Teaching Industrial Relations in Vietnam: a US Labor Academic at a Union-sponsored University

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

End of October — October 28, 2017

End of October

Last Saturday was my birthday: 75, according to Vietnamese counting, but 74 the way I count.  Joe with Ha Do’s help made reservations at a restaurant named Zenbay, not too far from TDT, and we invited some friends including An and Vy, John, Vinh and That from our faculty, Mai the Assistant Dean of Sociology, Joe Buckley, and Ha Do of course. The food was great and the setting gorgeous, up high on a terrace as the sun set. Many conversations took place at the table. Not everyone knew each other before the meal; that was in part the point.

all good

From the left: Vinh, John, Ha Do, Joe Buckley. Me at the bottom of the table. Down the right side: An, That, Mai, Joe, Vy.


This is our last week. The next entries will be a mix of big and little items. We have had a busy week.

Earl Silbar and Sue Schulz from Chicago were in town for 2 days as part of a 5-week tour through South Asia. We went over to their hotel- the Intercontinental –  Sunday morning to visit. Sue was going out on the walking tour to the Cathedral but Earl had been getting sicker and sicker day by day and stayed behind in their room. When we went up there, it didn’t take us long to persuade him to go to the French Hospital, where they took blood, did an x-ray and CT scan, discovered double pneumonia and checked in him.


They pumped him full of antibiotics and kept him until Thursday afternoon but is now better enough to be allowed to go join Sue in the new hotel in Koreatown (District 7, the Bien Vien which has several buildings, 280.000 per night) that the tour guide set up for them while the rest of the tour went on to Rangoon. Luckily they have plenty of insurance of various kinds. Thursday night he felt well enough to go out to dinner at the Beef Noodle place  Pho Kim Hung at 510 Nguyen Thi Thap.

Earl and Sue


The small fuzzy creature under the bushes is a puppy, one of a little of 5. Two are brown, two are black, and one is a very pretty with black and white spots. The mother is one of the skinny mean-looking yellow-brown dogs that roam the campus. They appear to have been born and actually live in a hole dug under the steps. The security guards feed them by sharing street food with them in styrofoam take-out containers. Any attempt to get near the puppies will send the mother dog into a mania of shrill barking. She barks at night, too — Maybe when someone goes their rounds. It’s often about 2 am and it can go on for an hour, making sleep impossible. No one is petting the puppies or training them. Now I see how the dogs on campus got the way they are; less domesticated than the cats that prowl the canteen under the tables, un-pattable, and not pretty. Feral, not friendly, not pets at all. But one of the men who staffs the management and maintenance of the dorm told me that the dogs “belong” to the President — the president of the University. “He likes dogs,” I was told. There are indeed more dogs here this year than in the past, probably a dozen that just wander around. Another person says that the President thinks the dogs keep us safe.



ILO Collaboration

Thursday morning there was a small ceremony in which Chung-Hee Lee, the ILO Country Director, signed a cooperation agreement with Ton Duc Thang, represented by Dr. Vo Hoang Duy, to cooperate on 1) Holding an industrial relations summer school for researchers and teachers every year, like the one this last summer that Greg Murray and Do Quynh Chi led; 2) Provide textbooks from ILO — written materials — to TDT Faculty of Labor Relations and Trade Union; 3) send professors and scholars from the ILO (recruited from Australia and other overseas places) to hold classes with faculty at TDT and 4) have internships at the ILO for PhD candidates from TDT who want to do research. Chung-Hee Lee noted that it was not common for the ILO to have this kind of collaborative relationship to do labor research in a country.

Dr. Vo asked if I had any comments on the agreement and I said that it was hopeful and possible and opened a good path in the right direction; also that in order to develop Vietnamese faculty researchers, the library had to provide access to international journals and the workload for faculty had to be lightened.

After taking a quick tour around the campus Dr. lee came back to the conference room where Daniel Helman, joe and I were waiting, and he asked us what exactly we were doing at TDT; we reported our teaching and research projects. He also asked whether there were a lot of other foreigners on campus — especially Europeans. In fact, there are — we have met a Ukranian, an Estonian, several Brits and Aussies, some from India, and today I met a man from Bulgaria. Lee made it very clear that the ILO objective is to develop Vietnamese researchers. He mentioned his years in China; over the course of 6 years the world of labor research there had gone from being in the same condition as Viet Nam now to being as good as anywhere,with its own good journals.

The challenge goes all the way down to simple data collection: there is no one single office in Viet Nam that collects and organizes labor statistics. It is all spread around the country in different offices where it is used at the functional level but is not ready to provide a basis for research. He noted that the ILO does not have the capacity to be VN’s BLS.


This is consistent with information from Katie Quan about her upcoming training at Hansae to follow up on what we did last month. She is going to do a train-the-trainer session (maybe more than one) and asked for names of Vietnamese people who might be good.

My last class in Globalization

last H class

Their final activity was responding to the question raised by the authors of the textbook, Katz, Kochan and Colvin: “Is there a role for national IR systems in a globalizing economy?”  They considered this question and three alternatives to national IR systems:  a global system run by a tri-partite organization like the ILO, a global system run by global unions or GUFS or world federations ot labor; or a global system run by multinational corporations.  Only three or four students took up the argument that multinational corporations were going to be running things, but they had a lot of evidence to support their points. They were clearly the voice of the realists. The discussion got quite heated and students were really debating back and forth, until the bell rang.


In every hallway there is someone sitting at a desk with a book in front of them. These are the people who can call someone to turn on or off the air conditioning, fix the microphone or the power point projector, supply chalk, and who also keep the books in which there is a record of the class.  I think the man in this picture is a professor.



Art and Design Department Display

ao dai

An AoDai with incredible embroidery.


A history of Asian women’s fashion. To the right, another display of the same for Europe.



Three large prints: Title, “Three Friends.” Very real-looking, faces that look real.

Joe’s last class, on Tuesday

Joe did a lecture with exercises using Andy Blunden’s Origins of Collective Decision Making. At the end, he gave the students a set of decisions and asked them what kind of process would be appropriate. They appeared to have got the idea!  The numbers represent groups.


It so happened that his last class was also a demonstration class, to demonstrate western teaching methods. The people in the back of the classroom are other lecturers. General response was “Good. ” They only saw the first half of the class, but they liked that he began the whole class with a group exercise and report from the floor. In a separate room during break, a real discussion about the challenge of working through translation developed.  I was happy to hear that their concerns about oversimplifying and losing valuable class time are the same as mine.



Last week when I went to the library to see the 6th floor, I offered to do an open mini-talk, kind of like a book club reading, because I wanted to demonstrate and also experience what it would be like to move a book from the special restricted collection out into the room where they get processed to go into the main collection. I suggested The Odyssey, and the young librarian Mr. Truong ran into me in the faculty dining room on Tuesday and reminded me, whereupon we set it up and he announced it and 20 plus people showed up.

Most of them were students from International Business, with one Electrical Engineering. We did the story of Odysseus and Polyphemos, the Cyclop. Mr. Truong found about 15 copies of the Odyssey scattered among the restricted book shelves. They read a lot of the story aloud, taking parts for Odysseus, Polyphemos, the Cyclop friends and the sailors who try to get Odyseus to control himself when they are trying to escape. I then narrated the final homecoming scene, making guess at the  number of axe heads through which the suitors had to shoot the arrow. They liked it.


And these books have now been liberated into the general collection.

Next up, Little Women? Or Capital? Classics, of course.

It was not possible to move from this reading exercise to the “Achilles in Vietnam” significance of the story — and that’s the Iliad, anyway.

Food packaging

Other end-of semester display, this one from the industrial design department, all about green packaging for Vietnamese food products. I do not know what would be inside these little green packages.  Most of the other displays are more self-evidence: coffee, cashews, etc.

food pkg

Le Ciel Rouge

Friday night we went over to Koreatown with That, met An there who had bought tickets ahead of time, and went to a movie. As usual, we were almost the only people in the theater. (Our most recent experience was at Blade Runner, perfectly horrible movie, at the Lotte Mart last week.)

The movie was Le Ciel Rouge (Red Sky) and it was new, French-made, in French with VN subtitles, about a love affair between a Viet Minh girl who has been captured and is being tortured by the French. Then a young red-haired French soldier releases her and then deserts from his unit, travels with her high into central and northern VN and eventually joins with the Viet Minh himself. He acts as bait to scouting parties of French soldiers by coming forward into open fields and announcing himself, which leads the French to come running out towards him, Whereupon they get shot down by the Viet Minh who have been  hiding. Eventually he himself is captured by the French. We expect him to be shot on the spot, but instead they tie him up and the last moment of the film shows the girl, Thi, who has managed to sneak past the guards. She is close by him, almost invisible in the high grass, and will untie him and then they will both escape. Terrific images of wild central and northern mountains.

movie pho.JPG

We went and had pho afterwards. That and Vinh said that the movie was a ‘Landscape movie” to show tourists about the landscape of Viet Nam and increase tourism, with love and war for a plot.  Some history, but it was French soldier, not a US soldier. Probably not much chance for a landscape movie about love during war to be made about a US deserter, as a way of showing off the stunning mountains of northern Viet Nam.

There is also a wonderful, chilling Vietnamese book with a title something like “Lost,” which is about a young North Vietnamese army soldier who, only a week or so into his duty, gets separated from his unit in the mountains and found by a montangnard clan. First they imprison him for a while, then slowly, as months pass, induct him into their way of life. He becomes one of them and is respected for being able to shoot accurately and kill jungle beasts that they can eat (wild boars, for example). Their “work” is to receive assignments to go down into valley villages and murder chieftains who have gone over to the enemy. With them all this time is a US soldier who is, compared to them, huge, and is treated as a beast of burden. His job is to carry heavy things, like the clan grandfather, from one camp to another. This soldier has some kind of illness, maybe tuberculosis, or maybe it’s a wound, which eventually kills him – they take his body to some place where it will be found and leave him there. Not a “landscape” story for US viewers.

HCMC Research Group Presentation

Joe presented on how higher ed unions in the US developed, beginning with the NEA as a management lobbying group in 1857 up through the founding of the AFT in 1916 and the way teacher unionism developed outside the law (and still does) — with no enabling legislation in state after state, as a result of teacher activism and behaving ‘like a union” even when there was no legally established path. The link to the present is the continuing degradation of higher education under the pressure of global neoliberalism, of which contingency is a symptom.

The announcement of this event went out about 10 days ago to the general research group. In other words, late, as far as I am concerned, because people plan weeks if not months in advance — or do they? But the day before the Research Group meeting we heard that a meeting had been called by the university  which all lecturers were required to attend. It was going to be a 2-day meeting. This meant That, for example, could not come.

However, Saturday morning in fact Vinh and Dean Hoa did come. We had a very good group that engaged in a good discussion afterwards.  Central ideas included how the NEA had to get the managers out of the union after the rise of the real union, the AFT, and how the 1960 NYC strike pushed forward the enabling legislation for CB.  Lots of talk about the VGC and what kinds of working conditions issues might be bargained for higher ed teachers in VN.  Vinh not only showed people where to sit and poured the tea, she also asked the three best questions: What states have the best CBA for higher education? Why don’t Harvard and Yale have unions (since we were talking about quality)? And would most adjuncts prefer flexibility or a full-time job?

A man who is a compliance officer from IKEA came and wants to join the group. There was also a man who teaches labor history at TDT, who doesn’t have much English, but was accompanied by a man who does, who is doing research on garbage workers in HCMC for a social welfare/community development group. He says that garbage workers are invisible, have no way to access social benefits, are below the radar of the labor code. I sent him a link to various Martin Luther King Jr videos about Memphis and the sanitation worker strike.

Sat 1

So tonight That will pick me up on her scooter and take me to some place where we will get our nails done.

Here is me, after a shampoo and facial, with pink finger and toenails, about to have my entire face shaved with a straight-edge razor. They use a razor instead of wax; wax is for men. My eyebrows got shaped, too. I am very happy with the way this turned out; I will go back to this salon, which is on Van Luong Street nearby, when we come back to Viet Nam.


VAn Luong Street is long and narrow; on Saturday night it is wide open with coffee shops, salons, music, many scooters zipping around like a country fairgrounds; a sense of Saturday night fun everywhere.

Tomorrow afternoon we fly back to Berkeley. We arrive Sunday night about 9 pm.

Last picture: the pianos “for use” on the bottom terraces of the TDT towers. Someone is always playing them. I have never seen one without someone playing it — at least not on this trip.

piano for use




The Library (2) — October 16, 2017

The Library (2)

Sitting in a “presentation room” in the new INSPIRE library, looking at the array of security tools attached to the door to the room, I thought:  These are not just barriers to keep people out and to limit or control access. They are also defensive, to keep something in, – to protect the integrity of some whole.

What is that “whole”?

library barriers

In a presentation room: One of those buttons opens the door from inside, so you can let someone in to join your group. But if you step outside yourself and the door closes (beeping all the while) and no one is in the room to let you back in, you will have to go find a librarian with a card to let you in. Another set of buttons is the climate control. Yet another probably has something to do with the password for the computer screen that is set up (and can’t be moved) directly in front of the white board – which you can’t write on until you get the markers from a librarian. Using the room means booking it in advance, and the door unlocks electronically so if you have booked for 10:30 and come at 10;29 the door will not open.

However, the fact is that despite a thousand features that cry “Hard to use!!! Do not even try!” this library is the most attractive place on campus.  It is jammed.Students love it. They are everywhere, using everything — the booths, the pillows, the computers, the elevators, the windows, the lockers in the basement, the front entrance with its grand staircase (see photos from August posts) which is the photo op venue of choice for graduating seniors. They pose for boyfriend/girlfriend photos next to it. They even seem to dress up a bit to go to to this library. And the cafeteria has the best food, albeit a bit more expensive, on campus, so there is always a line out the door. When we go to the library cafeteria, students offer us chairs at a shared table. Their manners are dressed up, too. I can’t help noticing that there are no other lecturers around, however. I wonder if there is some rule about this that we are unaware of?

That, come to think of it, is one of our basic questions about interactions in Viet Nam.

So what is going on?

I am used to city libraries that are quiet, so overstocked with books that some stay on trolleys forever, smell a little moldy, but whose main purpose, expressed in every physical design or staffing decision, is to get the books out the door. Share information! Give it to the curious reader, quick!! Even the 12-year old who wants to read a sexy novel — check the book out! Show them how to use the computer, forgive the overdue fine, manufacture the library replacement card in a matter of minutes (we have been here 10 weeks and do not have library cards, although we have been photographed and sent in our application). When I walk into the Berkeley Public Library, I see smiling faces like front desk employees at a 5-star hotel: How can I help you? How can I shovel information in your direction fast enough? Want to order something from somewhere else? We can get you things from all over the place!

When I am not treated like the user they have been waiting for all their lives — as at the UC Berkeley Library, where the librarian had to tell me that as an alum, but not a faculty member, I could not have online access to journals – I feel as if my patrimony has been swiped. But I go to the U of Illinois library, on line or by phone, and there I am again: welcome home! How can I help you? The message I get from even the physical design of a city library in the US expresses the mentality and vocational passion I associate with all librarians — the truth shall make you free, and here’s as much truth as I can pile onto you, as fast as possible.

In the libraries I am used to, the only security is the electronic eye that makes sure that any books you’ve got in your backpack as you leave have been checked out. There is no security on who comes in.

That was a digression. I have not even come to the point that I started out to make: that I realized that these barriers are not just to keep people out, but to keep something in.

So the real point is access, but not access to the building

Here is a place that is loaded with barriers to access, yet students are sucked toward it as if magnetized. They are not bothered by these barriers. I think that one of the things that draws them toward it is the sense that it is a safe place. That is rather like the whole campus; the fence around it, even along the canal, that opens only at the guard gates, where a friend of ours who tried to drive in with a motorcycle was stopped and had to call us on his cell phone.  And late at night (meaning 9 pm) when I walk back to our room from my Vietnamese class, there are girls out playing badminton or hackey-sac under the streetlights; no sense of any kind of threat or lurking danger.

Still asking the question about the relation of this library to the whole that it has been created to represent and defend: How about faculty? Faculty are under great pressure to publish. True, the only journals that “count’ are ISI/Scopus journals, which reminds me a bit of the U of Illinois. But the pressure on the university to demonstrate its success as a model (public but autonmous in the sense of fiscally independent but receiving large amounts of money such as for buildings from the government nonetheless) by ranking high on the basis of published articles is enormous, and this pressure gets passed down. Since current faculty are teaching huge workloads (four or five classes per semester, with 80-90 students per class) their chances of being able to get research done (much less learn how to do it) are faint, so the university hires academics from other universities on year-long contracts and then counts their publications as TDTs for the purpose of rising in the rankings. We have talked with some of these “foreign” faculty and they themselves are not confused about what is going on. On the other hand, our presence has a secondary effect — it interleaves the body of the teaching workforce with people who are in the habit of doing research and who generate discussions. Like the journal club, of which more later.

The library  (and the university) has not found a way to get around the high cost of “buying” access to journal articles. We told them about JSTOR and the “free article” function (thanks to Aron Swartz).

More about free access is at  https://about.jstor.org/news/celebrating-open-access-week-2017/?cid=soc_tw_JSTOR

But even that is limited. So researchers based here are pretty much boxed in.


Recently a set of rankings of universities was published in the University World News bulletin and TDT came up #2 in Viet Nam. We  learned when we were in Hanoi that the research group that did the rankings was funded by the World Bank and the United Nations. The study was carried out by some economists on the basis of an assignment from MOET (Ministry of Education and Training — note loss of accuracy due to translation problems here). Apparently all government agencies have their own research centers. These research centers were originally totally-government funded but now have to search for their own funding, which they get from places like the ILO, the UN, Oxfam, Scandinavian NGOs, etc. )

The reason for the survey which led to the rankings was, apparently (and we have heard this plenty of times to be sure that it is a generally held opinion) that the quality of teaching in Vietnamese higher education was “so bad.” The research, then, was intended to be positively provocative: to stimulate a discussion that would reflect on the problem. “We are from a command economy for 50 years. These universities are so safe, they do not work hard or learn new things.” The research on rankings was done entirely on the basis of  whatever was available on the web; no one came around to any of the universities and did observations, etc.

But what kind of information about a university is posted on the web?

Back to the tension between access and the powerful attraction of the library

I got irritated about having to put on the special shoes down in the basement, and showed my irritation to the young woman who came to let me in past the 2nd floor gates with her card. Realizing she did not understand my irritation, I backed off as fast as I could and asked her if she was a librarian. She said yes, although it  turned out she was a freshman studying business administration –but yes, she was a librarian, as if it were a vocation, loved the library, had worked here ever since it opened in August, and would like to spend her life here. She said,”When I read a book, my mind becomes empty!’ and the most beautiful smile spread over her face.

lbrary shoe crowd

These are students lined up to get keys for the lockers banked in another room in the basement, into which they can put their street shoes when they exchange them for the plastic shoes that they will wear when they enter the library.  When the library opened, there was a man at a desk who handed you the right size plastic shoe and you left your street shoes on the floor. Then there was no man, but there were plastic baskets labeled by shoe size, which soon did not contain shoes of the correct size. Then there were the banks of lockers, and people started leaving both their personal and their plastic shoes in the lockers. Then there was another desk, with special cubbyholes for the lecturers who are supposed to be able to get shoes faster. At this point I lost track (see line above). Now it appears that lecturers carry their plastic shoes around with them in a bag and switch them elsewhere.

I will represent this tension, the tension between access and protecting what is inside the library, with the following photo.  A tug of war, favorite game, just outside our dormitory room: the guy in the green shirt is I think the director of sports, and he is also quite a famous martial arts practitioner.


What the library keeps in

First, it keeps its own existence. It’s new, and a couple of months ago, it didn’t exist. There was a floor in one of the buildings that was called “the library” when we were here in 2015-16, but no one treated it like a library. This is completely different. Furthermore, the existence of this library is necessary, because you can’t have a TOP 100 university without a library, and it even has to support research because TOP 100 universities are research universities, so there has to be a public face of some sort that affirms a commitment to research even if the actual permanent faculty don’t have time to do research and the visiting faculty who are getting paid for publications are using the resources of other universities to do their work. But this library has to be here. A university can’t be a research university without a library. And it’s new. How many of the old city libraries in the US that i am comparing it with are less than 100 years old? And how about the Harvard library at 400 years, or even the Berkeley library at a a little over 100? They have hundreds of years — this library opened in August.

So, if we follow the logic of Viet Nam’s national ambition to produce its own well-educated, internationally respected college and university graduates, and TDT’s ambition to be a leader among Viet Nam’s universities, including reporting such high numbers of journals published by faculty in ISI/Scopus journals that it gets ranked as #2 in the nation, everything leads to the fact that there must be a library and it must be a research library.

So it has to exist, period. The status of the university depends on it.

So what would threaten its existence?

It’s not just that, as I was told, the presence of a library also attracts adults from the nearby neighborhood of wealthy Korean managers, who want to get in and use it. It is also that just about everything about the library — except the requirement that patrons of the library put on those shoes before entering — is politically sensitive, and therefore could threaten the existence of the library, or at least damage it seriously. Which is the explanation for the photo of the tug of war, above.

The Sixth Floor

I spent that first morning with the two young men librarians and then Joe and I went over there a second time to take them up on their invitation to visit the 6th floor. I have heard about the 6th floor. It is the place where 6,000 to 8,000 books – more than are downstairs – are stored. Certain people, like us, can get permission to take a book out from the 6th floor. But why are those books there?

We changed our shoes (the librarian had special pairs ready for us) and went up to the 6th floor in the elevator.

I assumed that they would be locked up because they are “politically sensitive” but that’s a gross simplification.  These are books that have been donated, in one way or another. Yes, one source of donation is from the big library that the Americans built in Saigon, filled with books that promoted, in all different kinds of ways, the American way of life and political system. I have heard this described as “The CIA library,” and also the US AID library, also known as the Abraham Lincoln Library. The story told to us by the librarians is that at the end of the war, many books were taken from the library and piled in the street and burned, but some were saved and these are the ones that were saved.

Quite a few of them are 1950s and 1960s liberal democracy books. Some are really good books:



Others are just anti-communist ranting. But they are all mixed in together. Looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers you can see that a lot of them are Social Science (300-399) and History and BIography (900-999), or at least that’s how they were classified back in the 1960s, and then there’s one in the picture that’s Religion (200-299). But this library does not use the Dewey Decimal system, as I mentioned earlier, and they shelve the English language books by title, not author. So the information provided by these numbers probably doesn’t make much difference.

shelf of books

Then there literally thousands of books that are donated by a US NGO that the librarians say is run by overseas Vietnamese (Viet-Khieu), who raise money to buy books and send them to the library. These are the ones that look new and don’t have Dewey Decimal System numbers on them. Among them, Clan of the Cave Bear.

books shelv

And the Republic of Plato, all right, and Showdown in Gucci Gulch, along with  Derek Bok’s Universities and the Marketplace.

new book donations

I got quite emotional when I saw Little Women, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Plato’s Republic on the shelf. The idea that those books would be sequestered for any reason started to get me upset. I began explaining what these books were and why they could not possibly be a problem.

But that was also when I understood that political sensitivity is just a small part of the problem. There are 15 library employees, total. Many of them are young students, or at most in their thirties. Only a few read English, and those are busy doing other things. They can’t spend all day sitting and reading Little Women to see what it’s about, much less try to figure out whether or not it would fit into a curriculum somewhere.  Someone has to actually look at these books one by one, find out something about them, and make a decision about releasing them into the general collection. Just because friendly people in the US sent them here doesn’t mean that they can  go right out into the general collection. That’s just not going to happen.

It is an enormous task, but progress is being made

Then we went across the hall to the room where books that have been approved are shelved and are one at a time getting entered into the database and given an electronic sticker so that they can be checked out. I am very happy to report that the shelves of  English language books that have been approved has a lot of books on it and they are good books; it’s as if someone who knew what they were doing had done the selection. For example, there were five or six side-by-side that have to do with African American history or literature — Zora Neale Hurston, for example, was there.

This is not a job that anyone else can do. A friendly American volunteer cannot spend a day on the 6th floor and come up with forty books that are “OK.” While I don’t know who is doing it, it’s getting done, and done right, but slowly.

Hansae news, Lan’s article, class projects — October 11, 2017

Hansae news, Lan’s article, class projects

In our Journal Club meeting on Monday, when we got back from Hanoi, Dean Hoa told us that his contact (the HR Manager named Thinh) at Hansae said that they enjoyed our session very much, that it was “exciting” and that they have suspended the class for a week in order to allow a new election to take place for union leadership.

We also heard from Jeffery Hermanson that he heard “from the company that they were happy with the training, and from the WRC that they are close to a final agreement.” Amazing.

My class

So now back to our classes. Joe and I each have only two classes left — we leave Viet Nam in a little over 2 weeks.

First, I distributed a photocopy of Lan’s article in the Global Labor University Column, in which she talks about the causes of wildcat strikes.  My point was first to draw the attention of students to the GLU as a place to get advanced education, and second to note that there is an internal discussion going on about the strategic direction of the VGCL.


In case this link doesn’t work, it was published on Oct 5, 2017, in the Global Labour Column, a newsletter of the Global Labour University.

I have been anxious about whether my students would be able to do the whole country comparison assignment, even though it’s not due yet, so I just put it up on the board and asked to see who could do it.


It says: Sit in your research groups; compare Viet Nam and the country you have chosen, by answering the following four questions: Who is “us”?  Who can act? Who judges? Who enforces?  That’s all they had to do today. But for their final submission, I want them to thread these questions through the work life history of the “old worker” they interviewed.

They went at it, drawing tables in their notebooks.

groups 2

group 1

Six groups were able to do the assignment: two had done the US, one did Finland, one India, one Bangladesh and one Cambodia. I cannot comment on whether what was posted is exactly correct, but that’s not as important as the fact that they were able to distinguish different answers to these fundamental questions, and that they could see that countries make their own IR systems out of their history, culture and economic situation both internally and externally.

“My” is US and Anh-Do is India.

Goup US2

goup 5 India

The one immediately below is US.

Group X

Group #1 did Finland.

Group Finland

Group #12 did Bangladesh.

Group 12 bang

And Group #9 did Cambodia.

group 9 Cambo

I then asked if anyone could give advice to other students about how to do this difficult assignment. One reason why it is difficult is because my four questions– “Who is us? Who can act? Who judges? Who enforces?” are not answered anywhere, at least no where that I have seen. They are essentially comparisons, from the workers point of view, and as my old boss at Illinois (Peter Feuille) once asked, “Who would pay for that kind of information?”  So you can’t get answers to these by hoping someone will tell them to you.

Huy stepped up and told people about a website called “Workerdiaries.org” (let me check that — all I can find right now is http://fashionrevolution.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Garment_Worker_Diaries_Bangladesh_Interim_Report.pdf), and then a young woman stepped up and told people about Labourstart.

speker 1 Huyspeaker 2

Then, after running through some slides on collective bargaining (we really need a whole class, a whole semester, on collective bargaining) we were going to talk about mediation — because we are following the Katz, Kochan and,Colvin textbook, and their experience is very heavy on mediation. However, mediation happens where conflict happens, and where conflict happens is different in different systems. So we had to go back to the slides from early in the course on theories that frame different IR systems and take another look at the way Katz, Kochan and Colvin describe the “unitary” and “conflict” theories.  The students had to create a new version of the “unitary” theory in order to make it fit with Viet Nam.  I asked them to do this by thinking about what things were like between 1975-1996, and then compare that with 1996 – today, when Viet Nam is open to FDI employers and investors who basically operate by the free market system.  Believe it or not, the students were able to do this — at least two of them. Huy was one and I’ll have to get the name of the other, a young woman, who knew exactly what she was talkingabout.

To sum it up: the mediation that Katz, Kochan and Colvin talk about takes place at what they refer to as the “functional level” of the IR system: where collective bargaining takes place. Mediators are often called in to resolve problems in collective bargaining that are related to communication, information, expectations, etc. In a country that does not have effective collective bargaining, mediation takes place at the workplace level (below the functional level) when specific problems cause a disruption of work and require prompt resolution, and as far as I an tell it is done with an ad hoc committee of local or provincial VGCL, employer, People’s Committee members, and worker leaders. Mediation also takes place at the top level, what the authors call “the strategic level,” where the VGCL interacts with the Party, the VCCI, MOLISA, and other top-tier entities.

I distributed a copy of the Accord that was prepared as a result of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, as an example of mediation at the strategic level. This was referred to in the Katz book but I wanted them to see the whole thing, especially the section on Governance and enforcement.





Hanoi, Oct 6,7,8 — October 8, 2017

Hanoi, Oct 6,7,8


The Women’s Museum had an exhibit of costumes worn by people practicing a kind of performance art in which they channel the spirits of aspects of the Mother Goddess, who (according to the caption on the exhibit) has four embodiments and a cast of characters including mandarins, princes, princesses and a domestic servant or page (his costume is the first on the left). People dress themselves in these costumes and perform dances that interpret the spirit, and they distribute “benefits’ which can be money, lottery tickets, fruit, etc. The audience gathers — according to a video of one such event, it’s a small room in a temple or even someone’s house — and it goes on for 6-8 hours, after which participants feel refreshed and relaxed. A small industry employing 3,000 people makes these costumes.

lake mtn.JPG

On Friday we went with the Hanoi Bike Collective folks out some 20-25 K to the NW of Hanoi, through the flower villages and a lot of other small towns, to the village of Chu Thay where there is the Thay pagoda, up on the steep mountain above this lake. The very top is crowned with terraces and small temples and carvings of dragons.

top of mtn

We used google maps “walking route” to set out going back to Hanoi, and found ourselves on streets like this one. That’s Dang, checking my bike. Pronounced Dzjang.


Google maps also put us onto streets like this one. I learned something about the Red River Delta mud: it is active mud that actually grabs you and sucks you down. This is Guil, owner of the bike shop, from Catalonia.


Rice noodles, drying.

rice noodles

More checking of bike performance issues, after we got past the mud.

pedals and gears

Rice, not ready to harvest yet.


Saturday afternoon, following up on an email from Chuck Searcy, we found our way to a cafe over near the Opera House. It’s called the Salon Van Hoa, Ca Phe Thu Bay, 3 Pho Ngo Quyen, Ly Thai, To Hanoi tel 098 535 0598.

Upstairs is a small meeting or recital room for cultural sharing. The participants were people interested in film generally, and included some well known directors. The man with the microphone, speaking, is Duc Hoa, who was the Vietnamese partner of Lynn Novick from the Ken Burns movie. Most of the people in the room had not seen the movie, although it is apparently available on Youtube.


Hanoi, October 3, 2017 — October 4, 2017

Hanoi, October 3, 2017

red union.JPG

“Red Union” or “Hop Cong Hoi Do, by Huynh Can FM, 1922-1987, painted in 1964, at the Hanoi Museum of Fine Art



One of the patriarchs. A whole room at the museum was dedicated to these slightly larger than life-size men. 

tranq cafe

Outside of the Tranquility Cafe. Note books on shelves inside. We were asked to sit outside because we were engaging in intense conversation with Daniel, and other people were reading and writing inside. Address is 5 Nguyen Quang Bich. There are two cafes by this name across the street from each other. The entry to the one we were in is below.

entr tranq

Below: View of Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword, sort of an Arthurian legend but involving a turtle) from the restaurant level of the first hotel we stayed in, Bao Khanh, owned by the brother of the owners of the hotel we originally reserved, but which had “water problems.” We are now back in the original hotel, Family Holiday, at 34 Hanh Hanh; large white room with balcony, very nice. Streets  are blocked off for cars on weekends all the way around the Lake, so they are full of strolling families. The tiny streets right by our hotel seem to have less car traffic; lots of motorbikes. It’s a dense tourist area. Shops selling silk, massage, baskets, jewelry are side by side all the way up and down the street (this is not different from the broader neighborhood, however). In between each one, a restaurant, sometimes several stories. Also nail and hair salons.

View frm htl

Hoan Kiem Lake, evening.

Dusk refl

We do email and respond to correspondence in the mornings, after breakfast. Lots of prep going on for the Minimum Wage Workshop January 8-9-10. I have committed to study my VN vocabulary but am having a hard time concentrating on it. Waiting to hear the other shoe drop regarding Hansae: did the students contact Ana Jimenez? Did Jeffery Hermanson read my message to him? Did anyone read my blog post about the session? Etc.

Then go out;  an appointment, a museum. Later today we will find Ho Tay Lake and a bike collective where we can rent bikes and ride around the lake.

bike coll

We have signed up for a 60K ride on Friday, out through the Red River delta to a pagoda.

Research — September 30, 2017



The 20th anniversary of Ton Duc Thang’s founding — huge celebrations, thousands of students marching with flags, an amazing display of martial arts. In this picture the people are lined up by faculty. Elegant lunch on the 11th floor, gala dinner at the Rex Hotel the evening previous, following a massive sequence of speeches from important people both locally and nationally,


J club int lang

That, Vinh, Miss La and Dean Hoa go over the interview questionnaire for hotel workers for our project on whether hotel worker jobs are”sustainable,” which we hope to present at an upcoming conference on tourism, development and ‘sustainability.’ The question is, are the jobs of hotel workers ‘sustainable’?  By the way, we just got a letter saying our proposal was accepted. I’m not surprised: they are not going to get a lot of proposals on a labor topic. And our faculty is uniquely set up to do this. So if anyone is going to do this, it’s us. Problem: the cost of registering for the Dec conference, where one of us would preview our incomplete material for purposes of getting feedback, is $100. Joe and I will not be here so it would be others from our faculty who attend. Will TDT spring for the registration fee? We’ll see.

Projects related to research: Joe’s class research

In Joe’s class, students are turning in their papers which are collections of interviews  in which he is hoping to hear stories of “emergent” leadership, workers actually self-organizing to solve a problem at work. Vinh has to do the translation simultaneously, standing up, into Joe’s ear. As best we can tell: one story told of a manufacturing jewelry shop, where the sales staff had been sharing the bonus among four workers. Then the employer hired four more workers and expected the bonus to be shared among the 8. The workers, including the production workers, went to the employer and asked him (he was, incidentally, an overseas Viet who had come back from Australia) to increase the bonus. He refused. There were also new people hired in the production workers group, with the same problem. A senior experienced production worker who did not like sharing the bonus with a new, inexperienced worker, decided to do a slow down. Whether he refused to do his own work or the work that helped out the new worker, was not clear. Whatever happened, the order went out lacking the certificate and manual that usually accompanied the order. The customer complained and wanted to speak to the top manager. The result was a meeting between the aggrieved workers and the manager, in which the bonus problem was resolved.

This is a very good example of 1) a worker taking the lead among other workers, 2) how the initiative falls on the shoulder of some individual person when there is no worker representative to go to for help; 3) how hit-or-miss the process of resolving problems through worker ‘withdrawal of efficiency’ is, compared to collective bargaining, 4) how through this process one problem is resolved at a time, with no guarantees that it will stay resolved if more workers are added or the manager changes or if the current management changes its mind. Nor does the experienced worker, who was willing to do something, get any assurance that his sabotage will not get him in trouble a few weeks from now.

So from my point of view, this is an example of why these workers need an active union presence in their workplace, so that as soon as the failure to increase the bonus comes to the attention of one worker, the union can pick up the issue and deal with it.

However, that is not obvious to the students. The absence of the union is not easily visible to them.

Joe and I are talking about the difficulties of teaching “Leadership” out of context, to people who have to dream up the kind of organization that a union leader would lead, and have every reason, from all their experience and all their training, to believe that there are good reasons why such organizations do not exist. Joe has the idea that this class needs to be taught using stories as the basis, as compared to theories (the Northouse textbook is a compendium of theories one after the other, some even trademarked, which Joe then tries to contrast with theories from organizing). I think he is right.

This is actually research in support of teaching. The best background piece I’ve ever seen about teaching stories and writing is this, in interview with Vijay Prashad about running writing workshops in India:


I just noticed that Mark Nowak, the person who did the interview, is probably the same Mark Nowak the poet who came and taught a few classes at Illinois while we were there.

Presentation on How to Write an Article to Sociology Department

Yesterday afternoon, at the invitation of Mai Le Thi, the Assistant Dean of the Department of Sociology, we made a presentation about how to publish an article in a US or English language journal.

This is the program that Kim Scipes taught in last summer, and John Hudnyk is teaching there now.

We met with about 20 other professors and the same number of students in one of the seminar rooms. First we asked people to tell us their research questions, with the caveat that they should care about them, other people should care about them, and they should be feasible and fundable.

One professor told us that she was studying the impact of eco-tourism on national forests. A student said he was studying the level of criminality in Muslim communities in VN. He went on to start talking about his methodology, and we stopped him when he seemed to be about to talk for 20 minutes. A third person, a student, said that he was studying the impact of intellectual workers on the social welfare and social culture of HCMC. What he meant was managers; people who do not do sew or drive or dig or cut or cook, etc.  We said this was too big a topic. We invited him to have a private conversation with us. Later another man spoke up to say he was studying the level of income of teachers in HCMC, single vs married women. He asked if he could extrapolate from one neighborhood to the whole city, and we said no, but you can do a case study, which Joe talked about.

Then the participation stopped and we went on to discuss my handout which was originally written for Ha Dang. It goes through everything from key words to keeping your discussion separate from your data. The discussion afterwords focused on how to make a bridge between VN researchers and the primarily English-language and US or Canadian peer reviewers. Readers matter down the line, of course, but first the article has to get past the peer reviewers. We said that the bridge is made mainly in the lit review, secondarily in the introduction in which you motivate your research out of your lit review by showing what has been done, what is good and what isn’t, and what needs to be done next.

Doing a lit review here is a real problem because of the cost of journal articles. Spending $30 or more to read an article that you might disagree with, or not even use, is simply incomprehensible.

Give me a theory strong enough

Another place the bridge gets built, and maybe a more important one, is theory.  If you are doing research in sociology and your theory is that there is no class struggle, or that class struggle was solved by socialism embodied in a system of government and society,  and this is also the social system that what your are studying exists in, then you are not going to see class struggle if it’s happening, because your theory says that it can’t happen.  Yet right there in front of your eyes, labor disputes are taking place: mass strikes, for example. So your experience is that you are both seeing and not-seeing something; you are seeing something you cannot be seeing. Cognitive dissonance!!!  Can be either exasperating or motivating.

Joe said this is a forest and trees problem: you need to be able to look at both the trees and the forest, and you also have to see the forest as a whole, a thing that has edges. Where are the edges of the forest? What is out there beyond the edges of the forest? Other forests? What do the trees in those other forests look like?

You are going to have to have a theory that says there is more than one forest. If the first forest is your theory, you need a meta-theory that includes your theory plus at least one alternative. “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the world” – Archimedes.  The meta-theory we are talking about is your place to stand.

A meta-theory might say, for example, “Social systems are not like the force of gravity, of which there is only one (as far as we know).   Instead, they are the product of human beings trying to solve problems. They have histories and features and effects. There are, and can be two, or three, or more social systems.”

Simply for the purpose of writing articles that will pass peer review in a western journal, Vietnamese need some kind of neutral meta-theory to speak from, because their reviewers have the mirror image of the same problem: they think their anti-communist and full-out capitalist societies are the natural system,  like the force of gravity.

I think this is why three Asian research pieces i have read recently refer to ‘systems theory,’ with the emphasis on the ‘s’ on the end of ‘systems.’

Pay for Publishing Approach to Research

TDT has decided to motivate people to do research and publish by paying them per article,  although regular faculty have such a heavy teaching load they can’t really get much done. Instead, the university hires people from other universities who have track records publishing to come to TDT and name TDT as “their university’ when they publish. The pay for this is per publication (in addition to a regular salary) which is some millions or billions of dong – I think it amounts to $4,000 or $5,000 — awarded to the author following publication. At the big ceremony on Saturday they honored a man who had 96 ISI publications (I have ranted about the ISI and Scopus lists earlier.) Apparently, if you are regular faculty and publish an article in an ISI journal, you will also get some relief from teaching 4 or 5 classes per semester; maybe one class off, plus the cash.

I have had enough conversations with Dean Hoa and Vinh so that they understand my view of this practice. The various people we are meeting who have taken this deal are not confused about it: they know that by lending their name to TDT they are mis-representing the reality of TDT as a “research university.” But that’s secondary to the opportunity to live and teach and do research in VN; they are more interested in doing their own work than in the public relations of TDT.

Hotel Worker Research for Engaging With VietNam Conference 

We are actually in motion on this topic. Miss La and That have worked on the interview questions, to make them “more realistic” which is good. Miss La has also offered to make contact with some possible interviewees for us.

We got a glimpse of what it’s like to be a hotel worker from another student research project, the one from my class. This was someone who had worked at the Rex Hotel in Vang Tau. Whether the Rex Hotels form a system or not, or whether anyone can start a Rex Hotel, I do not know.  This man had worked as a room service guy on night shift, with no one to back him up while he was running up and down delivering food; then he was a server in the dining room; then he was a security guard. He disliked the night work because he missed his family. He did not get tips; the students shook their heads as if no one would get tips, when I asked about tips. He said that the union did not dare to stand up and fight for the workers.

We saw the Rex Hotel when we were in Vang Tau; a huge palace of a place. The Rex Hotel in HCMC is the same, right near the big pedestrian mall where there are also Prada and Burberry stores.

We have asked the front desk people in small hotels where we’ve stayed — like in Hoi An and now, in Hanoi – who owns these small hotels. So far, everyone has said that their hotel is a family business and the employees, from front desk to room cleaners, are extended family. The room cleaners in Hoi An were three sisters. The owners of the hotel where we are now, in Hanoi, are three brothers — we have been shipped from one hotel to another because of a “water problem” in the first hotel, so we are now the guests of a second brother. I want to know if there are very different regulations for small hotels and big hotels.

Worker interviews in my class

My class has broken into 14 groups, each completing at least one interview with a older worker, the idea being that people who have work histories of 20 or 30 years will reveal, in their histories, some aspect of the presence of the IR system. The plan is to get the bottom-up view of how the IR system in VN (see above about systems) works. Who is touched, and by what? The Labor Code? The VGCL? The prescribed benefits and social welfare requirements? A CBA? An HR manager, who is actually part of the IR system here, to tell the truth? The minimum wage? What aspects of the system make it into the consciousness of a worker, over the course of a long worklife?

Judging from the interviews that have come in so far, there is a wide gap during a worker’s work life when only the employer’s voluntary willingness to “follow the law” creates any stability. Most interviewees say that there was no “union presence” at their work. Some credit the union with solving a problem typical of the problems HR would solve in the US system: getting permission to go home for a funeral, or getting an accommodation for a back problem or a maternity leave.

I will post my first level analysis of these interviews. What I would say so far is that the economic energy is going into starting your own business, which takes place pretty much informally (family employees) or in semi-regulated in ways that haven’t settled down yet and create terrific money-making opportunities for clever creative entrepreneurs. Employees in these companies have a tough time.  By contrast, the huge FDI employers  — garment, for example — get managed indirectly by the government through setting of the minimum wage; thus setting the minimum wage is almost foreign policy.  The best conditions appear to be at jointly operated companies: a Vietnamese-Russian company, for example. The employees in SOEs (schools, hospitals) say their work is stable but very low pay; they do it because they love it and believe in it. But these people are old.

So if you were trying to reverse engineer the industrial policy of VN by looking at these three streams, you might say that by letting entrepreneurs make the most of the growing economy, the government creates a safety valve; the big money is in the FDIs which stay in VN because of the low labor costs, and can threaten to leave; and the SOEs will continue to provide stability to aging workers until that generation is gone.

The idea of my class is to get students to be able to tell worklife stories — what is it like to be a worker in Viet Nam these days? I may be forcing the assignment into too rigid a framework, by requiring them to tell the story in terms of the ways that the IR system touched or did not touch the people they’re interviewing. But that’s the class I’m teaching. The big step, which is yet to come (as of October 1, with 3 more classes to go) is to get them to find parallel worklives in other countries in order to show how those stories differ – and, since this is a class in global labor (industrial relations, really) they have to show how the IR system in each country affects the experience of workers.

So far we’ve had 2 presentations that compare the worklives of people in Viet Nam with the worklives of people in another country. A group that interviewed a teacher in VN presented about teachers in Finland. A group that interviewed a garment worker presented about garment workers in Bangladesh. I have not seen their written reports yet; I caught as much as I could from Vinh’s mouth-to-ear translation. Whether we have pushed past the story into the IR system of each country, I can’t tell.

But to go back to the Archimedes “give me a place to stand” paragraph, just getting these students to know that there are other systems out there is the point.

The Hansae system: a salad of communication

In our simulation session on Friday when we reported the Hansae project, I drew the who-did-what-to-whom-when diagram on the board and added, in red, a little red circle representing me and Joe, with arrows to Jeff Hermanson and then to the TDT students and then one from the TDT students around the outside of the whole thing back to the USAS students at Cornell.

Looking at that diagram, I thought that this would make a good article. The point of it would be the different kinds of communication that were active in this system. Most of the writing I read in Mind, Culture and Activity or on the XMCA list treats “communication” as if it was all one flow of information or feeling — just the transmission of something. In the Hansae diagram, you could see how different kinds of communication are actually different kinds of acts: threats, contracts, “signatory” commitments, laws, organizing, teaching, reporting, influencing, etc. Each arrow marks a different kind of communication with a different consequence. It would be cool to sort all these out and explain how they are all different, even though they are all just flows of speech (in two languages! So the translation plays a role, too).

I think it was David Mamet who counted the ways speech could be used on stage to move action along: a threat, a promise, a lie, an argument, a curse…a few other things, not many. The point being that these are words that do something. They are action, not exposition, it’s not just filling in information.

And one more thing: I was riding on a bus coming in from the airport in Detroit. This was a few years ago. Only me and a couple of other people on the bus. I was reading Austin’s How To Do Things With Words, which is a very pretty small mint-green book with a big title.


The bus driver saw the title and said, “Isn’t that true!” and began to tell a story about something he had done…

Vietnamese language class moment to remember

Speaking of language:


The criss-crosses over the words “Lien Xo” express the emotion of the teacher, Co Lee, who wanted to make the point that the Soviet Union was a thing of the past. One can no longer identify oneself as “Nguoi Lien Xo,” because Lien Xo is gone. The word for Russia is “Nga.”

We are up in Hanoi now. I read an article in the Viet Nam News about miners; it’s a perfect case study for explaining “elasticity” for my class.

Enough for today!!!!






Hansae Sept 28, 2017 — September 29, 2017

Hansae Sept 28, 2017


The TDT car picked us up at 5:45 am. The driver had had a late night trip so he slept in a meeting room on campus and was taking a shower in the gym restroom when we came out. Vinh and That brought mooncakes, like a fruitcake with an egg yolk in the middle, for us to snack on while we travel. Vinh was doing the Vietnamese powerpoints but her computer ran out of battery so she transferred to my computer but had to install the VN script, which she had to download from her phone access to the internet as we passed through heavy early morning traffic in District and then on out northwest to Cu Chi.

You go in through a gate, get VIP passes, and then there’s a view of this vast industrial zone factory. Vast 2These were taken when we walked over to the canteen for Korean managers at lunch. We passed their housing; felt like housing on an army base.

Vast 1

Overall, the day went as planned. that is to say, we did the things we planned to do in the order we set. There were some additional things we did, too, and they all worked.

Hansae had everything we needed — projector, screen, moveable chairs, whiteboard with markers, water.The General Manager came and introduced himself quickly at the beginning and left. Joe had prepared a timeline of the interaction among USAS, WRC, FLA, Nike, Hansea, and BetterWork; he had also printed out the websites of all the international organizations (those, for example, plus the ILO — this handout is available upon request) that spoke to the labor standards issue. They appreciated our preparation, which I originally thought was excessive but turned out to be right on. Our host was a young man who is both union and HR, named Thinh; we hope to keep in touch with him.

Among the participants, management entered the room first. Then workers. Thinh explained that the workers had to set up their work assignments before they could come, and some were far away and they had to come on bicycles. Total: 27, with two or three management who came in the morning and left, or came in the afternoon only.

Basically, this will follow the schedule I put up int he previous post.

We had people read aloud (in Vietnamese translation) the handout listing the problems that workers had reported to the WRC. The group then told us which ones had been taken care of and which remained:

issues remaining.JPG

We broke the participants into four groups, two workers and two management. This took a leap of faith, but we did it. Then we set them to picking which issues each group would choose to prepare to bargain.

Groups one and two are workers: groups 3 and 4 are management.

Barg is W1Barg issu W2

Barg issues 3MBrg is M 4

In between some of these we had break, lunch, and a couple of min-lectures.

Then they prepared their bargaining proposals, based on the priorities of their own groups. Here are the two workers’ groups:


Wrks grp 1Wrk grp 2

Here are the management groups:Mgmt grp1mgmt grp 2

Then they bargained.  We had a whole hour for this, and it involved many stops and starts. We intervened once to prevent an agreement, which – since this wasn’t a real life bargaining session where people were authorized to agree – would have been a big problem. We intervened to get management to caucus, etc etc.


We got through the first management caucus and response, and the workers were starting to respond when we had to stop because it was nearly 4:30.

Lesson: Collective bargaining a highly choreographed dance, very formal, very careful; emphasize the contrast between dialog at the table and workers marching in the street. Very much to my mind like martial arts: a display of intensity, attention and discipline. But you have to know how to do it. You have to know the moves. A break from the protocol (for example, if one party suddenly speaks in a patronizing tone to signal or remind the other party of the inequality that exists away from the table)  can be hard to repair.

The news about the TDT students involvement was greeted with what almost seemed like relief; hopefully, Cornell students will be able to visit in January. Lots of “keep in touch.”

Final grp

Final photo.

We projected these photos on my blog in the simulation class today (Friday the 29th), with commentary and analysis The next step is for the TDT students to connect with the Cornell students and the USAS students. They will try to do this in spite of having mid-terms next week.


That explaining what was going on at the table at Hansae yesterday. Big discussion in class about Vietnam labor law, under which a manager who is not on the Board of Directors or who does not/could not sign the CBA is legally allowed to be a member of the union and can be elected to an office in the union. Although this is a situation that has caught the eyes of the USAS students, it is not the main problem. Nor is it a problem that is going to get addressed in time for Nike to re-up its contacts with Hansae. The main problem is the need for membership education and leadership development within the workforce, sufficient to engage in real collective bargaining that would give workers a voice in improving their own conditions and enforcing the agreement, so that they would not have to go on strike in order to get management’s attention.










Hansea next week — September 23, 2017

Hansea next week

barg team

Joe is giving management’s response to a rather brilliant move made by the TDT team representing Hansea workers during the negotiation of ground rules. 

Dean Hoa told us about 10 days ago that there was a request from Hansea, which has a huge factory up in the Cu Chi Industrial Zone, to have us go teach there on September 28. This would be one session in a multi-week sequence that TDT is already doing as extension labor ed. Apparently pressure from USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) in the US at places like Cornell and U of Washington has caused enough college bookstores to drop their Nike contracts to get the attention of the Korean corporate headquarters of Hansae, which makes the product for the brand.  (Nike is the “brand” — the manufacturer is Hansae).

Most of the criticisms of the management of the plants involve things like wage theft, heat over 90 degrees and no cooling, abusive supervisors, forced overtime, impossible productivity targets, etc., but one of the criticisms  is that there is management on the union executive board — par for the course in Viet Nam. But in the US, students see this as a problem.

Which of course it is. With management on the union E-board, no real negotiation is going to happen because the union will not really speak for the workers. Workers won’t trust management to negotiate on their behalf, and management won’t be able to find out what workers really think. Instead, problems will get solved one at a time, whenever workers get mad or desperate enough to go on strike. Then the company has to meet with local authorities and the lead workers to agree to some immediate fix in order to get them back to work. This has been the pattern for years now.

Hansea has operated in Viet Nam since 2001, but also has factories in Myanmar, Guatemala, Indonesia and Nicaragua. What follows is taken from the Worker Rights Consortium Assessment, Dec 6,2016, page 4: The plant in Cu Chi has 12 buildings, each with 500- 1,200 workers. In 2015 it had “sales of more than $1.4 billion and an operating profit of $125 million and sends 93% of its production to the United States. It also produces for Gap, H&M, Hanes, Inditex (Zara), JC Penney, Kohls’, Macy’s, Children’s Place, Polo Ralph Lauren, Target and Walmart.

The invitation came to TDT through a contact, Jeffery Hermanson, who once worked for UNITE. He has worked in the US, Honduras and Guatemala at, for example, Fruit of the Loom. Now retired, he has a  501(c)3 NGO called the International Union Educational League through which he does labor education consulting.  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-hermanson-0822208

Katie Quan had actually mentioned him to us when we last met with her before we left in August, but I didn’t process what the connection was. Hermanson has a solid reputation for efforts to sort out cross-national disputes about labor standards.  A quick google mentions him in a situation in Bangladesh:

Our first act was to contact Hermanson, by Skype. He gave us quite a lot of background. We then got the various reports from the Workers Rights Consortium, etc. As of today, Friday the 22nd of September, we have been reading these various reports and preparing our teaching plan. A fundamental question, of course, is: Who will be in the room? Will they be all management? Workers? Supervisors? Anyone  from the union?

Dean Hoa went up to Cu Chi yesterday to teach in this sequence. He rode the whole 45 K on his motorcycle, leaving at 5:45 am. To my mind, this was an excess of bravado: 45 K on a motorbike in dense, polluted traffic (they don’t even call it traffic, they just cut to the chase and call it “traffic jam”), prior to a full day of teaching on your feet by yourself, would be a brain stupefier. Just riding in an Uber a couple of weeks ago through that traffic made me toxic for the day. But he did it, and came home the same way, with the report that the participants like a lot of interaction and active learning, that they are mostly “team leaders” and that they start at 8, end at 4:30, and take a two hour lunch.

A two hour lunch suggests that they are mostly management.

Using Hansae at TDT as a teaching case study

We have decided to use the Hansea situation simultaneously in our TDT class as well. On Friday mornings we have been doing a collective bargaining simulation up in a presentation room in the new library, and since the role play we wrote originally was set in a garment factory, we simply shifted a few items and used the real one. The problems at Hansae — pressure to meet unreasonable quotas, toxic cleaning liquids being sprayed, bad food, forced overtime, wage theft, abusive supervisors, rate-setting in the pattern department under ideal conditions, refusal of legally established leaves and breaks, etc etc – are similar to the ones we dreamed up in our simulation, based on my memories of working in Philadelphia for UNITE, except a little bit worse. Examples of things that are worse: pay of around 6M dong per month ($294) and no air conditioning — in fact, the kind of cooling equipment that is used is water-drenched cooling pads, which increases the humidity. And even these are not installed in places where the heat is over 90%. Workers are fainting at their machines and being taken to the infirmary where they may rest a little, but then go back to work.

The students really got into the role play, so much so that it seemed logical to try to make a connection between TDT students and Cornell students, especially since Cornell is one of the USAS sites that started this whole thing. So Joe wrote to Richard Fincher:

As you may remember, Helena and I were tapped to do a class in Cu Chi, sponsored by the local VGCL and Hansae (biggest Korean garment contractor and biggest private employer in VN at present), at their factory to basically tell them how to get the American students and WRC off their backs about labor standards in their factories in VN where they have contracts with Nike. Nike has already pulled some work from them, so we have their attention. The class is next week and we have it pretty much planned, even though we do not really know exactly the composition of the group (management, managers who are also officers in the union, “group leaders”(?), actual workers, etc?).

We have shared much of this preparation with some of our students here with whom we are already scheduled to do a series of 6 collective bargaining simulations from preparation for bargaining through negotiations on to enforcement of a CBA. We decided to use the actual Hansae situation as the case and the TDTU students have really gotten into it. We drew many of the details and the conditions and possible demands from the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) report issued just last December. (Available on their website.)

Upon doing the research for the class, we found that Cornell is one of the universities where the local of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has successfully pressed the administration to pull out of the agreement with Nike to sell Cornell-logo goods. We also noticed that some of the national leaders of USAS are students at the Cornell Labor School. Therefore, I had the bright idea to see if you could facilitate some direct contact between our TDT mock bargainers (representing the mythical worker-controlled union at Hansae, with us teachers posing as management) and students at Cornell, maybe in ILR school, who have been part of the USAS-led struggle there. It would be great, I thought, for both groups to be able to communicate (email, Skype, etc.) directly and learn from each other. Also, we will tell the Hansae folks that we are doing this mock bargaining based on their situation, and it might put a bit more pressure on the company to straighten up their act, especially as it pertains to their managers dominating the existing union.

If you could supply me with some contact information for some of the right students (maybe including some who might come to VN in the program this year?) I think it might be a great real-work learning experience all round. Our students in this (about 8-10) are very good ones and most have pretty good English too.

Looking forward to hearing from you ASAP since we have a mock bargaining session set for Friday, Sept. 29.

Hope you are well. We are extremely busy and have many projects in the fire, as you might expect.


Richard wrote back that he would do so.


Students preparing to bargain in new library “presentation room.”

Some teaching materials

Readers of this blog may go a little cross-eyed at the idea of my posting handouts on the blog, but here is our class plan. Just be thankful that I have not (yet) posted the 14-page table of first steps in analyzing the worker interviews from my Labor and Globalization class. I will do that soon enough. It’s pretty interesting..

This version of the class plan, re-constructed after we found out about the two hour lunch, does not have VN translation (yet). Please note the challenge at the end of the session.

One-Day Workshop

HANSAE, Cu Chi, September 28, 2017

Joe Berry and Helena Worthen, Instructors

Ton Duc Thang University



            Two separate spaces so that groups can have some privacy

            Power point projector and screen; computer setup

            Moveable chairs

            At least 2 translators (Korean-English? Vietnamese-English?) who can rotate                                    once an hour


            White board or chalk board, flip chart

            3 HANDOUTS to be translated into VN and passed out

                        #1. Timeline (pass out as people enter in morning)

                        #2. List of complaints found in the WRC report (pass out before lunch)

                        #3 Union vs management leadership; Collective decision making

45 minutes. H&J

Introductions of people in the room. Have people interview each other and introduce. Name, position, office location. .

8:45 – 9:00

15 minutes or less. H&J

Background of instructors: Teachers, activists and elected leaders in American Federation of Teachers. Both have worked for unions: SEIU, UNITE, AFT. UNITE represents garment and apparel works in the US – sewing machine operators, pattern makers, finishers, ironers, etc etc. Both have also done labor education in Mexico, Peru and Canada. Introductions of translators and others from TDTU if present

Joe: Explanation of our understanding of the invitation. It was requested by Hansae top leadership to labor union educator in the US, Jeffery Hermanson, who has worked with companies and unions in the US, Honduras, Guatemala, etc. Hermanson recommended TDTU FLRTU and our collective bargaining training. The request came about because of strikes, starting in 2015 then in 2016, protests by USAS in the US, and their impact on Nike contracts at universities.


Today’s task: Vietnamese labor relations occupy a special position in history. In the socialist past, managers and workers in Viet Nam were on the same side. Now, both management and workers have to deal with pressures coming from competition along a global capitalist supply chain. Vietnamese managers today find themselves on the opposite side of the bargaining table from workers and the workers’ union. Workers, on the other hand, have to learn how to build a union that can come to the table prepared to bargain from a position of strength.

9:00 – 9:30 Thirty minutes, Helena

Overall question: How can Hansae Vietnam lift pressure from brands (Nike) and avoid labor disputes at the Cu Chi factory? Overall answer: By allowing the development of a strong union and engaging in collective bargaining.

Blackboard or whiteboard: Draw circle of workers’ interests, employer’s interests. Note area of overlap. Point out how the area of overlap can be big or small. This is the zone of negotiation: where issues are negotiated and agreed upon. What happens when little or no agreement takes place? Both workers and management turn to their economic weapons. What are the economic weapons on the workers’ side? What are the economic weapons on the employer’s side? When does the use of these weapons, or the threat of them, lead to more effective negotiations? When does it lead to failure?

Message: Know about economic weapons and how to use them, but choose to negotiate instead if possible.

Suggest that participants read HANDOUT #1 during break. Point out that the items on this time line are all “economic weapons” – whether strikes or reports or boycotts.

FIRST BREAK AT 9:30 – 9:40

9:40 – 10:00, 20 minutes, Joe Berry

Creating and sustaining a “negotiation zone” requires collective bargaining.

What does it take to engage in collective bargaining? On the workers’ side: A strong union that is:

  1. Not dominated by management;
  2. Legitimately has the trust of the workers because the workers control it.
  3. Has the capacity and power to mobilize workers for action. (ILO definition)

Here are some English definitions based on international labor vocabulary, to help with the proper translation so we all know what we mean when talking about a grassroots local union. (This will use ppts; need to be translated in advance.)

“Union member” means any worker who has agreed to join a union, pays dues and/or who is covered by the collective bargaining contract.

“Union staff” in American English is someone who works either full-time or part-time for the union for pay, not just volunteer. This might be someone who operates a sewing machine 4 days a week and works for the union 1 day a week. In Vietnam, confusion comes from the fact that the employer, not the union, pays union staff for union work. This is a problem that is well-recognized.
“Union officer” means someone who has been elected by members of the union or appointed in some democratic manner. This is not someone who is appointed by management. Only members of the union would be able to vote for union officers. The union officer should be a member of the union (not management). When students in USAS can’t accept the idea that a manager is also a union officer, this is what they are talking about.

“Union leader”. This could be a union officer or it could be someone who is a “natural” leader, a worker who is trusted by the members and whose leadership is respected. He or she does not have to be a union officer. They may well be a volunteer who gets no pay for union activities (or perhaps only their own expenses reimbursed). This is a term that is appropriately applied by looking at what happens at a workplace to see who is actually doing the leading.

“Labor education”. This term usually means training/education for union workers, leaders and/or staff which helps them be more effective in the union and increases the capabilities of the union to fulfill its mission of representing workers. It is not training for the job or how to increase productivity.

Note that none of these include people who are in management positions or who are not actually employed by the company, though union staff might be hired from outside, usually someone with union experience.

Preparing for bargaining. PASS OUT HANDOUT #2.

10:00 – 10:20, 20 minutes, Helena

At this point, acknowledgement of who is in the room is necessary. Ask people to raise their hands if they are part of management. Raise hands if they are workers. Raise hand if they are from VGCL or local union. Group leaders and union leaders?

Present list of problems that were raised by the WRC during the 2016 investigation. These are problems brought up by workers. They are in order as listed in the WRC report. Keep things on list even if they have “been solved” at present, because this is an exercise in preparing for bargaining. Have group read list aloud, one line per person.

Discussion: Any others to add?

Explain that in collective bargaining, problems are not solved one at a time, as they come up. Instead, they are all negotiated together and agreed to in one written document that is signed by both parties. The collective bargaining process is continuous. What happens at the table is just one piece of it. It goes from the first contract to the second (several years later) and the third, and onward. So you have to deal with all these problems as a single set of relationships. This takes preparation and leadership.

10:20 – 10:50, 30 minutes. Helena

Tell people they are half management and half workers (union). Put people into 6 random groups of 7 (6 x 7 = 42 people). Groups 1-3 are workers. Groups 4-6 are management. Ask them to bundle and prioritize issues, as if preparing a bargaining program.

10:50 – 11:25 35 minutes, H&J

Report back from union groups first.How did you group the problems? What priorities did you set?

Report back from management second. How did you group the problems? What priorities did you set?

11:25 – 11:30 5 minutes, Helena and Joe (transition to lunch, question to think about)

How do you move from recognizing the problems to actually bringing them to the bargaining table?

11:30 – 1:30, Two hours


1:30- 1:50, 20 minutes, Joe

All of the following activities are what a union does to prepare for bargaining. They require trusted union leadership. Give each of the 6 groups one of these tasks involving preparation.

  1. Research the employer (its financial, legal, political situation, position in supply chain, other factories making Nike, competitors)
  2. Find and educate local union leaders, one in each work group if possible
  3. Communicate – with members, the public, on social media, at USAS, etc.
  4. Research problems at the workplace (history of problems; look for patterns). Look for witnesses, testimony
  5. Choose a bargaining team and educate them about bargaining as well as about the issues
  6. Preparing a pressure campaign among workers to show the employer and the public their level of willingness to use economic weapons

For each of these, the purpose is “To get the best deal possible for workers.” It is not, “To increase employer profit.” After the contract is signed, if the workers honestly believe that the union has gotten the best deal possible, they will not protest.

1:50 – 2:15, 25 minutes, Joe

Reports on preparation for bargaining. The point of this part of the exercise is to show the amount of work required by the union as it prepares for bargaining. Only trusted union leaders, free from interferences from management, can do these..

2:15 – 2:25, 10 minutes, Helena –

Mini lecture.  First set of contrasts (2 total). Union leadership vs management leadership. Distribute HANDOUT #3

2:25 – 2:35 10 minutes

Choosing what goes onto bargaining program.  Groups 1-3 (union) will choose items that will be part of their bargaining program, based on the priorities that they set earlier. Groups 4-6 (management) will choose what they will present as part of their bargaining program. Note: we will not get to hear management’s proposed language. We are only going to hear the workers’ side presented in the upcoming role play.

2:35 – 2:45 10 minutes  Joe – second Mini-lecture

How did you make your decisions about either priorities or language? Second part of HANDOUT #3: Types of decision-making: oracular, consulting, majority, consensus. “Consultation” is the typical management type. But if union leaders have to lead bottom-up activity, decisions have to be made democratically and collectively. Important point: in either majority or consensus decision making, all participants or voters have to belong to the organization as equals. Otherwise decision will not survive the test of practice.

Discussion: Management decision making (efficient); collective decision making (powerful because it creates commitment). Management, for example, could simply make the decision to pull all managers out of their union positions. Then the union could develop its own candidates and workers could decide how to have its election.

2:45 – 2:55 10 minutes,  Joe, third mini-lecture

Dealing with fear. Message: as long as workers are afraid to speak honestly about their issues, they will resort to disruptions of work rather than face-to-face bargaining. If the goal is to avoid disruptions, workers must not be afraid.

BREAK 2:55- 3:00 five minutes

3:00- 4:00 One hour. Helena and Joe. “Fishbowl bargaining.” Furniture: table with 3 chairs on each side, other participants in the round.

Explain that first issue is ground rules: Where will bargaining take place, who will pay for time, how often will the parties meet, whether the process will be public or confidential, etc. Union is moving party. 

Role play. Each group select one person to negotiate at the table, one recorder, one advisor, but may call in “experts”. There will be 3 from workers, 3 from management. Negotiate ground roles, then Group 1-3 present worker demands, then group 4-5-6 asks clarifying questions, examples. Then management group goes to caucus, returns to table. Management makes response, union caucuses.

This is all we’ve got time for. We are only showing worker side proposals because that is what triggered this class.

4:00 – 4:30 Helena and Joe, thirty minutes

Analysis and final discussion, instructor response to bargaining process.

Explain that TDT students are doing this same exercise using Hansae as a real-life case study example.
Note: when TDT students were first asked the identify the most important characteristics of a good union, their top priority was “democratic.” Note that when TDT students did this bargaining exercise, they made a strong choice when negotiating ground rules.

Challenge: Do the people in this group understand the value of having a grassroots union that is free of employer interference? What could management do to create a situation where the union was free of employer interference? 

Who among this group could carry that message to corporate headquarters?

4:30 close

Wish everyone good luck and offer to come back and consult.

Various other kinds of preparation going on

Joe went to the barber on Vin Luong Street:


And I have  been given a scholarship to a class to learn Vietnamese: it happens every night, Monday-Friday, from 6:45 to 8:30. Here is our teacher (or rather one of them; we’ve had three so far, all excellent).


VN teacher



Cu Chi, Independence Day, Vy and An — September 4, 2017

Cu Chi, Independence Day, Vy and An

An and Vy Cu CHi

After lunch with Vy’s family, we went on a walk around the neighborhood. A wonderful day. Thanks to An for carrying her camera and asking a neighbor child to take this photo.

This is the wind blowing the curtains in the room at Vy’s grandmother’s house where we took a nap after an enormous lunch.  The laughter in the background is the ongoing eating and beer drinking of a whole extended family, but primarily men doing the beer drinking and staying at the table. I am posting this to try to convey the sense of peace and ease at that house, the wind coming in over the fields. Next door is a sort of lumber yard; across the road in the back is a field where grass for cows is growing.

Vy’s grandmother had 8 children.  She was a factory worker in HCMC. In the 1980s, the government opened up this area around Cu Chi for people to come and settle in it.  Vy’s grandparents wee among the first to come. They had to fill in the bomb craters in order to build, and often found bombs. Their first house was made of poles and thatch. They opened a shop (Vy remembers going with her grandmother on a bike at 3 am to buy things at the market for the shop), made a little bit of money, then some more, started building a house of concrete, and now have a solid three-bedroom home with the typical ceramic tile floors and surfaces, nice wooden carved furniture, at least one big TV and two fat geese in the back yard.

Vy’s grandmother is now 84 and blind, and spends most of her time lying on her bed in her room fanning herself and listening to the radio, but doesn’t seem unhappy; in fact, she giggled and laughed when she was talking with us, held my hand and asked how old I was, and seemed positively relaxed and content. She said she thought she might live until Tet. She gave the impression of being someone who no longer has to take responsibility for anything at all — and she’s right about that! –  she just lives one day at a time and feels comfortable.

The convenience store is in the front of the house, facing onto the road, in the space that many Vietnamese houses use for parking motorcycles or even cars. Vy’s aunts , cousins, uncles and sons-in-law (“third aunt” — “fourth uncle”) live around the neighborhood. One aunt’s daughter is the chair of the People’s Committee. Relatives kept coming in and out and sitting at the table and eating and drinking, then leaving, so I was losing track of how people were actually related. There were quite a few very pretty children, too, mostly wearing yellow.

Note: When Vietnamese men, brothers and cousins and nephews etc, get together to drink beer on a holiday and talk, the sound of their voices is not loud and threatening: it’s soft, easy to listen to, full of laughter. At least in this case. You can hear them in the background while you watch the curtains blow.

That’s VY on the right and her father on the left. Notice the “snap” gesture, which is what Vietnamese young people do now instead of the V sign. I am petty sure An took this picture. There is a good picture with An that she put on Facebook; I’ll try to get it from her.

Lunch Vy


Vy’s dad. He is, I believe, a production manager at a big factory in HCMC — I think it makes New Balance running shoes.

Vys dad

For those whose sense of history can stand a tweak, here is the Cu Chi Petrol station:

Cu Chi petrol

Too much going on — September 3, 2017

Too much going on


This is at the “new” restaurant that had just opened two years ago, down the street from TDT, the place where the huge eel escaped from the tank and the chef had to go chasing it under people’s tables and brag it and whack it like a whip. It has by now settled down into a sports and seafood place where they do hot pots for whole teams of soccer fans. The waiters are boys in their early teens wearing red T-shirts. A TDT student works there and helps us order.


This is the menu from Ho Lo Quan at #78 Vo Van Tan Street in HCMC where we met Jonathan Luu for dinner on Thursday last week. We had the mango salad, deep fried pork ribs, something called “chicken knees,” and several other things that don’t seem to be on the menu, and it was wonderful. He works at an asset management company (he’s from Austin, TX but went to Temple in Philly, was a PhD candidate there in Philosophy but came to VN to investigate community organizing here; speaks some VN but was not raised to speak it) and “leads two lives” — the other one in Hanoi where he works out in rural areas with a friend who organizes a pepper-growing cooperative. Stories of the contrasts between these two lives will emerge eventually.


This is a barn near Vy’s grandmother’s home in Cu Chi. Brown cows are for meat, the black and white cows are for milk, and just down the street is a building with the sign saying “Bring your raw milk here and we will take it to Vinamilk,” which is the big milk company. Also down the street and out back are fields of grass for the cows to eat.

There is almost too much to say about that trip. It was wonderful to see Vy and An again and spend some extended time with them. Vy’s family is a whole story in itself. An met us at TDT and we rode up to Cu Chi in an Uber. It took 3 hours and I could hardly breathe going through the city because of the pollution, even in the car. The drivers’ story:  His other job is transporting water hyacinths from the Mekong delta, where they are grown (in the water, of course) up to a more central province where they are dried and woven into baskets, mats, just about anything you can imagine. He showed us a photo of one of the final products: a basket that I actually bought at Target in Massachusetts as a wastebasket, two years ago, for about $17, off a shelf full of products from Viet Nam. The total return is 30,000 or about $1.20 per basket, which is split among the weavers, the driver, and the people who haul the water hyacinths out of the river and dry them. Cost of an Uber each way: 600,000 – 650,000 or about $27.

Below is an ad for workers to come and work in a textile factory, posted on the road near Vy’s family’s home. The employer will send a bus to pick them up. Men and women over 18 should apply. Wages are in millions of dong per  month. Current minimum wage according to http://tradingeconomics.com is 3,750,000. Living wage for an individual is 4,011,373 and for a family it’s 5,790,475.

ad for wrks

We can use this photo in the collective bargaining simulations which we will start this coming Friday. The class plan will be a version of what we did in Ms. La’s class. In Ms. La’s class, we told a simple description of a factory (handbags, so that we could have some health and safety issues with cutting equipment and needles) and then asked them to develop a plan for handling 13 different kinds of things that have to go on pre-bargaining.  Here is a photo of them putting their plans on the board:


And here is a closeup of the last one before bargaining starts, creating a pressure campaign — there was some question about whether these were legal in VN or not.


When we start the simulation series we’ll do 1 session on preparation for bargaining, then maybe three on actual bargaining (including one on caucusing) and then two on  enforcement. The point is to emphasize that collective bargaining is not just table skills; it is an arc of activity that goes from one contract to the next and involves constant internal organizing of the “collective.”

We are also each teaching our own class, plus these 2 sessions of Ms. La’s class, two of Mr,. Triet’s class on health and safety (sounds as if there is a lot about PPE in that one — maybe we’ll do body mapping), one in Vinh’s class on labor relations, and then the Journal Club and…

Cafe LaRotonde

We were going to meet Lien Hoang, the journalist, at the Cafe La Rotonde at 77b Ham Nghi but it has been closed. The sign remains. Must have been quite a place.

La RotYou can’t quite hear the music or the clink of tea cups…

Every morning we hear “Mo, Hai!” — one, two! – outside our door, and walking to class we go past groups of about 40 students in various degrees of military clothing and equipment. This has been going on all month. They are getting military training. First they were trying on their uniforms, then marching, giving each other orders, learning to bandage heads and legs and arms, then taking guns apart and putting them back together, then stalking along with their guns through what looks like high grass, and also creeping along on their stomachs with their guns pointed. The teachers are mostly older men wearing uniforms with a certain amount of red and gold decoration.

It is definitely something to think about, as the Ken Burns movie impresses its version of the war into the setting plastic of popular memory, when you have to step over girls racing to beat each other assembling rifles, on the way to breakfast…

girl rifles

The “V” with fingers stands for Viet Nam, I was told. Also “victory,” and so maybe the upside down “v” that the boy is displaying is like that whispered comment made to me once when I remarked on how hard the students worked: “That’s why we won.” In this case, the teacher saw me taking a photo and invited me, quite effectively, to be part of the picture, which was exactly the right thing to do. I am happy to be in this picture, flashing the V sign.