Today on April 15th Japanese activists protested in Shibuya for higher fast-food worker wages, joining demonstrators around the world on the global day of action demanding better wages for fast-food workers.
Led by activists such as precariat champion and Big Issue columnist Karin Amamiya and Chie Matsumoto, a colourful gaggle of protestors gathered at 3pm in Shibuya’s Center Gai, a long shopping street filled with chain stores and restaurants. The non-partisan protest culminated outside the prominent McDonald’s on Center Gai. They are calling for fast-food workers to be paid ¥1,500 an hour.
The minimum wage in Japan is under ¥900, which is essentially poverty level. The exact level ranges per prefecture and industry (in Tokyo it is currently ¥888, which is under $8). The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry currently only seems intent on micro increases of ¥16. O tempora o mores! The onus lies on the corporations to ensure their workers have a morally acceptable wage.
As is typical at demos convened by Heisei-era activists, there was a healthy dose of cosplay and the ludic on display. Among the placard-carriers there was Ronald McDonald and the group were cheekily enjoying McDonald’s food and beverages. This being Shibuya, ironically such dressing-up would not actually seem too out of the ordinary to bystanders. The really lurid sight are the signs and slogans, daring to demand a living wage in these times of entrenched neoliberalism.
I could not attend the event myself due to other commitments but judging from secondary evidence on social media, the demo seemed lively but relatively small. The scale is possibly intentional, as any street march has to be registered in Japan and usually gets a police escort. The chances of a protest being allowed to parade up through Center Gai are surely pretty slim. The point of the demo was not to draw big numbers of participants so much as attract attention to the plight of fast-food workers from bystanders in one of Tokyo’s most teeming commercial districts. (On a side note, the bearded foreigner in the picture is anarchist and activist Sulejman Brkic, himself locked in a dispute with a language school.)
Last year’s May fast-food worker protests coincided with a sustained labour crisis at beef bowl chain Sukiya. Though the dispute ended with a partial victory, conditions remain poor at such beef bowl restaurants, which are locked in a price war that leaves no margin for bumping up workers’ wages. Today’s activists were seen sporting Sukiya hats to highlight the issue.
Images via @Kokkororen