Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Neocons vs. Japan’s homeless population, a struggle for corporate happiness

by Larry Geller

In Japan, homeless people organize and often win:

A staggering 30,000 people live on the streets of Japan, most of whom are single, older men. Not only are they faced with precarious working conditions and diminished welfare programs, but the Japanese government works aggressively to hide them away, forcibly removing them from the parks, sidewalks, and other public spaces where they live. In addition, private developers and corporations run massive work programs which "hire" these same people who have been displaced, to work on job sites where they have to pay for every meal as well as their housing. At the end of a job, workers often have little or no money left, having spent all of it to pay for the meager living conditions they were provided.

In response to these conditions, several communities of homeless people have organized amongst themselves, building tight-knit encampments where people look out for each other, share resources, and fight against government attempts at eviction. In some cases, NGOs have joined in the chorus of voices advocating for the rights of the homeless to maintain their communities.

The organizers we met last night took us to the site of a government "beautification" project. They explained that over the past year, the government has been trying to "clean up" the area around Miyashita Park, commissioning art students to paint the walls beneath a nearby bridge where homeless people sleep. Of course this entailed evicting the residents of the neat row of cardboard boxes that lined the underpass. But homeless organizers fought the eviction and eventually won back their camp.

As we walked under the bridge, we were struck by the orderliness of the cardboard houses, some beautifully decorated by their inhabitants with dangling chimes or painted images. One cardboard house - belonging to a homeless activist - was built out of Nike boxes, with painted yellow stars covering the black swooshes. [G8 Dispatches: What Does Nike Have to do with Tokyo's Homeless?]

The Japanese government has found a way to get even, though:

Used for a wide range of activities by the community and activists during the day, Miyashita Park is home to dozens of people by night. But change is on the horizon for the park: it has been sold by the municipality to Nike.

Yup, Nike. The brand name, the sneaker, the swoosh that just does it. Nike has bought the park. It is private now, no longer the domain of the people of the neighborhood. Nike is in the process of building walls to keep out the community, and of course closing it at night so it is no longer anyone's home. Privatization of parks by international corporations, causing more displacement and homelessness - thanks, Nike, for helping us make the connection.

So next time you see that swoosh and are tempted, remember that Nike is responsible not only for sweatshop labor but now it builds walls to keep people out of their parks. As the article points out:

The Japanese economy is characterized by free market trade policies, an overwhelming private sector, low tax rates, and a minimal social safety net. At virtually every bump in the road over the past several decades, from the world oil crisis of 1973 to the bubble burst and economic recession of the 1990s, the Japanese government has responded with aggressive privatization measures. Safety nets for the poor and elderly have been stripped away while public goods and spaces have been sold off to large corporations. Such policies have made Japan the darling of transnational organizations like the G8, WTO, IMF, and World Bank, who claim that Japan's aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal policies have transformed it into a prosperous nation.

We don’t often read about conditions in Japan. Our papers no longer have overseas bureaus, and anyway, they wouldn’t say anything mean about neocons/neo-liberals, would they. 

In Hawaii, it’s like we’re not part of the wide world out there. Who would know the extent that our corporations are playing in the Japanese economy? We never get that picture.

There is life outside Hawaii and the United States, and transnational corporations are big players out there.

We no longer manufacture much in this country, and as economic conditions worsen, we won’t be much of a market for the goods and services of our own corporations. But they’re not worried, they know that economic life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Nike buying a park!

We’re in trouble. American corporations don’t need us anymore. As we lose jobs and healthcare, and our purchasing power, so what.

The American worker and the American consumer are both expendable. Nike can be happy in Japan.


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