The Kyabakura Union: A Labor Union for Workers in the "Nightlife Business"

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【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the thirteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

The Kyabakura Union (lit. cabaret club union) is the first labor union in Japan for people in the "nightlife business" (mizushobai), a category that includes bars, nightclubs and cabaret clubs. It was established in December 2009 as a branch of PAFF(Part-timer, Arbeiter, Freeter & Foreign Worker, otherwise known as the All Freeters Union), a labor union for non-regular employees. In the following article, Ms. Yu Negoro, a member of the Kyabakura Union who has previously worked in a cabaret club herself, shares the insights she has gleaned through her involvement in the union.

CGS Editorial Committee

● The Nightlife Business as a Refuge
In this article, I would like to share my thoughts over the past four months since I started to work in collective negotiations for the Kyabakura Union. In my early 20s, I left home and came to Tokyo in order to work in the film industry. Despite acquiring film-making skills and working as hard as my male colleagues, I only managed to earn a salary that amounted to less than the legal minimum hourly wage. I suffered a physical and mental
breakdown. What supported me then was the nightlife business. I had earned the money to move to Tokyo by working at a snack bar, and also continued to work in a club in Tokyo. For me, the nightlife business was a "safety-net" in my time of crisis. When the
union was first established, there were only two business agents with experience in the nightlife business. Having concealed the fact from my family that I was working in the nightlife business, I initially intended to participate anonymously. However, realizing
society would never change if I did not step forward and identify myself, I decided to come out and work openly for the union.

● Curiosity-Filled Eyes and My Inner Masculinity
Since the establishment of the Kyabakura Union, we have been approached by various members of the media for interviews, but they have tended to represent us as some kind of "freak show." The mass media did not seem to be interested in issues of women's poverty but in "young girls working greedily in the glamorous world of the night." I felt frustrated by their depictions of our members, which were so different from reality. Moreover, I was troubled by my own prejudices. I always asked experienced male union members who were logical in their arguments to participate in my negotiations with male club managers who were like gangsters. In the preliminary meetings, I would often ask my
male colleagues about things I was not sure about, despite the fact that there were also female union members present. Sometimes, I even found myself acting "manly" and "boldly" in negotiations with a violent manager. At such times, I would come back to reality
with a shock.
● Support for Workers in the Nightlife Business and Support for the Supporters
 In the nightlife business, (sexual) violence and bullying are common. Perhaps that is why I sometimes feel that I take on the emotions of those who come to me for consultations. At such times, I strongly feel that I need the ability to think with the victims in order to deal with those emotions appropriately. This means that consultants also need advice and support from mental health experts. I am therefore attending the seminars and workshops of a separate women's group in order to learn how to support traumatized people. I am imperfect, weak, illogical, inexperienced and not intelligent. These factors used to lower my self-esteem, but now I hope that my own uncomfortable
and miserable experiences can help to fuel the imagination of women running to the union for help. There is no such thing as "victory" or "defeat." I hope we will all move forward, little by little, towards the realization of a labor union that is most acceptable for
the workers concerned. I believe that my negotiations with each woman I meet also help me to regain my own dignity and selfrespect.