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.


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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