I have come back, on New Years Eve 2015, to read this again and to listen to Sergio. We received news last month from his partner, Giamila, that he died of lung cancer. We have lost a good friend and a good colleague and someone from whom I always learned, and who was not reluctant to share what he knew. This is a very sad piece of news. We didn’t actually know he was sick. He had had a heart problem two years ago and stopped smoking, but we hadn’t heard any news since then.

 

Sergio sent me the comments below. I am reviewing them now, December 31st, in preparation for the Jan 14 meeting to discuss the potential impact of TPP.

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We are getting some help from friends. Sergio Finardi in Chicago wrote at length in response to my problem understanding what union representation means in Vietnam.

I have noticed that sometimes when I quote something, it shows up on my “preview” as indented, but then when it goes into the published blog, the indentation, which is how you know it is a quote, is gone. Most of what follows was written by Sergio, with one or two questions interspersed from me. Since I can’t trust the text to indent, i’m going to use a line between speakers.

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On May 25, 2015, at 1:04 AM, Sergio wrote:

Thank you for sending the link. I read all the posts and understood the situation. I will surely follow the blog. Two main comments and a bit of advice, so far:

1) From what is known, in the recent past the way Vietnamese workers have organized resistance to the exploiters, no matter who they were but surely more stringently if they were foreigners, comes from a war memory the Chinese workers have long since lost. Do not forget that what you see now in the wild-cat strikes – with seemingly no one at the head, directing and coordinating something that is nevertheless surely not casual – is something that their mothers and fathers did during the war against the US and the South Vietnamese government. If you read the literature about the resistance in the South, you will see that most of the time the nightmare for the Americans and their proxies was that incredibly fast appearing and disappearing, where they would show up for three seconds and return underground after provoking a lot of damage. No one to torture, no one to kill, so that the US resorted to killing and torturing people who had nothing to do with those actions and therefore augmented the hostility of the general people against the US. The Vietnamese have a strong memory of fighting tactics and the large majority of them, women and men, were soldiers  with war experience and guerrillas. The young Vietnamese I worked with were surely very conscious of their rights (their laws could be not implemented, but they exist and people in Viet Nam are educated and have surely read them).

More recently, you have seen large strikes being openly organized and directed to fight a new State law on pensions, which means that the workers are still very politically conscious and are not afraid r to attack the government. Do not underestimate their abilities.

I believe that what they need more is understanding how to live in a situation in which there is a real separation between State, companies, unions and how to exploit their different interests, a situation that will be totally new for them. I remember they could not really understand the meaning of the principle of separation of powers in a State.  There was none in their experience, neither under the French nor under the socialist regime.

2) The Vietnamese I remember were politically very educated people, not indoctrinated at all, not blind at all. And very educated in general, starting with a French model of education that was passed to the new regime. I do not know how the situation is now among young people and young workers, but keep in mind that they were far more close to the Euriopen culture and tradition, including unionism, than to the US/UK tradition. You found Le Monde in the hands of intellectuals and party officials far more than the International Tribune.

It is difficult for me to imagine how could you transfer, for example, the types of practices and answers to labor disputes and challenges that are in your book and experience to workers who will live in a “capitalism” and a State completely different from the US. If they believe that your experience is in some way (this is what I understood of their requests) valid in “capitalist environments” they will be surprised to learn that such “unique” environment does not exist and what is valid in the US does not make much sense in Europe, where laws, protections, and traditions are completely different. I can’t imagine a solution for this problem, but your and Joe’s experience could overcome the obstacle.

Advice: you will live in Saigon, which is still Saigon, not Ho Chi Minh. If nothing has substantially changed in the mentality of the people, you will experience two Viet Nams, the North and the South. And the South is (was) still terribly different from Ha Noi, where people were cooperative, serious, with a strong sense of belonging to a country that defied the major world power under the guide of a party of heroes who were real heroes, where no one asked for money ever, no one assaulted foreigners for obtaining something or proposed women to the males. Saigon, thanks to the French and the Americans is just the opposite, servile, full of poor Miss Saigon, corrupted. Maybe the situation is totally different now, but I doubt. So, do not forget that Vermont ethics surely apply to Ha Noi, but Saigon is Sam Giancana.

All the best wishes, it is a wonderful experience and I would really like to be there with you and Joe. If I can help with books from here (mostly on the economic development and the new political and legal directions of the 80s and 90s, i.e. the programs at the origin of the present economic environment) please tell me.

 Sergio

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 Now I, Helena, am writing.  Needless to say, I read this message very carefully. Specifically, i asked Sergio to expand on the paragraph in which he said:

It is difficult for me to imagine how could you transfer, for example, the types of practices and answers to labor disputes and challenges that are in your book and experience to workers who will live in a “capitalism” and a State completely different from the US. If they believe that your experience is in some way (this is what I understood of their requests) valid in “capitalist environments” they will be surprised to learn that such “unique” environment does not exist and what is valid in the US does not make much sense in Europe, where laws, protections, and traditions are completely different. I can’t imagine a solution for this problem, but your and Joe’s experience could overcome the obstacle.

I asked:

Do you mean “valid in ALL capitalist environments”?? That would be saying that the US situation is unique, and that this “unique” environment does not exist as such in Europe. Is that what you meant? I can see how that would be the case. Our NLRA mainly gives us permission to organize a struggle. It doesn’t set up, for example, a tripartite bargaining relationship. That seems to be what happens in Germany, maybe in Vietnam. I know it has happened in Canada but I don’t know how much of that structure still exists. Is that what you mean?

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Sergio replied:

Dear Helen, what I meant was that the legal systems regulating labor relations in Europe are really very different from the US and (we already talked about this) what you in this country must do in order to obtain your rights or to obtain better conditions usually configures a course of action that is often not necessary in Europe where certain “rights” are guaranteed by law or are a matter of bargaining by the general union organizations (the confederations) more than by the industry union.

For example, you do not need any permission or majority to form a union in a certain factory or sector and there could be different unions representing the same type of workers in that same factory, competing for the confidence of the workers. This means a totally different dynamics in terms not only of bargaining systems but also in terms of learning and representation.

Or contract professors (adjunct professors here): in Europe there are very different systems for them but in general they share some similar conditions with the US adjunct professors, but also a lot of differences because they are protected by default by labor laws that are for all workers and employees and are not present in the US, not to mention benefits who in Europe are a right of all employees and workers and not a matter of bargaining.

If you go from such simple examples up to the unions structures (vertical, horizontal, by ideological/political divides) you find a very different way an European worker/employee is represented in Europe from the way he/she is represented in the US.

All these differences obviously change the mind-frame in which a worker think his/her way to representation, grievance, as well as protection.

Just another “detail”: in Europe we do not have union-busting firms, something you had to fight against all along your history. They do not have a market, because there is no legal barrier preventing workers from forming a union and the fact that the union will become representative is the result of what its members will propose and how many members it will collect along the way (not necessarily the majority). Or a worker can reasonably conceive some of his/her struggles for better conditions not only as a union matter but as a party matter because there are parties whose foundations and goal is the representation of the working class. They can choose that way because it is reasonable that the socialist/social-demoratic/communist party they belong to and has maybe 30/40% of the votes can succeed. Something that US workers and employees can not really hope for.

What I am saying is that post II World War Viet Nam inherited a European mentality in shaping its laws (despite the fact that the US Constitution was actually the model for Ho Chi Minh and the 1946 Constitution – and you surely know that it was an OSS agent to pass him the text). The “socialist cap” limited or deformed those laws or just failed to implement them (there were three other Constitutions before the present, approved in 2013 and surely worth the effort to read). I am surely not an expert on Vietnamese labor laws, but the laws I analyzed in other fields (in particular after the “overture” of the early 90s) were very close to a model of co-participation, German style, with the State in upper position but still coordinating with workers “representatives” and business, a sort of corporatism model. In other words, the political/legal environment has an influence on the Vietnamese union practices that is likely more close to the European model than the US one.

Again, I am not an expert of comparative labor relations, but surely the US system (and its type of capitalism) is very different from the European system and if you think about the foundation of legal systems in Africa, Latin America, and Asia you find that most of the world follow the EU system (if just because of colonies) more than the US system. Let me say: in those few countries where you have to register to vote, the progressive and the labor people spent million of dollars and a lot of time to convince people to register. Political activism is in some way shaped by that necessity at each election. In all other countries no one has to loose time/money for that. You are a citizen, you have the right to vote.

But why you do not need a voters’ registry? It is simple: the US citizens always opposed what is called the “anagrafe” in Italy and is the “registry office” in UK. All people have an “identity card” and their official residence changes whenever they change city (in the US there is not a basic identity document that is the foundation of all the others, as demonstrated by the variety of stuff they asked you when you need a driver license or a passport). You go to the polling station with your identity card and if your name is on the list that the station receives from the municipality, you vote. Many other examples exist, especially in the unionism field.

In this sense, the US and US unionism are “unique” in many aspects and the US unionism is surely not representative of “labor relations” under a capitalist society. It is more the exception than the rule. Unfortunately, it is a rare practice for union officials and activists of both side of the Atlantic to study each other and try to understand each other.

Hope to have answered your question.

Best,

Sergio

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Whereupon I asked him if I could post this, and went to take another look at my proposed class, which I am trying to draft up now so that I can send it to our contacts to see what they thing.

Thank you, Sergio! This is what friends are for!

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