NOW President Patricia Ireland led a demonstration
at Fletcher-Jones Mitsubishi in Las Vegas.
Photo By Susan Mackenzie
NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey didn't need an interpreter to understand what seku hara meant during her recent trip to Tokyo. Japanese feminist groups sponsored Dempsey's trip to raise awareness about sexual harassment -- seku hara --in their country and to show solidarity with women in the United States who have filed sexual harassment charges against Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, Inc., whose parent company is based in Tokyo.
"Multinational corporations have to learn that fairness in their treatment of women and people of color is not something that is negotiable in any country," Dempsey said to dozens of Japanese reporters. She referred to Mitsubishi's handling of sexual harassment complaints at its Normal, Ill., plant.
Dempsey met with feminist groups, business leaders, members of Congress, union leaders, Japan's minister of labor and representatives of the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
In those meetings, NOW and Japanese feminists representing more than 50 organizations focused attention not only on stopping sexual harassment and ensuring employment equity for women at the Normal plant, but also on the state of corporate and governmental practices in Japan.
Dempsey and the Japanese feminists saw the benefit of using gaiatsu, or foreign pressure, to further their cause. In what probably is a result of their pressure, the minister of labor reversed his previous stand and stated that he supports a stronger Japanese equal employment law with specific prohibitions of sexual harassment.
Dempsey's week-long series of events in Tokyo culminated in simultaneous international demonstrations June 27, starting with a protest outside Mitsubishi's annual shareholders meeting. In the U.S., NOW activists took to the streets outside Mitsubishi and Chrysler dealerships in dozens of cities to protest the manufacturing plant's treatment of women.
On the eve of NOW's 30th anniversary conference, NOW President Patricia Ireland called the actions a "global day of demonstrations against sexual harassment and retaliation" that sent a powerful message not only to Mitsubishi's management, but to management teams of other corporations as well.
The next day, when Dempsey arrived at the NOW national conference
in Las Vegas, she received an enthusiastic standing ovation as she reported
that "We have begun a partnership with our Japanese sisters that has already
strengthened all of our hands in the struggle toward fairness for all women
within the multinational corporate community. When women come together
like this, failure continues to be impossible." Dempsey's week-long trip
was sponsored by Japanese women's groups.
Working in coalition with the national Rainbow/Operation PUSH Coalition, NOW's public information campaign is designed to inform the public about Mitsubishi management's reaction to allegations of both sexual and racial harassment and to show support for the EEOC lawsuit.
Sandra Rushing is one of the women who detailed harrowing accounts of verbal and physical harassment and abuse. In an interview with The Washington Post, Rushing alleges that male co-workers would surround her and touch her breasts and genital area. She said they would draw pictures depicting her in various sexual activities and attach them to cars moving down the assembly line past dozens of workers.
Rushing also complained that as she left the plant after work
one night she was stopped by four male colleagues who demanded that she
have sex with them. Terrified, she fled to her car.
"The management-sponsored picket meant to intimidate the EEOC and the women who have reported abuse was the most appalling response to allegations of sexual harassment we've seen since Anita Hill was grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee," Ireland said. "We're staging these pickets to get the stakeholders -- the dealerships, advertisers, consumers, employees -- to call Mitsubishi on its unacceptable corporate behavior, and the pressure will continue until Mitsubishi acts responsibly."
In an attempt by Mitsubishi's U.S. management team to hide its own bad management practices, workers were told the potential $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit could cost workers their jobs. By scapegoating the women who filed charges, the automaker pitted employee against employee and created a working environment that was even more hostile for the women. At least one woman reported receiving death threats.
Mitsubishi Chair and Chief Executive Officer Tsuneo Ohinouye announced in May that former Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin had been hired to conduct a review of all he company's workplace policies and procedures, including those related to sexual harassment, discrimination and diversity. In what appeared to be damage control, Mitsubishi flew Martin to Tokyo to hold a press conference the same day Dempsey was scheduled to meet with Japanese media. The company's move only heightened media interest; hundreds of journalists rushed to cover both press conferences, and the NOW-led demonstration received international play.
Despite the company's hiring of Martin and other consultants to develop "a model workplace," the NOW and Rainbow/Operation PUSH information campaign will continue until Mitsubishi makes substantial, positive moves to settle the case and provide fairness on the job, Ireland and the Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
Mitsubishi management's limited actions have not deterred NOW
activists from continuing informational pickets. Activists in areas without
a Mitsubishi dealership are holding pickets at Chrysler dealerships. The
Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger and Eagle Talon are also produced by Mitsubishi
at the Normal plant.
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