...people entrust knowledge and techniques which are necessary to live to others and people are losing contact with each other, thereby losing knowledge and respect for their fellow humans.
Acceptance speech – Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative
Three Main Fields of Activities
Most of the members of The Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative Association are ordinary housewives who take care of household matters every day. Through the cooperative movement of SCCC, we have become confident that we housewives can play a more active role in society.
The Seikatsu Club is a consumers’ cooperative association that started in 1968 when industrialization had been rapidly progressing in Japan. Our cooperative movement was the development and expansion of an alternative lifestyle in contrast to mass production and mass consumption. We believe we will be able to realize this goal through the following three methods that we have developed or are still developing.
(1) Showing respect for life through conservation of precious resources and protection of the environment by a collective purchasing movement.
(2) Organization of women?s shadow works through workers? collectives.
(3) Development of women?s political movement based on citizens’ voices in which participation in local politics is possible.
I will now briefly explain these methods.
Collective Purchasing as a Social Movement
We started the cooperative movement twenty years ago by purchasing 200 bottles of milk, and now we have come to provide 400 products of our own. An ordinary Japanese family consumes 800 to 1200 household products including food and clothing. And the Saikatsu Club covers one half to one third of them through collective purchasing. This collective purchasing works as a counter culture against wastefulness in society in the following three ways:
Firstly, big merchandising companies advertise their products in various designs, sizes and shapes to increase consumption. But we need only one type of any given product. Soy sauce is packaged in numerous sizes and shapes in Japan, but we provide nothing other than one liter glass bottles of thick soy. Through limiting variety, the Club is able to streamline production and distribution. This prevents waste of material and also cultivates creativity in daily life.
Secondly, we think the quality and safety of food is extremely important. By collective buying, we are able to bypass the commercial market and buy directly from producers. This does more than merely eliminate the middleman’s added distribution cost. It enhances cooperation and awareness by keeping consumers in touch with the production process. Also, this system ensures freshness, which means that preservatives and additives are not necessary. Farmers don’t need to use pesticides or chemical fertilizers which are harmful to our health and the ecological system. It also enables them to maintain organic farming.
Lastly, we found that consumers had been damaging the environment by using synthetic detergent. And we also realized that water pollution was caused mainly by synthetic detergent which is an oil chemical product. Therefore, we have rejected all kinds of synthetic detergents and have been providing natural soap only. We have promoted the soap movement all over the country under the slogan “Let’s change our lives”. As a result, 80% of the members of an agricultural coop which mainly provides us with rice have succeeded in replacing synthetic detergent with natural soap. Fishery coops are also eager to follow us. We are sure that this type of movement will spread to other areas, such as paper recycling or changing to cleaner forms of energy.
Protection of water is especially important for a small country like Japan because we rely on river water for rice production and sea water for fish and other foods. Recently, two soap factories have been built by the members’ investments. They collect oil residue from the neighbourhood and use it to make natural soap. This is an epoch-making matter because of the dual effect it has on the environment – keeping water oil-free and also detergent-free.
How Is a “Han” Run?
Now I would like to explain about a “Han”, the basic unit for collective purchasing in our coop.
The idea of a “Han” is very similar to the way humans used to form small groups to cope with the strict conditions of nature. Nowadays, in this highly industrialized society, people entrust knowledge and techniques which are necessary to live to others and people are losing contact with each other, thereby losing knowledge and respect for their fellow humans.
Basically, a “Han” holds these principles to form small groups and to recover knowledge and techniques. A “Han” is composed of 7 or 8 housewives in any member’s neighbourhood. They make advance orders through the “Han” once a month, and distribute products that are delivered to the house of the particular member on duty. Payment is also made through the “Han”. The Seikatsu Club doesn’t have shops because we know that collective buying through a shop tends to devalue the meaning of being a cooperative member. With no advertising, this system keeps costs low, keeps the prices of our products reasonable and provides for the growth and maintenance of our movement.
We stand by the belief that our business should be run by our investments as much as possible. In fact, each member makes a monthly investment of 1,000 Yen until it reaches 80,000 Yen (about 360 Pounds). Our total amount of investment capital is now 85 billion Yen!
A “Han” is not only the basic unit for collective buying but also the smallest voluntary society involving a variety of positive elements. We can establish good relationships and can support each other when in need of help. On the other hand, some personnel or communication problems can occur. By trying to solve these problems open-mindedly by ourselves, we receive good training for autonomy in a democratic society. We believe that “Where there is no problem, there is no progress”. So, a “Han” may be the main component of the cooperative community of the future.
Organization of Shadow Works by Workers’ Collectives
Now I would like to tell you about the workers’ collectives which our members have developed, one step further from collective purchasing.
The main motivation of this movement is our contribution to local communities using our experiences from collective purchasing together with our abilities outside the home. We were introduced to the idea of workers’ collectives by the agenda “Co-operative in the year 2000”, which was presented by the late Dr. A.F. Laidlaw at an ICA meeting held in 1980 in Moscow. We also learned about Mondragon in Spain and similar movements in the U.K. and the United States. Then we decided to establish self-ventures fitted to a Japanese housewives movement.
In the Japanese labour market, chances for women to be employed have become equal to men’s. But this is limited only to women in their twenties. It is very difficult for housewives to get jobs which they are interested in. by establishing self-employed ventures we can solve this problem, be more sustainable, and raise our income. In these self-employed ventures, it is possible for us to schedule time for household matters and for work outside the home. This is even more possible if our house is near the office. Also, by using the cooperative system, we can organize and decide on kinds of jobs available which the government and big merchandise companies cannot.
Now we are organizing various types of ventures such as serving lunches for the workers in a community or for aged people. We also started workers’ collectives which offer services for mothers before and after childbirth or for sick persons. This is based on a barter system by which we exchange labour for labour tickets. We also have recycling shops for buying and selling used materials such as refrigerators, furniture, clothing and so on. In the soap factories which I mentioned before, we have made workers’ collectives involving non-members, too. The number of workers’ collectives which the Seikatsu Club has established has come to 80, and they include some 2,000 women. In summary, the workers’ collective movement has many elements which are valuable for our society as an organization of informal shadow works typically seen in the home.
Voices of the Citizens to the Local Government
Last of all, I’d like to explain about the women’s political movement. The club members could not stop water pollution by themselves, by using only natural soap. So, from 1975 to 1978 they carried out a petition calling for the elimination of synthetic detergents and brought it to the attention of the local government. However, at that time, the regulation was denied. We decided to send our own representatives to local assemblies to carry our voices to the government. In 1979, the first Seikatsu Club member was successful in getting elected as a representative in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward. In order to promote a grass roots democratic movement, we organized a network as the local action group. Our main concerns are as follows:
– Protection of the environment.
– Establishment of welfare systems in the local community.
– Peace movement.
Under these themes, we are active in such issues as: Actions against mitigation for the use of food additives, the declaration of non-nuclear cities, the campaign against making ports for missile-loaded battleships, anti-nuclear energy, and so on.
Especially worth mentioning is the Zushi-city Network which has been struggling against the destruction of the green forest of Ikego in order to complete the construction of military housing in Ikego Hills. The Japanese government has also offered this site to U.S. Military Army Forces for the housing of bullets. In this case, activity promoting peace and protection of green is equally important. We believe that if grass roots movements like this happens more, we can greatly influence the Japanese government.
We will continue our activities honestly and steadily in our daily lives under the slogan “Think globally, act locally”. Now we have 36 seats in city councils and all of them are free from any political party affiliations except for joining in the local networks for a cooperative political movement. The Seikatsu Club’s network contentions are very close to those of the Green Party in West Germany.
Consumption tends to produce waste. But we can stop it by becoming progressive consumers because we at least have the right to choose. In Japan’s continuing economic growth, the Seikatsu Club still plays a small part. But we are not afraid to say what is true. Our slogan is: “Let’s change our lives”. We believe this award will be an inspiration for improving the lives of not only Japanese but everyone on the earth.
Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-operative Union
Weiship Higashi Shinjuku