Plenty of Fish in the Sea: The Manifesto of the Ship

The genre of the manifesto can be summed up in one word: we. There is a strong, collective protagonist with a critical voice. The group is brought together due to oppression by a powerful minority, usually at a historical turning point. Despite this historical backdrop, a manifesto focuses on the present– act now because the system itself is inherently flawed. There is only so far that a man can be pushed, so much a man can be reduced to an item, and the workers of The Factory Ship exemplify the need for a revolution.

The short story by Kobayashi Takiji is set on a crab canning ship off the coast of the Soviet Union. The nameless workers have been recruited from various other industries – mining, factory work, railroad construction, education – in a time of great economic hardship. The company that owns the ship has specially selected workers that have never showed interest in unionizing or collective bargaining. Being neither a factory with regulations and labor union nor a ship with strict safety codes, the company has found a loophole in the system and is profiting dramatically. They even intend to purchase a Diet office. Throughout the story, this theme of the selfishness of the wealthy minority creates an anticipatory atmosphere for the turning point.

From the first day, the workers’ conditions are pitiful. In the freezing air of a storm, the workers begin to resemble the objects of their trade, “their hands, raw and red as crab claws.” When a fellow ship sends an SOS, the superintendent overrules the captain and refuses to send aid because it could cost them a week’s work. As a result, 425 men die and the body count continues to rise from there. “We’re all involved in this, not just the men on that ship!” The bunks are unsanitary and workers slowly die from beriberi and infection. Punishments are cruel and deadly. The workers begin to consider the deaths murder on the hands of the superintendent and his fellow company men when their dead comrades are not allowed a proper memorial or burial.

For the first time, workers are given the closest thing to names in the entire story: nicknames. Three workers – the student, the stutterer, and “Big Talk” – become the leaders of the rebellion. It begins slowly. Every few days, they would slow down their work, inspired by speeches about solidarity and camaraderie. A turning point arrives when “Big Talk” comments on how easy it would be to throw a head fisherman overboard. This starts a chain reaction of thoughts as the workers realize their strength in numbers.

On a stormy day, the revolution comes. The fishermen, factory hands, the crew, and the stokers all gather in rebellion. Nine representatives are chosen to go see the superintendent and make their demands. The plan unfortunately backfires when the superintendent calls for a war ship and the representatives are taken away. Still, this does nothing to quell the fire of rebellion in the workers. The men of the ship have stopped being individuals. Down to the very last words, the men are ready to try “one more time.”

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