Getting back to work has been a very mixed bag for me here in Japan. On my regular Sundays I was down for the youngest and lowest level students who couldn’t really study online, so that was cancelled. Almost all my corporate classes were in one manufacturing company that reduced the number of classes as part of an emergency cost-cutting scheme, so that has been cancelled too. However, there has been a surprisingly high number of lessons for a school which I often do cover days for.
I say surprisingly high because that school paid all their regular teachers in full during lockdown but said that they needed to make the lost lessons up when things got back to normal. I therefore thought that they’d be covering everything and there wouldn’t be anything left for freelancers like me. However, it turns out that the regular teachers weren’t so happy about that plan.
About one month into an almost full-time schedule of cover days for that school, someone asked me “So, how have you been affected by the strike?” I couldn’t answer that question then, not having heard of the strike at all, but it turns out that how I was affected was that the strike was keeping me in work. Like a great depression strike-breaker or 1980s miners’ strike scab, I was at least partly being bussed in to reduce the effect of the strike, and so presumably was helping the management’s hand in negotiations and reducing the power of the union.
It was a bit of a shock for me to be in this situation. As a teenager, I was the only person in our district (and perhaps the only person ever?) to join the Young Enterprise Scheme for budding capitalists and then end up appointing myself “workers’ representative” in opposition to my classmates in the management.
However, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was now hindering rather than helping workers’ rights. Since then, collective action (and indeed collective anything) hasn’t really been my strong point. Instead of organising or even joining teachers’ action, I’ve usually just emailed management saying everything that is wrong, like some kind of TEFL Jerry Maguire. However, quitting in a huff and hoping that might somehow help the teachers who are left has probably been as successful as Jerry Maguire was, especially as I usually have to say “There is no way that I can work under conditions like… I quit! But if you have any part-time classes or cover lessons…”
So, the moral of all of this is – don’t be like me. Collective action is the only way. The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Freelancer might be better for some, but for the industry to improve it must instead be one for all and all for one.