ago by voting the Democratic Party of Japan into office.

SHUICHI JOHN WATANABE
Tokyo

Inaccuracies in Berlitz account

Regarding the article "With Berlitz beaten but not bowed, union fights on" by Patrick Budmar (Zeit Gist, Sept. 4), I would like to make several comments.

Firstly, your informant "Colette" referred to the union action in Roppongi outside the Berlitz HQ Christmas party venue in 2007 as a "strike." Perhaps some union members were on strike, but to my knowledge it was a picketing. I was present and picketed.

Secondly, the term "caffeine cowboys" was coined by a former union executive officer specifically to refer to HR staff (all former teachers) who hoped to remain out of sight in a coffee shop on strike watch at one school. I attended many union meetings and know this to be the true origin of the term.

Thirdly, only those union members who struck after an initial warning by Berlitz were given letters threatening disciplinary action should they strike again. I was a recipient.

Lastly, and this is certainly my interpretation of events, Berlitz was not worried about the strike "dragging on" into another year, contrary to Mr. Budmar's or his informant's interpretation. Berlitz had already shown itself quite willing to absorb financial fallout from the strike, which by this time had stabilized in participation and frequency.

What prompted Berlitz's legal action was a visit by a bilingual union leader accompanied by two members (I was one) to a corporate customer's office. The purpose of the visit was to explain the reason for the strike (I am sure they were not aware of it) and to assure them that the union was earnestly seeking an equitable resolution.

The possibility of more corporate customers learning of the strike and perhaps canceling contracts is what prompted Berlitz to swat the mosquito with a sledgehammer.

SCOTT SHERWOOD
Tokyo

The Berlitz labor cartel

The Berlitz teachers' strike illustrates the problems with the "cartelization" of labor.

Consider the basis of the striker's grievances: salary and working conditions. The strikers were unsatisfied with a stagnant salary, so they chose to hold the company hostage rather than leave to find a better offer. A dynamic market free of regulation protects workers better than union cartelization because companies must compete to hire and retain the most skilled employees.

In my experience working in human resources, a company does not begrudge employees who leave for a better offer at a competitor. As evidence by the article, however, a company would begrudge employees for refusing to perform work duties and expecting to still get paid.

Even if the strikers win their case in the long run, why would they still want to work for a company that (in their eyes) tried to force unacceptable working conditions on them? The animosity between management and ex-strikers would not be good for productivity.

Regarding the disparity of wage and benefits between worker and management, managers get better pay and benefits because they operate under a heavier load of responsibility. While a teacher may be responsible for a few classes, managers are responsible for entire schools; being rewarded or punished in proportion to the risk taken is a basic principle of business.

Furthermore, if I am not mistaken that teachers at Berlitz are not responsible for recruiting students, then management has more of a stake in the profitability of the company than the teachers; you can't teach an empty classroom.

Overtones of unfairness permeate the entire article, but I assert that it is the strikers who are the perpetrators of the unfairness. How would Michael or Colette react if they pre-paid for food at a restaurant, only to have the waiter take it away mid-meal and demand more money if they wanted to finish it?

NAME WITHHELD UPON REQUEST

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