helenaworthen

An American woman of the Viet Nam War generation goes to Viet Nam 40 years later to teach and learn

First day of semester, August 2017 — August 16, 2017

First day of semester, August 2017

tennis

The semester starting at TDT is like a huge machine coming to life. Outside our door starting soon after 6 am there were classes in the swimming pool, tennis classes, something else in the background, martial arts in the gym. Lots of mothers sitting on the benches while the young students found out where their rooms were. Suitcases were all over the place. The cafeteria ran out of food — nothing left but eggs and bread! Next to our room is the copy shop, which was going great guns into the night; I could hear them pounding the leaves of whole books into glue-backed covers, boom boom boom! and can vouch that they go home at midnight. Our classes will be huge — Joe’s is 70 but the first day it was 45, mine was supposed to be 99 and was 82. 

Joes 1st class

Joe’s first class, on Tuesday morning, went very well, after the technology got set up. About 45 students showed up, overwhelmingly young women.

As an exercise he asked them to make a list of the characteristics of good leadership. the winner above all was “democracy” or “democratic.” We didn’t actually expect this. Hmmmm. Things are moving along.

Vinh translated for both of us. There were two microphones. She stood in the back of the class.

My class, today, also went well. I’m using Katz, Kochan and Colvin’s Labor in a Globalizing World (I think I’ve mentioned this before) and trying to get students to focus on “Who is ‘us'”?  WHo can act? Who judges? Who enforces? And follow those questions through the various IR systems that we study. We will start with trying to understand the work experience of the elders of some of them. There were 82 students in the class, who formed into 13 groups. Here are some pictures of them doing the first group exercise: figuring out what else is produced at a workplace other than the product — things like jobs, benefits, a place to meet people and make friends, a way to make a decent living — etc.  The idea was to make the maximum list, then divide it into things that workers want and things that employers want.

group d 2group dis 3Group disc

Then they went up to the board and sure enough, they got it!!

List

We drew lines from things on the “workers want” list to items on the “employers want” list, and back again, to show how come things are a shared concern — things like training and health and safety. But wages and profits did not get a connecting line. A good job is a place where there is a lot of overlap. In a bad job, anything from slavery on up, including some of the bad workplaces in Viet Nam, there is little or no overlap. Very little of what workers want is also wanted by the employer. My argument is that labor wants the maximum number of their needs to be negotiable — to be in the “labor peace” zone, where the two lists overlap and you don’t have to be fighting all the time. When the way these issues are handled are settled through negotiation and agreed to in some enforceable way, there is labor peace. Workers want that because they want to have steady jobs and a decent life. Employers want it too, but not if it cuts into profits, so unless labor takes up some of its economic weapons, everything but profits will go by the way. So what are these economic weapons? Both sides have them, and they can use them to manage the size of the zone in which there can be labor peace. Sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations, lobbying, political leaders, public shaming, going to court, showing solidarity — these are the weapons of labor. On the employer side, capital flight, lockouts, layoffs, replacement of workers with automation, and then individual penalties like demotions or suspensions.

Now we can talk about the way countries develop IR systems to regulate the conflict between workers and employers over these issues.

Their first assignment is to interview an elder worker and see if they can understand his or her work experience using the questions, Who is ‘us’? Who can act? Who judges? Who enforces?

We’ll see what happens. These students are very sharp. Also, I notice that they come to class with pens and notebooks. This is new. Two years ago, students didn’t take notes; they had phones but no note-taking equipment.

Wednesday after my class we went swimming (pool open for lecturers from 5-6 pm) and then took the 86 bus into center city, the Ben Than Market. I had heard abut the diggings for the new Metro but what’s going on there surpassed my imagination. It’s a vast mess, but the Market is still there. We at dinner on a balcony at a Hue Food restaurant up an alley  overlooking the market. On the way home in a cab I began to have a very sharp sore throat, which I attributed to the pollution, but it turned out I was actually sick and spent the next 36 hours on my back in our room, sniffling and feverish. Vinh brought oranges, Ensure and kiwis and some kind of Vietnamese oatmeal.IMG_0121

It’s all good.

Sunday morning after sleeping nearly 18 hours, maybe more — August 13, 2017

Sunday morning after sleeping nearly 18 hours, maybe more

COFFEE

Coffee shop in the Duong So 8 neighborhood; houses worth $1M, occupied by state employees and businessmen. Along the river; across it, we could see the orange-red tower of the new TDT library. 

Friday was very full. We “the foreign experts” have a very fancy, brand new office over in C Building, room 206. Four comfortable armchairs, beautiful dark wood desks, new computer WITH PRINTER, padded desk chairs! And the elegant tea set that I thought only Department Chairs had. View right out onto the new Library, of which more later.

We met with Vinh at 8:30 am and she set us up with TDT email accounts and then dove into Joe’s class, which is a combination of the Northouse-text-based Leadership class (all management-side perspective) and the Handbook that we wrote with Vinh last time but never quite finished (it needs another swipe of translation and some cuts, plus Joe is hoping that Vinh and Ms. La will put a chapter on VN labor history in the front.) I learned the email system while they went week by week through the class. I mention this because this is a different way of vetting the class than last time. Very cooperative and productive, and Vinh has VERY good, fresh and positive teaching ideas.

Classes still have to be submitted and approved by the representatives of the Ministry of Education and Training office, so everyone being on the same page about the purpose of each session is critical.

Dean Hoa came by about 11:30 and organized us all to go to lunch, via taxi, at a very good Hue-style restaurant down in a neighborhood somewhat to the southeast. We were joined by Kim Scipes and Valerie (Vandy) Wilkinson who is here in VN on a research venture and wanted to report on her teaching experiment last March with the English teaching faculty. She teaches in Japan, and had never encountered a situation in which she was asked to teach a group of 300. She split the groups into 60, drew 90 for each group, did 6 different presentations and managed, using “dojo” one-on-one conversational exercises, to actually get some participation despite the size of the group. She took this plan back to Japan and used it in an engineering program, then wrote it up and will present it at a conference in Romania!!! The theoretical value of this process was a little opaque to IR people but it is a recognizable unit of analysis for sociocultural-historical people. We ate phenomenal food; Vinh and Dean Hoa ordered something that was encased in lotus blossoms.

Then back to the office where I went through the same vetting process about my class, with both Dean Hoa and Vinh. My class was originally approved based on a different text; last April, when I started working on it, I decided I would just plunge ahead and “do it first and apologize later” rather than try to get permission for something pretty fancy. I chose the 2015 Katz, Kochan and Colvin text on Labor in a Globalizing World. I sent Dean Hoa a copy and he approved it; from then on, I simply wrote the class the way I thought it should be done. We sat together with Vinh and went through the whole process. I was very happy that they both approved the class student research projects  which begin with interviewing the oldest working person in their family. Vinh stepped forward to pick up the aspects of comparative labor relations that are specific to Viet Nam, which will be a share (30 minutes plus) of each class. The overall result is that our approach was approved, including making the Katz book the official  class book, but Dean Hoa has to re-submit some paperwork for approval. I have a lot of work to do this weekend (I had not finished the powerpoints) and Vinh volunteered to put them on the TDT logo slides for me, which is asking a lot, since she’s supposed to be away and busy all weekend.

Altogether it was quite exciting. I felt that an entirely new level of flexibility and possibility had been achieved, in the matter of accommodating the MOET approval process and allowing innovations from someone from outside. I have also NEVER had a Dean be as genuinely interested in the design of a course I was teaching! Mostly, as long as I took care of everthing, they were happy to know nothing about what was going on.

Friday night we had dinner with Kim Scipes at one of the street food places across from TDT, then came home and crashed. Saturday (yesterday) we sat with our computers all morning, trying to get our classes under control, and then took the bus to the Lotte Mart to spend some of our 9M dong wages! I bought a pair of comfortable leather sandals with thick padded soles, for about $48, much like the ones I bought last time which I  now wear daily, but which cost 900,000 dong or $39. Followed by dinner at the Beef Noodle place that is always a fallback favorite and a short walk around some of the streets surrounding. Almost every street front seems to be a coffee shop now, with lots of greenery under the awnings.

Changes, the appearance of new wealth

Which leads me to the issue of money and wealth. In the nearly 2 years since we were here, there seems to have been quite a bit of money flowing around, at least in this district. The physical plant at TDT is maybe 20% larger, with two new buildings including the library which specifically is like something from a Hollywood movie. There are other signs: more cars, compared to scooters. Only a few silver bikes, ridden by old women carrying loads of various kinds of goods. Seemingly less traffic overall, and less pollution (maybe we just were out at the wrong time.) The Lotte Mart is significantly up-scaled! The upper floor of the market has been re-habbed into a high-end coffee pavilion with wooden floors. The lower level is fully built out into a deli where people are sitting and eating. The fish market is where the fruit market was. And all the little shop spaces are full — no empty ones. While it’s true that some of the checkout clerks still look as if they didn’t get enough good food while growing up, the general appearance of people is healthy and well-fed. Fewer women wearing “women’s clothes” are on the street –there were so few that I started noticing it. Also, the sidewalks seem to have been cleared. I read something that said there’s a campaign to get small vendors off the sidewalks, with a controversy thereabout, but it sure is different to be able to walk along the sidewalk instead of having to go into the street and dodge traffic.

Then Monday we got another perspective on the sidewalk-clearing issue from a friend who lives here and speaks Vietnamese. He says that the way it works is that someone makes a phone call and says they’re on their way, so everyone throws all the tables and chairs back into the restaurant and people help the vendors try to clear things away, but if it’s not all clear when they come, “they” being police, things just get swept away.

We had dinner last night at 24/24 Pho down the street. Nghia took us to this two years ago. Taxi drivers eat there, and sure enough, there were taxis pulled up on the sidewalk. Two years ago it had concrete floors, a few tables, and a metal cart out near the sidewalk where the pho was cooking. A bowl of pho was 25 dong. Last night we saw a place with white ceramic tile floors, walls that went from floor to ceiling and were clean, maybe freshly painted, there were at least 2 new long shiny aluminum tables with plenty of chairs plus two long wooden tables, real furniture, with chairs. The cooking table had been moved back into the shop and sat on one of the nicely-made wooden tables. The young man who brought us the pho, which was excellent, looked well-fed. A child about 4 years old came hopping down the spiral metal staircase from what must be a living space above. And the pho was no 35 dong.

So maybe the economic growth rate is spilling some money into the denizens of District 7. How far this goes we can’t see, and I can only guess what is going on in the mountains and outer provinces. The big worry, of course, is inequality. In the US I am so used to seeing everything get worse as inequality increases. You just know that streets won’t get re-paved, libraries will have to rely on private funding, parks will charge fees, no one is repairing the bathrooms in public schools. To see things actually looking better makes me blink. But what else is going on? Is it possible to manage inequality?

Christian Appy’s Book, American Reckoning

Last point, and then I’ll quit — On the way over I read Christian G. Appy’s 2015 book, American Reckoning: The Viet Nam War and our National identity, Penguin/Random House. This is an essential book for Americans. It places the Vietnam War in our history in a way that makes sense to me in a way that nothing else has. It tells a coherent story about US national identity starting post WWII (my era; my dad fought in the Pacific, in the Navy) and up through Obama, with the “Vietnam experience” as the pivot around which our economy and culture tilted. It is a much better way to understand Trump voters than, for example, the awful Hillbilly Elegy. Appy wrote Patriots, a compendium of interviews with people from all sides of the war; out of this he taught a class in the Viet nam war at Amherst, and you can tell that he has really hammered this topic through conversations with students, many of whom probably had no idea how their own sense of being American had been formed by the Vietnam war. This is the first time I have ever read a full history of the last 60 years in which I could place myself consistently as a participant and actor, warts and all, and the lives of people I’ve known, from draft resisters to college classmates to hedge fund hoppers and people who couldn’t tell whether they were for or against the Iraq war — all into one coherent story. I really hope that everyone on this list buys that book and reads it. I feel that it changed my sense of who I am here in Viet Nam –it kind of drew a boundary line around myself as an American. Maybe it’s putting things a bit strongly, but I feel less guilt and more admiration; it frees me to smile when I think of one particular student who, when she came up with something that must have taken a whole lot of work, whispered just loud enough for me to hear: “That’s why we won.”

Ha Do came by and picked us up to go to a lovely coffee shop along the other side of the river, and tonight we will get together with Vy and An. In the meantime, I have to make a whole bunch of powerpoint slides.

RIVERThe curved rooftop shape in the distance across the river is the gymnasium at TDT.

Back to Viet Nam August 2017 — August 12, 2017

Back to Viet Nam August 2017

Last image from San Francisco, taken out of the window of the bus as we go to the Viet Nam consulate to get our visas (business, $110 each): it’s an ad for “FREE CITY,” which refers to the fact that for San Francisco residents tuition at City College is free this semester (and for the future, too, maybe). This was an idea that actually occurred to Alyssa, recent past president of the AFT2121 teachers union, out of the blue. What do to for an encore, now that so many of the battles against the ACCJC seem to have been won? What would winning really look like? Well, it would look like a whole lot of students coming back to CCSF and being able to afford it!! So a whole lot of lobbying and arguing and organizing took place and it happened. Apparently, the phrase “FREE CITY” is well known and seems to mean not just free tuition at City College but also that the college has been liberated and maybe the City itself is experiencing some new freedom.

IMG_0039

Then we packed (I forgot several important items) and took a Lyft to the airport (this is new since last time) and got on China Airlines to Taipei. I was listening to the book about Daniel Ellsberg — The Most Dangerous Man in America by Steve Sheinkin — on my phone (this is new — using Overdrive from the Berkeley library to download books). I listened, at vegetarian airplane food (good) and slept until dawn broke over Taipei:

Taipei

.. a feeling of being nowhere in space and time, among a lot of other travelers floating here and there … and then a quick 3 hour flight to HCMC where we easily went through customs and out onto the sidewalk in front of the airport, where we waited only a few minutes before Vinh came running up, very excited and happy to see us.

I have too much work to do to prepare for my class to spend much more time on this, but  here are a few things. It feels overwhelmingly familiar. But they’ve done a lot of work. Everything seems a bit, or a lot, upgraded. Here’s a photo of the new library as seen from our fancy new office (four armchairs, two revolving desk chairs with arms, nice heavy wood furniture, new printer and computer, good internet and air conditioning):

 

ILibraryMG_0057

The orange and blue are just a hint of the explosion of color once you get inside. It’s kind of French; makes me think of the Pompidou Center when it was new. Makes me think that it might win prizes for architecture. You climb brightly colored stairs to the entrance (like climbing the Mexican pyramids). But at the top, you have to put on slippers to go inside. You also have to take a class and pass a test before you can use it. We are signed up to get the training a week from yesterday.

The work dedicated to making Ton Duc Thang a top-ranked university seems to be paying off in more than just physical plant, however. They have hired two new teachers — lecturers –for the Labor Relations and Trade Unions program, young women who comes with MA’s from Taiwan. They introduced themselves as Rose and Vivian. They are going to hold a research workshop that Joe and I will conduct. I’ve see one of Dean Hoa’s research papers so far, and talked a bit with Vinh about the topic for her dissertation. We got up Friday morning and went to our new office and met first with Vinh about Joe’s class (working out all the why’s and wherefores of the combination of textbook chapters with the chapters from our Handbook). Then Kim Scipes (yes, our friend from Chicago) and Vandy Wilkenson (from Japan, from XMCA, who teaches English and had a research project at TDT) all went to lunch with VInh and met Dean Hoa at a Hue-style restaurant. This was followed by my meeting with Vinh and Dean Hoa about my globalized labor class, which, as a completely new class with a new main text, took quite a lot of discussion but worked out well. I was very glad that I had made a decision back in April, when I started working on it, to try to really do it right according to my way of teaching. There is an important co-teacher role for Vinh in it, which she stepped into happily.

 

More computer work — getting on line in various places, getting a TDT email address, figuring out what has to be done in the next couple of days, getting keys – and then we went swimming. The same fuss about male bathing suits, but the Swimming Pool Boss let us swim!  Dinner at a place down the street where we ate last time, the place where a giant eel escaped from its tank and the chef had to run all over the restaurant chasing it in order to kill it and cook it! – except that like everything else it has morphed and become more complex. It seems as if there is a lot more money here than there was two years ago. Joe noted more cars, compared to motorcycles.

I am going to spend some time recommending Christian Appy’s book, American Reckoning, The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Penguin, $18.00). I couldn’t put it down. The magic of it is that it makes sense, it tells a coherent continuous story that carries us all the way from the end of WWII through Viet Nam and into the Reagan and Bush years, the Iraq War and up into the Obama presidency. I have never heard this span of history told as one continuous story that made sense, that carried me along in a way that I could find a place for myself at every point. I was saying, “Yes, that’s what it was like! I didn’t know that but now that you mention it, it makes sense, I remember wondering about that…” Etc. I feel as if I’m looking at Viet Nam today with new eyes.

I actually finished it on the Vietnam Airlines flight into HCMC. I am extremely glad that I read it; it helps me understand my own feelings about the war, the men and boys I knew who fought in it or fled from it, and also my parents’ role as protestors at the time.

Enough. I’ve been up since 4 am. Joe is still asleep. I’d better wake him up and go get breakfast and coffee at the canteen next door. Then I have to sit with my comptuer and do powerpoints.

One, two, three, what are we fighting for …. — July 28, 2017

One, two, three, what are we fighting for ….

 

That’s Country Joe McDonald sitting down in the middle. He’s the one who wrote:

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven
,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we’re all gonna die –

 

And sang it at Woodstock. This should link to the Woodstock video.

 

 

Notice that the kids — that means people like me at the time; I wasn’t there but my best friend Betsy was there with her husband whose band Quill played; I was out in California leading a different part of the same life — notice that the kids in the video are not smiling. They look worried, and we were all worried. On the one hand, there was all this great music everywhere, playing in stores, parks, in people’s apartments; on the other hand there was this war going on all the time.

So last night we went to Freight and Salvage to hear Country Joe and his band; of course it’s different people in the band now.

http://www.sweetwatermusichall.com/event/1486539-country-joe-mcdonald-mill-valley/

He is a year older than I am, so that’s 74.  Amazingly, his voice is still great. He sang loud and clear through the whole long show. This was one of a series of 50th anniversary performances. The first part of the show, he came on stage alone and talked and sang some songs, including the “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag,” above.  For the last verse, he put down his guitar and just sat back in his chair and let the audience sing the whole thing while he soaked it up, smiling.

 

The audience was made up almost entirely of people my age, me and Joe. Lots of long hair and sandals, but in fact, a very healthy looking crowd. Other than some people who looked as if they spent too much time sitting and looking at their computer screens, these are people whom you’d meet if you were hiking in Yosemite.

At the end of the show he said he never thought he’d be playing this music again. He seemed very happy to be surrounded by this music. True, he sat down in his chair during a lot of the show — but his voice was loud and strong.

He grew up in Berkeley; his mother was Florence McDonald, on the City Council. His parents were Communists; in an interview he said that he rebelled against them by joining the Navy. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said, quoting a friend who reportedly took off all his clothes and jumped into a cactus bush.

The concert was a bitter sweet love fest, some dancing, a lot of memories. He did one Trump song — “Come out Donald with your hands held high” — and, for an encore, did “This land is your land, this land is my land.”

Going back to Viet Nam in about 10 days now. I’ve been working on my class since May or maybe April and I’m looking forward to trying to teach it. It’s complicated: what I’ve basically done is prepare a set of scaffolds that go from powerpoints, which are intended to provide focus to class lectures; then behind them is a class plan with discussion questions both from the text and as applied to Viet Nam; behind them are summaries 3 or 4 pages long of each chapter in the text; behind that is the actual text, Labor Relations in a Globalizing World, by Katz, Kochan and Colvin. In addition, there are some articles about IR systems in general.

Everything but the text itself will be up on a Google drive.  I got the impression that someone was going to scan the book and put it up too, somewhere where students could get at it, but I’m not sure about that. I will wait until I get there to confirm certain things that may be technically and technologically tricky.

For the students there is a three-part research project having to do with designing an appropriate IR system for Viet Nam.

Kim Scipes has been there this summer teaching Qualitative Research, but not to the same students that I will have. Kim says that his students wrote essay exams in English, but that they were not a “select” bunch like the ones to whom I taught the cross-cultural leadership class back in 2015. Joe and I are going to be doing research workshops with the LRTU (Labor Relations and Trade Unions) faculty. I will start with a focus on the importance of the research question. You want a question to which you really don’t know the answer; a question that can be answered in the real world; a question for which the answer, once you find it, will make a difference.

I do not know how to avoid being tough on these matters. I can be complementary and respectful and sincerely impressed and grateful in many situations, but once I get started criticizing someone’s writing, I don’t have any flex. It’s either right or wrong, it’s either just fine or not good enough. “Just fine” is a higher standard than “publishable,” too. There’s a lot of crap that gets published.

We’ll see how this goes.

June 26, 2017: Mapping apple trees in Southern Vermont — June 30, 2017

June 26, 2017: Mapping apple trees in Southern Vermont

cars on hillside.jpgThe hillside above the Coleman farm, on the day of Ralph Coleman’s Celebration.

Ralph Coleman died in November 2016. By noon today, when the celebration was scheduled to start, there were hundreds of cars up in this field. He was a farmer. He cut lumber, made maple syrup, and officiated at weddings. He was licensed to inseminate cows with bull sperm. I’m not sure what he grew, in addition to a lot of different kinds of vegetables. Hay, probably, and other things to feed cattle. His brother was the dairy farmer, not Ralph. He was a father and husband, army veteran, college graduate and deacon in the church. “Farmer”  has a very broad meaning up here. You know how the word “geography” as an academic discipline has grown to encompass all the ways we occupy and make use of the surface of the earth?  Maybe farmers practice applied geography. . In this village there is usually a handful of tent-pole people like him, men or women, who stand at the center of a network of families and friends. The networks interact, overlap and intermarry. They are both the centers of gravity and the gears of change. Their names are on old dirt roads. There is Coleman Hill and Coleman Pond Road, for example. Then there are the roads named for the Ameden family, the Chapin family, Worden family, Gilfeather (this is the guy who bred the Gilfeather turnip) and others.

Some friends and relatives of Ralph’s made a map of the old apple trees on Ralph’s farm and his brother’s adjacent farm which were once both part of their father’s farm, just uphill on the mountain. Some of these apple trees were over 100 years old. I had noticed them, the various times I drove past on my way to visit Ralph and Kathy. They made you wonder: black knotty fist-like things with bright green wands sprouting out of thick dead limbs. Turned out there were 24 different kinds of apples in that orchard, including some that were “natural,” in the sense of being a variety that had not ever been documented. They gave this map to Ralph as a gift the week before he died.

Originally, of course, this whole area was Abenaki, a Native American tribe that has only recently won “registration” status.  Over time many Abenakis married into settler families, so it’s not unusual to meet someone from around here who is at least part Abenaki.  We have friends in the village who fit this description. As a people they were also decimated by settler battles and then back in the early 20th century, by the eugenics movement (that’s another story). But mainly, for the last 200 years, Vermont has been a long way from major battlefields. Vermont sent the highest percent of men of any northern state to the Civil War (where they died of diseases to which they had no previous exposure or immunity), but the battles themselves didn’t happen here. You could have an apple orchard planted 100 years ago and it would still be here. Houses have burned, fields cleared for sheep have gone to woods, floods have changed the shape of the valley, but nothing has been bombed into ruins or flattened by war machines.

Therefore things have fallen down or been abandoned to decay but nothing has been purposefully destroyed for the purpose of erasing it. The ancient roads are still here.  You can consult history, here. You can see where the old railroad went, where the bridges were. You walk along in a forest and there’s a wall and nearby, a cellarhole. Yes, things have changed, but the past is not gone. There are Abenakis here, too, the original people who lived here — not many, but some.

Here is a photo of the stone steps, built by who knows who, that lead down to the pool below the Pikes Falls waterfall. How long have they been there? They could have been there as long as anyone wanted to climb easily down the steep slope to the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, and that would be a long time.

PIkes falls stairs_1

Here is a poem about what can be done in the absence of war. I wrote it a while ago, six years after my mother died. No one was living in her house, the little house where I am now, at that point. I had come to check things out one late fall when the leaves were off the trees and everything was gray and cold. The war of that moment was our invasion of Iraq, which was already a disaster.  People in Baghdad were up on the roofs of their houses watching “surgical” bomb strikes get closer and closer.Within days of our invasion — hours, actually — the museum had been looted. That was nearly 15 years ago; this month’s city to be destroyed was Mosul.

But when I came up to the door of this little house in Vermont and put the key in the lock I found that the key worked and the door opened. I was overwhelmed by what a unique gift that was.  In this world where houses were being blown up, doors kicked open, for me to be able to travel a thousand miles, walk up to a door, put a key in a lock, turn it, open the door and go inside and close the door behind me and find everything just as I left it was something like a miracle. Not like an apple tree that has been fruiting for 100 years, but similar.

Here is that poem:

OCTOBER, 2005. My mother’s house in Vermont is an old cottage on a river-stone foundation in a river valley village under a mountain. Before my mother, it belonged to my great-aunt. For now, it stands empty, but I have the key. Wind has blown the trees bare. There is ice on the roads, snow on the fields. Two thousand U.S. dead in Iraq, so far.

 

LOCK AND KEY

I. Travel a thousand miles or more

Take out the key, open the door

A lamp on the table

A cloth on the table

The rooms are chilly but it’s all there.

See what is possible In the absence of war.

II.

Rain, snow,

Rain, snow,

Rain, frosted gray leaves on the yellow grass,

Slush, weeds, brambles, dry raspberry canes,

Out back, a cold barn full of old things put up there by people long dead, and beyond that is the river, while up on the mountain there is a graveyard

Where these same long dead and the newly dead are still resting.

They have not moved or been moved.

 See what is possible.

See what is possible in the absence of war.

III.

My key turns in the lock

Because we agreed

That this key should turn this lock.

The agreement, not the key

Opens the door.

IV.  

Things I need here: Matches. Paper. Dry wood. Blankets, although blankets will not substitute for matches, paper and wood, or vice versa. Light, preferably electric, or if that fails, kerosene or candles. Something to eat. Cooked, if possible.

I have these things! Here is a section of the New York Times from last summer. Here is wood that has been on the porch for a couple of months, protected from rain and snow, and even more wood that has been brought into the house and dried, and some more that my father put down in the basement before he died, twenty years ago. There is a big bucket of good kindling.

In the bedroom there is a blanket chest and in it there are blankets, threadbare but plentiful, some of them woven by people who lived in this village back when people spun and wove, and sheep grazed on the mountains.

The stove works, the oven works, the toaster works. Even the refrigerator, which uses too much electricity, works. If I want something else to eat, I can go out the front door and up the street to the store and buy it and come back and cook it. It’s all here. Nothing has been disturbed.

See what is possible.

V.

Up on the street, in the store, I run into Betsy. She and Bill were friends of my mother. Betsy tells me, “Bill misses your mother. She was such a wonderful musician. You know, we have given up singing. He has given up the flute.”

I say hello to Bill who has been waiting outside in the car. He says, “I have given up the flute and we have given up singing with our singing group. W will never have to go out on a Wednesday night again, never! Never drive down the mountain in rain or snow or whatever! Never again!” He seems happy, or at least proud.  He bangs the steering wheel with his left hand. “You know what?” he says. “I was just in there – “ he gestures to his right, in the direction of the town offices – “to see if there was any space left in the Wyndham Hill graveyard. They said it was getting pretty tight up there. Back when I didn’t think about those things, there was plenty of room. Too bad, it’s near us and would be convenient.”

In the absence of war, an old man can decide to give up the flute and choose his own gravesite. See what is possible.

All around us, ordinary life goes on:

Jenny’s son has a wheat allergy and has taken up smoking.

A tree fell on Grant’s car last night when he was driving up Route 30.

Susan’s son will join the Navy.

The town hall has been painted the original color, red.

Holly Kron has brought the general store and will start selling hot “to go” items as soon as she gets her license.

There is a special scholarship for the children of volunteer firefighters.

Woody shot a moose and ate it.

The names on the gravestones tell who is lying beneath. It is not only the rich whose names are written down and remembered.

 See what is possible.

VI.

There are the three rivers: big, small and tiny, that flow together through the town. There are three bridges. One was nearly washed out in the flood of 1976 (we are due for another). Three rivers, three bridges, three roads, and the rooftops, the church steeple, the smoke rising from chimneys, the flock of birds circling in the wind, the snow, the clouds over the mountains, the sun on the clouds.

From a distance, in this case, from Chicago where I have a job, a thousand miles or more away, the village is so little, covered in snow, surrounded by mountains under a gray sky; it is like a picture.

VI.

Now look at this other picture: it is a book with a photo on the cover. The photo shows an old woman who stands in front of her house. Like my house, there is a mountain in the background but it is a different mountain, a different country, yet there in the foreground you see the same snow, the slush, the gray weeds and brown brambles, just like here.

She is wearing a knitted hat, a sweater, a coat, boots, red gloves and an apron and over it all, a shawl. She looks out of the picture at me.

The photo is about her house, which has been smashed by a bomb. Chechnya, where the young and the old lie unburied, the mass graves unmarked. Where no old man chooses freely to give up singing, to stop playing the flute.

VII.

In a quiet world, the the lock and key keep something in place.

The lock stays with what stays, behind the door. The key travels.

Do you have it? No, I have it. This is the key.

When this key turns in that lock, that door opens.

Put the lock on the possibility of an uninterrupted life. Put a lock on the choice of an old man to give up playing the flute when he decides it is time to give it up. Put a lock on the graves that show the correct name of the people buried beneath, the graves they have chosen. Put a lock on the three rivers, On the basic necessities, On the lamp lit at evening, On the cloth on the table, On the chilly rooms, On the door of the house that has a roof intact and a wood stove inside, Blankets and kindling and even a piano, “He misses your mother, she was such a wonderful musician.”

Put a lock on her memory, Betsy’s memory of my mother, the musician. On the door of the future. Put a lock on these, and give the key to those who will come. Tell them, “We who placed the lock, agree with you that that is the key.”

IX.

You can go now. Take the key.

When you come back, everything that you left behind will all be here. See what is possible in the absence of war.

 

Food at Ralph's

Food at Ralph’s celegration, plus a grill, a cooler of drinks, and a dessert table

 

A current photo, with students from Ton Duc Thang

Here are two students from Ton Duc Thang who came to the US and are studying in San Jose, preparing to go to college here. They are both named Mai, so one is called Judy, and they are sisters. Judy is studying law and Mai is studying labor studies.  They drove up to Berkeley one weekend. Both of them have been in the US for nearly a year – maybe more — and their English is quite good. They were able, for example, to tell me that the word for “demonstration” and “strike” are the same in Vietnamese. This is the kind of thing we should know.

Mai and Judy and I went into the City to go to a concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. On the way back, we came out of BART and a young photographer named Matt Wong was taking pictures for his portfolio. Here is our portrait:

me, mai and Judy

 

Together, We Are More — June 4, 2017
A Research Stream: Types of support, potential value, research questions — May 4, 2017

A Research Stream: Types of support, potential value, research questions

Phone raceThis is a photo of a race going on among participants in a pre-apprenticeship class at Los Angeles Trade Tech, one of the  LA community colleges. Before you can get into an IBEW-sponsored electricians apprenticeship program there, you have to get a pole-climbing certification. Here are some guys (all guys; hmmmm….) racing each other to the top of the pole where they have to bolt together two cross pieces. I am posting this photo, and one of the apprenticeship instructor (below) because of the discussion of union apprenticeship programs which follows. The argument about women’s upper body strength would not apply to this challenge; women do well in the ironworkers’ apprenticeship program in Chicago because today’s young women often DO have good upper body strength. But you also have to be skinny, and not all these guys were skinny (and some of them were having a problem.) 

Several weeks have gone by since my last post, which followed the March 11 meeting of the US-Viet Nam Labor Education Group in Los Angeles at the UCLA LAbor Center. Because there were several major tasks in the pipeline for that group (the most immediate and important one being the visit of a delegation from the VGCL, which has been postponed until August of this year), we set up a Labor Education committee within which we could take up the various academic issues like mentoring Vietnamese researchers to get help them get published in English-language journals. I now understand that Joe and I will be working with two groups when we go back to Ho Chi Minh City in August (by the way, I got placed on the Fulbright Specialist roster for this project, which I hope will defray some of the costs). One group is faculty at TDT and the other is an independent researchers group based in HCMC and originally convened by Chang Hee Lee, the ILO Country Director, who has assembled a parallel group in Hanoi.

Of course this is pretty exciting for me. More reading and writing!!!!

One of the things we talked about within the Labor Education Committee (briefly, and this was the kind of thing that made it clear that we needed two groups, one to deal with the nuts and bolts of the delegations and the other to talk academics and research) was motivation: what motivates someone to do research and try to publish it? Then follow the questions, what support does someone need in order to do this work? and what social value might this work have?

Katie Quan suggested that when we go to VN and meet with these groups of researchers, I frame my first presentation to be not about one specific article that I wrote that got published in a “reputable” academic journal, but about what kind of support was necessary from my institution in order to get it written, and what kind of social value that research might possibly have had or still have. I thought this was good advice. I think both issues can be linked through the matter of the “research question.” Then, rather than trust myself to do this on my feet when standing in front of a group and watching the clock (and speaking through a translator for many of them), I decided to write it up what I would say and post it, and then let some key people know that it was posted.

Herewith.

April 11, 2017 (revised April 23)

This invitation to present my research to the Journal Club is an honor and a unique challenge. I feel as if I have been invited to defend my work, in much the way I once defended my dissertation proposal, with the difference that now I am a “retired” professor looking back on it. Therefore I have made some notes. I have chosen to organize these notes overall as a narrative. I pay attention to the basic issues of research questions and theoretical framework, but I also describe the financial and other types of support that made my research possible, collaboration, venues where I have published and presented, the social value that my research may or may not have had, as well as a note about my current research question. I hope to explain my own story in enough detail so that colleagues in Viet Nam, where conditions and goals are different, can see what is comparable and what is not.

Looking over what I have prepared, I admit that I am surprised by what I see. Given my early efforts as a novelist, poet and playwright, I would not have predicted that my largest “streams” of research would turn out to be related to the building trades or to higher education as an industry. Both of these streams are a product of collaboration, a concept I will expand upon later.

My conclusion will emphasize the importance of getting the right research question. A research question must motivate you personally and be of critical importance to the world you live in. It must link theory and practice. Practice, which takes place in “the world you live in” is specific to each of us; it is where you are in the global economy, where you are in your academic culture, and where you are in your local political and economic context. Your experience, including your education, has prepared you to formulate this question, and prepared you to contribute to your world by answering it.

In my case, my current research question has to do with what is needed to support the Labor Relations and Trade Unions program at Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. Students at TDT are enrolled in a program that prepares them for roles in an industrial relations system that is undergoing transformation. Dean Hoa at Ton Duc Thang has encouraged me to work specifically on the question, “What changes have taken place in workers’ education as the employment relationship in Viet Nam transitions under the new economy?” This will be my research question for the next months or perhaps years.

Background: My prior research questions and theoretical orientation

When I was in my thirties I had published two novels that were well-reviewed, if not big sellers. Thereby I was hired to teach writing at several colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area. One summer I was teaching only one class. A colleague commented to me, “I like the way you teach,” which made me ask myself, “How do I teach?” To answer that question, I decided to keep a journal of my class, challenging myself to explain both what the students did and what I did. The more I wrote, the more questions I had, and found myself going to libraries and bookstores to read about teaching writing. I did not know it, but I was looking for a theoretical framework. Finally, I showed my journal, which was by now hundreds of pages long and full of examples of student writing, to a friend, Kaethe Weingarten. She said, “This is an organizing description.” At last, I knew the name of what I was doing. She also gave me the names of some theoreticians that she thought would make sense to me: Gregory Bateson was one and Maturana and Varela, the Brazilians, were two more. Someone else pointed me to Paulo Freire. I started to study more systematically.

The work of these thinkers was consistent with the work of someone I had met fifteen years before, in college: Vygotsky, the Soviet psychologist. Vygotsky demonstrated, in ways convincing to me, that language is the indispensible constituent of social interaction and therefore of learning, both individual and collective; it is the means by which consciousness on the one hand, culture on the other, and encompassing both, history, is continuously created. I recognized in the efforts of my students to communicate in writing with each other and me what Vygotsky may have meant when he said “Word: impossible for one, necessary for two,” and “Language is consciousness in practice.” Bakhtin helped, too. This collective, cooperative approach to learning, that recognizes the essentially social, active character of first speech and consequently thinking, is to be contrasted with “alienated learning,” as McDermott and Lave put it (2006), in which all learners are in competition with all other learners and knowledge is treated as a commodity that can be bought and sold.

Another friend, also a teacher, advised me that I would enjoy graduate school (she meant, “You’re asking too many questions!”) so I applied and got into the Education School at UC Berkeley, first in the MA in Reading program and then, because I developed even more questions, into the PhD program. There I was introduced to the next generations of Vygotskian theory; the work of Leontiev (Activity theory); of Yrjo Engestrom, who founded the Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research at Helsinki University; Jean Lave, who set out the theory of communities of practice, and of Mike Cole at the University of California San Diego. Cole had studied with Luria in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and worked with Sylvia Scribner in Liberia. He moderated an online discussion group called XMCA (after its journal, Mind, Culture and Activity) that takes up issues related to learning and education from a sociocultural perspective. I still participate in that discussion.

Sociocultural theory, sometimes called CHAT (cultural-historical activity theory) became my own orientation, with an additional aspect: as a teacher, I had become active in the teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, both at the local and state levels. As an activist, I benefited from labor education: non-credit classes that prepared me to be a workplace representative and eventually run for office. (These are classes comparable to the ones taught by TDT lecturers for the VGCL.) It was unavoidable that I learn and adopt a perspective on work – not only the work of teachers, but all work – that recognized the fundamental tension between workers and employers. The Marxist roots of Vygotskian and sociocultural theory generally were consistent with this perspective because they acknowledge a dynamic (dialectical) relationship among the elements of a unit of analysis. Change, for better or worse, is driven by the energies of contradictions within this unit. Under capitalism, the primary contradictions are between workers and employers, mediated of course in language, and the outcomes of those contradictions are negotiated, constituted and stabilized in language, especially written language. Contracts are examples of this.

I want to note here that from the point of view of someone in the US, the conflicts of interest between workers and employers or owners of capital are inescapably obvious, because we inhabit a ruthlessly profit-driven economy and have at least 100 years of recorded experience with collective, bottom-up organized resistance in the form, for better or worse, of labor unions. We have never had a socialist economic system that attempted to resolve this conflict of interest at the level of the government. Thus we have a system of industrial relations that manages conflict, not resolves it. A resolution has an end; management is open-ended and ongoing. Therefore when someone like me looks at Viet Nam, where a person can be both a human resources manager and a union president, and sees the opening up of a socialist economy to market forces, I feel a certain urgency to point out what is coming and convey the lessons of our ongoing collective grassroots bottom-up resistance. “Lessons” implies learning, in the sense of preparing for experience. You can probably see that this leads to a study of how the institutions of an industrial relations regime attempt to balance the power relations engaged in this conflict. This is not to say that we have been successful here in the US. However, there are some things we have learned.

So I graduated from UC Berkeley with a PhD, a theoretical orientation that was rooted in Vygotsky, Activity Theory, sociocultural assumptions, and generally Marxist; a research approach that combined qualitative skills (surveys, interviews, direct observation, case studies, document review, ethnographic description and analysis) with my own facility for writing (remember that I started as a novelist), and a conscious pro-worker bias. For example: given a situation in which an employer was trying to change a work process, my interest would not lie in how the employer could effectively motivate and direct his workers to adopt the new process. My interest would like in how the change would affect the workers and how they might learn to organize to protect their jobs, their safety and their labor standards, and how they would fix whatever gains they made in arrangements that were enforceable. Both perspectives reveal driving contradictions, but the one I choose will look at the contradictions that are within the power of workers and their organizations to address.

Incidentally, the field of Industrial Relations, which focuses on the employment relationship, actually recognizes that the relationship engages multiple incommensurable perspectives; when you join the Labor and Employment Research Association (LERA), you are asked to indicate whether you identify as Human Resources or Union. You cannot be both.

Vygotsky and 1936

There is one more point that I must make about my theoretical orientation. Vygotsky’s work was in a discipline called paedology, the study of the development of children’s thought and character. Paedology was part of the department of philosophy at Moscow State University. A concern of philosophy was “idealism” versus materialism; mind and consciousness as something outside of matter versus mind and consciousness as something embodied in and made of matter. This could also be a question about the interaction of heredity and environment. In 1936, the Communist Party Central Committee eliminated Vygotsky’s discipline and its journal on the grounds that it was promoting idealism. From then on, academics in the social sciences and humanities had to work under political constraints (see the reference at the end of this post). Vygotsky himself was already deceased in 1934, before this ban, but because of it, his work did not come to the West until the early 1960s (under his own name, that is – not Pavlov). Since then his work has become well known, in fact mainstream, among educators in the US. It seems that in Viet Nam, based on a few conversations I have had, his work is also known, especially by academics who got their PhDs in Moscow, but it is known in the form that emerged after 1936. In comparison with US social science practices, Vietnamese social sciences apparently reflect this difference, the consequence of a fork in the road that took place over 80 years ago.

If I am wrong or misinformed about this, I would appreciate being corrected.

Now that I have explained my theoretical orientation to my research, I will turn to something practical: The institutional support that made it possible. My purpose in doing this is to emphasize that research needs material support and collaboration; a single unassisted person without resources cannot do much alone.

The support for my research at the University of California

I have had the good luck to have graduated from and worked at two large, well-funded Research I universities, the University of California and the University of Illinois. The support that I describe is, I believe, typical for institutions of that class.

As a graduate student at UC BerkeleyI was part of a team of students who worked on a project headed by W. Norton Grubb, a well known education economist, who had won a series of large grants from the National Center for Vocational Education. His research question was, “Regarding teaching, what goes on in community college classrooms?” “What goes on” is not the same as “What do teachers do?” Typical studies of teaching strategies focus on what the teacher does; we call it “talking heads”. But it is the students who are doing the learning — so what are they up to? Our project was to focus on the whole drama of the classroom, on the assumption that much of learning takes place though interaction among students and their shared use of written symbolic systems (math, images, models, signs, text structures, language) that are posted, distributed, manipulated or created in the classroom.

Community colleges in the US, incidentally, are low-cost working class open access colleges that provide pre-university, vocational/professional and lifelong learning. There are at least 1,000 of these all over the country. Because of my work at the state level of my union, the CFT/AFT, I knew a great deal about the funding and governance of community colleges, especially how legislation affected the experience of teachers in the classroom. This was one of my qualifications for working on Norton Grubb’s project.

Our team’s assignment was to go and sit in classrooms all over the US and write down ethnographically rich (full of detail) descriptions of the classroom, not just what the teacher was doing, but the whole drama. My focus was on the use of literacy – symbolic communication of all sorts, drawing on the Activity Theoretical concept of the “tool.” I did my observations in Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and California. As one of Dr. Grubb’s research assistants, I received a tuition waiver, health benefits, $900 a month and expenses when I had to rent a car or stay in a hotel. In other words, I was for all intents and purposes paid to write my dissertation. Our collective work became a well-known book, Honored But Invisible. http://hepg.org/her-home/issues/harvard-educational-review-volume-72-issue-1/herbooknote/honored-but-invisible_71 My contribution is found in Chapter 4, which is a condensation of my dissertation, for which I won the “Best Dissertation” prize from the School of Education that year (1997).

It is important to add that this generous grant-funded support was part of an agreement negotiated between the University and the graduate research assistants’ union, part of the United Auto Workers.

Next: No official research at UNITE, but a lot learned

I went from graduate school to working for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers (UNITE) as the Director of Education and Political Action for a small Joint Board (local mid-level body) in Philadelphia. I may have learned more at UNITE than I did in graduate school; it certainly was a life-changing experience. This was private, not public sector work; union representation was covered by the 1936 collective bargaining law (National Labor Relations Act or NLRA) that still serves as the model for such laws, public and private sector, in the US. Unions that can function under that law were the model for the proposal to be adopted by Viet Nam had the Trans Pacific Partnership been put into effect in the US. The essence of the law is that workers may self-organize into unions and acquire rights on the basis of belonging to their union — a collective — the purpose of which is “concerted activity for mutual aid and protection.” One form of this activity is bargaining. This is to be contrasted with the Vietnamese Labor Code which sets labor standards but does not permit self-organization. Garments and Textiles was an industry that was dying shop by shop every week, but it was a union with a noble and rich history and much to learn. Of course, there was no support for research. I did something you can always do, support or no support: I kept an intensely detailed journal.

It was at this job that I became convinced, through observation, conversations and attempts to support workers in workplace conflicts, that the view of the whole production process from the shop floor was entirely different from the HR office. Workers and employers actually see different things when they walk through a workplace. This is a difference that we will try to teach about at Ton Duc Thang. I also saw how what workers learned in the course of doing their work could be gathered, analyzed and shared; that this knowledge was both an unrecognized resource for the best practice in the workplace and the foundation for solidarity and “concerted activity for mutual aid and protection,” to use a phrase from our labor law. This conviction about the value of the knowledge that workers create but rarely articulate, and which is often invisible to management, became the driving force behind all my next fifteen years of research and publishing, including the book I wrote after my retirement in 2010. Of course, it is true for teachers, too – but for some reason it became most glaringly obvious when I was working with garment workers.

I moved from that job in Philadelphia to Chicago, to the University of Illinois, to be in their Labor Education Program in 1999. This was a tenure-track job that required research and publishing. Both financial and material support was available for research.

 What basic institutional support is provided for faculty research at U of I?

First, I will simply list the kinds of support provided for all faculty at that time, regardless of their status or research projects:

  1. Good computer, a desktop and a laptop; unlimited access to printing. A computer technologist on call full-time to solve technical problems. A private office to work in and meet students.
  2. Full library access, downloading journal articles, etc.
  3. A paid research assistant. I interviewed graduate students who sought these positions because it helped them pay their way through their graduate programs, just as a similar position helped me at UC Berkeley. I was looking for someone who could do library research, literature reviews, and knew something about computer graphics and survey software. Preparing diagrams or powerpoints would be the work of one’s assistant, as would grading papers and hosting small group discussions. Over the years I had three or four research assistants. Anything a professor could think of could be assigned to your research assistant – even doing a lot of the research itself. Labor educators tended to choose research assistants from among the members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), the grad students’ union, because they were already fairly well educated with regards to the labor movement. I also did some classes with that union as they were preparing for a sit-in at the administration building, basing my presentation on parallel sit-ins at Harvard and York University in Toronto.
  4. Travel funding. Assistant Professors were entitled to reimbursement for travel, housing and conference fees for two domestic (US) conferences per year and one international conference per year. On this plan I went to conferences all over the US and to the UK and the Netherlands. I received funding for a conference for Activity Theory in Finland and chose not to go, believing that teaching my class was more important. I still regret this choice! The purpose of supporting conference presentations is that conferences are a half-way step toward getting one’s research published. A fifteen-minute panel presentation will generate some comments that will guide the author toward good revisions and possible collaborators. One also makes contacts at a conference that may produce invitations to write chapters, serve on editorial boards, etc.
  5. Flexible time and release time. I was in the Labor Education program, teaching classes for workers. We also taught classes for regular undergraduates in our online program and through a partnership with the National Labor College. We worked many hours mainly because there was a lot of work to do. However, since from the point of view of the University, publishing was more valuable than teaching (or service, our third duty), it was possible to reduce a teaching load in order to complete research. Faculty who were not teaching extension classes might get one or two courses release time, out of a total load of 4 to 6 per year. In addition, our time was essentially our own; you could work in your office or at home, or while traveling, and time management was left up to the individual.
  6. Pay. I should mention pay: I started at U of Illinois at $58,000 per year plus full benefits and ended up at $85,000 per year plus benefits. This seems to have been fairly normal for labor educators at state universities. There was definitely discrimination against women on matters of wages, to say nothing of promotion. In fact, I eventually found out that all three of my women mentors, at Berkeley and Illinois, had had to sue their universities to get their promotions! For my generation of women, that was practically considered normal.

So those are the basic conditions of full-time faculty work at the U of Illinois, without any additional support from outside grants dedicated to research or getting published.

Projects that led to published research

Over time, as one approaches tenure review, a faculty member is supposed to produce a “stream” of research, meaning a sequence of publications, often generated from one or two major explorations, that take up different aspects of the main research question.

Talking about my “stream of research” means going back to my fundamental research question which was (and still is) how workers learn to organize to protect themselves and each other – not what they do, which is what many people study, but how they learn to do it. Most learning theory research is about school learning. Some is about after-school, or informal learning. But both of these assume that the site of learning is friendly to the kind of learning that is needed. But work is not school; people are paid to work at work, not learn. For workers, the kind of learning that is needed is not the same as what the employer wants them to learn, that serves the production imperative of the workplace. Employers want fast, high-quality production; workers want safe, fair workplaces.The workers’ purpose is to make a living while the employer’s purpose is to maximize productivity. These two interests sometimes overlap but are fundamentally in tension or conflict.  Therefore what workers learn is not just different from what the employer wants them to be thinking about; it is opposed to it. Workers learn in the middle of this dynamic because they have to survive. What they learn has to do with power.

Labor education structures this learning and is an activist field. We teach collective decision making, leadership, communication and the substance of law, labor regulations and governing structures. We support our students as they figure out how to practice the skills of their work in a way that does not expose them to exploitation. We teach labor history as a way to build a critical consciousness of themselves as individual working people and as part of the working class. This is a particular consciousness that can either be nurtured or suppressed. Labor educators get involved in the whole range of situations where this learning happens: classrooms, women’s programs, special-issue trainings, apprenticeship programs, union meetings, campaigns, workforce development schemes, the political legislation that supposedly fosters workforce development, and so on. Any situation that encourages that kind of learning is of interest.

When I study a workplace, I ask much the same question that I asked during my dissertation research: “What is going on here?” (As contrasted to: “What is the teacher doing?”) I rely on the same theories, but I never forget that the context of a workplace is not the same as the context of a school. I try to understand the whole context, including the history and customs of the situation I am looking at and the forces that are aligned to constrain it. I look at how workers figure out how to make their work give them a life.

Not surprisingly, most workers in the US do not get access to labor education, and in the current political environment, labor education programs are open to attacks from right-wing forces.

I will now list a series of such projects that I have been involved in, and tell what became of them, what kind of funding they got (if any), whether they resulted in a publication and whether they could be said to have demonstrable public value. When I mention funding, I don’t mean money that I could add to my salary. Sometimes the money came as a deposit into a university account with my name on it, which I could then assign to reimburse specific expenses. Sometimes it was money paid directly to the University of Illinois by an outside entity (such as the Abbot Power Plant project) to support a team that included me. I will try to make clear how any money that flowed from or led to research could be used.

Research question #1: Training for work. What goes on in apprenticeships? The Building Bridges Project

Because of my graduate work observing community college classrooms, of which many were workforce training classrooms (everything from robotics to dairy farm management, but of course electrical and auto repair), I knew something about union-based apprenticeship programs. At a demonstration, my partner Joe Berry met an African-American clergyman named Anthony Haynes who ran a pre-apprenticeship program in Chicago called the Building Bridges Program (BBP). Reverend Haynes invited me to work with them. I was delighted. The purpose of this program, run through a community based organization, was to set up classes for “the hard-to-employ demographic” which usually meant members of minority groups, often men in their 50s, people who had been in prison, and older women. These classes would prepare our students to take apprenticeship examinations and get into the unionized building trades. This program also responded to the fact that many of the building trades, which pay very good middle class wages and offer good benefits, were historically exclusionary on the basis of race and gender. One of the driving internal contradictions of the situation was that as the current generation of tradesmen approached retirement, a new generation was needed; this brought about a moment when dropping discriminatory apprenticeship acceptance practice would benefit both parties. Thus the BBP. There was considerable political clout prepared to support programs like these. Electricians (IBEW Local 134), carpenters (UBC LOcal 1) and bricklayer unions (BAC Local 21) were especially supportive of our project. My role in the team was ethnographer, academic or writer, surrounded by non-academics; a very good role to be in.

After it had been in existence for several years, the BBP won a $500,000 grant from the State of Illinois. I wrote an article comparing a well-funded program that we ran, thanks to this grant, to a poorly funded program we had run earlier, showing how important it was to provide supports for our students – a full “wrap around” program. There were two separate articles in Labor Studies Journal about this project, one of the re-printed in the Journal of Community Practice, both co-authored by Rev. Haynes. Later, I was awarded a $3,000 grant from the Center for Democracy in a Multi-Racial Society to do structured interviews with gradates of the program. I found an experienced woman journalist, Karen Ford, who knew the Chicago African-American community, to do the interviews. Even later, I was able to access $10,000 to put on a conference in California at the University of California Berkeley to which spokespersons from organized construction trades unions and community-based organizations (often threatening a culture clash) were invited. My co-organizer was the UCB labor educator Steven Pitts, who has become known for his work in Black Workers Centers: http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/blackworkersmatter-report/

Getting a reputation as a woman who was concerned with diversity issues in the trades enabled me to make conference presentations including one to the annual women’s conference of the electrical workers’ union, IBEW. This topic, in other words – combining difficult historical contradictions around racism, job training, access to high-paying stable jobs and union representation – spun out into a “research stream” that included multiple journal articles, conference presentations, teaching assignments and finally a book chapter on on-the-job training in apprenticeship programs. This last,  a book chapter co-authored with an apprenticeship instructor named Mark Berchman from IBEW Local 134, is the one that gets the highest number of views on academia.edu. Beyond the writing, of course, this research actually supported the Building Bridges Project by publicizing and legitimizing it. Even today there are people working who would not have had jobs without that program. What should be obvious here, however, is the number of other people who contributed to that stream; teachers, students, donors, members of the Advisory Board, and Reverend Haynes himself, of course, who was listed as co-author on publications. Emanuel Blackwell, a Heat/Frost Insulators Local 17 retiree, was the core teacher for most of our classes and was able to perform what looked like magic with getting our students past the formidable math tests associated with apprenticeship program applications.

Below is a picture of the apprenticeship instructor at the site of the pole-climbing class in Los Angeles. His name is Anthony Sylvers; his card lists him as Power Lineworker Instructor. I post this picture because he conveyed an attitude that I have found universal among apprenticeship instructors: intensely positive, hands-on, hopeful, very clear about the direct line through training from no-job to good-job, and very clear about the fact that it’s the union that makes the job good. I never talk to an apprenticeship instructor without at least briefly wishing I could start all over again.

App instructor SYlvan

Research question #2: What will be the impact of job training-related legislation?

Flowing from my interest in the conditions of work from the point of view of working people, I paid attention to new legislation about work and preparation for work, asking, “What do people learn in job training programs?” “Job training” usually means short-term skill classes, not apprenticeship programs. In the 1990s, as the US adopted increasingly neoliberal economic strategies, there was an effort to cut back the social welfare safety net that supported millions of people. This was spoken of as “eliminating welfare as we know it,” a phrase associated with the Clinton presidency. Among our students at the University of Illinois were the leaders of a local union of welfare caseworkers, Diane Stokes and Steve Edwards of AFSCME 2858, who were watching the carnage (to use a term from President Trump’s inauguration speech) as laid off workers, families, the disabled – turned to our social welfare system and found it disappearing.

The legislation that dealt with these changes came in two parts: one was TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which cut welfare, and the other was WIA, the Workforce Investment Act, that subsidized training. The idea was that people who had lost welfare benefits could get trained and get good jobs. This was a hoax. There was never going to be enough money to re-train all the dislocated workers, nor more than a few good-paying jobs for them to take. The money spent on job training should have been spent on staffing and supporting public schools, not setting up a whole fly-by-night system of private short-term training projects. WIA was mainly a giveaway to employers who got subsidized low-wage workers.

Working with Diane and Steve, we wrote and published an article  in Labor Studies Journal based on research about the impact of TANF both on welfare recipients and on the workers in the welfare offices. I also attended state level and Chicago WIA meetings, learned and wrote and published about job training programs that worked and ones that didn’t. A critique of the WIA legislation was published in WorkingUSA; others were published in non-academic venues more likely to be read by the public. I brought in $5,000 for an analysis of a subsidiary piece of legislation called Ticket to Work, which proposed to double the value of welfare payments to the disabled by paying the actual benefits to a family member who would then care for the dependent as a job. I criticized this idea severely, looking at it from the point of view of the employee whose low-wage employment relationship would be hopelessly complicated and vulnerable to abuse. The agency that paid the $5,000 for the analysis did not like my analysis and asked for, but did not get, its money back.

Overall, I was nearly a lone voice in criticizing this legislation, both the TANF and the WIA bills. For me, here was a clear warning signal: for all the millions of dollars that WIA authorized for training for “good jobs,” there was no training in labor rights such as the right to organize, which is where the power to make a job good comes from. The local, state and regional committees that distributed the funds were dominated by employers. The labor representatives were mostly from the building trades, whose demanding apprenticeship programs would not be accessible to job-seekers coming off welfare with low-level skills (thus the connection to the Building Bridges Project). Although there was a constituency that pushed for high-skill, unionized job training through WIA, it faded as overall funding dwindled in the 2000s.

Research Question #3: What is unique and important about Womens’ Labor Education: a teaching lab opportunity

I was the only woman in the program at University of Illinois up until about 2008, which handed me the privilege of directing an annual women’s labor education conference that was richly funded to the tune of $35,000 – to $70,000 one year. This was the Polk Conference, named in honor of a union staffer, Regina Polk, who was killed on the job in the 1980s. I had a free hand to design, staff and conduct these conferences, which meant that I could experiment with curriculum. We had between 35 and 70 women at them, for 3 to sometimes 4 days, depending on our funding. We also held some one-day classes between conferences. I used the conferences for research on teaching techniques rather than research for publication, although a forthcoming book from a Canadian publisher will have a chapter by me about Polk. Here was a situation in which I could ask my research question and answer it by experimenting as if in a lab rather than observing learning in the wild. In this sense, it was research, but it was not research for publication, although I summarize our curriculum in that forthcoming chapter.

Looking back on it, I think that the research that women from our professional organization, UALE (United Association for Labor Education) have done on women’s labor education has not been properly written up and promoted. My colleague, Emily LaBarbera Twarog at University of Illinois, has a chapter on this in a book called Civic Labors: Scholars, Teachers, Activists, and Working-Class History, that I completely agree with.

Research question #4: How do workers use what they know about their own work in dealing with management: Health and Safety at a Power Plant

This was a case study. An old, coal-fired power plant needed maintenance and repair; a new manager came and saw that the workers were not wearing safety protections such as hard hats and gloves. The question the workers were forcing management to answer was, “Are we working dangerously – or is this really a dangerous place to work?” Their refusal to take ordinary precautions despite being punished made management take an action which consisted of asking a group of labor and management faculty to do a study of what was going on. A team of us from the U of Illinois interviewed everyone in the plant; many changes were made. This experience was a presentation at IFWEA in San Diego and then became a chapter in my book, What Did You Learn at Work Today? I can’t hold back a smile about the research process: on the one hand, using graduate students, we did between 40 and 50 interviews, each one an hour long, transcribed and analyzed for themes and key words at considerable cost. On the other hand, as soon as I had been brought onto the research team and heard the plan of what we were going to do, I went over to the plant and asked to speak to the union steward, who sat with me and simply told me the information that became the summary of the whole project, $10,000 later.He had been on the local safety committee for years and of course, all the problems and all the strategies the workers had taken to try to improve maintenance and safety, were all ready to hand.

In practice, if there was a situation like this where some action was required soon, the obvious thing to do would be to ask the union steward what was going on. No expensive “research” would be necessary. But this assumes that the union steward is the channel through which accurate information about the conditions of work are aggregated and that he or she has been democratically authorized to speak on behalf of the workers. That is a different challenge.

Research question #5: How are labor education programs in the US doing? The United Association for Labor Education study of labor ed programs

After I retired, I was given $10,000 to do a study of the status of labor education programs in the US. This involved interviewing the over 40 labor ed programs that still exist, searching out people who could talk about the ones that no longer exist, making a presentation to the Executive board of UALE and then presenting a final paper. That paper is posted on the UALE website. It is probably only read by labor educators, and even among those, only the ones that are concerned about the degree to which the attacks of right-wing leaders and legislators have destroyed programs. I was able to do this project because of my connections with people at different labor ed programs made during the four years when I organized the annual UALE conferences.

Research question #6. How is higher education changing, and what are faculty and faculty organizations doing about it?

My overall research question, which is about how workers learn about their own workplaces and how to empower themselves through collective activity, leads directly to another topic: higher education as a workplace. I share this research question with my husband and work partner, Joe Berry, who has been a contingent faculty organizer, researcher and leader in the movement for many years. Teachers are workers too; our industry, higher education, has been subjected to neoliberal market strategies and our workforce has been casualized just like other workforces. This topic, however, is not a natural to attract support from institutions of higher education which are, after all, the management whose strategies we criticize. The support that we get for this research comes from unions and progressive publications. For example, when Joe and I wrote a study of the way unemployment compensation for precarious faculty is provided, with advice to laid-off faculty seeking compensation, our small book was published by a the Chicago Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, not by the University of Illinois or even our Labor Education Program. A study sponsored by the National Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor and the United Association for Labor Education in which I asked, “What are the working conditions of online instructors?” was published in the journal of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) journal – not an academic journal, but a journal for a union of academics. The social value of research, in  other words, is not identical to its academic value or rather its value within academia.

Articles that Joe and I have written about contingent faculty and higher education have appeared in WorkingUSA, Radical Teacher, Dollars and Sense and various other venues including union newspapers, the local Oakland, California weekly Oakland Post, neighborhood newsletters and union blogs and websites. A debatable generalization is that the less prestigious the place you publish, the more likely that the people who matter to your issue will read it. On the basis of the work we have done on this topic (and other work he has done, such as his 2005 book Reclaiming the Ivory Tower), Joe is invited to be a keynote speaker at conferences all over the US, year after year. In these joint projects on this topic, Joe and I discuss the issues, I do the re-writing, and he does the conference presentations.

Research question #7: The learning process itself, looking at working adults

Ever since my early graduate student days I have been primarily interested in how people teach and learn, especially in how we teach and learn the essentially political lessons about power that are inherent in the employment relationship. As a labor educator, the design of each class is a response to what is known about those particular students, who they are, what their workplaces are like, what their support systems are like, etc etc. Like the Polk conferences, my labor ed classes were more like a collective lab than like a research project, mainly because students would come to class with problems (suspensions, overtime, hazards, abusive managers, etc etc) that needed immediate attention. They would need to leave at the end of class with at least an understanding and analysis of the situation, if not a plan to do something about it. Teaching would come from other students, not just me. Teaching in this context might be compared to working in an emergency room: the victims keep coming, one after another, and will keep coming until you can multiply the ones who have learned enough to take over the teaching. Publishing, based on what a labor educator learns from this experience, doesn’t make for a typical academic journal article although I did publish one in Mind, Culture and Activity and another one in the Innovations section of Labor Studies Journal. Both of these were attempts to extend Activity Theory to workplace learning. Other than that, the lessons learned from this kind of teaching wound up in articles co-written by Joe and myself in a series of pamphlets published by the Workers Institute at Cornell called Steward Updates. These articles are very practical and do not make reference to my theoretical framework. The theory part, along with case studies, wound up in my post-retirement book, What Did You Learn at Work Today?

The research I am doing now, slightly different from what I have done before but still related to the “How do workers learn?” question, is “What constitutes a credible strike threat?”  This research is being headed up by Robert Ovetz at San Jose State and came from a conversation we had when we noted that in many standard labor texts, the number of union members and number of strikes is used as a proxy for the strength of the labor movement. In fact, we wondered, isn’t it a better sign of a strong union if the union can signal a strike threat and force the employer to move in bargaining without having to strike? So we decided to find out what happened if we studied strike threats, not strikes. Robert was able to get $2,000 from San Jose State and hired Gabriela Crowley who is doing the heavy data collection, trying to get a substantial number of contacts at unions where there has been a strike threat but no strike. My hunch, of course: it takes a lot of labor education to raise member consciousness to a level where you really have a credible strike threat.

Finally, the importance of getting the right research question and finding collaborators

I have tried to link this whole history to what I’m calling “my research question” for a reason. For those of you teaching at Ton Duc Thang, or participating in the Ho Chi Minh City Journal Club, Getting clear about what your research question is probably the most important thing you can do. If you do not know your research question, you are like the person in the Zen saying: “Once off the path, all directions lead nowhere.”

There are institutional and national imperatives that motivate research and publishing for Vietnamese academics.  These are important, too. Your research question must not only tap into something that energizes you personally, some cognitive dissonance or contradiction that you feel driven to resolve or push forward. It must have some social value, too. It must be something that can benefit other people. But in order to do this, you need to know what those other people need. Perhaps your potential collaborators are among those “other people.” This is where thinking about your audience of peers and other academics comes into play. Writing up your research for submission to a journal is one thing, but then, after that, comes promulgating what you have learned through your research in other venues – classes that you teach, conferences that you go to, co-authors that you find, publications that are not academic,

A final word: My current research question about labor education in Viet Nam should provide the basis for creating a scaffolding for the design of curriculum for students at Ton Duc Thang. At this point, I don’t know if it will or if I am the person to do it. The whole point of doing research, after all, is to find out something that you don’t know in advance.  One of the things you might find out, when you make that step from theory to practice, is, “I was wrong.” It’s better to find this out early rather than late, by the way.

I have told my story, which in my eyes is the story of someone who has been lucky to have been well-supported in my research and unconstrained in terms of my own freedom to pick my research questions. Now I would like to find out what my story looks like from the point of view of Vietnamese researchers. Does the “social value” that I identify as the practice part of theory/practice seem worth the cost of the research? How much of the support that I describe was really necessary? What kinds of privileges could I have done without, if budgets had been tighter? And as far as political sensitivity goes, how much of what I was doing would be more difficult under our current President #45?

But for now, any help that people in this research group can provide would be welcomed.

 

__________________________

 

Some references for items mentioned above:

Blunden, A. 2014. Collaborative Projects. Brill: Netherlands http://www.brill.com/products/book/collaborative-projects

McDermott, R. and Lave, Jean. 2006. Estranged Labor Learning. Critical perspectives on Activity: Explorations across Work, Education and Everyday Life. Cambridge University Press. Pg 89-122.

ON Vygotsky post-1936 in the USSR: Hiebsch, Hans, Introduction http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Mail/xmcamail.2011_12.dir/msg00047.html

And http://www.archive.org/stream/sovietpsychology00unse/sovietpsychology00unse_djvu.txt

Soviet Psychologies: A Symposium UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA LIBRARIES COLLEGE LIBRARY  Digitized by tine Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from  Lyrasis IVIembers and Sloan Foundation http://www.archive.org/details/sovietpsychologyOOunse

Vygotsky, L.S. 1934. Thinking and Speech. PDF available at:https://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/Thinking-and-Speech.pdf

Back on the project — March 28, 2017

Back on the project

VN group outside 03:11

The Viet Nam Labor Solidarity Group meets in Los Angeles at the UCLA LAbor Center, March 11, 2017. THis photo includes some people from the delegation, organized by Kent Wong, that went to Viet Nam last January, plus people who have been at TDTU.

VG group March 11 17

A lot has happened since this March 11 meeting. A subgroup has been formed for people who are primarily interested in the education aspect of the project — courses, textbooks, the whole research issue including what journals are acceptable for publication. I have now been introduced, via Joe Buckley from the UK to the research “journal group” that Mike Maurer presented to last month at TDU; they are an “independent” group and seem to have some very advanced researchers and academics among them. We are also working on getting Manny Ness’s Journal of Labor and Society (TJLS) listed on Scopus. The idea is to have a google group into which people can drop things (like Kim Scipes’ recent paper, Theorizing Global Labor Solidarity) and converse without having to CC everyone. This subgroup is called the US-Viet Nam Labor Education Working Group. Amazing how much gets done with different people working on different things.

 

Trumpcare down

In the meantime, under pressure both from furious constituents (who jammed the offices of representatives and phone lines) and the Freedom Caucus (a cartoon-y group of stout white older men, all to the right of Trump, funded by the Koch brother$ who warned them that Trumpcare had to shed healthcare provision for people with pre-existing conditions and kids 26-and-younger-still-living-with-family, because Trumpcare as currently written did not cut Obamacare enough!), Paul Ryan de-scheduled the vote, thus avoiding the spectacle of Republicans voting against their President. This is being called a victory, but is it a victory for a suddenly activated voter base, or for the Koch brothers? We can hope.

What people in the US think about Viet Nam, when they think about it at all.

We went to see Kong: Skull Island, last night, at the California Landmark theater in Berkeley. It probably accurately represents where mainstream US thought has settled regarding the experience of the war in Viet Nam. Here are some features of the movie, which is big-budget, major stars (John Goodman, Samuel Jackson), very magnificent giant monsters that seem real and alive, bugs, lizards, spiders, octopuses, and of course Kong himself, as big as a mountain and very huggable, by the end of the movie.

  1. The US soldiers are worn out, done with the war, hoping to go home. Big scene at Da Nang air base with people packing to leave. Many of the soldiers are Black.
  2. One of the main characters is a photographer, a young white blond woman, who describes herself as an “anti-war” photographer. Various characters mention how the work of photographers has shaped the US public view of the war. One blames photographers for undermining support for the war.
  3. The lifer military guy (Samuel Jackson, famous Black actor) is a Colonel. He doesn’t want to go home. He loves getting another assignment (to go to Skull Island). He is a killer.
  4. The Skull Island project is somehow funded by a oil or gas resource potential– it’s sold to Congress as geological exploration.
  5. Skull Island is in Halong Bay and the first time the characters see it, they realize they are looking at one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. True.
  6. Once on the island, the Samuel Jackson Colonel becomes obsessed with a) revenge against Kong, for killing some of his men (by swatting down helicopters with his hands), and b) going back and risking everybody else’s lives to find one man whom he has ordered to stay put at the landing site (the guy is dead already). Both his revenge motive and his willingness to risk many lives to save one are seen as bad.
  7. The native people who actually live on Skull Island are portrayed as lovely, gentle people who share everything. However, they don’t talk. They line up and get photographed (very colorful face paint) and nod.
  8. There is a brief did-we-win, did we-lose, was this peace with honor or not? debate. Just a hint of it. So it’s still an issue.
  9. The turning moment in the plot is when the soldiers turn their guns (or at least one of them does) on Colonel Samuel Jackson and refuse an order. This is a nod to the fact that by the end of the war, a lot of officer fraggings were taking place.
  10. The order that Colonel gives is to march back into the jungle (and certainly all die) in order to recover the remains of the one soldier who was told to stay with the downed plane, but who was killed by what looks like a truck-sized grasshopper. This is a nod to the MIA project.
  11. A World War II vet is still alive on the island. He landed there after being ejected from his plane at the very moment when a Japanese pilot, the plane he had been shooting at, also lands. Af first they fight and then they realized how absurd it is and become friends. There are numerous references to the absurdity of war.
  12. The big mistake that drives the whole movie plot is disturbing the ecosystem on Skull Island. The original sin of the movie is ecological.

So, if you take this as a metaphor for our intervention in Viet Nam between 1954-1975, you can say, “This is pretty much what Middle America will accept as background for a big action movie in which a monster gorilla (Kong) throws a lot of horrible lizards around.”

Ironically, “Kong: Skull Island” was playing in Theater 2 of the California Landmark. In Theater 1, the James Baldwin movie, “I am Not Your Negro,” was playing. In the James Baldwin movie, Baldwin’s writing is voiced by Samuel Jackson, who is at the same moment playing the killer Colonel in the theater next door. You could hear King Kong roar behind the powerful language of Baldwin. I’m not kidding.

But that’s the war – how about labor and politics in Viet Nam today?

Here’s a link to a March 1, 2017 NYTimes article. First, it’s very unusual to see articles about Viet Nam at all, except for stories about US soldier veterans returning to Viet Nam to work through their memories of the war. There was nothing that I saw in the mainstream press about the impact of TPP on workers in Viet Nam, for example. Friends of ours here in the US were surprised to hear about the link to the ILO conventions that would have encouraged the organizing of “grassroots unions”. “You mean TPP might be good for workers in Viet Nam?” a local labor leader said to me a couple of months after we got back.  (I’m not saying that TPP would have been an a unmitigated blessing, but it was being greeted with interest and became a topic of serious discussion.)  I wrote that article for the LERA Perspectives on Work, but didn’t get any responses about it from that.

We wrote at length about the impact of the TPP labor side agreement in this blog back in November 2016.

But here, finally, now that TPP is off the table, finally the NYTimes has something to say.  It asks what is going to happen with freedom of association in Viet Nam now that there is no clock ticking on the ILO Conventions #87 and #98. It does so through the story of Ms. Hanh, who apparently was involved in building the big strikes in 2010. This is a story that could have been told many times, in different ways, during the past 2 or 3 years when TPP was in the news.

I think that this person, Ms. Hanh, was mentioned to us by the man who represented himself as “organizing unions in Viet Nam” who also teaches part-time at West Valley Community COllege near San Jose. He came up to visit with us a year ago and I wrote about his visit. His description of his work seemed to be primarily fundraising, and it was clear that there was a great deal of money available from the overseas Vietnamese community, here in California especially, to spend on anything that would overturn or cause problems for the existing Vietnamese government.

The Workers Who Regret Trump’s Scrapping of a Trade Deal

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Do Thi Minh Hanh, a labor activist, had grown accustomed to being beaten, hospitalized and jailed for her work in a country where independent trade unions are banned.

That labor-rights promise has become collateral damage as the United States turns inward under Mr. Trump. As the new president vows to rip up or rethink relations with trading partners, he could also abandon accompanying pledges the United States has won from other countries to protect workers’ rights and the environment.

Critics of the labor and environmental protections in the T.P.P. and other trade agreements consider them a political sop that amount to unenforceable window dressing. Still, America’s new trade retreat could allow countries like China to set the terms of global commerce — countries that are unlikely to use their economic heft for moral persuasion.

For example, America’s withdrawal from T.P.P. paves the way for China to advance its own Asian free-trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The China-led deal, said Rajiv Biswas, the Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Global Insight, “is less ambitious in its scope of coverage, and does not include major reforms to labor protection standards.”

American negotiators in recent years have added labor and environmental protections to trade deals as anti-globalization sentiment rose in the United States. Over the past 24 years, the United States has struck 13 free-trade agreements covering 19 countries that include worker and environmental protections. In most cases, the deals merely call for the countries to follow their own laws.

What Is TPP? Behind the Trade Deal That Died

On his first full workday in office, President Trump delivered on a campaign promise by abandoning the enormous trade deal that had became a flashpoint in American politics.

Supporters of these measures argue that they can have an impact. Following the American example, the European Union has started adding similar requirements to its trade deals. American negotiators have also strengthened the language somewhat in more recent trade deals, including the T.P.P.

Those agreements had “real teeth in terms of trade sanctions” said David A. Gantz, a law professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson who is an expert on international trade agreements. “They might have made a real difference had T.P.P. gone forward.”

He added, “These provisions in U.S. free-trade agreements can be more than fig leaves, but with an important caveat: The U.S. government in particular has to be willing to be active in enforcing them.”

That can be tough, given that the country on the other end of the treaty may have to pass new laws to comply, labor groups say.

“Any trade agreement must have strong labor provisions to mitigate a race to the bottom,” said Sharon Waxman, the president of the Fair Labor Association. “But what we find is that trade agreements are often wrongly viewed as a substitute for national laws that protect workers’ rights and ensure they are compensated fairly.”

In a 10-page side agreement, the T.P.P. would have required Vietnam to criminalize the use of forced labor and broaden enforcement to apply to cases of debt bondage. On labor unions, workers would be allowed to form their own grass-roots unions that could bargain collectively and lead strikes. Vietnam has started drafting some of these changes but timing on their execution is uncertain, said Oliver Massmann, a partner at the law firm Duane Morris Vietnam. A separate trade agreement between Vietnam and the European Union will also target labor conditions when it takes effect in January, but it lacks the stronger enforcement measures of the T.P.P.

Vietnam’s economy has taken off as China’s labor costs have risen, sending factory owners to look for cheaper labor elsewhere. Labor activists say many of its factories have improved from the blatant sweatshops that prevailed in the 1990s, prompting companies like Nike to impose monitoring and compliance standards on suppliers in Vietnam.

Still, Vietnam remains plagued with labor problems. A 2015 survey of its garment industry found that most of the factories that were inspected suppressed independent unions and failed health and safety checks.

On the northern outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, a sprawling, three-million-square-foot factory compound owned by South Korea’s Hansae Vietnam makes clothing for big Western brands and retailers like Nike. A pair of large strikes prompted labor groups to inspect the factory multiple times last year.

Photo

The factory floor of Woodworth Wooden Industries in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A side agreement with the trans-Pacific pact would have required Vietnam to allow workers to form their own grass-roots unions, bargain collectively and lead strikes. Credit Christian Berg for The New York Times

One veteran seamstress from the factory said the situation had generally been improving as the factory added cooling units. Sometimes workers faint because they are sick, she adds, complaining that it is often difficult to get sick leave from managers. She requested to speak without using her name because of worries about losing her job. Another veteran worker, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Nguyen, said that overseas buyers might stipulate improvements that needed to be made, but factory management did not always follow through.

Nike, which once accounted for 9 percent of the factory’s output, has imposed penalties and cut its purchases to 3 percent. It continues to discuss conditions with Hansae, a spokeswoman said via email, “recognizing that the issues at Hansae are complex, systemic and require sustained diligence to correct.”

Hansae — which has acknowledged some problems but called others “rumors” — hired Gare Smith, a lawyer with the Foley Hoag law firm in Washington, to work with its Vietnam plant to improve its worker complaint system. The work culture is also an issue, he said: “Are managers buying it and running with it, or are they rolling their eyes and ticking boxes?”

Currently worker groups are controlled by the government, which generally forbids strikes and other labor actions to avoid political or social instability. Ms. Hanh, the labor activist, said she had been cautiously hopeful that the T.P.P. could help. “The T.P.P. had a part about labor unions,” she said. “That would have given me a legal base and made it easier to convince workers to join.”

A diminutive 32-year-old who discusses jail stints, beatings and labor slogans in the same matter-of-fact tone, Ms. Hanh first awakened to Vietnam’s labor problems as a young teenager, when she took a bus to the country’s interior and sat next to a woman who worked at a cashew factory. The woman told her that workers at the plant were paid so little they had to steal nuts for food.

In Vietnam, organizing is done quietly. To pave the way for one strike at a shoe factory, a colleague spent weeks in the area talking to workers and building contacts. Ms. Hanh wrote fliers and taught a core group of workers how to organize and strike. She counts the resulting January 2010 strike of 10,000 workers as a victory because it resulted in big pay raises for workers, even though she and two of her colleagues were thrown in prison.

Released four years later, Ms. Hanh found grass-roots organizing had become much harder. She said she was often followed now, making it difficult to meet with timid workers. One of the last times she went to a worker protest, in late 2015, she was beaten by police. Now, she said, she devotes most of her time to campaigning on social media and raising concerns with big Western companies.

She was skeptical that local authorities would have complied with the toughest labor protections in T.P.P., adding that chances were good they would have sought out loopholes. Still, she says, the pact could have given her a tool to use when pushing labor issues with lawmakers and factory bosses alike.

“I would have used the clause of T.P.P. about the right to form independent unions — unions that are not controlled by the company and the government,” she said.

“Maybe now because of Trump, our dream about independent unions in Vietnam has yet to come true,” she added. “But we will still try to help the workers, because if they fight alone they will not succeed.”

Did you know you can’t actually just join the Democratic Party? — February 15, 2017

Did you know you can’t actually just join the Democratic Party?

b-city-hallThis is the old Berkeley City Hall. The new main offices are about a block away. About 20 years ago, Joe and I got married on the grass among the redwood trees to the left of the picture. It was not raining at the time.

Did you know you can’t just join the Democratic Party? I didn’t either. And so don’t a whole lot of other people.

(NOTE: about a month after I wrote this post, I got an envelope in the mail from the Democratic National Committee, a mass mailer, inviting me to “become a member.” I sent in a check for $15 or $25, I forget how much, and am now waiting to see what happens.) (Note from a couple of weeks later: I got another letter in the mail saying my membership was pending — and also something about my membership being “removed from file” on 4.26.2017 (a date about a month after I sent in my $25 on 3.16.17). A mystery, but no unclarity about being asked to donate more money.  See below.)

Dem C pending

I was at a house meeting hosted by a neighbor the other night.  These are going on all over the US, hundreds and thousands of these meetings in what is reportedly the greatest upsurge of civil society activity in recent memory.  At this meeting people went round-robin listing the different organizations they were supporting, participating in, or organizing, and also events like demonstrations or sit-ins that they had gone to. The list was long. It ranged from church groups to lawyers’ groups to street demos to this group called the InDivisibles or the OurRevolution groups left over from Bernie’s campaign.

No one, however, mentioned being involved with the Democratic Party. This was kind of stunning. We speculated why and realized that as a group, we didn’t know how. But it was the Democratic Party that pushed Hilary Clinton forward despite Bernie’s grassroots support, the Democratic Party that hired the staffers who refused to give Bernie access to the Party contact list, the Democratic Party machine that ran picked who would be on the platform committee (and denied Roseann Demoro from CNA, the Nurse’s Union), the Democratic Party that choreographed the Convention, locking out Bernie delegates (people who were there are still talking about this). So this is an organization that has the power to do good or evil, let’s say.

But how do you get involved in the Democratic Party? The people at this meeting were mostly 40-ish young professionals, some retired professors — educated people. You would think they would know. But no one did. No one could even explain how the structure worked, where the entry points might be found.

(It turned out later that one woman actually did know and had gone to a meeting to elect delegates to the state committee. More about that later.)

Some of us knew about Democratic clubs, such as the Wellstone Club, but someone else explained that those are not the same as the Democratic Party. These clubs actually have to get a charter from the Party to use the word “Democratic.” You can be a member of a Democratic Club but still not “belong” — in the sense of being a member who has a vote — to the Democratic Party.  Seriously?

I had just read Robert Reich’s Seven Hard Truths blog article, in which he said that the Democratic Party is just a shell, on life support,and has to change from being a giant fundraising machine to being a movement, or throw in the towel.

http://www.salon.com/2017/01/22/robert-reich-7-hard-truths-democrats-must-acknowledge-if-they-want-a-better-future_partner/

It this group of people who were trying to become politically active had no idea how to engage with the Democratic Party, life support is putting it mildly.

So how do you join the Democratic Party?

I get probably three emails a day from something that seems to come from the DNC, presumably the Democratic National Committee, but while they urge me to support something, they have a button that says “DONATE” and no button that says “JOIN.”

But the day after that meeting someone from that group forwarded an email inviting people to a fundraiser for a woman named Kimberly Ellis who is running for Chair of the California Democratic Party Central Committee. The fundraiser was going to be held in the home of Sophie Hahn, the newly elected District Five Berkeley City Council Member, who lives just two blocks away. I figured it was time for me to go to that meeting and find out something.

The crowd at this event was mostly people 40 and up, well-dressed, white, drinking wine and nibbling on carrot sticks; lots of women. The person who is running for leadership of the CDP Central Committee is a handsome Black woman with short hair, dressed in black tights, boots and a nice jacket. Her speech would have been appropriate for the Women’s March — about how the Democratic Party has to change, catch up with the people, get new leadership especially with women, etc. It was a very “soft” speech in the sense that it would offend no one. Then she took questions.  Much to my satisfaction, all the first questions were about what the Party does and how it does it. The woman next to me and I had already checked each other out on this issue — she didn’t know either! How do you join the Party? How does it work?  If there is an election for Chair coming up, when is that election happening? Who gets to vote? Why don’t we hear anything about it? And who is she running against? So this group of people, who know enough about local Berkeley politics to get invited to a fundraiser, don’t know how the Party works, either.

I realized that I recognized one of the organizers of the event, a woman who has become the Comptroller of the Party. Her name is Hilary Crosby and she married an old friend of mine from college.They were both politically active at the time.  I remember that she had become an accountant, which seemed to me at the time to be a phenomenally practical thing to do with your life. Hilary answered some of the first questions, and what I write below is a mix of what she said and what I have found on line.

One of the later questions asked about the field — who else was running?  It was only then that I began to get a sense of the candidate. She answered with apparent reluctance. First, she said clearly that she was not “running against” anyone — she is running for California and the Democratic Party. She declined to name her opponent, in fact. But she then described what happened after she announced her campaign. She went to Los Angeles (“Got up at 6, took a plane, went to have lunch with them”) to pay her respects (“due diligence”) to two women who are very powerful in California Democratic Party politics; older women, Black, but again, no names.  She said that the first thing she was told when she sat down to lunch was that if she persisted in her campaign her political career would be destroyed and she would never be able to run for anything else ever again. “At that very moment,” she said, “I knew for sure I was going to run, because this is what I am running against.”

Her opponent is a (presumably white) man whose position as Chair of the Party has been glued in place for many years — whether he is the current Chair or just the Heir Apparent I couldn’t tell, but clearly, the idea of a contested election was not something anyone was planning on.

OK. I walked home in the rain.

So here is what I can figure out about the structure of the Democratic Party.  

There are over 7.5 million people registered as Democrats in California. The body that determines what the Party does is the Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) that consists of 2900 members. These 2900 people come from three sources:

1. Counties: California has 52 counties. Each county has a County Committee. These committees function as voter registration, education and campaign organizations. Each County Committee gets 4 positions on the DSCC, plus one more for every 10,000 voters in that county who are registered Democrats. So a county with a 400,000 people in it would have 44 positions on the DSCC.  Names of Chairs of these county committees are listed on the website with phone numbers. You can volunteer to work on campaigns by calling those  numbers. This is how you probably get known, to begin with. As far as I can see, people who want to work in the Party get started by volunteering for these organizations. Then if you’re good, or do the right thing, or produce some money, you get noticed and picked up by someone.

2. Assembly Districts: California has 80 Assembly Districts. Every two years (odd-numbered years) there are January caucuses in the Assembly Districts where you can vote for delegates to the DSCC.  These caucuses elect 7 men and 7 women (that’s good!). This produces 1, 12o delegates. Our neighbor, whom I mentioned about, forwarded me the message that alerted her that this caucus was to take place on January 7. The message came from Bernie Sanders:

Vote for California’s Future Slate at the CA Democratic Party Delegate Elections!

Come out and vote for California’s Future to represent Assembly District 15 at the California Democratic Party State Central Committee!

What: Vote for California’s Future Slate for delegates to the Democratic Party from Assembly District 15. 

Where: Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave 

When: Saturday, January 7th, 12 – 2pm (speeches start at 11:30am)

What do I need to bring: my ID and $5 to register to vote (hardship waiver is available) 

Our slate needs hundreds of people to show up between 12-  2pm on Saturday, January 7th at the Albany Community Center to vote for our slate to represent AD 15 to the California Democratic Party. In order to vote, you must be a registered Democrat as of October 24th, 2016 and live in Assembly District 15, which covers the East Bay from North Oakland to Hercules. California’s Future Slate is endorsed by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, State Senator Nancy Skinner, and the Wellstone Democratic Club Coordinating Committee. 

I wonder how you get onto one of those slates?

3. And finally, elected officials — like Governor Brown, Lieutenant Governor Newsome, and the various legislators in both houses (both houses are dominated by Democrats and all state agencies are led by appointed Democrats) – who are just people who ran for office with the support of the Democratic Party. They are  not the same as the  Party Leaders. The Party Chair (who must be the guy that Kimblerly Ellis was talking about) is named John Burton, and he is indeed an old white guy.

So this is how you get to be among the 2,900 people who run the Democratic Party in California. Regular people who are just registered Democrats apparently can participate in choosing these people by voting for one slate or another at the January Assembly caucuses, in this case, a slate endorsed by well-known local politicos and the Wellstone Club – and Bernie!

So if you are one of the 2,900, does that make you a member of the Party?

No. Instead, I think you are a member of the Democratic State Central Committee. Maybe there aren’t actually any members.

What does the DSCC do? It meets once a year. It endorses candidates and drafts the platform.  It has a 320-person Executive Committee which meets twice a year.The Executive Committee members are chosen on the basis of what positions they hold (they are not elected).  In turn the Executive Committee elects 19 people to send to the Democratic National Committee in Washington.

So the only point at which you can walk in off the street and vote is the January Assembly caucuses, where all you have to do is be a registered Democrat, show an ID, and pay $5. Every other point at which authority and responsibility gets channeled (where 320 people make decisions for 2,900 people, for example) is a point at which you get chosen, not elected- except for the top 19 people who go to Washington.

(Note: Nonetheless, Tom Perez who was a good Secretary of Labor under Obama, and Keith Ellison, a Black man who is also a Muslim from Minnesota, are now Chair and Deputy Chair of the DNC. Ellison was Bernie’s choice. When Tom won, he apparently immediately turned to Ellison and made him his deputy. I watched an online live stream event in which they shared a pair of high stools and said good things to a small audience. So that turned out ok, somehow.) 

There is a lot more democracy at the ballot box than in the Party, apparently. The Party will want to run people who can win. They have to balance that against which candidate will keep the machine running. Hilary was the machine candidate. So this is the process that gave us Hilary instead of Bernie, and then gave us Trump. This and the Russians, it’s turning out!

Direct Democracy?

The chances that an average person is going to be active in the Democratic Party were probably accurately reflected in the experience of the people in that meeting that I mentioned earlier, where no one even know how to become active in it.

The experience of democratic process that I have had all comes from being in unions. In the National Writers Union, part of the United Auto Workers,  chapter members voted for local Executive Board members and Union President, and for delegates to the Delegates Assembly.  This was also my experience in the California Federation of Teachers, where again there was voting for local Executive Board and local Union President, and then also voting on who would go to the annual Convention. Once at the convention there would be direct voting on the floor. I remember the excitement of a tense question, where first there would be a voice vote, and you couldn’t tell who won, and then someone would call for a “separation of the house” in order to eyeball the difference and that wouldn’t work, so then you’d have to do a roll call and officers would walk up and down the aisles while we’d stand there, hands in the air or down at our sides, as the case may be. And then the different officers would call in their counts and they’d get put up on the board, or at least jotted down by the chair, and then the winner would be announced.

Winning, in a situation like this, is really thrilling. It is especially thrilling if the issue is a tough one and the vote is prefaced by days (or maybe weeks, before the Convention) of debate and discussion. I will never forget a Delegates Assembly in the NWU where we arrived for the 3-day meeting and found that most of the other delegates didn’t understand the issue and were taking the President’s claims as fact. The issue was a  constitutional matter: whether the Oversight Committee, to which appeals about elections were referred, had the authority to overturn an election. Debates went on day and night; as the days passed, you could see that the discussions were having an effect, and finally, when the last vote was taken, we won. That was a thrilling combination of persistent discussion and debate, during which several hundred people shifted from one side of the issue to another.

Whether the outcome was correct or even good is another story. There were a lot of other things going on that were affecting the NWU at that time that I wasn’t aware; primarily, the changes in technology that was soon to completely transform the publishing industry.

The path up from the bus stop, and down toward the bus stop, in the rain. It has been raining and raining and raining this winter. Example of infrastructure in need of attention: Oroville Dam, which has overflowed into the emergency spillway, causing 200,000 people to flee the villages in the river valley below.

uphill

downhil

Late January 2017 — January 24, 2017

Late January 2017

The Women’s March

air-dancers

 

These women climbed out of windows up on the top (8th or 9th) floor of Oakland City Hall and descended via ropes, dancing to beautiful music sung by someone I couldn’t see. They  used gravity as a positive force that let them bounce gently out from the vertical wall and perform flips and somersaults and make pyramids as they slowly descended. The crowd was simply awed.

This was part of the rally at the end of the Saturday, January 21 Women’s March. Joe and I had front row seats on the Plaza because I’m still walking with sticks, and they had a special entrance for the disabled.

march-by-lake

We joined the march at about this point, near Lake Merritt. It had been raining for the last week so the sun was welcome. The mood was gentle but serious. Many, many of the people were young women. Some were with mothers and grandmothers. There were men, too, of course, but it felt like a women’s march. All the signs I saw were home made. I heard that nowhere in any of the 600 plus marches across the US was there any violence — no violence at all.

And somehow I had thought that young women had no idea what the women’s movement had achieved. Trump has certainly created a teaching moment — now they know, if they didn’t before.

This was the sign that Joe and I wore. We cut them out of a curtain and pinned them back and front. “Life is not a rich man’s sick joke.”

joes-sign

After the march, which was huge (60,000 plus) I felt better. Lots of people said that watching Trump get inaugurated felt like knife stabbing in the gut. Like something you’re ashamed to even look at. Watching him try to dance (it’s available on YouTube) at the ball that Friday night was equally heartsickening. A President should not be disgusting to look at. A president should have some grace and dignity. (Look up Barack and Michelle dancing, in 2008, also on YouTube). The cab driver who took us back from the march, a Chinese man, was railing at Trump for making grotesque thumbs-up “Hey lookit me!” gestures to the crowd while dancing.

But before Obama finished, he had pardoned Chelsea Manning and the Puerto Rican independence leader (I’ll get his name). That made me weep with relief. Why not Leonard Peltier?

A look back at Trumps’ first press conference, January 11; before he was inaugurated

The networks couldn’t say no to broadcasting Trump pre-election appearances because they were chasing ratings. He was a celebrity. It was money. People would tune in to be astonished. TV show hosts had to jolly him for the same reason. Even now he’s apparently collecting a $168,000 a year pension from his work as a celebrity, in fact.

But now he goes on TV and it’s not a reality show, it’s a White House Press Conference. Some reviews of his press conference on January 10 called it “rough.” I watched segments of it on various websites. It was an appalling performance of bluster, name-calling, evasion and bullying.

The National Memo, which is a cover-your-ass pseudo-liberal but really right wing channel, excerpted Trump’s interaction with a reporter, Jim Acosta, from CNN. I tried to write down the actual words as they were spoken.

Jim Acosta, who was sitting in the front row center, asked Trump about an early morning tweet in which Trump said the release of certain information by US intelligence agencies was something that would have happened in Nazi Germany.

CNN: ….what were you driving at?

 T: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake, out, think it’s a disgrace. I say that. I say that, it was something Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace. That information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public – as far as Buzzfeed – which is a failing pile of garbage – writing it? I think they’re going to suffer the consequences, they already are – and as far as CNN going out of their way to build it up and by the way, we just found out, I was coming down – Michael Cohen he’s a very talented good lawyer in my firm, it was just reported that it wasn’t this Michael Cohen, so all night long, it’s Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen, I say I want to see your passport, he brings his passport to my office, I say hey, wait a minute, he didn’t leave the country, he wasn’t out of the country, they had, “Michael Cohen of the Trump Organization was in Prague.” It turned out to be a different Michael Cohen, it’s a disgrace what took place, it’s a disgrace, and I think they ought to apologize to start with Michael Cohen.

CNN: Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question –

T: No, go ahead, (pointing at Breitbart reporter) no, not you (waving off the CNN reporter)

 CNN: Can you give us a question?

T: Go ahead, she’s asking a question, don’t be rude.

 CNN: Since you’re attacking our news organization. Mr. President Elect, can you give us a chance to ask a question – (other reporters start applauding)

T: No no, not you, your organization’s’ terrible –

 CNN: Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question –

 T: No

CNN: Mr. President elect, can you give us a question

T: Don’t be rude. Don’t. Be Rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake too.

More scattered applause.

 CNN: Can you state categorically that nobody –

 T: No, no –

 CNN: Mr. President elect, that’s not appropriate –

 T: Quiet, quiet – don’t be rude, don’t-be-rude- I’m not going to give you a question –

 CNN and Trump are going back and forth like badminton shuttlecocks, speaking over each other, and reporters in the room are applauding lightly, nervously, in support of CNN. Acosta is holding on, pushing Trump to see how far he will go. When he makes his point, he stops.

It’s hard to actually write down how this goes. Trump doesn’t speak in sentences. He huffs in one-liners, phrases, expletives (“terrible, disgusting, fake”). He likes to mimic other people’s voices (as Meryl Street pointed out). Anecdotes are his one rhetorical form — he knows where he’s going if it’s a 3 or 4 sentence story. Expository language, stuff that explains something – like, who is Michael Cohen?  — is not his way. He talks like an old yenta with a breathing problem, haranguing gossip about family.

Rough? Ragged. This was not a press conference. This was a display of personality. How long will these displays of personality last? As reality TV, people kept tuning in. But as our president? The press corps seems to have understood that this was not going to be a press conference. They pushed him toward the display of personality, to get it over with and warn us what we can expect.

I’ll bet that the deep staters could care less what Trump does as long as they can move their pieces into place. Six hearings are going on at once on Capitol Hill right now. I always thought that the main thing the Republicans wanted was stability, so that capitalism could grind along accumulating capital. How are they going to make a Trump presidency stable? I guess that by keeping him in the foreground they can swamp the media so that we don’t notice what they’re doing in the real world (not on reality TV). Then they’ll stand back and let an impeachment process go forward. They’ll sacrifice him and let Pence, who is a serious politician and, according to many people, much more dangerous, take over. Trump is dangerous because he’s a loose cannon with bad ideas. Pence is a serious guy.

The Future of the Media

Either they’ll cave, get wiped out (like in Russia) or they’ll do their job.

Buzzfeed, apparently has made $25,000 selling online swag such as plastic garbage cans labeled “failing pile of garbage” and has donated the money to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists. Meryl Streep urged us to support that organization.

City College Wins: The Long Haul

San Francisco City College received its full accreditation for the next 7 years. This is a total win. Telling the story of how we did this would be a good way to answer the question people always ask us, “How are unions doing these days?” It’s a long story. It’s a story that involves every level of government from the college up through the city and the state and into the federal Department of Education. It involves hundreds of people, to say nothing of the thousands who were students and who participated in demonstrations. It is the story of millions of dollars getting thrown around. The story of the role of the union in this victory would be a good story to tell in order to explain to someone why unions are critical players in anything that holds back the rush of money into the top 1%. We started to tell this story to Emmy and Brian, who dropped by last night with Anna and Rosie and some other friends while out for a walk. Emmy suggested trying to get people to collaborate on a book about this struggle. That would make a huge job less formidable. But as Joe says, “Another book project!!!”

Joe has joined Democratic Socialists of America and went to a meeting where they elected local leadership. He said it was a very good meeting, lots of young people; still not diverse enough, however. Maybe I’l join, too.

Finally: Why “labor” doesn’t count

Trump plays the building trades. There’s an old joke: These are the guys who would be happy to build crematoria.

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2017/01/building-trades-allow-themselves-to-be-played-like-fools