At Union Offices and to the News Headlines
This chapter examines how labour law shapes another form of labour resistance in Vietnam: workers’ lodgement of letters to local union offices, including a letter published in full in the national labour newspaper. It finds that, in workers’ experience on the shop floor, legal provisions supposed to protect their interests have been replaced with arbitrary rules that have perpetuated exploitation and silenced their voices. However, most letter writers do not judge managerial conduct nor frame workers’ demands explicitly in terms of labour law, but through the lens of conscience and morality. Workers who adopt language from the labour law attempt to emphasise their expressions of immoral treatment rather than make a legal case. The styles of those letters also vary as writers go from depicting workers’ hardship and destitution in an emotional manner to bargaining and negotiating for a fair reward. These modes of narrative are underpinned and accompanied by different values concerning workers’ relationship with the state and management: the moral economy value that workers’ subsistence shall be guaranteed and reciprocal obligations shall be upheld, and the ideal of social equality. As the labour law contains provisions and principles that reflect those moral values, workers’ moral understandings of justice indeed resonate with how labour relations should operate according to law, rather than in place of it.
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