Trade Unions

Vietnam, Rand Paul and trade unions

Last month– while the British Trades Union Congress approved a resolution condemning Israel and its free, democratic and militant trade union Histadrut– it also was congratulating “the Vietnamese trade union movement in the role that its members played in the liberation of the country and subsequent reconstruction” and calling for “closer links with the Vietnamese General Confederation of Labour.”

Of course the government-approved VGCL is the only legal and authorized trade union movement in Vietnam. As the International Trade Union Confederation reports, Vietnamese workers do not have the right to form independent trade unions and their right to strike is severely restricted.

Strikes in Vietnam are usually called by informal groups of workers, even where there is a VGCL… union delegation. The local authorities and representatives of the official union usually try to hold negotiations between workers and management. However the VGCL mainly takes the interests of the government and the enterprise into account during negotiations.
Despite the restrictions on strike action, 216 wild cat strikes (illegal under the terms of the Labour Code) were carried out in 2009, which was 70% less than in 2008 according to government figures. This fall in the number of wildcat strikes was not due to an improvement in the workers’ situation however, but rather owing to their fear of losing their jobs in the wake of the world economic crisis.

Now LabourStart reports:

Three Vietnamese labour rights advocates face 5-15 years imprisonment for helping organise a strike by 10,000 workers at the My Phong shoe factory in January 2010. Doan Huy Chuong, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, and Do Thi Minh Hanh, all in their 20’s, have been detained virtually incommunicado since their arrests in February. The trial is expected in late October 2010.

The “crimes” alleged by prosecutors are that Doan Huy Chuong, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, and Do Thi Minh Hanh worked in an organised manner, distributed leaflets expressing discontent about working conditions and about the authorities, and helped workers to organise a strike. All of these activities ought to be legal, under Vietnam’s own Constitution and in international instruments to which Vietnam is a signatory. The charges that they encouraged workers to destroy factory properties are without evidence and appear made-up.

In fact the Vietnamese government’s attitude toward free trade unions reminds me a good deal of Rand Paul’s. Paul, as we’ve reported here before, is the son of weird libertarian congressman Ron Paul and the Republican candidate for senator from Kentucky. Paul said he opposes the proposed Employee Free Choice Act in Congress because it “allows unions to be formed and forced on businesses that don’t want to have unions.”

That’s right. Paul apparently believes that businesses which don’t want to recognize their employees’ right to unionize– through card checks or even through the elections now authorized by federal law– should not be “forced” to do so.

So workers can unionize only if employers approve? I think Paul’s attitude has more in common with the “socialist” government of Vietnam than it does with anyone who believes in free and independent unions.