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Rash of Strikes at Vietnamese Factories


A series of wildcat strikes, without union approval, have hit factories near Ho Chi Minh City in the past few weeks, idling up to 30,000 workers. They are demanding wage hikes, but also better treatment from management. Vietnam's official government-controlled labor union is slow to oppose management, leaving workers to strike on their own. Matt Steinglass has more from Ho Chi Minh City.

The latest strike in southern Vietnam began Friday morning, when hundreds of workers blocked the entrance of the Pou Chen corporation, near Ho Chi Minh City. The Taiwanese-owned company manufactures garments for Nike, Adidas, and other American corporations, and employs 22,000 workers. It was not clear just how many had joined the strike.

Nguyen Minh Quang, the government-sponsored labor union representative at Pou Chen corporation, says the workers used some unusual tactics.

Quang says the strikers threw fermented shrimp paste on company security guards. The paste is foul smelling and hard to wash out.

This strike - as with most others recently - did not have official backing from Vietnam's only government approved labor union. Huynh Tan Kiet is the head of the labor union in Dong Nai province, where many of the strikes have occurred.

Kiet says the union doesn't receive any advance notice of the strikes. They are started by groups of workers on their own.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, vice chairwoman of the Labor Union of Hanoi, explains why.

Ha says workers mistrust the official union, because union representatives at each company are paid by the company and so fear losing their jobs if they oppose management.

The demands at Pou Chen corporation included higher salaries, but workers there also demanded the removal of one of the Taiwanese managers. They said he had insulted their country by boasting that while Vietnam had defeated America, it would never have defeated Taiwan.

Regardless of the workers' patriotic motives, union Vice Chairwoman Ha makes it clear that the strikes are not condoned.

In Vietnam, she says, all of these strikes are illegal.

Despite this, workers are expected to keep striking in the coming weeks. The period after the lunar New Year is when most companies set annual wages for workers.