• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


    from Twitter


    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Labor Strikes in Vietnam

    I have heard faintly about the labor strikes in Vietnam. That's the interesting part of Communism. It is just strong enough to force companies like Google and Yahoo to censure their searches, so I can't get all the information I'd like.

    Basically, they're bad, but not that bad. The problem I see is two fold:

    1. The doi moi instituted in 1997 has done a great job liberating the market, but the government has not done enough to keep up.

    The most recent numbers I heard from an international NGO was that the poverty line was 150,000 VND/month for people in the countryside and 300,000 VND/month for people in the city. That equates to about $9 USD/mo in the country and $18 USD/mo in the city. The problem with these numbers aren't the numbers (that's a yogi berra-ism if I ever heard one). People in America get all worked up over people making only a dollar a day. Well, $1 USD/day is about $30 USD/mo or about $480,000 VND. No, that's not alot, but since you can get food for about 5000 VND a meal, you're paying for your food there. And that's in the city. The dollar a day wage mostly comes from the countryside where things are cheaper.

    No, a dollar a day isn't bad, per se, but what is is the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and the country with the city. Someone who makes 150,000 VND a month in the country will never be able to move to the city for work because he or she is way underneath the poverty line. Also, going to the city for education or English classes is near impossible, because prices in the city are based on the city's economy, which has more wealth. So, the disparity between country and city keeps the people in the country there, or when forced to urbanize, relegates them immediately to the poorest of the poor.

    The other problem is that many Vietnamese can easily, easily, spend $480,000 VND on one dinner (or more). I go into fashionable shoe shops and any brand not Vietnamese goes for at the least 550,000 VND, and some Vietnamese brands are that much too. A whole month's salary for a pair of women's shoes. On the flipside, I saw an old man riding a bike a couple nights ago, trying to sell the last three of his balloons for 2000 VND a piece (I bought one for 5000 VND). Someone would do a lot of good in this country who could mobilize the wealthy Vietnamese (of which there are many in Ho Chi Minh City) to intelligently give extra discretionary income to industrious people at or around the poverty level instead of buying shoes (I think fashion is bigger in Saigon than in most of America, and that's saying a lot).

    The government's big problem since the doi moi has been just that--allowing the industrious to become wealthy and profit off of their industry, while still giving opportunity to the industrious without means of production. It's a problem in America too, but far more poignant here.

    2. Most companies hit by strikes are Taiwanese (and some from Singapore).

    What has happened, and why haven't I heard about it?

    Well, first off, everyone knows that television in Vietnam hovers somewhere between pointless and deadly (as in, if you watch too much of it, you'll have a brain aneurism). Yesterday I got my biggest laughs watching a shameless knockoff CARTOON of Mr. Bean. Most shows on Viet TV are cheap knock-off gameshows (I saw one the other day where two teams of three contestants each squared off to name the titles of popular songs. Supposedly famous singers who I've never heard about sang the opening few measures. If the contestants got it wrong, the singers sang the whole song. No contestant got even one question right. It was a lot of not-so-good singing.) or variety shows with decent dancing and not so decent singing.

    That means that if you get reception, you don't get much news. If you do get news, it's all "yeah for us" news. So, most of the strikes are happening outside of Saigon (some inside) and I haven't heard about them.

    But secondly, I haven't SEEN them either. These strikes deal mainly with specific companies. Yes 70% of Vietnam's GDP comes out of Ho Chi Minh City, but almost 70% of Vietnam's GDP comes from private enterprises now. And although these strikes have struck some private enterprises, they are not nearly big enough to be seen. Plus, most businesses in Vietnam are mom&pop businesses not affected by any labor strike (except the kids not wanting to work after school).

    I have written earlier on the state of affairs, economic and social, in Vietnam compared to China (see here, here, and here). Although Vietnam is experiencing labor strikes, I still stand by my conclusions. The strikes deal with specific employers, not the government. The government actually comes out pretty favorably because it mandated an increase in the minimum wage. It was individual employers responding to the increase by cutting benefits that caused the strikes. In Vietnam, benefits are dished ot in a real way, so cutting benefits is essentially cutting salary, just under a different name. Anybody promised a raise by the government only to have it taken away by their employer will strike--plain and simple.

    So, the mood here is still very calm. People like living here. It's a beautiful country, nice people, and crazy drivers. People are generally content to live under the system currently in place.

    No comments: