Education International
Education International

Passing of an historical leader

published 13 December 2010 updated 18 May 2011

Motofumi Makieda, one of the leaders who laid the foundations for the creation of Education International, passed away in Tokyo on 4 December. He was aged 89.

Makieda graduated from teachers college during the Second World War, and became a junior high school teacher at the war's end, as the Japan Teachers' Union (JTU Nikkyoso) was founded. He became JTU General Secretary in 1962. His first international experience was in 1968, when he participated in a consultation of the then four international teacher organizations with UNESCO in Paris, on the application of the new ILO/UNESCO Recommendation on the Status of Teachers. This led to the establishment of the Committee of Experts on Application of the Recommendation on Teachers (CEART).

He became President of JTU in 1971 and was also President of the General Council of Trade Unions (SOHYO) from 1976 to 1983. In 1978 he was elected President of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). During his time as WCOTP President (1978-82), the JTU also affiliated with the International Federation of Free Teachers' Union (IFFTU). This decision reflected Makieda's commitment to international teacher union unity and he was an early advocate for cooperation between the two organizations which created Education International a decade later. Within Japan he supported cooperation between SOHYO and the Japanese Confederation of Labour (DOMEI) which came together in 1989-90 as the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, RENGO.

Teachers in Japan were denied the right to strike, but Makieda led a nation wide strike and went to jail. An international campaign was mobilized to secure his release, while WCOTP and IFFTU took up his case with the ILO Freedom of Association Committee, which recommended that the Japanese authorities revise their labour laws applying to civil servants.

Makieda was strongly committed to international peace. In later years he related how he thought deeply about his experience as a young man during World War II, and resolved to work for peace as well as historical accuracy in Japanese school text books. In 1982, he organized an International Symposium on Disarmament Education in the city of Hiroshima: "at once a warning to humanity, and a testimony to the human will to survive", as he wrote at the time.

His strong defence of JTU, the right to strike, and education for peace, made him the target of death threats, including one attempt in the JTU building, and the government actually provided a security group for his protection. Yet, although his positions were firm and contested by the authorities, he always maintained dialogue with the government of the day.

Upon his retirement as JTU President in 1983, Makieda continued to be active in several organizations, including the Japan-China Friendship Society, which he chaired for a number of years. In 1986 he established a Centre for Skilled Workers, which organized training for Chinese apprentices in Japan, and exchanges of language teachers between the two countries.

Makieda was a courageous, thoughtful and visionary leader, who looked beyond the divisions of the time to seek paths to unity and greater understanding. In so doing, he inspired a new generation, both in Japan and beyond.