By Trung Doan, Secretary, CPVW
Yesterday 26/8/2011 I was given an opportunity to speak in Sydney at an annual conference of around 700 delegates of the Transport Workers Union NSW. Many told me afterwards that they were astounded that Vietnam’s state-run union VGCL was actually an anti-union. For TWU unionists, life is a struggle. For Vietnamese ones, it’s worse.
First, I provided an update on the medical treatment in Vietnam for Truong, for whom the delegates at last year’s conference donated many hundred dollars. Truong was severely burnt when his container caught fire (yes, his employer in Malaysia uses old shipping containers as workers’ quarters. And, no, the employers’ brain cells do not recognise the word ‘compensation’ ).
I talked about the strike in June by 90,000 workers at the shoe factory Pou Yuen. VGCL has some 700 officials there, it has previously boasted on the media that they have been successful at preventing strikes. But they failed this time. About 20 strike leaders were reportedly arrested. My colleagues in Vietnam say workers told them that probably the VGCL officials helped the police identify those strike leaders.
I showed a photo of Chuong-Hung-Hanh, sentenced last year to 7 and 9 years for leading another strike. In early August, their families were visited by an official from IMF-JC, Japan’s metalworkers union council. I contrasted this with APHEDA’s inaction despite a ACTU Resolution last December asking APHEDA, ACTU’s foreign aid arm, to pay them a solidarity visit. The ACTU Resolution was moved by TWU and AWU.
In contrast to ACTU’s concerns, Vietnam’s anti-union VGCL supports punishing anyone organising strikes, calling them political activists. Vietnam’s criminal laws have a clause prohibiting “regime change activities”. A very convenient clause. When they wanted to imprison anyone, the Vietnamese regime has simply slapped this label on anyone who organises strikes, demonstrates against corruption, protests unfair confiscation of their land,.. Typically, they do not allow observers at trials, and sometimes their (state-run) media then put false confessions in prisoners’ mouths, as shown ina Wikileaked US Embassy cable (full text below).
A fire at a small shoe factory in Hai Phong killed 17, according to the media (in Vietnam, all media are state-run) and 18 according to Viet Labor activists. Among the deaths is a 16yo girl worker. Vietnam’s legal working age is 15. Several bodies were burnt beyond recognition. The provincial authorities allowed the factory to operate illegally without fire exits and fire extinguishers. Viet Labor colleagues suspect that bribes were involved. This photo of a young injured worker is from the state-run media.
I mentioned the work in Malaysia by my colleague, Hung Nguyen, who’s also a TWU and TCFUA official. In 2008 TCFUA’s leader Barry Tubner sent Hung to work with a TV reporter to expose human trafficking of Vietnamese workers to Malaysia. Hung’s work helped workers get back millions of dollars. Three years later, that work is still making waves – an article in this month’s Harvard International Review, a prestigious journal in the white-collar world, used CPVW as an example of how civil society can help sweatshop workers fight back. The audience applauded when I talked about Hung’s work. That was a pleasant surprise. I am not used to getting applauses. But then they weren’t for me. Duh!
“WE DIDN’T KNOW IT’S SO BAD IN VIETNAM!”
As I mingled during tea time, several TWU NSW delegates told me that they were astounded. In Australia, there are unions, and there are employers and politicians trying to destroy unions. They continually struggle.
What a mess! Nah, the Vietnamese regime has a simpler solution. There’s no struggle, the ruling party simply creates an anti-union beast and called it a “union”. VGCL’s Vietnamese website openly says that VGCL’s role is “to serve the party and government”, while its English website hides this, and says VGCL serves workers blah blah. Labor laws give it the monopoly, meaning no-one else is allowed to form unions. Those who try, like Chuong-Hung-Hanh, are beaten – physically. Hanh’s family told me that she’s been hit so hard and so often on the face that she is now deaf in one ear.
THE ANGRY YOUNG MAN
After speaking, I stayed to listen. It was TWU’s Tony Sheldon’s 50th birthday (someone in the audience called him a “senior”), but at times the TWU leader looked to me like he was an angry young man when he spoke passionately about the many struggles facing workers (I can identify with that. There’s an angry young man in me, too). ACTU President Ged Kearney gave us a few tips about results of a national survey of workers’ opinions.
Probably the biggest highlight of this conference was the standing ovation for Transport Minister Anthony Albanese. People erupted and cheered when he talked about his strong personal resolve to introduce by the end of this year legislation to give truckies safe rates. Too many truckies have died on the road. This legislation can’t come a day too soon.
* * * * *
Heading home, a man and I jumped through the train’s door just before it closed. He told me he was at the conference. “Good on ya for letting us know, mate. They came to power claiming to represent workers, then crushed workers. Bad, isn’t it?”. How true.
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HERE IS THE ABOVE-MENTIONED US EMBASSY CABLE, RELEASED BY WIKILEAKS ON 26 AUG 2011. IT’S OF ONLY INDIRECT RELEVANCE TO MY POST, BUT GIVES AN IDEA OF HOW PEOPLE LIKE UNION ACTIVISTS CHUONG-HUNG-HANH ARE TREATED. IN CASE WIKILEAKS GOES DOWN, I PUT THE FULL TEXT HERE. I BOLD SOME TEXTS TO AID QUICK BROWSING.
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TAGS: PHUM PGOV PINS PROP PREL VM
SUBJECT: STATE MEDIA SPINS FICTITIOUS ACCOUNTS OF JAN 20 DISSIDENT TRIAL
REF: (A) HCMC 33 (NOTAL) (B) 09 HCMC 339 (NOTAL)
HO CHI MIN 00000037 001.2 OF 002
Â¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: News reports on the January 20 trial of four democracy advocates (ref A) carried in Vietnam’s tightly controlled media — particularly the more reliably vitriolic papers connected to the armed forces and MPS — clearly demonstrated why the GVN banned foreign observers and media from bringing recording devices, cell phones, and cameras into the trial–it prevented observers from easily countering the GVN’s highly inaccurate accounts of the trial with the embarrassing truth. The MPS-controlled “An Ninh The Gioi” (World Security) newspaper provided the most egregious example of fraudulent reporting, including a fabricated interview with defendant Tran Huynh Duy Thuc on the courthouse steps. Significant untruths also appeared in “Quan Doi Nhan Dan” (People’s Soldier) and other papers, as well as in the “stock” article published in numerous mainstream dailies. END SUMMARY.
Â¶2. (SBU) In an article printed on January 23, “An Ninh The Gioi” described an entirely fictitious interview with Tran Huynh Duy Thuc which the reporter claimed to have taken as he entered the courtroom. In reality, all four defendants were escorted by a phalanx of police officers from a police van directly into the court room; no one was able to approach, much less interview, the defendants. Only select Party officials were allowed in the courtroom itself. Reporters and diplomats were isolated in a separate room with CCTV (which was subject to frequent periods of “static” during testimony) and defendants’ family members were isolated in a second CCTV room (where the audio feed was also censored). The fictitious interview was, not surprisingly, very damning, depicting defendants as unable or unwilling to respond to the reporter’s insightful questions regarding their nefarious deeds. In one instance, the reporter asks Thuc if he had the background needed to be Economic Minister in a new government formed after the overthrow of the regime. In response, the reporter said “Thuc was silent.” The “An Ninh The Gioi” article ran a reasonably accurate rendition of Le Cong Dinh’s “non-confession” (in which he admitted to joining a party other than the CPV and thus breaking Vietnamese law), but then appended an additional sentence that Dinh never uttered — “I was pulled into plots to overthrow the State’s administration.”
Â¶3. (SBU) That article and several others also reported that the trial was open to the public. It was not. A large crowd of people gathered in front of the courthouse but the only persons permitted to enter were family members, reporters and others with ID badges issued before the trial. Among family members, only immediate family members were given passes; others were left standing in the rain. While some foreign observers were allowed in, the numbers were strictly limited (only 2 EU representatives, and one each from the USA, Canada, and Australia). Representatives from independent groups such as International Bar Association (IBA) were denied entry entirely. The two IBA representatives also reported to foreign media that they were detained and questioned by immigration officials after being barred from entering the court.
Â¶4. (SBU) “An Ninh The Gioi” was more accurate when it reported that diplomats, including the Danish and EU Ambassadors Lysholt Hansen, EU Ambassador Sean Doyle, Canadian Cultural and Political Counselor Robert Burley, U.S. Consul General Kenneth Fairfax and Australian Deputy Principal Officer Chantelle Woodford, were at the trial. It fell short of the full truth, however, in two ways. First, the article implied that these diplomats were part of a larger group rather than the entire list of those permitted to attend. Numerous other Missions attempted to send representatives but the requests were denied. After receiving notice of the denial a Swedish diplomat nonetheless spent two hours standing in the rain trying to convince guards to let her in; she failed. Second, it claimed that the diplomats were in the courtroom, when as noted previously, they actually watched the proceedings via CCTV with the censored audio feed.
Â¶5. (SBU) A surprisingly honest and fairly accurate rendition of the heart of the indictment appeared in both Thanh Nien (Youth)’s Vietnamese daily and English weekly editions, as well as a few other papers. These papers noted that the accused were convicted of attempting to “overthrow the state” by weakening support for the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and encouraging opposition to it, so that the CPV would be eliminated by 2020.
HO CHI MIN 00000037 002.2 OF 002
In other words, the activists were convicted of having engaged in political speech that cast the current government’s policies in a critical light. Despite the headline-catching charges of sedition and conspiracy leveled against them, they were not accused of participating in an actual plot to actively subvert the government or of planning or using violence.
Â¶6. (SBU) COMMENT: When it comes to reporting on “sensitive” issues such as human rights cases and pro-democracy activists, highly misleading reporting in Vietnam’s state- and party-controlled media is the norm. The style of the fabrications in these articles was also employed in the fictitious account published in mid-2009 of a meeting between the Ambassador and pro-democracy activist Do Nam Hai (ref B), with bits and pieces of truth interwoven with exaggerations, out-of-context items and pure fantasy. The open question, however, is whether this style of heavy-handed propaganda remains effective in today’s world of global Internet news. The likely answer is: sometimes. Those interested, concerned and brave enough to search for the truth can still find it. While Internet censorship exists in Vietnam, it is neither sophisticated nor pervasive; a simple Internet search readily reveals multiple articles from foreign press with more accurate accounts of the trial. For many others — those with less interest in politics, those worried about what security services monitoring their web browsing habits (mandatory in every Internet cafe) may find, and those whose political alignment leads them to want to believe the GVN/CPV version of events — articles such as the “An Ninh The Gioi” fabrication probably play a major role in shaping opinions. End Comment.
Â¶7. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.