Vietnam Workers Defy Government Crackdown
south-east asia |
workplace struggles |
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Tuesday June 02, 2009 15:28 by Editor - Freedom Newspaper
Another wildcat strike hits the manufacturing industry
Vietnam could be on the verge of an all out class war as workers in Ho Chi Minh City went on strike last week in defiance of government attacks on the growing independent workers movement.
The unofficial action was taken by 500 garment workers demanding better pay and conditions from the Korean-Vietnamese owned Minh Phat Garment Company, risking punishment and imprisonment.
As reported in Freedom recently, the Vietnam government has increased its repression of workplace militancy by arresting, imprisoning, and in some cases abducting, leading labour activists in an attempt to quell the growing unrest across the country's workforce.
This comes after a rash of crippling wildcat strikes where 40,000 workers spread over a dozen strikes forced the government to increase the minimum wage by 40%. Government officials are worried that this wave of direct action is fuelling a greater confidence and organisation amongst workers, especially those employed in foreign-owned, usually South Korean or Taiwanese, factories. According to government statistics Taiwanese manufacturers accounts for more than 1,408 direct investment projects in Vietnam worth $7.93 billion. Foreign companies, such as footwear giants Nike and Adidas, have until recently viewed Vietnam, the fourth largest footwear exporter globally, as a preferable source of production to the more excessive labour and business costs in neighbouring China.
In 2007 foreign investment applications topped the $20 billion mark, a third more than in nearby Thailand, pushing up office rents and other costs. The sharp increase in wildcat strikes last year was due in part to the massive 28% inflation rate and food prices rising by 42.4%. Many rural Vietnamese left their farming communities to seek work in the new industrial zones around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, only to see the buying power of their wage packets dwindle amid rising food and fuel costs.
The Minh Phat garment workers stoppage is the first since Human Rights Watch published its damning report Not Yet A Workers Paradise documenting the Vietnamese government's crackdown on independent trade unions and profiling labour rights activists who have been detained, placed under house arrest, or imprisoned in violation of international law.
Workers in Vietnam are prohibited from forming or joining unions other than the ruling Communist Party controlled Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) and can be punished for conducting strikes that are not sanctioned by local authorities or the VGCL, which makes the upsurge in wildcat strikes all the more alarming for government leaders. Coupled with the formation in 2006 of two independent trade unions, the United Worker-Farmers Organization of Vietnam, (UWFO) and the Independent Workers' Union of Vietnam, (IWUV) it highlights a growing desire for workers self-organisation despite the threatened consequences.
Further unrest is predicted over the next six months as Nike is stopping taking orders from one of its main, Korean-owned, plants in Ho Chi Minh City putting 6,000 workers jobs at risk. Contract suppliers in Vietnam produce a third of all Nike’s footwear and employ 200,000, largely female, workers in over 50 factories.