17 February 2006

“The haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden, the poor”: Idealists of different stripes will tell you that the similarities between religious and labor-rights language should come as no surprise, despite the many attempts over the past 50 years of staunch free-marketeers to paint organized labor as the vanguard of “Godless Communism.” This week, the gulf closes a bit more, as a Japanese Buddhist monk and his aggrieved comrades form theĀ first trade union in the country for Buddhist temple workers. The monks and temple workers have organized to demand collective bargaining rights, better employment conditions, and an end to the sort of managerial abuse that led to the two-month seclusion of one 52-year old monk who had criticized a high priest of his sect, and was punished by being forced to copy out Buddhist sutras in a tiny room for two months: a retaliation that the newly-formed union violated the terms of his “contract.”