Friday, January 25, 2008

Vietnamese government unions

As unions and labor NGOs in the United States and elsewhere reevaluate the All China Federation of Trade Unions (see the new China Labour Bulletin report), here's some encouraging news via the Financial Times from Vietnam:

Workers have the right to unionise, though factory-level unions must affiliate with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, an arm of the Communist government. Traditionally, the federation was seen as doing little to help workers, especially in state-owned enterprises. "Like state-sponsored unions anywhere, their main purpose is industrial peace," Mr Pincus says.

In recent years, the confederation appears to have grown more responsive to its members. "They tend to try to work things out before it comes to strikes, but it isn't completely top-down," says Mr Pincus.

In theory, Vietnamese workers have a legal right to strike only if intensive efforts to resolve disputes through mediation have failed, and they obtain permission from senior union officials.

But in reality, illegal strikes are becoming more frequent, and sometimes have the tacit support of the labour bureaucracy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Another argument for Obama

The Clintons are good at both gaining and maintaining power. There are other things to like about the couple (Bill’s brave refusal to trim away affirmative action comes to mind, as does, of course, Hillary’s failed attempt at national health care reform). But it is the Clintons’ power that Democrats miss most.

Hillary Clinton could probably win the general election this fall. And then after four or eight years we’d have another grand Republican resurgence. Then some mediocre Bush Sr.-style Republican. Then a centrist Democrat. And around and around.

Obama wouldn’t change everything. But I do think he has the best chance of resetting the default temperature of American politics, of keeping the left-right-left-right pendulum from not swinging back quite as hard to the right in the future, of making liberalism (yes, just liberalism, sigh, not leftism) “American” again.

I must confess to a less straightforward reason for supporting Obama, too, though. Please bear with me, as I might not explain this as exactly as I would like.

For China, America’s racism has always been a reason to discount its democracy and, as the U.S. is seen by many there as the archetypal democracy—rightly or wrongly—America’s problems are taken as an excuse for writing off the concept of democracy as a whole. An America that can move beyond its racism, not totally, clearly, but at least in a very symbolic way by electing a black president, can present a real challenge to authoritarianism.

An America that elects Obama and not Clinton II, says, moreover, that mistakes count against a politician, that the people can keep score. The Clintons’ support for the Iraq War was a major mistake, a mistake not diminished by the fact that the couple shared it with much of the U.S. political elite. China is something of a meritocracy still—bad marks on an official’s record hold him back, good marks mean a promotion—but imagine if a mistake, an unnecessary dam, say, or mine deaths that ran to the thousands in a year, or just rampant inflation really put a question mark on someone at Zhongnanhai?

Or think if being a community organizer and state senator who introduced taped police interrogations meant more to the U.S. electorate in terms of “experience” than an extra, wasted Senate term and a half?

This is silly, of course. Only a very conceited nation would think of its election in terms of the example it sets for the world. But still…