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.

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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