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.

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.

One thought on “Getting Ready 15

  1. I have come to learn about your blog since your Cross-cultural Leadership class in TDTU, but until now I haven’t had the time to read it all. Your blog is really an eye-opener. Thank you.

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