Getting ready (2)

My first post seems to have been posted.

We bought tickets yesterday. Vietnam Airlines, $524 one way economy. It’s a 19 hour flight with 2 hours between planes in Taipei. Leg room? Hmmmm….Two checked bags which will be mostly full of books, because they are trying to build their library there. Mailing books is prohibitively expensive – it cost $34 to send one copy of my book plus some Steward Updates.

I got my shots yesterday, too — Typhoid, tetanus, diptheria and pertussis.Our hepatitis is probably OK from having gone to Peru in 2008.  Met with my GP and made plans about pills, etc because I’m 71 years old and doing fine, but with the help of various pharmaceuticals. More than you wanted to know, but it’s all part of getting ready. Other parts of getting ready including finding a map, noticing where New Zealand is, reading Anta Chan’s Labour in Vietnam, reading the actual labor code (very, very different from our NLRA and our FLSA), reading as many other things as I can (although I absorb slowly) and trying to imagine what they really want from us. Joe will be teaching “Community Mobilization,” which sounds more like internal organizing. I will be teaching “The Art of Leadership,” which is something every labor educator has taught over and over — but what does it mean, if your workers are in a state-owned-enterprise (SOE) and the head of the union is also the HR officer?

Major, profound differences!

In my book I was trying to hammer home the importance of paying attention to the actual social relations of people at work — if you want to find out what they know and how they learned it, you have to understand what are the social relationships of the context in which they are learning. Are they at a job where the basic assumption is one of fairness and democratic participation? That’s one set of social relationships. Are they at a job where every ounce of strength is being squeezed out of them for a little reward as possible? That’s another set of social relationships. What they have learned and what they know, and what they know about how to act together, how to undertake concerted activity – these will differ depending on the context. If you want to step into that context and try to teach something, you have to know what the context is — right?

But in my book I was just talking about the US. Work in the US varies from fair and decent to sweatshops and virtual slavery, but at least the over-arching context is the same. It’s capitalism, constrained or Wild West, depending. You can point to a baseline and say, “This is what’s supposed to happen.”  The chances of you getting to how things are supposed to be depend mainly on what you and your allies are willing to do.

Now I have to learn something entirely different, a set of social relationships that are grounded in something essentially, intentionally different: socialism. Something that I know only as a topic to be talked about and written about and argued about, not lived on a daily basis.


Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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