Starting to Explore 2

Adjuncts everywhere will recognize this:

The office next to ours has a sign, Faculty Lounge, over the door. It’s a square room like ours with glass interior walls, a window looking outside, air conditioning and a dozen upholstered chairs around the walls. This is the office for adjuncts. It also serves as an ad hoc meeting room.

This afternoon the archetypical situation of adjuncts was taking place in that room: In one corner, a middle-aged woman was grading papers on one arm of her chair while nibbling her lunch which was laid out on the other arm of her chair. She had a dishtowel on her lap to protect her dress. Her book was open on a chair in front of her. On the opposite side of the room a group of students were meeting about something.

I have often seen adjuncts sleeping in this office. They go to the same corner chair, pull a scarf or a jacket over their head, and lean against the wall for a nap.

We’ve been told that many adjuncts in the Labor Relations and Trade Union Faculty are union staff.


The immediate problem in labor relations (the term for the system of which “earning a living” is a part) Vietnam is these wildcat strikes. Quynh Chi Doh writes, probably in 2011, in The Challenge from Below: Wildcat Strikes and the Pressure for Union Reform (available as a pdf download from the web, just google it):


Wildcat strikes have become the central issue of Vietnamese industrial relations in the last five years. According to the official statistics of the VGCL, there were over 1,900 strikes reported from 1995 to 2007, and over 1000 strikes from January 2007- July 2008. As can be seen in Figure 1, strikes abruptly exploded in early 2006 and peaked in 2007 with 541 strikes involving over 350,000 workers.[12] As of August 2008, more than 400 strikes have been tallied. Strikes occurred first and foremost in the foreign-invested enterprises in labour-intensive manufacturing industries such as textile-garment, footwear, wood processing, electronics, and seafood processing (Figure 2).

A later document by Erwin Schweisshelm, from the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation office in Hanoi, gives updates with a graph of the wildcat strikes through 2013. See   He explains why there was a drop in the number of strikes in 2011 and what kind of progress toward an increased minimum wage there has been, among other things (read it). Friedrich-Ebert is a private German cultural and educational foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party.

Angie Ngoc Tran writes about the fundamental contradiction that motivates these strikes:

In Vietnam, the state centralizes control over both labor and capital, and it grants exceptions to accommodate global corporations’ demands, consistent with Ong’s “neoliberalism as exception.” …Moreover, the Vietnamese state maintains control over all facets of labor-management relations to ensure the labor peace and flexibility necessary for on-time delivery of goods for the global supply chain. But the state often – though not always – does permit the labor newspapers and local labor unions to report on predatory capitalist practices (pg. 262 of Ties that Bind: Cultural Identity, Class and Law in Vietnam’s Labor Resistance).

The contradiction is between ensuring on-time delivery of goods for the global supply chain and ensuring labor peace. Push too hard on the on-time delivery of goods, at a price that the global supply chain is willing to pay, and you get strikes. You lose labor peace. And if there is no active union which can choose an effective way to strike legally, these will be wildcat strikes.

If I re-wrote the first sentence of the paragraph above to say, “The contradiction is between ensuring on-time delivery of goods for the global supply chain and ensuring a decent wage for Vietnamese workers,” see how different that would be? However, that’s not what is going on, according to Angie Ngoc Tran. The focus is on addressing the wildcat strike problem to build legal, manageable avenues of dialogue that will enable resolution of the most urgent strike issues: labor peace. This involves education and training.

I think that this is where Joe and I theoretically have a small role- ensuring labor peace. Not, at least not directly, in ensuring a decent wage for Vietnamese workers.

Jan Sunoo, the ILO mediator who provided us with a Dropbox full of materials, included a guide for mediators who are going to talk to workers and employers where there is a wildcat strike. After the strike is settled, it says:

Most likely, the strike could have been prevented if the company had good ongoing communication with workers facilitated by an active union and active social dialogue mechanisms. Recommend training by the upper union or VCCI/VCA or IRASC or DOL to put such mechanisms in place.

This guide says the way to avoid wildcat strikes is by developing active local unions and training upper union officials and other government officials. That will certainly increase the capacity of local and upper level unions.

So what’s visible to me now is one prong of a plan, a strategy to deal with wildcat strikes by developing active local unions and training people.

My next challenge is to try to correlate this with what the students appear to know already. One problem (not the only problem) is that I do not know what they know, and that’s usually what a course starts out with. If it’s a course in a regular curriculum, you know what the pre-requisites are if there are any. If it’s an extension labor ed class, you find out in the first class. Here, my ignorance about the lives of my students is compounded by the language barrier.

But whenever I get a glimpse of what they know, it looks as if they know a lot. The young woman who came to my office to return the book certainly knew a lot about what the situation is. The students who made lists in Joe’s class about what people want from their local union certainly were clear about what local unions ought to be able to do.

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.

3 thoughts on “Starting to Explore 2

  1. Great! In Chicoutimi (UQAC) this week, adjuncts looked like professional hikers carrying huge backpacks, water bottle on one hand, changing clothes, in a handbag, on the other hand… Our classes were now twice the size as last year (du to budget cuts)… More work, less secretaries to help out ! Tks Helen for sharing working conditions of adjuncts… Misery loves company -:)!
    Dr. G.

  2. The adjunct also had a laptop computer open on another arm of the chair. A laptop that all faculty must buy for themselves. We are lucky. As Foreign Experts, we get supplied a desktop computer each, though one of ours has been out for a while as evidence in a police investigation after a break-in to steal memory. The intruder was caught and we are told this is the first such theft in memory. We have yet, (3 weeks) to see an armed police or security on campus or on the street.

    We have also been told that there are 2,000 adjuncts here, with less than a thousand regulars. Over 20,000 students. We look foreword to learning more all ’round.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: