Here’s where things start to get a bit delicate.
A few weeks ago there was an indecorous confrontation outside the New South Wales’ labour movement’s headquarters, brought about by the visit of a delegation of officials from the official Vietnamese trade union body, the VGCL.
The delegation was being welcomed in the office of Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA who have a number of rural development projects going on in Vietnam with the co-operation of the VGCL.
The protest was led by an all-star cast of senior unionists representing the Australian Workers Union, Unions NSW and the Textiles Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, whose membership includes many Vietnamese.
- You can read more about it on the VietWorkers blog over here.
Seriously though … how counterproductive can you get?
What’s at stake is that the VGCL clearly works closely with Vietnam’s Communist Party which at the same time suppresses any other forms of worker activism. Australia also has a large community of former Vietnamese refugees. The protesting groups found APHEDA’s co-operation with the VGCL objectionable.
They believe it is more in Vietnamese workers’ long-term interests to support dissident activists, many of whom are currently either jailed or in exile.
An analogous debate was had in the 1980s regarding South Africa, except the ideological positions were reversed. Many groups on the left believed a boycott was the appropriate response to Apartheid and eventually the U.S. Congress voted for a total trade ban. President Reagan however opposed this to the end, believing that dialogue was a better way to encourage reform (don’t forget that hindsight is a wonderful thing).
My point today is not to evaluate which is the correct approach, but to politely suggest that posturing in downtown Sydney is one thing that definitely won’t help the workers of Vietnam. All it accomplishes is to polarise a movement that can’t really afford the luxury of being divided.
At the end of the day, the AWU & TCFUA are striving to assist workers and so is APHEDA (they even share the same building for goodness sake!) If APHEDA has found a way to run projects to alleviate poverty in Vietnam then more power to them - I’m agog that their fellow unionists would want to tear them down for it.
Maybe humour is the best solution. I recommend that anyone thinking of holding such intra-movement protests should be required to view this scene from The Life of Brian so they can hear what they sound like:
- Aid for garbage pickers in Manila 21 January 2011
- Profiles an APHEDA project
- Vietnamese not thrilled by lowest cost status 25 March 2011
- China’s state unions and their conflict of interest 6 July 2011
More from the blogosphere:
- Vietnamese workers’ stories a compelling read (talkingunion.wordpress.com)
- Vietnam heading backwards when it comes to free speech (crikey.com.au)
- Vietnam struggles to crack down on activist blogs (cnsnews.com)
- Nguyen Tan Dung is hell-bent on getting Vietnamese dissidents in line (ireport.cnn.com)