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作者:佚名    论文来源:本站原创    点击数:    更新时间:2008-12-12    

At a macro level the Chinese and Vietnamese industrial economies are developingin quite similar ways ,with dramatic changes in their labour markets,employmentsystems and labour regimes.But it will be argued in this paper that they are alsobeginning to diverge along separate routes with regard to labour issues.It willbe seen that the Vietnamese government has been more willing to grant trade unionssome space to defend workers'interests ,whereas the Chinese government has chosento keep the unions under a tight rein.

  Trade Unions Under Pre-Reform Socialism

  China's workers are ?represented ìby the All-China Federation of Trade Unions(ACFTU ),and Vietnamese workers by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour(VGCL)。Known as ?transmission beltsì,these bodies served for several decadesbefore the economic reforms as state bureaucracies assigned the contradictory functionof representing the interests of both the workers and the Party-state.But in asystem where all sectoral interests have been subordinate to the interests of theParty-state ,in reality the ?belts ìcould only transmit top-down informationand directives.Although they grandly claimed to protect the rights of workers,they were prevented from having a chance to act out this bottom-up function.

  When the collective ethos was dominant in Vietnam and China ,the trade unions'role as transmission belts was not much called into question or challenged by theworkers.[1]After all ,socialist enterprises belonged to the state,were paternalisticproviders ,and functioned as residential communities.The trade unions'primarytask was to act on behalf of the enterprise in distributing goods to workers,organizingsocial activities for the community ,allocating workers'housing,and lookingafter other material needs.Their other major task was to mobilize workers to fulfiland over-fulfil production quotas set by the command economy,by periodically whippingup frenzied production campaigns.In Vietnam,the unions had the additional taskof supporting the war effort.

  Yet another function assigned to the trade union cadres was to serve as ombudsmenand counsellors for employees'work-related and personal family problems.They providedthe human touch for bureaucratic institutions.Trade union cadres helped to arrangehospital visits and funerals,facilitated potential marriages,mediated marriagebreakdowns,distributed relief funds ,and so on.In Vietnam,during the warthe trade unions also helped to evacuate the young and old from the war zones[2]and to arrange family visits to the rear.[3]During a time of protracted war,andin a society where people ordinarily live on the margin ,this human face of theparty-state as represented by the unions was appreciated by the workers more thanmost critics of Communist trade unions recognize.Parallels can be found in today'spost-communist Russia.With Russian workers'livelihoods threatened ,the formerofficial trade union has successfully withstood competition from newly formed unions.Among other reasons ,the former official unions have the experience and organizationalcapacity to help provide a?safety netì:?In conditions of acute economic crisis,these functions of the traditional unions were valued more and more highlyì。[4]

  All in all,while the functions of the Chinese and Vietnamese trade unionswere very similar in the pre-reform period,there were also differences.Beforethe reform period the ACFTU was weaker than its Vietnamese counterpart vis-à-vistheir respective party-states.In China ,two attempts by the ACFTU to wrest greaterfreedom from Party domination failed in 1956-57and in 1966,inviting harsh retaliationfrom the Party:beginning in the early 1970s the Chinese Communist Party went sofar as to disband the ACFTU.[5]In the early 1980s the Party revived the ACFTU butgranted it only limited leeway.At every level of the bureaucratic hierarchy,thetrade unions were placed under the grip of the corresponding Party hierarchy.

  The situation in Vietnam was quite different,in part because the unions atone time came under two governmental systems.In the north,in spite of the strictdiscipline demanded of north Vietnamese society during the war,Vietnam's CommunistParty was not able to impose an authoritarian bureaucratic structure to the samedegree as in China.As Gabriel Kolko has written,?All wars more or less transcendthe control of those leading them ……The logic of mass movement inevitably conflictswith all elitist,self-perpetuating partiesì。[6]Because of the war,the unionhad stronger ties with its constituency.In Vietnamese workplaces solidarity againsta real common national enemy dwarfed management-worker differences.In contrast ,China under Mao's rule was short of real enemies,and the authorities had to create ?class enemies ìand to launch periodical?struggle campaignsì。The Chinese workplacewas infused with mistrust and animosity which exploded into internecine violencein the mid-1960s during the Cultural Revolution ,and degenerated into cynicismand lethargy in the 1970s.[7]

  In southern Vietnam the unions were not part of the state apparatus.Prior to1975there was no socialist ethos demanding that workers subjugate their intereststo the state.Instead ,southern Vietnamese workers and unions sometimes took aconfrontational stance against capital and the Saigon government.[8]Strikes werefrequent,and labour activists and trade unionists were beaten up,killed or throwninto jail.This militant historical past is not yet a distant memory.
  Industrial Reforms and Their Consequences

  The economic reforms in both countries have enormously affected the conditionsof workers.Given the logic of marketization,it is natural that the shifts inworking conditions in China and Vietnam should have charted somewhat similar routes.[9]

  In both countries the main macro-economic and enterprise reform programs,inaddition to marketization ,involve entry into the global economy;raising productivityin the state sector by reforming management practices ;forcing enterprises tobe responsible for their own gains and losses ;reducing excess labour in the state-ownedenterprises (SOEs);gradually instituting a contract system in place of life-timeemployment;introduction of a labour market;reductions in state workers'benefits;a widening of the wage gap ;and separation of the Party from administrationby vesting the enterprise manager with greater power.On the shopfloor,work disciplinehas been tightened,and welfare socialism can no longer be taken for granted bythe workers.

  In China,a process of shrinking the core industrial state-sector workforcehas been under way for more than ten years.But the Chinese government could onlyimplement this intermittently in the 1980s for fear of?social instabilityì。Duringthe 1989Tiananmen protest movement ,the workers'message to the government wasclear :they should not be sacrificed to the economic reforms.[10]Nevertheless,in the 1990s the government renewed its attempt to rid state enterprises of excessworkers.The number of money-losing state enterprises has continued to climb(fromabout 30per cent in the 1980s to about 40per cent by 1995and 75per cent in 1996),[11]strengthening the government's determination to press for more bankruptcies;[12]a privatization program was officially announced at the Fifteenth Party Congressin 1997.Since about 20per cent of the country's 700million economically activepopulation were employed in state enterprises and urban collectives ,[13]any crisisof unemployment affecting these workplaces could potentially have grave politicalrepercussions.

  Yet layoffs have increased rapidly.In the 1980s the expanding economy was ableto absorb surplus labour from the state sector.But by 1995the numbers of officiallyregistered unemployed reached 5million ,and the numbers of workers instructedto stay at home on partial or no pay at all had reached 20million.All told,thisamounted to about 18per cent of the 109million state-sector employees (out ofa total of 148million urban employees)。[14]By 1997the official unemployed exceeded10per cent.[15]In addition,the pensions of 30million urban retirees were notkeeping up with inflation ,and some were not receiving any of their pensions atall.[16]The dissatisfied state-enterprise workers and retirees worry the politicalleadership as potential sources of social instability.Still,without sufficientfunds in the state coffer to prop up loss-making state enterprises,the Party declaredat the Fifteenth Party Congress in October 1997that the reforms would be ?deepenedì:that is,far greater numbers of state-enterprise workers will be thrown outof work.

  Urban unemployment in Vietnam is even more severe than in China.The Vietnamesegovernment was at first reluctant to restructure the state sector ,but when itdid so it went about it with determination.Since 1990,half of the state enterpriseshave been closed down or merged into larger units.The number of state workers declinedfrom 1.4million in 1985to just under 1million in 1992,when it bottomed out.[17]The impact on the state workers who lost their posts was severe.But the overallimpact on the country's social fabric has not been as noticeable as in China,giventhat Vietnam's state industrial sector only employed about 5per cent of the country'sentire labour force in 1985.[18]State workers made up 38per cent of the industriallabour force in 1985,and this declined to 22per cent in 1994,reflecting theincreasing importance of the non-state sector.The figures from 1996are not entirelycomparable with the earlier years.The first large-scale labour market survey indicatedthat state labour constituted 28per cent of the industrial labour force,whichprobably overstated the proportion compared to earlier data.[19]

  The problem of urban unemployment was exacerbated by the demobilization of 400,000to 500,000soldiers in Vietnam following the Paris agreement on Cambodia ,and by the sudden repatriation of half a million workers from post-Communist EasternEurope in the early 1990s.All told ,urban unemployment in Vietnam by 1993stoodat about 10-15per cent.[20]Thereafter ,however,employment started to expandalong with the economy.As a consequence,unemployment by 1996was officially downto 7per cent of the labour force.[21]

  The Vietnamese economy has not been expanding as rapidly as China's ,however.In the 1980s it was still recovering from the war ,made all the harder by theAmerican-led foreign trade embargo.Vietnam was afflicted by three years of highinflation in 1986-88,and again from mid-1990to mid-1992.Also in the early 1990s,Vietnam simultaneously experienced an economic recession due to the dissolutionof the Soviet-bloc Comecon,and the flooding of Vietnam's market with cheaper andbetter products ,either imported or smuggled,from neighbouring countries,especiallyChina.[22]As one important consequence ,the textile industry ,which employsthe second largest number of workers,registered an absolute decline in output ,from 115million pieces in 1989to 85million pieces in 1993.[23]Fortunately ,once the quality of local products improved with the injection of foreign capital,production has been on the upturn from 1994,with garments becoming a leadingexport item by 1996.

  Problems in China's labour-intensive industries are of a different nature.Thechallenge facing shoe factories ,for example,is not competition from foreignproducts,but domestic over-production.[24]In the past decade ,the number ofshoe factories of all types and sizes has proliferated.[25]Factories undercut eachother ,driving down prices across the entire industry.In these kinds of labour-intensiveindustries,the easiest way to reduce production costs is to depress wages and/ordownsize the labour force.China's state-run enterprises have lost out to the non-statesector in this cut-throat competition because the government puts a cap on the percentageof workers who can be laid off.[26]In addition ,being longer-established factories,the state-owned firms tend to be burdened by a large number of retirees who mustbe supported out of the present enterprise budget.Despite grave financial difficulties,these firms are supposed to pay these pensions,honour medical bills ,and payworkers ¥8(US$1)to stay home when production lines are idle.[27]The state-enterpriseworkers ,especially those in labour-intensive industries,now work mostly atpiece-rates and produce as fast as non-state workers,[28]but their firms neverthelessremain in the red due to their social-welfare functions.Gradually,the enterprisesare ridding themselves of their older workers and hiring migrants from the countryside,a practice which undermines state workers'employment opportunities and social security.[29]

  Not surprisingly,the number of labour conflicts in the state enterprises hasbeen increasing at a rapid rate.These have included large collective protest actionsinvolving up to 200,000workers.Many of these labour disturbances have occurredin China's central heartland and the north-eastern heavy industrial regions hardesthit by the reforms.[30]One example was the series of large-scale workers'protestswhich broke out in various cities in Sichuan in 1997.[31]These workers are wellorganized and aware of their rights.At times their actions are encouraged and inrare cases even led by local trade-union officials.The protests are usually overdelinquent pay,involuntary layoffs,enforced early retirement,erosion of benefits,and so on.[32]With more state firms in the red and the government determined topermit bankruptcy ,more protests can be expected.

  In contrast ,the closure of half of the Vietnamese state enterprises in theearly 1990s produced no major upheavals among industrial workers.Whatever conflictsoccurred in state firms were usually resolved after negotiations between managementand labour.A hundred strikes were reported from 1989to mid-1994,[33]but mostof these occurred in the south in 1992-93in foreign-funded enterprises that donot possess unions.[34]In recent years ,foreign sources indicate that 48strikestook place in 1995;73or 90in 1996and 36

  during the first eight months of 1997.Seventy per cent of the strikes tookplace in foreign-funded enterprises.[35]

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