On the Ground 3

Joe, reading over what I wrote yesterday about his class, noted (and I’m putting it mildly) that I misquoted him and the misquote is not a trivial matter. My mistake has some real significance. I said that he said that what exists now is a post-socialist Vietnam.

Here is what he actually said, at least in the powerpoint we used in our classes:

In Vietnam under socialism, labor and employer did not have this conflict of interest. Everyone worked for the good of society.

But now, Vietnam has been opened to capitalism through direct foreign investment. Many workers have bad jobs. In these firms, there is a conflict of interest between labor and management.

I said “post-socialist” as a short cut to what I had in the power point, “opened to capitalism.” Of course, he said other words in addition to what was on the powerpoint.

Elsewhere, further down, I said, guessing at why the students seemed to have no problem with the idea that workers and employers had different points of view and different goals:

Joe points out that they were born after the end of socialism. Ironic and still hard for me to get my head around, that under socialism, the line between labor and management gets blurred and masked. No country has ever established socialism without a fight, but then after the political fight is over, all the other fights are supposedly over, too. People deny that the fight still goes on daily in the workplace. But these kids have grown up in capitalist Vietnam and they see the inequality and the wildcat strikes, and they have little problem seeing that there are two points of view, labor and management.

“The end of socialism” and “grown up under capitalist Vietnam” are hot button phrases. Getting this wrong, asserting that socialism is over, is a mistake.

The decision for Vietnam to move into a mixed economy, which meant putting some state owned enterprises into the market, some as shares to employees and others outright to investors, and opening up to direct foreign investment, was a hard choice and the consequences of it are not in yet. Whether Vietnam has surrendered to global capitalism or whether it is using a mixed economy as a way to preserve and build its socialist economy is a big question, and I don’t have any inside information about how this question is being handled. But for me to simply assert that Vietnam has become a capitalist economy would be like saying that the US … well, let me think. It would have to be something that a lot of people talk about, might be true or not, but either way is very controversial and unwelcome – maybe like, for example, saying that voter suppression has gone so far that there really is no democracy left in the US. If I were a visitor to the US and wrote something like that, maybe it would cause a similar reaction.

Nevertheless, we made it very clear in the powerpoint for the class that workers and employers have different points of view under capitalism. I even used the word “fight”:

I used the word “fight” on purpose. In the US, we even say, “The purpose of the union is to fight the boss.”

Sometimes, problems get resolved easily. But other times, you have to show strength. The strength is the power of the people, and the people need leaders.

There were other problems with yesterday’s entry as well. I am getting quite a bit of friendly blow-back from friends in the US about this; not comments directly on my blog, but in private emails.

However, at my age, nearly 72, the way I learn about what’s a hot spot is to put my hands on it and if it’s hot, I learn fast.

I want to be clear about why I am writing this as a public blog. It’s partly to test the situation itself, to see who reads it and what they say.

But I am writing first and foremost for family back in the US, although they may not be really interested in either the political stuff or the teaching stuff: they want to know if the plane landed and what the food is like and also when I am coming home.

Next I am writing for friends, most of whom are not very political. They may even say of themselves, “I am not political.” They may support our socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, but that’s not rocket science. In the US, despite the rise in inequality, most of my friends live sufficiently in the bubble so that the impact of a major change in the economic system reaches them only bit by bit. They’re noticing global warming, they’re noticing the price of food and the drought, but they’re not revolutionaries. Many of them know nothing about Vietnam except what they remember, if they are old enough, about the Vietnam war. Vietnam vets are now old guys, many of them disabled, retired or dead. Most of my friends probably don’t even remember the Gulf war (or maybe I have younger friends.) The war that people remember is the war in Iraq. So this blog is meant to awaken them about where Vietnam has come in the last forty years. Much as I am being awakened.

I’m also writing for other labor educators – in fact, I’m posting this on the UALE list serve, because we hope that others will want to come and teach at TDTU. Those people will be interested in whether there are powerpoint projectors, if you have to bring your own chalk (which is true at some of the union locations where I’ve taught), how many students there are in a class, are there flip charts, what the class process is like. They will want to know the nuts and bolts of the conditions of our work. For them, whether or not the building is well-maintained is important. Is there electricity? It is not an insult to TDTU to mention the conditions of the blackboards or the size of the classrooms. Labor educators teach in all kinds of places, from church basements to back rooms in bars to conference rooms decorated with corporate logos. That’s why Joe used to carry a full set of teaching tools – including scissors, tape, colored markers – around with him all the time. Actually, the buildings here are much nicer than the SLER in Illinois, even down to the paint on the walls.

But I am aware that this is a public blog and therefore may be read by anyone, especially my colleagues here at TDTU, whether or not their English makes it easy. But this is closely related to the fact that I’m supposed to be here as a teacher. I have been asking, ever since day one, what exactly do they think I know that they want me to come here and teach. I was most convinced by Leanna and Hollis’s explanation: “They know that capitalism is coming and they want to learn how to fight it.” Since I’ve spent all those hours in church basements, etc, I do know something about how to fight capitalism, so that made me willing to undertake this adventure. Other than that, I’m basically bringing myself, warts and all, to see what I can learn and above all, do no harm. This blog is an expression of that.

If I get things wrong, like the song says, “Someone else will lend a hand.”

Class today went fine, by the way. I had 70 plus students and in the middle, the electricity went out, but we did fine. The research project will probably be pretty neat. I suggested that the first level of presentations be a dramatization, the second level should be charts and maps, and the third level, stories. More on that later.