JAPAN, March 24 — The reaction of Japan’s capitalist government to the disaster unfolding in that country reflects the horrors of a system that puts profits before workers, a fact that has spurred Japan’s rail union into mass protests.
While the ensuing controversy over the possibility of a nuclear disaster continues to unfold, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) has confirmed that 27,000 people are dead or missing following the recent earthquake and tsunami that hit Northeast Japan on March 11. The situation has become dire for over 200,000 living in temporary shelters (mostly in school gymnasiums) with limited access to hot meals, fresh water, adequate hygienic utilities or medicine, amid outbreaks of influenza and other contagious diseases. All this particularly affects the elderly who comprise a large percentage of the evacuee population.
NHK reports that many hospitals have had to move patients into shelters, which has also increased the risk of disease and death to those already housed there.
The most immediate threat is the continual decline of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which the Japanese government and the operators of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Corporation, (TEPCO) have been unable to control. A significant amount of radioactive material has leaked from the plant and into soil and drinking water within a large radius which has forced restrictions on local produce. NHK website reports, “Efforts to cool the plants are being hampered by the leakage of highly radioactive materials” which have forced rescue operators to abandon some of the reactors.
Shell Game Downplays Profit System’s Role
As local officials, the Japanese government and TEPCO play the blame shell game among each other about the possibility of a nuclear disaster little has been said about the system which has produced the problem in the first place: capitalism.
The Wall Street Journal (3/21) said the management of a nuclear meltdown was delayed to preserve “long-term investment” interests in the plants, a decision that clearly reveals the sickness of the profit-making system in which business interest is always put first, despite the possibility of mass destruction and loss of human life.
The parallel between the Japanese governments’ delayed response and capital interests is reiterated in statements by Yonekura Hiromasa, chairman of Nippon-Keidanren (Japan Business Federation). He praised the Japanese nuclear authorities, saying, “Japanese nuclear plants are tough enough to resist the greatest earthquake in a thousand years. It’s wonderful. Japanese nuclear agencies should be proud of it….The accident is going to be overcome. I’m not of the opinion that Japanese nuclear policy is coming to a corner.”
Additionally, Japan’s big banks have diverted billions of Yen to the re-financing of TEPCO, a decision sanctified by the Japanese government. The latter has also provided billions for rebuilding capitalist institutions most affected by the earthquake, rather than allotting them for building sufficient temporary housing and hospital facilities and sending adequate food, water and medicine to affected areas and shelters. This exactly mirrors the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, the Pakistan floods and basically anywhere profit is put far ahead of workers’ needs.
‘A man-made tragedy’
The Japanese Railway Workers’ union, Doro-Chiba, which has been the most critical of capitalism’s role in the current crisis, sharply condemned Yonekura’s statement and the insufficiency of the government’s response: “The reality before us is by no means a natural disaster but [is a] man-made tragedy, caused by a neo-liberal offensive on the basis of a capitalist market economy. Its real essence is nakedly exposed day by day.”
The Doro-Chiba also led a March 20 protest in Tokyo “to denounce the deceitful policy of the government and to demand disclosure of the facts on the whole development concerning the disaster.” This was to be followed by a national day of mobilization against war on March 27.
This anti-capitalist stance of Doro-Chiba needs to reverberate across Japan and the world. The international working class must fight the sickness of the profit system revamping itself in the wake of the disasters in Japan, Haiti, Southeast Asia, New Orleans — the list goes on. We need to organize workers everywhere to destroy capitalism and run the world for the benefit of all, not the select few!