Metalworkers

Laurie Carmichael – his introduction – his three passions

I don’t remember how I managed it without an introduction, but I obtained an appointment with the officials of the Japanese equivalent of the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union in Australia (Zen Koku Kinzoku). By sheer fluke, co-incidence and unbelievable good luck, I arrived for my appointment at the same time that Laurie Carmichael, recently retired Federal Secretary of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union of Australia was calling to visit his old colleagues.

Laurie Carmichael had three passions in life: his metal workers, Japan and all things Japanese and steam train engines. The Japanese union officials said to him “there is an Australian researcher here, so why don’t we get her to join us?” I had never met him before. I came into the room, filled with all the officials and staff of the National office of the union, assembled in Laurie’s honour. I had about a minute to speak to him. I said ”Hello, I’m Kaye Hargreaves. I work at the Centre for Working Women in Melbourne. We work with unions trying to improve the situation of women workers. I have worked with your union.” I didn’t mention John Halfpenny, the Victorian Secretary of the union, because I thought there was some rivalry and animosity between the two leaders. But I knew that Max Ogden, the Education Officer, got on well with Carmichael. “I have worked with Max Ogden running courses for women shop stewards” I said “and now I am here with a grant from the Australia-Japan Foundation looking at the situation of women workers.”

You didn’t get to be Federal Secretary of the AMWU in the 1970s without being astute. Laurie summed me up in an instant and decided I was OK. As the meeting started he said “this is my good friend Kaye, who has been doing wonderful work with our union in Australia. She is here in Japan doing research into women workers, and I hope you will give her every assistance.” I tried to retain my composure and look nonchalant as the contract interpreter, brought in for the day because Laurie didn’t speak Japanese, translated his remarks.

I can’t begin to explain how important an introduction like this is in Japan, especially from someone like Laurie Carmichael, who was a loved and respected colleague and “opposite number” to the Japanese union officials. There is a cultural aspect in Japan to making requests and responding to them. It is not acceptable to say “no” to a request. The person who has been asked has a social obligation to carry out what has been requested, but conversely, the asker has an obligation not to put the other person in an awkward position by asking for something they can’t do. What Laurie asked, the union did. They assigned their Research Officer to me full time, and because he didn’t speak English, they engaged the services of the contract interpreter to accompany us. Doors opened. We went around to workplaces, and I was able to have meetings with women workers in many different factories.

The research officer

I didn’t need to feel too guilty about taking the research officer away from his work, because I don’t really think he was doing any. He was approaching (or possibly at) retirement age. He worked long hours because that’s what men did in Japan, but also because he had a disabled wife and was not too keen to go home. Not that he was unkind, it’s just that he probably found it hard to cope with her condition. He paid for a carer to look after her.

Shokuji wa?

The research Officer took a shine to me. After our day visiting workplaces, or sometimes going on sightseeing trips, he would see me back to my local suburb, then he would always ask “shokuji wa? (what about dinner?)” and insist on paying for the three of us.

Stagnant stream

One day the research officer took me on a sight-seeing trip, to a beautiful part of the countryside. We posed by a stream surrounded by gorgeous autumn trees, as the interpreter took our photo. As we took in the scene of idyllic beauty, we were overwhelmed by the stench of the stagnant stream. The research officer leaned slightly towards me and said quietly “Like the Japanese labour movement – looks good on the outside, but stagnant and foul-smelling.”

Visit to Nikko in the cyclone season

We had decided to go to the beautiful Nikko, famous for its spectacular autumn leaves, and the Toshogu Shinto Shrine with the three wise monkeys (“see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”).

The problem was, we were in the middle of the cyclone season, and it was pouring heavily wiih rain. We decided to make the trip up into the mountains anyway. The leaves actually looked better when they were wet.

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