Union Puzzle in Vietnam

Vietnamese UnionHanoi There was no question that the Organizers’ Forum delegation debated more ardently than the proposition of the independence and effectiveness of the Vietnamese General Federation of Labor.  At the end of our visit we were clear that their role in Vietnamese society was critical, their voice within government was not trivial, their sincerity and advocacy for Vietnamese workers was sincere, and their independence was constrained.

We had started our trip with a small dust-up with the vice-president of the HCM City labor federation over the existence of wildcat strikes in China where he maintained stern denial and then open interest in other areas.  We then met with the vice-president of the entire VGFL along with the head of their international department in Hanoi at their central headquarters later in the week, where we got an entirely different impression.
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Worker Poverty in Sweat Shopping

cambodian garment factory workersNew Orleans               An article by Ken Silverstein in Harper’s Magazine in the January 2010 issue labeled a “letter from Cambodia” and entitled “Shopping for Sweat:  The Human Cost of a Two-Dollar T-shirt” caught by eye immediately because of the controversy around Jeff Ballinger’s critique on the infinitesimally small progress that workers have made after years of anti-sweatshop organizing.  Additionally, since the story line was Cambodia, I knew this was an area where my colleague and friend, Jason Judd, had organized garment worker unions when he was with the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center a couple of years ago. 

            On unions Silverstein writes:  “Labor unions are abundant, but most are funded and controlled by employers or the government, and independent activists have been fired, suspended, sued, and otherwise targeted for repression.” 

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