|Industrial Pollution in Japan (UNU, 1992, 187 pages)|
|Chapter - 4 Minamata disease|
Kawamoto and a few of the other Minamata disease victims, having no further access to negotiations with the company in Minamata, decided to go to Tokyo where the general offices of the company were located, in order to negotiate with the company President, the one person most responsible for Chisso policies. There they were joined by a contingent of supporters from Tokyo and its environs. Since the company President would not make himself available for talks, the demonstrators started a sit-down strike inside the corporate offices, determined to stay there until the President agreed to a direct confrontation. At this point, the police were called in, and the strikers were forcibly removed. They remained on the street in front of corporate headquarters for 18 months, beginning in December 1971. Also, Kawamoto went to other Chisso Company manufacturing plants to seek the cooperation and understanding of Chisso workers and their labour unions. When he visited the company-loyal labour union at the Goi plant in Chiba Prefecture, he was met with violence. One of the causes of the early death of the famous American photographer, Eugene Smith, was an injury received as a result of accompanying Kawamoto to the Goi plant. This kind of violence against the Minamata disease victims' movement was bitterly criticized in every quarter, and these events strengthened citizen support for the sit-down strike at company headquarters. The social symbiosis between the company and the citizens that existed in Minamata City was not operative in Tokyo. Between 1968 and 1969, when campus-based student demonstrations were at their peak, young people became very much aware of social issues and problems, and these same students came voluntarily to the aid of the Minamata sit-down strikers. When for so-called security reasons the city called in the riot police to break up the strike, supporters were united in nonviolent demonstrations. This event was to become the longest and the largest sit-down strike in the history of Japanese social movements. These demonstrations also had a profound effect on Chisso management.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972, unofficially welcomed the participation of the Minamata disease victims, and through this the world came to know not only of the seriousness of the pollution problems in Japan, but also of corporate and state attitudes toward environmental destruction. The first official Japanese government report to the Stockholm conference, on the state of Japan's environment, made no mention of Minamata disease. People in Japan, in reading the official report, were angered by this lack of honesty on the part of their government, and in response produced a citizens' report which described not only Minamata disease but also the many other pollution diseases and problems that Japan was suffering from. This same citizens' group decided also to send both Minamata disease victims and Kanemi PCB poisoning victims to the United Nations conference. Faced with this reality, the government of Japan hurriedly produced a special supplementary report on the Minamata disease and other pollution-related problems, so as to maintain a semblance of integrity at this international gathering.
The Minamata disease victims who attended the various non-governmental organization (NGO) meetings in Stockholm reported to the world on the misery of the many pollution victims in Japan, and pleaded for a world in which such misery would no longer be allowed. At that time Japan was seen from outside as being a model of perfection in its rapid economic development and modernization programmes encouraged by the government's high-economic-growth policies; but the Minamata disease and other serious pollution-related diseases and problems showed the other side of the high-economic-growth coin, and the revelation of such great pain and suffering in Japan made the world, and especially the developing nations, much more aware of the extreme social costs inherent in excessively rapid economic development and industrialization. Within this context also, the Minamata disease victims became aware of the well-developed social welfare programmes in Sweden, and were amazed at the difference between these and the almost non-existent programmes in Japan.
The sit-down strike of the Minamata disease victims in front of Chisso corporate headquarters became known worldwide. As far as the Chisso Company and the Metropolitan Police were concerned, the strikers were nothing more than troublemakers' and administrative officials were anxious for a chance to remove them from their encampment. Many attempts were made to throw them off the premises but such efforts were unsuccessful. For example, there would be daily encounters between the strikers and company employees aimed at stirring up the kind of trouble that would result in the arrest of Kawamoto and his supporters. In October 1972 the Chisso Company attempted to remove the tents of the strikers and at the same time demanded withdrawal of the legal suit against the company. Kawamoto refused to yield to this pressure, so the company brought a counter-indictment charging Kawamoto with injury. Later this charge was thrown out of court as injurious to the Minamata disease victims. This was the first time in Japan's legal history that such a suit was to be rejected by a court as out of order. At the same time the effect of this counter-suit against Kawamoto was a change in the negotiating stance taken by the many Minamata disease victims in Minamata City who were dealing with the company through the pollution negotiation committee established by the government. Some of the direct negotiation group began to question the motives of the government's negotiating committee and in the process decided to investigate the veracity of the seals on the proxies presented to the committee from some of the patients. This led to the discovery that some of the proxies had been forged. This kind of injustice was not rare in pollution-issue struggles, but this was the first time that such a practice had been discovered and verified. With proof of this kind of perfidy, the government's negotiation committee lost its credibility and thereby its authority, and because of this it was unable to complete any negotiations before the civil court handed down its verdict. In March 1972, the Minamata civil court case ended with a verdict in favour of the plaintiffs, the Minamata disease victims. The patients who won the lawsuit then went to Tokyo in order to negotiate compensation details with the Chisso Company, and joined in the struggle there with the direct negotiation group. In July 1973, through the direct mediation of the director of the Environment Agency, the Chisso Company promised to pay to all designated Minamata disease patients more in compensation than was guaranteed by the court decision. With this series of events the sit-down strike, which had gone on for more than a year and a half, was brought to an end.