Getting Ready (6)


An article by Angie Ngoc Tran, who teaches at CSU Monterey Bay: Vietnamese Labor-Management Relations: Restructuring and Coping with the Global Economic Crisis. This is from 2009.

Resolution of the Tenth Congress of the VGCL in November 2008 demonstrates a changing attitude within the party state and the unions towards the pragmatic protection of workers through labor union representation at the factory level—away from the conventional political role of the labor unions in socialist countries—and a concerted effort to strengthen themselves so they can hold on to their power. The four main goals of its five-year plan of action (2009-2013) include: 1. increase the membership by 1.5 million people; 2. improve the capacity of workplace labor unions and provide training for union representatives; 3. pilot-test collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in the Textile and Garment Industries, which employ over 2 million workers nationwide in all types of ownership; 4. allow direct intervention of upper-level labor unions in factory conflicts. These efforts try to strengthen the weakest link—workplace labor union representatives— who are paid by management, and therefore cannot be effective in representing workers.

Posted in SPICE (Stanford Program for International Cultural Education) Digest, Fall 2009

We are now in 2015, so we might assume that things have moved forward from here. That is, the efforts to try to strengthen the weakest link –workplace union representatives – who are paid by management, and therefore cannot be effective in representing workers – have moved forward.

This mention of the pilot-tested CBA’s in the Textile and Garment Industries led me to read Katie Quan’s December 2011 project, Collective Bargaining in the Global Garment Industry: Three Way Bargaining. Done for USAID with the VCCI and CLER at Berkeley. This begins with a history of bargaining in the garment industry in the US, which I definitely wish I had read or at least understood fifteen years ago. It would have helped me understand the contracts under which the Philadelphia workers were working. I did not realize that it was the union that caused the contractors – the people who actually owned the factories and hire the workers – to form a contractors association so that they could in turn bargain with the jobbers, who are the people that design the clothes and own the brands. So the contractors became joint employers with the jobbers, then formed a contractor’s association. Then the unions bargain first with the jobbers (for wages, which are actually paid by the contractors, but also for pensions and benefits, which are paid by the jobbers into pension and benefits funds). Then the contractors and the union bargaining, and then the contractors and the jobbers bargain. So the industry gets re-structured through the bargaining process.

She has a simulation where people take the elements of the industry, including the above plus governments, sourcing brokers, NGO’s, etc and asks them to design a web of bargaining that would restructure the industry in their country so that the interests of various local stakeholders would be satisfied.

The only other place I’ve seen this – where the union restructures the industry – is with FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in North Carolina, which pushed the growers to form an association so that they could be bargained with.

Dean Hoa sent an email repeating that the majority of their students will be in HR, and also mentioning that they are looking for assistance in developing their curriculum, especially along the lines of what is done at Illinois, McGill, and Cornell. I was able to email Joel Cutcher-Gershenfield at Illinois and Lowell Turner at Cornell, who then passed my request along to three other faculty, and all of them sent along some syllabi. One of the things you can see on a syllabus is how the class is actually organized: projects, discussions, presentations, teams, self-evaluations, etc.

I did a first sort of my labor books, some of which I bought at conferences but never read, to bring to Vietnam. We can have 50 pounds in a suitcase. Richard and Leanna say that you carry a “third suitcase” full of books. I expect we’ll spread them around through several suitcases to make up 50 pounds.