Getting Ready 19

Getting Ready 19

I was sent a video

August, 2012: Miners at the Lonmins platinum mine in Marakana, South Africa are represented by the NUM, National Union of Miners, which has been MIA from the point of view of the miners. Workers want wage increases and ask to negotiate with employers. There’s a minority union, AMCU, that represents workers at other mines. The Lonmins miners strike. The employer won’t negotiate, won’t speak. Strikers retreat to a “mountain,” a rock outcropping on communal land within view of the mine. The police, at a high government level, and the mine owners, collude. That is, the government, using the police, and the mine owners collude. Some government officials, including those who had been activists in the age of Mandela, are shareholders in the mine if not actually board members. The film uses evidence made available through a Commission of Inquiry, including police footage and footage captured by journalists, plus footage of the inquiry and interviews. One of the journalists who is credited with some of the footage is also visible in the police videos, walking among the strikers with all his cameras.

The miners are armed with sticks and short spears and wear blankets, if they have them. They also sing.

The police basically trap them and massacre 34 of them on August 16.

If you want to see footage of dramatic moments of choice, eloquence, and courage, watch this film. We’ve heard of moments like the ones where the striking miners in West Virginia knelt in the face of armed police; this is a film full of moments like that, and more.

Facing the inquiry later, the people responsible – commissioners of police, etc – respond like corpses as if their skin, right down to the bones, has gone cold. They are like well-dressed dead people.

There was Ford Foundation money in the making of this film: JustFilms and WorldView. There’s a facilitators guide put out by the National Union of Metalworkers SA, which I will try to get. Manny Ness, who was on the list of some 60 people who got the email, said that the director’s name is Rehad Desai; he is also an activist in the Democratic Left Front, which supports a socialist transformation of South Africa. He is at

After the massacre, workers continued striking for 4 weeks, got wage increases of 7% to 22%, and started a wave of wildcat strikes throughout the country.

When something is so emotionally moving that I have to scramble to keep it in focus so I can calm down to think about it, I usually find some part of it to replay slowly several times in my mind, to analyze. In this case I’m thinking of the speech made to the striking miners by the AMCU leader, who comes to them where they are sitting (maybe 1000 of them?) on “the mountain,” the rock outcropping, the morning after he has been on the radio in a conversation with a spokesperson for Lonmins and the president of the NUM. In that broadcast, which is included in the movie, it certainly sounds as if all three – the representative of Lonmins, and the presidents of NUM and AMCU – have agreed to go to the strikers and, in return for them agreeing to go back to work, start to hear their grievances and negotiate. The Lonmins representative does not show up. The president of the NUM comes, but does not get out of the big truck – some kind of armored vehicle driven by the police. He speaks through a loudspeaker and then leaves. The president of the AMCU gets out and comes toward the strikers. He speaks. They speak back and forth. They talk. At one point, he falls on his knees before them. The exchange between them creates a shift in the stalemate and makes it seem as if there can be movement toward negotiation. Thinking about this speech makes me want to cry.

Another thing to look at is the way the striking miners walk together. They crouch a little, as if they are dancing. They’re holding their weapons, spears and sticks, so it reminds the Western observer (me) of images of men dancing a dance about hunting. But they walk in a line, several abreast, and the line straggles out for hundreds of yards. They keep the line at one point in the film despite being bombarded with tear gas. Later, they are in a line like this when the police start shooting at them.

Take a deep breath. What if we looked at this film and asked, “What does ‘social dialog’ mean?” That’s a term that is used often in the curriculum we are working with in our Vietnam classes. I think they use “social dialog” to mean negotiation.  Dialog means people talking to each other. What does talking to each other look like? What the AMCU leader does is an example of talking. Yes, surrounded by guns. How does the idea of ‘social dialog’ accommodate the possibility of guns?

Also starting to read Angie Ngoc Tran’s big powerful book.

I’m wrapping up doctors’ appointments (cardio, PT, onco, eyes, pharmacy, etc etc etc because I am 71 years old these days and shit happens), ordering prescriptions, putting stuff into boxes to store so that the tenants, Katy and James, can use our closet while we’re gone for 6 months.

From across the hall I can hear wild cheering from Joe’s study; he’s listening to the Madison rally for Bernie Sanders. Sounds like a lot of really mad, happy people. We’ll see. Bernie has drawn huge crowds, but gets hardly any mention in the newspapers, which are obsessed with Hilary Clinton.

Before dinner, I go down to the gym. It’s the 4th of July and a guy who finished up about the same time I do says, “Happy Fourth of July.”

I say, “What are we celebrating?” I’m thinking of “Bombs Bursting in Air,” and a recent email by Mike Eisenscher at USLAW about the war economy.

“Freedom and independence,” he says. “That’s what I came to the US for.”

He came from Vietnam. He tells me that when the Communists came, they took all the books in his house and burned them on the front lawn. He got here through a program that let people who had been in prison for more than three years to come to the US with their families. He said they had 14 houses in Saigon, stolen by the Communists, and the price of bribing the officials to get the houses back was nearly as much as the houses brought on the market once they were able to sell them.

He now teaches at Berkeley and has an office on 4th Street.

I told him what we were going to do in Ho Chi Minh City at Ton Duc Thang University. “We’re going to teach labor relations.” He seemed to think we might do some good. He said that a big problem in Vietnam now, at work, was sexual harassment.

He noted that the President of Vietnam is in Washington right now, meeting with Obama. “It’s a chess game,” he said. They are trying to surround China. He used a word from Kung Fu to describe why the Chinese are building these islands right in the middle of the sea off shore Vietnam. The gesture he made, of striking someone in the hip and knocking them off balance, said it all.

We exchanged contact information.

Sometimes I sit in the front yard, or in the back yard, and can’t imagine why I would ever want to leave and go anywhere.

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.

4 thoughts on “Getting Ready 19

  1. “the terrible contrast of modern and ancient”

    I think you mean wealth and poverty, don’t you? Anyway, it doesn’t have to be as distressing as you fear. I’ve come to see the contrast as an easy measure of the region’s progress. Every time we go back to SE Asia, we’re amazed at how much has changed. It’s as if all the region were being gentrified. Well, come to think of it, that’s exactly what’s happening, although most of the local people there are glad of it, not angry and dismayed as they are often are here. Gentrification there means electricity, running water and paved roads; here it means evictions and shops selling $1000 gym bags on Valencia St.

    Once when I was talking to a Laos friend who lived in one of the poorer regions there, I realized that my father grew up in backwoods upstate NY in greater poverty than my friend. There was no electricity, no running water or indoor plumbing, his family grew what they ate or didn’t eat. Yet in his lifetime my father saw man walk on the moon and both his children go to college and do well. So I’m not nearly as distressed as I used to be when I see poverty in Laos and the rest of SE Asia, because I know conditions will improve soon. Here in the US, on the other hand, I think the opposite.

  2. Thanks, Marcia. By the way, I got permission for my article in your forthcoming issue of WorikngUSA, on contingency, to also be published in a journal put out by Ton Duc Thang. I had to go through Michael O’Riordan to get permission.

    The director of the film, Rehad Desai, responded and said that the facilitators guide is just being wrapped up and he’ll find out if I can get it.

    I have now seen two contemporary Vietnam novels. One, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, by Quan Barry, is a puzzler. The sentences themselves are artful in a way that makes them hard to read. I kept having to back over paragraphs to understand who was talking. And the basic plot — that a child is extracted from her buried mother’s womb, and then has a gift of second sight that enables her, or maybe it’s the reader or writer, to experience Vietnam’s history back into the French colonial period when Vietnamese were essentially slaves on rubber plantations — all the way up to American bombings – is rich but also puzzling. Characters made distinctive by their appearance appear and disappear, poling a raft, for example, up a flooded river. The other, Fourth Uncle in the Mountain, by Quang Van Nguyen with Marjorie Pivar, is supposedly a memoir of a barefoot doctor, not a novel. It was similarly hard for me to read. Maybe when I get to Vietnam all the magical stuff will make sense. Maybe, with the mist pouring down from jungle mountains and the terrible contrast of modern and ancient, it will fit together and I’ll see what these writers are trying to do. But I’m not looking for magical realism right now. Joe and I also watched a movie, The Vertical Ray of the Sun, that has a lot of French co-production credits including “lazennec,” which I’ve never heard of. When the movie started the colors — mostly deep lime green, with some turquoise and dark reds — were so intense that it felt like the TV was broken. It went on like that, though, as if the whole film was shot through sunlit leaves. Lots of scenes of tiny cafes, little apartments with beautiful shiny wood floors, narrow streets ankle-deep in rainwater. Totally gorgeous, to say nothing of the beautiful people. But is this what it’s going to be like, really?

  3. Helena, I adore your posts. Please keep them up. i like your change of strategy as enunciated in #18. I came across the name of a novel by a vietnamese woman but can’t find it. Looking in google i see an anthology of contemporary writing. have you checked out any of those sources? Marcia

    Sent from my iPad


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