Six lists about what workers need from their local union

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Joe asks his class to discuss in groups, then make a list to answer the question: “What do workers need from a good local grassroots union? What do they need it to do?”


Here are the items from the six lists that the students wrote on the board in Vietnamese, translated by Vinh and typed up as she spoke:

  • To protect the right and benefits for the workers
  • Consult [about] and publicize the law
  • Train and educate the workers about the law
  • Take interest and take care when the workers have difficulties or occupational disease because some kinds of work will cause health problems
  • The union will support some of the good policies to support the families, for example: a kindergarten or other sponsorship, a sponsorship fund
  • Policy to get loan – some are very poor, can’t get a regular loan. This is to help the workers in case they get into difficulty in paying for things
  • Have career orientation, have some of the skill training courses
  • To do social dialogue, collective bargaining and collect the workers’ opinions and solve labor disputes when they arise
  • Visit with workers when they get sick or have accident, and encourage them
  • Sign the CBA
  • Ensure fair treatment between the workers
  • Have some entertainment and sports activities
  • Show respect – be respectful
  • Democracy
  • Ensure good working conditions and safety
  • Have worker pay and bonus policy promotion
  • Good benefits
  • Self-actualization (*highest of Maslow’s hierarchy)
  • Ensure good work in the workplace with enough of the right equipment and tools
  • Well-equipped with labor protections – labor work clothes, gloves, PPE
  • Encourage support from colleagues, co-workers
  • And also to be informed about the new policies of the state or the enterprise
  • Share their opinions with the union
  • Share their opinions with each other

1 nx

Joe noted that this list does not include helping mangers manage the business. Therefore we can say that this list assumes a capitalist and somewhat adversarial relationship between workers and employers. It also does not include motivating workers to be more productive. It does not mention enforcing the contract, which is half of the collective bargaining relationship, the other half being negotiation. Nor does it mention enforcing the laws. What ‘s more, the students did not limit the union to the collective bargaining function. Their list included things that you could not get from a CBA such as education, recreation, or “the policy to get a loan,” which is sort of a union credit union.


I noted that there are some items that are necessary for union democracy, such as showing respect, sharing opinions with the union and with each other, maybe the self-actualization point, and the word “democracy” actually came up. But there are no procedures listed such as voting to ratify a contract or running for office as a union leader.

3 what does a good union do

Joe noted that the six lists overlapped in many ways, but by having six of them, we got a wider range of ideas than we would have if we had just made one list. This is a familiar popular education technique but also good for brainstorming if you are going to do a strategic planning exercise. The point here is that democratic discussion is worth the time; this is a better list than any individual or any one group could have. Although it took more time, it made a better basis for the whole class to move forward.


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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 “Six lists about what workers need from their local union

  1. I love the list item of visiting sick workers and encouraging them. Simply Beautiful Idea

    Interesting perspective of not knowing capitalism is coming. It is nearly impossible to understand the experience without actually living it. A Nassim Taleb version of Black Swan.

    1. Part of ht problem is that they ARE living capitalism right now (mostly) but do not have the words or concepts for it, just as many do not in the USA. There are reasons for this of course, and they are different here in VN than in the US. As labor educators we think part of our jobs is to give them the words and concepts explicitly to ba able to talk about it and make (and execute) strategies in favor of the workers (the vast majority in both countries now, if you include rural workers here too).

  2. Great list and superb pictures!
    Gabrielle Saint-Yves, Phd
    Contingent faculty
    Université du Québec in Chicoutimi

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