How's that Working Out For You?

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

Getting Ready 17 — June 26, 2015

Getting Ready 17

Getting Ready 17

Went to a meet-up of the Ho Chi Minh-San Francisco Sister City Committee in San Francisco this afternoon. It was held from 5:30 to 8:30 pm in the bar of a boutique hotel, The Rex, at 562 Sutter Street, a couple of blocks up via cable car from Union Square.

The host is a man named George Gaston. I had emailed with George previously about finding a way to take books to Vietnam. It’s very expensive to mail books – it cost $15 to send one paperback – and we have a lot of books to send. We’ll take as many as we can in suitcases, but there’s a 50 pound limit. George will be organizing a delegation sometime in November. He said I should make a list of the books and he’d send it to the State Department and they’d let him know which books were OK and which weren’t.He said they don’t like to approve books that are out of date. Maybe he can take some with the delegation.

Between 8 and 10 people showed up at the meet-up at one time or another. They were all men except me and one young Vietnamese woman who works in tech here in the city. Average age probably in the 60’s. A sense of looking for something — jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities. We sat at a round table and ordered glasses of wine from the bar. One man, who had been in Vietnam in the 1970’s and several times since, spoke Vietnamese and demonstrated this with the two young Vietnamese men. Joe and I had tea. The Japanese consul dropped in and said hello.

The first person I talked with said he didn’t think there were any unions in Vietnam. Other people agreed with him. Another man said that there was no minimum wage in Vietnam. This was a man who runs a company that employs between 75 and 100 people. He also said that there were no strikes. He said, “If someone wants to strike, I tell them not to come to work.”

Another person said that one of the things the TPP was going to do was “standardize” labor laws in different countries of the TPP.

I asked him how he knew, since the text of the TPP has not been made public.

They talked about how beautiful Ho Chi Minh City is, with skyscrapers. None of them knew where the people who built the skyscrapers got trained. One young man was quite interested in the idea of building trades apprenticeship programs. He did say that Intel has built a training facility there.

You could compare this many social situations I’ve been in in the US .

Everybody was basically nice guys.

George passes out membership forms and a beautifully printed small book, Speakpeace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings. The paintings are reproduced in full color; planes,bombs,rivers, bodies, doves, some kids with amputations. On the right side of the page are poems written by American children in response to the paintings. No discussion.

We said good night to everyone, and thank you, and went and had some pasta at Roxanne’s Café up the hill.

Getting Ready 16 — June 24, 2015

Getting Ready 16

Getting Ready 16

Reading about youth employment yesterday was an eye-opener.

I know that when I land, I will be overwhelmed with what I see. I am trying to prepare my expectations so that I will be able to make sense of what I’m looking at quickly. Or at least get started in the right direction.

This morning, when I saw an article on-line from a website forwarded by Bill Creighton, that described a new street in Ho Chi Minh City that has been closed to traffic and now holds cafes, art exhibitions and clubs – the picture showed well-dressed teenagers dancing – I thought, “I know something about these kids.” As well as something about the kids who are not going to clubs and dancing in the street.

I also read two chapters of a Verso book given to Joe by Steve Hiatt last week, Scattered Sand: The Story of China’s Rural Migrants. The author, Hsiao-Hung Pai, has been traveling in rural China. The news, for me, is the vastness of the waves of migration as very poor people, who farm plots of land too small to survive on, seek any kind of job that will pay them. They migrate not just to big cities. There are apparently factories everywhere. One chapter that I read described a brick kiln in the north, outside of Tianjin, where 150 workers make mud bricks by hand, shaping them, burning them, and setting them out to dry. These workers, men and women, sleep on piles of bricks in brick shacks and are not allowed to leave the worksite except for 3 months in the winter, when they return to their homes. They are prisoners of the kiln. This kiln, and four others like it, is owned by the village chief who is also the richest man in the village. Hsiao-Hun Pai’s book puts the desperate lives of migrant workers in front of you more vividly than even that Canadian film I saw, “The Last Train.”

Vietnam is not China. Vietnam is trying to hang on to socialist ideals – I think. But Vietnam has internal migration, too.

Today’s reading is Better Work Vietnam: Garment Industry 5th Compliance Synthesis Report, produced on 10th October, 2012. It comes from the International Finance Corporation, the ILO and an Australian Agency for International Development. The research method was 137 factories, four on-site person days at each factory, management interviews, union and worker interviews, document reviews, and factory observation.

As usual, I find out things that I should have been clear about a long time ago: There were two important laws, not one, adopted in June 2012, the revised Labor Code and the revised Law on Trade Unions. Apparently, at the time of the writing of this report, there was serious discussion of increasing the minimum wage by 35%. The new Labor Code covers collective bargaining, unfair labor practices and “opens the possibility for establishing grassroots trade unions for groups of enterprises collectively.” (See that ILO article about concessions and enterprise bargaining.)

Overall, the garment industry “provides jobs for nearly 2 million people” and increased in size 38% between 2010 and 2011 (p 3)

The factories covered in this report employ 179,740 workers. On average, each factory employs 1,300 workers. Seventy seven percent of the workers are women. Most of them are young women migrants from rural areas – girls.

Better Work investigates in two main areas, fundamental rights (freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to CB; elimination of forced or compulsory labor; abolition of child labor and discrimination); and national labor laws (working conditions – compensation, contracts and HR, OSH and work hours).

The most common areas of non-compliance in national labor law continue to be in occupational health and safety, overtime hours, paid leave, and failure to hire enough people with disabilities.


129 factories were out of compliance in providing toilets, drinking water, lockers, etc. 99 were out of compliance with labeling chemicals and hazardous substances. OSH management (things like PPE and training) was at 75% – non-compliance. There was 94% non-compliance in overtime. Among the factories that were assessed a second or third time, overtime non-compliance (NC) was worsening.

The Do Quyng Chi article on Employee Participation that I read yesterday said that the cases where there were grassroots unions, with worker-chosen representatives, were the ones that had the greatest capacity to push for compliance.


The Better Work program also found several additional instance of child labor, nine factories in which workers under 18 years old were working more than 7 hours per day or 42 hours per week.

What do they do when they find children in factories? It seems that we’re talking about 12-15 year olds. They try to get a local organization to put the child into a vocational training program. In the meantime, the factory is supposed to pay the child’s wages and for training. So far, no success. One girl acquired new documents saying she was of age. The youth employment paper I read yesterday noted the lack of vocational training programs.

In Core Labor Standards, non-compliance findings relate primarily to differences between Vietnamese national law and international conventions in the area of freedom of association and collective bargaining.

For the Core Standard of CB, non-compliance was 38%. At 27 factories, there was no Labor Conciliation Council (p. 15). All 137 factories have enterprise level unions associated with the VGCL. However, no factories allowed access of the union representatives to workers in the workplace. None paid their 2% (domestic) or 1% (foreign) contribution to the union fund. At 70 out of 137 factories, workers could not meet outside the presence of management. The Better Work report says that this “stems from the historical issue that most union officials at the enterprise level in Vietnam are also part of the management of the enterprise (p 12)” This is the union president/HR officer overlap. Paying into Social Security and Other Benefits had a non-compliance rate of 19%.

However, for the 77 factories which had previously been assessed, there was some improvement in freedom of association and collective bargaining compliance and handling of grievances and disputes. There also appeared to be improvement in payment of minimum wage although there is widespread use of multiple payroll records.

“Factories that have made the most significant changes are those in which management and union have been working with Better Work to improve social dialogue and workplace cooperation.” There seem to be management-union committees and worker involvement in these instances.

The factories investigated are listed by name on page 26. I don’t recognize any of the names. They are not brands; they are manufacturers.

I continue to be looking for the structures, whether existing or just mandated but not existing, where freedom of association is necessary, worker representation is possible and where a group of workers might be expected to self-organize.

Everything I read notes that the capacity of the local (enterprise) unions to negotiated or enforce labor standards is no good. Everything mentions the need to develop strength, trust and structure at the grassroots level (although those are my words). Of course, I am reading what comes my way. But there’s a pretty general consensus, even in conversation, that “freedom of association” is something that is needed and it’s the direction that things need to move in.

Not so simple, I expect. But I have not yet seen how this will play out.

Getting Ready 15 — June 22, 2015

Getting Ready 15

Getting Ready 15

Today’s the longest day in the year. June 21. Starts out chilly and foggy so you want to wear socks and a sweatshirt. By noon the sun is blazing. It’s also Father’s Day.

We went to SF and found the Vietnam consulate, on California half a block above Van Ness, where a super-competent young woman processed our papers so fast we couldn’t tell what she was doing. It cost $180 each for 3-month, multiple entry visas. They’ll come in the mail.

I’ve got most of the house bills on automatic withdrawal now and have tested the online payment procedures for the tenants and they seem to work. How money flows along invisible threads through the air is beyond me. An example of how fragile the whole thing is was when the ticket agent, Carolyn, emailed our tickets to, which is not my email address. But it does happen to be the email address of someone named Holly Worthen, who is not only a shirt-tail relative and descendant of Charles Worthen who left New Hampshire in the mid 1800s and went west, but this Holly Worthen also happened to be working in Oaxaca just when Joe and I were about to visit there, and we met her – and Holly was my childhood nickname! So Holly forwarded our ticket confirmation to us.

Julie Brockman, who works with Michelle Kaminski at Michigan State, had a Fulbright to Hanoi and is coming back with another one to Ton Duc Thang, although probably not until Spring 2016. We exchanged emails and she called me and we talked and she sent me a lot of papers. The eye-openers were the ILO papers. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t read them first, because I wouldn’t have bothered to do a lot of other reading if I had.

One reaction to reading them was to decide that we should bring not only books, but music and literature. Maybe the DVD of Yes Sir! No Sir! for example, and CDs of John Fromer and Anne Feeney. And a copy of a couple of local satirical papers, like the Santa Cruz Comic News and the Pepper Spray Times. Certainly something from Labor Notes. And Labor Beat. Because these are all tools for organizing. Satire, jokes, music, drama.

In my reading pile as of now, where I am trying to understand situations there in which the need for leadership or the opportunity to self-organize might arise, or be suppressed:

  1. The VGCL National Education Campaign Train the Trainer Curriculum, translated by Vinh. 21 Topics in 12 sessions. This looks like a comprehensive extension training program. It includes a session on how to structure and prepare activitives of groups of unions (internal organizing?); democracy at enterprise level; conducting conferences (meetings?) and voting procedures; communications skills, and plenty of others.
  1. Jan Sunoo’s 25 FAQ’s about IR in Vietnam. I went through this and marked all the items that might be a place where someone could step forward and practice some leadership – for example, in item 6, when: 6 months after a new enterprise is set up, the higher-level union (normally the provincial union) visits the enterprise and organizes the first union meeting in which they appoint the members of a union committee. After 2 years, union members organize an election in which they elect new members of the union committee. Legally, both rank and file members as well as management are permitted to nominate officials….


Then I marked the moments when Joe’s internal organizing or community mobilizing class might be relevant. The two sets of moments of potentials for activism coincided almost every time. Which tells me something about our classes – not to worry if they overlap a lot, from different perspectives. I marked mine in yellow and his in pink. They coincided most of the time, only a few exceptions.

My class is about someone preparing to step forward and take some action. Joe’s class is about the relationships that make that work. Lots of overlap. And, it’s all about trust. A network or web of trust.

Then, a bunch of papers from Julie:

  1. Employee participation in Vietnam / Do Quynh Chi ; International Labour Office, Industrial and Employment Relations Department. – Geneva: ILO, 2012

1 v. (DIALOGUE working paper; ISSN: 2226-7433; 2226-7840 (web pdf) ; No.42)

This is a 2012 Working Paper, very relevant to what we’re going to teach.

It’s based on a study by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI). Changes in labor law in the 1990s were intended to allow and enable worker participation, but the unions “could not live up to their mandate.” Because of labor strife (wildcats), some employers on their own set up forms of worker participation. This paper studied these cases. The author asks which of three approaches to employee participation work best. The three approaches are: 1) let the work team leader speak for the workers (work team leader being the leader of a production unit); 2) let the leader of an official union group speak for the workers; and 3) let the workers choose their own representatives. Not surprisingly, #3 was the one that reduced the number of labor disputes. The author, a woman, has six case studies of employee participation.

From page 22:

Among the three models of indirect employee participation mentioned in this study, the last model of workers’ representatives proved to be most effective, especially in the cases of Shang Hyung Cheng and Ching Luh. Interviews with workers from these two companies showed that they were relatively satisfied with the current system of grievance- handling and representation although the wages that these two companies paid were not the highest in the region.


The two bodies that appear to be debating forms of employee participation at the enterprise level, including whether to allow elected worker representatives, are MOLISA (Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs) which is their Department of Labor and seems to have a lot of other responsibilities, and the VGCL. They are debating what will or will not become part of the Labor Code. This paper pre-dated the 2012 new Labor Code.

  1. Another ILO paper, 2009. This one not so closely relevant. More relevant to bargaining in the US.

Haipeter, T.; Lehndorff, S.

Collective bargaining on employment

Geneva, International Labour Office, 2009 DIALOGUE Working Paper No. 3

collective bargaining / collective agreement / employment security / employment / employability / wages / hours of work / driver / case study / Germany 13.06.5

The practice of linking employment and competitiveness in collective agreements through “concession bargaining” opened the door in some countries to tradeoffs which undercut industry standards (intro, page iii). Table 1 compares the kinds of concessions agreed to by German vs US firms. On the issue of equity within the workforce, the German cases distributed burdens equally among core workers, whereas the US showed unequal distribution to the benefit of “senior workers”. Cases from France, UK, Germany, and Ireland (and others) gave examples of cutting hours worked in order to save jobs and enable the unemployed to be hired. To be effective, the practice must be linked to public subsidies, training, and involvement of state. Decentralization and deregulation: the paper says it is often hard to tell which is which, both are to the benefit of the enterprise (as compared to workers). There is a warning about enterprise-based bargaining in this, but I don’t see how we can use this directly.

  1. And then this one, which was the real eye-opener. This really helps me understand WHO we will be looking at when we start teaching.

It’s from 2005/09, Employment Strategy Papers, Employment Policy Unit

1 :emp/pol/ch/Vietnam (10.10.05) (This is another ILO paper from the Hanoi office; they acknowledge financial help from the Korean government)

Youth employment in Viet Nam: Characteristics, determinants and policy responses. By Dang Nguyen Anh, Le Bach Duong, and Nugyen Hai Van. Big study of over 7,000 persons age 14-25 based on Vietnam government surveys.

My comment: Since lack of employment among young people is related to social instability (as in the Arab Spring revolutions); unemployment among the huge youth population in Vietnam (30% of the population is 10-24 years old, 15-24 makes up 23% p 2) is an urgent problem. This paper ends with policy recommendations.

Youth unemployment rate is 14% but accounts for 45% of all unemployment. 67% of youth work in the countryside on small family farms or in the informal sector with attendant safety and health hazards (drugs, trafficking). When they come to the cities, they can’t find jobs. They lack vocational training and preparation for work; they do not have the skills to get jobs in manufacturing in the cities. High economic growth rates have brought higher inequality, polarization and unemployment rate; HIV/AIDS and drug use are spreading rapidly among young people in Vietnam (p 28)

The turn toward a market economy (Doi Moi) in the 1990s had a major impact on youth. Traditional roles give way to consumption of brands, greater inequality,fascination with IT,early entry into workforce for females especially; increased migration from rural areas, tension between traditional values and new lifestyles. But rural youth are unprepared for work in the cities. “The distribution of technically qualified workforce is skewed against the countryside. The agriculture-forestry-fishery sector accounts for nearly 70 percent of the workforce but only 14 percent of total professional skilled workers” (p. 8). Also: “Only 5 percent of young people from ethnic minorities have ever had vocational training, compared to 21 per cent of the Kinh majority counterparts (8). Competition for jobs prefers older, work-experienced adults.

Labor force participation among youth has decreased by 14% (p 9) between 1993 and 2002, but may be because youth from well-off families prefer to go to school (where, however, they are likely to study things that won’t get them jobs later). Unemployment among those in the labor force has increased at the same time. Notes the “relatively higher need to work for survival among rural youth, and the pursuit of education among single urban people” p. 12.

The youth most likely to be working today (as compared to in school) are married young adult rural minorities. But the kind of work they are doing is agriculture/forestry/fishery work (table p 12), low-wage, survival work, no future. The youth most likely to be unemployed today are single, urban Kinh teenagers (13, 14). The inexperience of young job seekers and the inadequate system of education and training continue to harm young people in the changing labor market today (14)

Sounds to me as if in Vietnam you can’t go to school AND work. No part-time 10-hour a week jobs that you can fit around your school schedule. This answers my question (in part) about whether or not our students have ever worked. If they are in school, they are not working. If they worked, they can’t go to school.

Wow, look at this: “The higher the education, the less likely it is that the young people are working.. ..young people with university degrees currently looking for suitable employment suggests that this group of university graduates significantly represent today’s unemployment problem…the supply of academic degree holders has actually exceeded the demand of employers and society…the higher the status, the lower the likelihood that a young person is working or looking for more suitable employment, other things being equal…This suggests that youth from better off families tend to be in higher education and enjoy better living conditions, which do not require them to work…”(pg 20). Jumping ahead to page 27: “An excess of teachers and a shortage of workers.”

“In fact, the family in which a young person lives is the strongest predictor of his or her future in the job market” (25).

Section 8.2, Policies: “Employment policy is a fundamental policy of the Vietnamese State (25). Then lists large-scale programs, but none is about youth employment. There is a new strategy, however (2010) with 5 points, including training, science and tech education, fighting crime and social evils and building up the political stance, revolutionary ethics and socialist patriotism (27)

“…the foreign sector has not been able to create decent and productive jobs for young workers. Many of these workers decide to leave factories and manufacturing areas due to low incomes, lack of social protection, poor working and living conditions…The comparative advantage of Viet Nam such as low labour costs and a hardworking and well-educated workforce has been declining rapidly” (p 28).

This helps me understand why 80,000 people would have hit the streets in the recent big strike against the change in the social security laws, that were going to make people wait until ages 55 (women) or 60 (men) to quit their manufacturing jobs and get their social security, instead of being able to take what they had accumulated in one lump sum and go home and raise rice in the countryside. This strike was successful, by the way.

All the time I’m reading this I’m thinking about the union-based construction trades apprenticeships. No mention of anything like that. I felt like calling up Emanuel Blackwell or Mark Berchman and telling them about this. Is it possible that the whole system of union-based apprenticeships exists, but just got left out? Who does construction in Vietnam, and where do they learn to do it?

The whole role of community colleges or something that fits into that category is missing, too.

This post will only be of interest to a very few people, but I needed to get it up there. It sure opened my eyes a bit.


NOTE written in March, 2016: A TDTU student who was in my cross-cultural leadership class has made a comment on this, so I went back and read it. I laughed at the statement,

Sounds to me as if in Vietnam you can’t go to school AND work. No part-time 10-hour a week jobs that you can fit around your school schedule. This answers my question (in part) about whether or not our students have ever worked. If they are in school, they are not working. If they worked, they can’t go to school.

It turns out that many of the students in our classes do work while going to school. We found this out by doing a questionnaire. Some of them work very many hours per week, 20-30, and make 14-17 thousand dong per hour. We were never able to find out exactly how much time they were able to spend studying, although our best guess was “not much.” Partly because they didn’t have books to study.

Getting Ready 14 — June 17, 2015

Getting Ready 14

Getting Ready 14

It’s time to turn and look at the US: Vietnam as a destination for US tourists, Vietnam as the place where Vietnam vets come from, and the US labor movement, which goes about organizing itself in a way that is very different from Vietnam.

When people hear that we are going to Vietnam, the first response is, “You’ll love it! They have great food!” Next they say that the landscape is beautiful. Third, it’s something about the people – very energetic and hardworking. Last, it’s the motor bikes. But overall, people talk about it as if it’s the vacation destination of choice, better than Greece or Italy.

The other response is about the war, which is what we call it – “the” war. Vietnam is the war that we lost, the harbringer of the war in Iraq, another disastrous mistake that we’re still fighting 12 years later, and similarly losing. The Vietnam war – at least among people Joe and I know – is where our contemporaries died or were wounded, physically and psychologically. It’s where the US committed atrocities. It’s where Brian King’s novel takes place.  It’s where vets go for “healing” journeys, some led by groups like Vietnam Veterans for Peace. When we tell some people that we’re going to Vietnam, they respond by saying, “I know someone who leads groups of vets over there,” or sometimes they mention that they did such a visit themselves.

So from over here, Vietnam is either a place where you get great food.  Our history of Vietnam is reduced to one event: the Americans went there and fought a war, and lost. It’s where you go to deal with PTSD.

The Vietnamese point of view, so I am being told, is that they fought the Chinese for 1000 years, the French for 50, and us for 15 or 20, depending on when you start counting, and then had two more wars after we left. So what they call “the American war” is not the major national trauma for them that it is for us. For them, it’s just another war, and they won. For us, it’s still a turning point when we shifted from being the good guys who saved Europe to the superpower that bombed villages and didn’t win any hearts and minds that way, a lesson we didn’t learn.

And to this country we are supposed to bring what we know about how labor struggles with capital in the US. So we need to make sure we know what we’re talking about when we talk about our industrial relations system.

Earlier, I wrote that what our labor law gives us is basically permission to fight, a ticket to the struggle. It says, “If you can organize yourselves into a union, management has to bargain with you.” That’s really the essence of what we get, as far as the Wagner Act goes. By organize, it means self-organize. Individual people have to step up and say, “Yes, I’m ready.” Self-organization is what gives a union legitimacy.

The big news here is the “you can organize yourselves” part. It’s bottom up. This is fundamental for us. That’s what gives a union its power, both legally and in the eyes of the members. Individuals hand over a piece of their power as individuals when they willingly join into the concerted activity of the union. It’s an exercise in freedom of association. It is a collective right that is earned by a voluntary commitment from each and every individual. This is the case even in the current right-to-work debate. Even if you’re hired into a plant where there has been a union for three generations, and you were told you had to sign a card and pay dues, you’re just inheriting the voluntary commitment of someone who came before you. Somewhere, back in the recent or distant past of every union, everyone who joined did so by saying, “Ok, me too, I’ll sign up.” They took the risk, they won your right to belong. A generation later you find people paying dues and wondering how that happened, but back in the history of any union, someone said “Yes” and made it possible for today’s worker to bargain.

Next, the underlying assumption is that when labor and management meet to bargain, they meet as equals. Equally legitimate — unions are legal, legitimate parts of the economic infrastructure, just as businesses are. This is an assumption that has only the most shadowy basis in reality.

So that’s how the fight gets a permit to happen. But the fighting takes place in an arena that is set about with innumerable constraints and tricky snags. Once you step away from the table, it’s all politics. For example, the National Labor Relations Board is supposed to have five members. They are appointed. By whom? The President, who can be a Republican or a Democrat. They have to be approved – by Congress, which can be Republican or Democrat. Sometimes Congress balks at approving a President’s appointee and this goes on for years, and the NLRB which should have five members staggers along with only 3 or even 2. The caseload backs up and things that should have been resolved in a month take years, and people start complaining that the whole system is dysfunctional and unions are bad. Or a case gets decided by the NLRB and then the attorneys decide to appeal it into the court system and it ends up at the Supreme Court, which is also appointed by the President and approved by Congress, and right now has such a right-wing slant to its decisions that unions down at the grass roots level are reluctant to send complaints to the regional Labor Boards because they may start working their way up the appeals chain and end up at the right-wing Supreme Court, which we assume is waiting hungrily for cases to show up on their docket that they can use to whup the life out of unions for once and for all.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ever since Taft-Hartley in 1948, the different barriers that workers’ representatives have to jump over in order to exercise our right to bargain have increased in number and severity.

For example: how effective you are at the bargaining table depends on how strong you are on the ground. The simplest, clearest expression of the power of labor is the threat of workers to stop working. It’s call “withdrawing your labor.” You’d think this was a right, wouldn’t you? After all, slavery – where you have no right to quit – was abolished by the 14th amendment to the Constitution. But many, many laws have only one purpose: to undercut labor’s strength on the ground. So they attack your right to quit — collectively, at least. Many labor laws, especially public sector laws, prohibit striking. Under the 1967 Taylor Law, which gave public sector workers in New York the right to organize, strikes could be punished by fines and jail time. In 2006, the NY transit workers union, TWU Local 100, went on strike for two days when contract negotiations broke down. The union was fined $2,500,000. The president of the union, Roger Toussaint, spent 10 days in jail.

If we are going to contribute something useful to the implementation of an industrial relations regime in Vietnam that can fight back against the abuses of workers by DFI companies, we need to be able to point to what parts of the US industrial relations system make it extremely difficult for unions and management to meet as equals at the bargaining table, in what ways the fight is fixed.

We should do a review of EFCA, the Employee Free Choice Act, which seemed to have a chance of passing early in the Obama Presidency, before he directed all his strategies toward healthcare. We should also take another look at James Pope’s work for the Labor Party, “Towards a new Labor Law.” This is a pdf so the link many not work; paste it into your browser and it will come up.

This week the cover of the NYTimes magazine illustrated a pretty good article about the US labor movement. It explained what Right to Work means, and what Prevailing Wage. It even got the racist origins of RTW into the story. The photos are hyper-romantic building trades images, big strong tired men in a trailer, plus the occupation of the Capitol building in Wisconsin. It was obviously written by someone sympathetic to organized labor and its history, and respectful to workers. But writing carefully, to be palatable to educated people who somehow manage to function in society without understanding RTW. Deep in my heart I am asking, “Do the kind of people who read the NYTimes magazine really need to have this stuff explained to them?” Unfortunately, yes.

Progress today: had a session with James Tucker to prepare our computers to the Asian environment. Added a pop-up blocker called Ghostery and an anti-virus program called Sophos. We’ll do VPN’s next, which will allow us to appear to be in the US and watch Netflix.

Tomorrow we’ll go into SF to the Vietnamese consulate and see about getting visas.

Getting Ready 13 — June 13, 2015

Getting Ready 13

Getting ready 13

I have an appointment for a phone conversation with Angie Ngoc Tran who teaches at CSU Monterey Bay. She emailed me a link this interview, from July 2014. In the interview, she describes a day when young men riding motorbikes, with flags, incited riots at factories in industrial zones, paid workers to walk out, then later came back to damage and burn factories. Over 340 companies were affected.

I will quote from the interview, and give the link to it below.

Tran says, “The lack of effective protest leadership from the one-and-only labor union (the Vietnamese General Confederation of Labor) can lend some support to the hypothesis that workers may have found these “underground leaders” to be more effective in carrying out their anger and frustration, either directly at their own factories or capitalists in general.”

She raises the question of who benefits from these strikes. The workers and the government of Vietnam clearly do not benefit from them, she says. She notes that since the instability of Vietnam as a site for industrial development makes China look better, some people have suggested that the instigators are Chinese. She also notes that a pro-democracy group outside Vietnam might be involved.

This paragraph gives me some ideas about what we should be thinking about when we design our classes:

The 2012 Trade Unions Law has offered a way to empower the workers. Here is an interesting recent union development: Up to now, most strikes took place in factories that are unionized, but ironically they are considered “wildcat” because they are not led by the VGCL. Instead, they were led by workers, most of whom stay underground to prevent being caught by the state and management. Acknowledging the VGCL’s own weakness and the power of worker-led strikes, they have been using the 2012 Trade Unions Law (Stipulation No. 5), which permits workers to initiate and form the enterprise-level union by themselves (still under the general auspice of the VGCL) instead of waiting for the district or provincial level union officials to approach management to organise at that factory. The VGCL officials hope that this will bring out grassroots leaders from among the workers themselves. Emerging from the same condition of their fellow workers and respected by them, these leaders should be able to lead the strikes when needed. This worker empowerment at the grassroots level is a welcome trend to assist with the collective bargaining process. It would be interesting to monitor the outcomes of this initiative to facilitate and empower labour organising.

Here at the end of her article she actually says it. I guess we are “experienced unionists,” which is fact we actually are.

Second, given the VGCL’s initiative to empower grassroots workers to form enterprise-level unions, the international labour movement can send experienced unionists to Vietnam to share information and experiences, and to train Vietnamese union officials in bargaining skills, especially in collective bargaining agreements. The VGCL officials have openly expressed the need to improve their technical bargaining skills. I do think that they need to understand how the global supply chain works, and the relationships between Tier 1 and Tier 2 capitalists in order to effectively negotiate with them for livable salaries – not minimum wage – and other benefits (social, health, unemployment insurance) for workers. Moreover, global unionists/labour NGOs can enlighten the VGCL about the popular role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative in the global economy, how to demand MNCs (Tier 1 and Tier 2) to genuinely implement CSR’s codes of conduct (or labour standards) – not paying lip service to appease final consumers – and how to directly appeal to final consumers/end users in developed countries, to improve both working and living conditions of Vietnamese workers.


So, keeping an eye on what we are supposed to be doing, maybe the goal is to design a degree program that:

  1. Is appropriate, in terms of teaching and learning, for undergraduates at TDT University;
  1. Provides a full understanding of the actual social relations of work in Vietnam;
  1. Enables students to help build the infrastructure of a stable system of socialist industrial relations in Vietnam;
  1. Prepares students to play an active role in implementing this system of industrial relations;
  1. Enables students to appreciate their roles in the context of the history of labor in Vietnam and the role of Vietnam in the world.

Yesterday (June 12), Gary Gaines, retired Steelworker in Granite City, IL and longtime friend, sent me this:

It’s a letter addressed to the US Congress, asking that the US not grant fast-track authority to Obama to move ahead with the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership, a huge free trade bill) without addressing labor rights in Vietnam. The three signers to this letter (self-described as representatives of three Vietnam civil society organizations) ask Congress to do the following:

Members of the U.S. Congress who wish to assist us in ending Vietnam’s systematic labor rights violations should NOT grant Fast Track authority for the TPP until the Vietnamese government has reversed its ban on independent labor unions; has ended widespread workplace abuse and unsafe working conditions; has increased our abysmal wages; has halted its repression of workers and organizers who are trying to promote basic labor rights; and has released all labor rights activists from prison who have been convicted for simply speaking up for workers.

It’s a three-page letter. At the bottom it refers us to Viet Labor and a US based NGO organization, Educating for Justice.

So today we hear that Congress did refuse fast track authority to Obama. Not sure if anything about Vietnamese workers was actually a factor. Most people I know think of TPP as just another NAFTA, with the additional feature of being secret.


Getting Ready (12) — June 7, 2015

Getting Ready (12)

On Jun 4, 2015, at 3:38 PM, Hollis Stewart wrote:


I have started reading your blog and will respond to the observations and questions that you present.  Just below is the address for the blog that Leanna and I published while we were in Vietnam.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we did in preparing it.  We did not write too much about the classroom experience but more about our general experience.

One quick thought.  While in Viet Nam we talked here and there about the strikes that are referred to as “wildcat” strikes and my take is that yes there is some lack of trust or adherence to the law and the VGCL but on the other hand I saw it as important that working people at the local level would take things into their own hands and call out a strike and stay with it until they won.  And from what we heard as well as readings it seems as though the strikes are quite effective because the government and the party as well as the VGCL are committed to the working class so when they intervene the workers almost always win.

This fact is not liked by the foreign investment corporations, which would like to put down the strikers.  Often strikes are about employers mistreating employees, disrespecting them, which is a serious offense to the Vietnamese workers who view their nation as an extension of themselves and their sacrifice in the national war of liberation against colonialism, not paying their social security taxes or in other ways ignoring the National Labor law and/or the National Labor Code; and try to hike profits by not being honest.  Part of the work at TDT by their permanent home staff is educating the workers of Viet Nam to form unions, use their unions and hopefully resolve issues without strikes since the nation is aiming for harmony, stability, and progress.

Part of the problem is that foreign investment businesses are still sort of new and a growing part of the economy and dealing with them is a somewhat new experience for the VGCL and the union movement.  The present union movement got going with the Red Union in about 1929/30 and was part of the liberation experience and after the triumph of the revolution the main economic structure was the State Owned Enterprise and they are still a large part of the economy — and the union within the SOE’s was and is different.

Just so you know, Leanna may have a much different view on all this and each viewpoint is important since we are dealing with human society and we all know how variable that is in the real world.

Getting Ready (11) —

Getting Ready (11)

Getting Ready (11)

The conference to which so many representatives of so many nations came was in 1965. Joe points out that many of the countries that sent delegates were countries that were still under colonial control. He also tells me that it would have been illegal to bring this book into the US at that time. Published in Hanoi, someone spent a lot of effort translating it into good English. Someone must have smuggled it in and donated it to a library.

Then in 1966, here comes a speech by Le Duan, First Secretary of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, The Role of the Working Class and Tasks of the Trade Union at the Present Stage. It’s published as a pamphlet by Foreign Language Press, Hanoi. The copy I got came from Cal State Long Beach. Yellow paper, soft gray cover, about 60 pages, two rusty staples in the middle. Also translated into good English.

Reading this speech, I think I am beginning to understand what we’re supposed to be doing. But what does it mean that my question is being answered directly in a speech that was given 50 years ago?

Let me repeat my question. In my first Skype conversation with Dean Hoa and Ms. Vinh, I asked them: What did they want us to teach the students?

Dean Hoa gave me an answer that I could not make sense of. This is what he said – isn’t an exact quote, because I wasn’t able to take notes: “Teach them to work hard, to produce more, to do sports, to be healthy, to want education.”

I was completely unprepared for this. This is definitely not what labor educators do in the US. Instead of teaching workers to work hard, we teach them (or help them figure out how to) lower stress, slow down, work at a sustainable pace that won’t cause injuries—“work safe,” even, in the sense of following all the rules, including contradictory and unreasonable rules, as a way of putting pressure on employers. Also, “producing more” is the business of management, not workers, and certainly not the union. “Business” is used intentionally, here, since although how to produce more and better is within the capacity of workers and the union, you wouldn’t say it was their “business.” Making a living, earning wages, is the business of the workers.

In a later phone call, I asked Leanna and Hollis what Dean Hoa could possibly have meant. She said (again not an exact quote): “Well, it’s just what you’d want of a committed union member, isn’t it? And it’s a holistic view of a person, it’s about their whole life, not just one part.”

OK, she’s right about that.

But now listen to the answer to my question given by Le Duan in 1966. This is from the second part of this pamphlet, “Tasks of the Trade Unions at the Present Stage of the Three Revolutions.” The three revolutions are revolutions in production, technology, and ideology or culture.

Earlier he has explained that Vietnam is moving from a peasant economy straight into a socialist economy, without passing though capitalism. This means they have no big industry. Western countries that moved from peasant economies into capitalism built big industries, which then could be socialized. (I think he means Western Europe.) A country going straight from a peasant economy to a socialist economy has “a tremendously and extremely difficult and arduous task. For bypassing the stage of capitalist development, and modern industry being almost non-existent, we have to build the material and technical bases of socialist from scrap (sic – the translator meant ‘scratch’, but ‘scrap’ makes sense in a way.) In addition, though he hardly mentions it, it’s a country divided, invaded, and at war.

I’m going to go slowly, and quote a lot, starting on page 35:

In developed capitalist countries, class struggle between the working class and bourgeoisie is extremely arduous and sharp in this domain.

My comment: Just walking down the street in the US or shopping in a supermarket, you might not notice “arduous and sharp” class struggle. You will notice class difference, and all the indications of severe inequality, especially if you look in the shopping carts of people at the grocery store, but you won’t actually see class struggle. You’ll see people hurrying, or pulling their kids by the hand, or talking on their cell phones. But in any given workplace, unless there is a strong union that has won a decent contract and enforces it, you notice class struggle. It is indeed arduous and sharp. Of course you have to have the eyes to see it. You can spend the night in a hotel and walk past the woman who will clean your room, and not see it. The person who sees it most clearly is the steward or the rep, the person who workers come to if they have a problem. But I could write a book about this (I did, actually).

Continuing, he says that class struggle in Vietnam is not arduous and sharp. Instead, the workers are the masters:


Such, however, is not the case in our country….The fundamental and immediate target in the revolution in relations of production is to establish collective ownership of the means of production by the toiling people, that is, to make them masters in labour, production and distribution (36-37).

As masters, they have responsibility beyond negotiating the conditions of production: unions, while performing their function, take part in factory management as a workers’ mass organization, that of toiling people masters of their enterprises…The trade unions must direct their activities toward resolving difficulties in production, consolidating and intensifying labour discipline, heightening the workers’ cultural and technical standards and guaranteeing adequate working and living conditions to the workers and employees (38).

Yes, there are still managers and directors at the factory. Those roles exist and someone has to do them. But the workers, not the managers, are the masters of the enterprises.

Le Duan isn’t just talking about the workplace, either. He is talking about the whole life of a whole person. I think Dean Hoa means this when he says: ““Teach them to work hard, to produce more, to do sports, to be healthy, to want education.” Le Duan makes the trade unions responsible for getting people to raise vegetables and care for war victims:


It is the obligation of the State and all organs of economic management to take care of the workers’ and employees’ life; nevertheless, the trade unions also bear responsibility for it…In this urgent situation of the fighting and production the trade-unions must, on the one hand, impart to the workers and employees the spirit of self-reliance, of overcoming all hardships and difficulties in the struggle against US aggression, for national salvation, and on the other hand adequately care for their living and working conditions, while paying particular attention to air defense in order to safeguard their lives and carry out prophylactic hygiene and treatment of disease. We are not allowed to allege difficulties for overlooking all this. Many factories are credited with experiences for how to organize for improving the employees’ living conditions. They encourage them to grow vegetables and practice animal husbandry to meet part of their needs in foodstuff, they ameliorate board and lodging and study for them, and to a certain extent for their children (41)


…Yet, an urgent problem to which the trade unions and cooperatives must pay attention to is to give help to large families and war victims, not to let children lack food and warm clothes in winter, not to let the war victims and disabled and old-aged people live in too straitened circumstances. (41)


Club activities in factories must be made better, libraries set up and books and periodicals placed at the disposal of the workers so that they may acquire more knowledge (45).


The revolution aims at forming new men, men of the socialist society, masters of their own self, of society and nature, men, who, with zest, take part in production, in scientific and technological work, in literary and artistic activities, so as to bring about a new relationship between man and man in accordance with the principle “each for all and all for each..(47)


He warns against “vices incompatible with proletarian ethics, such as the penchant to do what one pleases, the lack of discipline and of concern for the requirement of one’s collective, inertness and conservatism, waste and corruption” (51). He quotes Lenin, says that trade union cadre must live and work with the workers, and notes the role of women both as workers and in combat. He mentions the “old cadre,” the many “veterans who under the colonial rule, fought for a wage-rise of a few cents.” This is the experience I am familiar with. “Fighting for a wage-rise of a few cents” is how OurWalMart made WalMart promise (have they actually done it?) to raise their minimum wage to $9 an hour, less than the cost of a sandwich.

I am looking in this speech for anything that could indicate how Le Duan would have felt about a day when state owned enterprises were being privatized through “equitization” plans, and direct foreign investment brought South Korean and Taiwanese factories, where the workers are not the masters in any way, shape or form, to Vietnam. Did he think that the transformation of a peasant economy to a socialist economy could be permanent, or even stable? Did he forsee a time when the experience of the veterans who fought for a few cents would be needed again?

At least theoretically, he has a place for such possibilities. On page 12 he says something that caught my eye:

Classes appear then disappear and so does class struggle; they all are linked to the existence and transformation of given economic bases. (12)

Hmmm. So it’s possible that under socialism, as it was developing in Vietnam in the 1960s and for perhaps a decade thereafter, the working class really was the master of the economy. Under these conditions, class struggle, even in factories, disappeared. But then Vietnam, needing currency to function in the increasingly free market neoliberal global economy – especially after 1989, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of their support – began to open to foreign investment. And class struggle re-appeared.

So classes “appear then disappear”? I think we can look at our own case. In the US, the working class “disappeared” the 1950s and 1960s, the period of time when inequality in the US was lowest. This was the period that got a lot of people thinking that the invisible hand of the marketplace in a capitalist economy would ultimately produce fair and relatively equal distribution of wealth. It became the basis of neoclassical economics. The “working class,” both an economic and a cultural phenomenon, was replaced by “the middle class,” inequality decreased, and class struggle went into hiding. The number of strikes dropped year by year and union membership declined. Unions were called “irrelevant.” Human Resources took care of everything.

But after a while (about 1975 or 1980) people started to notice inequality rising and began to complain. Not very loudly, yet. The loudest side of the class struggle was the “greed is good” party. Thomas Piketty wrote about all this. But the tide turned. Now it’s never a day without some news item about the 1%. Class struggle is happening. Unfortunately, it’s usually expressed as “save the middle class!” Even the AFL CIO expresses it that way. But demonstrations of all kinds, OCCUPY, StrikeDebt, campaigns like OurWalmart and the Fight for $15, the contingent or “excluded” worker movement, all have had an impact. Berkeley and San Francisco have passed higher minimum wage laws and little Emeryville, which is basically a shopping center plus Pixar plus some condos, just passed the highest minimum wage in the US, nearly $16 per hour. Also busy in the class struggle is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, along with many of his buddies in the Republican party.

I am starting to understand enough about what this is all about so that I can think about my class.

Getting Ready (10) — June 6, 2015

Getting Ready (10)

Getting Ready (10)

Four items have come in from my request on the UALE (United Association for Labor Education) listserve for examples of undergraduate statistics, probability and math courses or syllabi. An exercise from Toby Higbie at UCLA about big data where he asks them to visualize the history of the labor movement, one with puns and problem-solving games from Eric Thor at DePaul; a course from June Lapidus at Roosevelt, and one from Julie Nelson at U Mass Boston, which uses Statistics for Dummies as a text. A lot of help very fast! And quite a few other messages flashing around people’s distribution lists. I am sending them to Dean Hoa and Ms Vinh today.

In the set of books that I picked up from the Berkeley Public Library was one from 1965, a report of the Second Conference of the International Trade Union Committee for Solidarity with the Workers and People of Vietnam Against the US Imperialist Aggressors. Published by the Vietnam Federation of Trade Unions, Hanoi. This one was linked from Cal State Hayward. There are no stamps at all on the Date Due slip, but another stamp, “Reviewed and retained,” is from 2004; apparently someone (initials “JF”) decided not to dump this one.

There is a series of photos at the beginning of the book, showing the building where the conference took place, a festive dinner reception with dignitaries, the main panel of speakers (the Presidium), and many individual delegations: South Vietnam, Ghana, Austria, England, Japan, Cambodia, Soviet Union, China, and many others. The last photo is in a vast stadium with bleachers full of people and thousands of people, maybe soldiers and maybe high school students including girls, standing at attention. And one other photo: members of the Presidium standing to sing Solidarity, holding hands above their heads just the way we do it.

Renato Bitossi, the President of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), attended and spoke.

The various chapters are greetings from various trade union organizations from at least 45 countries or groups of countries (like “the Japanese Preparatory Committee for Afro-Asian Worker’s Conference”). The only US delegate is Anna Louise Strong, who is identified as “Veteran member of the Seattle Central Labour Council.” She must have been 70 years old. Her archive is at

On page 207 is a chapter titled “Message to the American Workers and People.” It’s pretty simple. Respect the Geneva Agreements, end air raids and the naval blockade, respect self-determination of the people of South Vietnam, recognize the South Vietnam National Front and allow the two zones to achieve “peaceful reunification of their country without any foreign interference.”

Part of the Message is three challenges that would have been heard and probably guided many anti-war activists of my generation. They were: One, condemn the aggressive policy of the U.S. Government in Vietnam and use every possible means to give the American people better understanding of the truth about the just war now being waged by the Vietnamese people. Two, refuse to be drafted for service in Vietnam and to take part in weapons research, the manufacture and the transport of arms and war materials bound for Vietnam; and three, give every possible moral and material support to the Vietnamese people.

Well, this actually sounds like what a lot of people did. At least people I knew. When I look back on the anti-war actions of my generation, I see people holding teach-ins, sit-ins, striking at various campuses, holding demonstrations, pouring blood into file cabinets, blocking traffic. When it was about teaching, it was talking, writing, speaking out, holding conferences. Then there were attempts to block anything that would strengthen the military. The demonstration at the Oakland draft induction center was part of that. I participated in that while I was at Stanford. Bruce Franklin was teaching a course in Melville which took a side trip into guerilla theater, and our guerilla theater group assignment was to go up to Oakland and do it in the street, which turned out to mean using unlocked cars to block streets. Many people did not lock their cars in those days. So I’d get in the driver’s seat and Larry Arnstein and Henry Bean (I’m pretty sure Henry was part of this) would push the car out into the middle of the intersection and then we’d get out beer can openers and deflate the tires, all the while keeping our eyes open for the phalanx of blue uniforms approaching from not very far away. Remembering this, I can’t help remarking that the police did not shoot us. They didn’t even run toward us. They marched toward us at a speed that allowed us to get the tires flat and then stand up and run away and disappear in the crowd. If this was Fergeson, or if this was today, actually, they would have shot us. What’s different? Well, we were white, but that isn’t the whole story. I don’t think the police were so much into shooting people in those days. Also, the mood of the country was swinging very much toward the anti-war movement.

Joe has a story to tell about draft induction, but I’ll let him tell it.

The third challenge of the Message to the American Workers and People, moral and material support to the Vietnamese people … well, moral support is one thing. Material support? The delegates who gave speeches at the 1965 conference often mentioned sending medicine: “The 1963, the Mongolian Trade Unions sent 170,000 tugriks worth of medicine to help the South Vietnamese people.” I don’t actually remember doing that.

A close friend who asked to be called “anonymous” said I could post this description of Ho Chi Minh City as she saw it in February 2013, a year and a half ago. I add this to make clearer the contrast between Vietnam in 1965 (the year I graduated from college) and now, 50 years later, which is relevant to my main question, “What do we have to teach them that they need to know?”


Throngs of young people and families on motorbikes is my first and sustained vision of the former Saigon. There is a continuous stream of motorbikes, an un-ending onslaught of them. You haven’t lived until you’ve almost died crossing the streets there.  It brings the present moment into full bloom as you either a) pretend to ignore the traffic or b) walk with face turned to the traffic and look straight into the eyes of the drivers while praying to hold the bikes back with a stiff arm.


You will witness as many as four or five people on one of these bikes — maybe Mom in the driver’s seat and her sister in the rear with at least one sleeping toddler. You will see thousands wearing masks to prevent the icky pollution from accumulating in the lungs. You’ll see them talking on their iPhone 5s and laughing as they motor on to their destinations.


Upwardly mobile, the youthful Vietnamese are looking for their share of the pie.

Getting Ready (9) — June 5, 2015

Getting Ready (9)

Getting Ready (9)

We went to Iowa, Des Moines, visiting Joe’s brother Jan and his wife Janice. Everything was green with little breezes tickling the leaves of the giant burr oaks. People ask, “How are things in California?” They’ve read about the drought.

We went to Joe’s reunion at Grennell. When we told people about going to Vietnam in August the responses rang from “You’ll love it,” to “Wow.” His class at Grennell had a group of anti-war leftists, some of whom got tossed out or left college early; now they are welcomed back as notables. He was one of these, treasurer of the underground newspaper, The Pterodactyl, and when he left Grennell after 2 years he became an organizer (regional traveler) for SDS and was deep into the civil rights and anti-war movement. About a dozen of this group came back to the reunion, some of whom hadn’t seen each other for thirty or forty years. Many intense conversations took place, while eating excellent food and sitting in a sunlit, high-roofed dining hall.

Joe’s cousin Neal said “Good luck in Vietnam.”

Katie Quan copied us on this article by Angie Tran:

I’ve just read Mike Yates’ article in Monthly Review in which he talks about war as a factory, the product of which is dead bodies, which get sold to the government to draw down more money for the military and their buddies. He tells the story of the Vietnam war as the story of the production of dead bodies, both Vietnamese and US, and the soldiers of factory workers driven by productivity goals. Reminds me of Brian King’s novel, So Long, Vietnam:

One night I watched broadcast TV with Janice. There was a documentary film done by a Canadian called The Last Train Home. Extended scenes of a mother, father and teenage daughter in China trying to get onto the train to go home to their village for the holidays. Horrifying.

In the meantime, we are trying to contribute to the design of the labor program at Ton Duc Thang, at the request of Dean Hoa. This is a very immediate time-sensitive problem that is closely related to my immediate question, which is “What are we going to teach?” I’ve contacted Lowell Turner at Cornell ILR, Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld at Illinois SLER, Mark Anner at Penn State Global Labor University, and they have all sent forward syllabi. But individual syllabi don’t answer the question, “What do these students need in order to learn how to do what is required of them?” Except for Lowell Turner’s classes, these are all MA programs, not BA/BS programs.

Dean Hoa also asked for information about kinds of math, probability and statistics knowledge that students should have. I have sent out an email to the UALE Listserve asking for help on this and have so far received some promises, but only one actual example of a class session, from Toby Higbie at UCLA – an exercise about visualizing big data that looks very good and different.

A BA is made of 120 units or credits. A three-credit (means pretty much the same as credit) is supposed to be 3 hours per week in class for 15 weeks, or 45 hours, with 1-2 hours outside class for every hour in class (or 90 hours per semester). An undergraduate major is generally 30 units and a minor is 15-20. Apparently, students at Ton Duc Thang can major in labor or industrial relations (I’m not exactly sure what their name for it translates as, since these are different in the US). That means they can have general education classes in other subjects, which can be recommended or required for the major (such as statistics).

When we got back from Iowa we stopped at the Berkeley Public Library, on the way home from the airport, and picked up a bunch of books I had ordered. One of them is Industrial Reform in Socialist Countries, edited by Ian Jeffries at the Department of Economics University of Swansea, published in 1992 by Edward Elgar Press. This just goes boom-boom-boom through a whole set of socialist countries – Albania, Hungary, China, Mongolia, Poland, Vietnam, thirteen in all – and describes the trajectory in each toward increasing openness to capitalism between about 1960 and 1992, step by step. This is full of good information for me. I never really understood what the steps would look like. You hear about what happened with the “shock treatment” approach, but what is the alternative to it?

Here are some ways in which a centralized planned economy can be step-by-step transformed into a market economy.

In the centralized planned economy, input of resources and output of commodities are balanced and determined in advance, at the top level. What is to be produced is fixed in advance. Prices are fixed in advance. Multiple indicators, in addition to just quantity, are established as targets. Meeting the target is rewarded, falling short is punished, but selling excess product is prohibited. One step away from this is to allow an enterprise to sell overproduction on the market, perhaps at market prices, and keep some percent of the revenue. Another step away is to allow the enterprise to come up with different products. Another would be for the enterprise to set the prices for its products. Allowing an enterprise to lay off workers would be another step away from the Soviet-style planned economy.

In the private sector, small agriculture, handicrafts and personal services would be allowed but the enterprise could only employ family members. A step away would be to allow 5 or 10 actual employees. Something like this was happening with I was in Cuba in 1999, when they began allowing artisans to sell from booths in the marketplace.

In the centralized economy, enterprises were funded by the state. One step away from this would be funding from banks.

In a centralized economy, the state would own all means of production. One step away from this would be to return some enterprises to “original owners” (this is what Jeffries says, and I assume that since he’s writing in 1990 he’s talking about factories that were taken over sometime during the 1960s or 1970s, and whose owners or even their heirs are still around). Another way to divest the means of production is to sell shares of it to the workers, individually or collectively. Another way is to auction these off (in Czechoslovakia – 1990) with only citizen/residents allowed to bid on the first round. How you’d manage the auction is something to think about. Another way is to sell it to foreign investors.

In a centralized economy, there would be only one union. A step away from this would be to allow independent unions. Albania, I see, allowed independent trade unions in 1991, and then there was a general strike later that spring.

Jeffries says that at the time of writing (1991), “Vietnam’s leaders draw a clear distinction between political and economic liberalization. Multi-party democracy has been ruled out and political reform has followed the line of separating party and state, ending abuses such as special privileges and corruption, and forging closer links with the people. As in China, stability is considered a prerequisite for successful economic reform and recently there has been a tightening of political control…” (page 41). This was nearly 25 years ago.