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The 1921 Mitsubishi Kawasaki strike : the past and present world of the Kobe Shipyard workers Maki, Wilma Jane


This thesis explores the background and events of the 1921 strike at Mitsubishi and Kawasaki shipyards in Kobe, Japan. The dispute, the largest in Japan's pre-World War II history, occurred in a period of labor turbulence that had begun in 1917. At issue in the 1921 strike was the workers' demand for autonomy in the workplace. This study of the strike challenges prevailing works which have explained labor unrest in this period as a rational response to adverse economic conditions and as action stimulated by non-Japanese ideologies. Counterpoised is my findings that the Kobe shipyard workers' demand for autonomy in the 1921 strike was rooted in an inherited concept, and that the struggle to attain autonomy occurred as a result of the complexities of economic and social change. An influx of new workers into the Kobe shipyards during the World War I economic boom meant that the character of the workforce changed—from artisans, who had constituted the bulk of the workforce, to workers of rural origins. The new workers had a heritage of autonomy. This legacy, and an improved economic and social position, gave these workers attitudinal and financial resources to fight for a new organization in the workplace that would better suit their needs than the existing one. This essay analyzes the meaning of the change in the workforce, and in doing so, explores the world of labor more than labor itself. Changes in Tokugawa rural society, transformations in Meiji industrial and rural society, and the character of workers' society from 1917 to 1921, become the focus of the study. These factors had an impact on the nature of the post-1917 shipyard worker at Mitsubishi and Kawasaki.

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