THE VIETNAMESE leadership has not previously been known for any commitment to ‘open government’.
But there are some radical changes on the way— ones which repudiate some long-held Marxist-Leninist orthodoxies. And this time, according to Indochina Issues, there is going to he little attempt to keep things quiet.
The government itself has had a considerable shake-up. A lot of younger men have been brought in and not just to replace some of the septuagenarians but also because of the failure of many of the previous government policies to promote growth in agriculture and industry’.
In September 1979 individuals were given more incentives to increase production — whether they be farmers, workers or factory managers. In agriculture there have been some successes with the state managing to coax much more grain from Vietnamese farmers. Before the reforms in 1979. for example, the state’s purchase of grain was 1.4 million tons compared with 2.8 million in 1982. But these successes do little more than free Vietnam from the extraordinary dependence on Soviet food aid of the past few years. The government will have no extra food to distribute.
Growing social and economic inequality has been accepted as the price of these economic reforms. ‘In the North, when we were busy’ fighting aggression we could accept nearly’ equal incomes.’ says Central Committee member Huang Tung. ‘Now we must motivate people to produce. If all are equally’ rewarded, nobody wants to work more.
One result of the liberalisation of agricultural policy is that the farmers have been getting richer compared with those in the cities who rely on government salaries. How much of this new income should be taken hack in the form of taxes? The farmers, it is believed, will be allowed to accumulate profits for some time. The Vietnamese feel that they’ have another five to ten years before a ‘social explosion’ in the cities could threaten the stability of the regime. The threat is much greater in the South where a large part of the population of Ho Chi Minh City remains unreconciled
to the imposition of a socialist system. Sales clerks in state stores do not hesitate to tell a visitor that the people in the South want only ‘neutralism and free enterprise’.
The ideological gap between North and South is highlighted by differences in culture. Rock music is seen in the South as an American instrument to subvert the Vietnamese and records, tapes and books have been confiscated in an attempt to eliminate this ‘degenerate culture’. In the North, however, there are dozens of coffee shops with loud rock music. As Mai Chi Tho, Party’ Secretary for the South, explains:
‘Youth in Saigon are considered too easily influenced, while youth in the North are stable and safe. When Southern youth are trained in socialism they will be influenced less’.
One of the most sensitive issues has been the pace of collectivisation in the South.
Forming co-operatives is certainly government policy but it is also government policy that farmers should join them voluntarily, so progress has been slow: 1990 is now seen as a target date for completion.
Another serious problem concerns the 50.000 or so people still being held in reeducation camps — some seven years after the victory. People are released periodically and there were many allowed out after a commission in 1976.
Hanoi has been under a lot of pressure from human rights groups and foreign governments to treat the prisoners more humanely’ and is now considering a new system of ‘reeducation in place’ which would allow the person to live at home and have regular employment.
But the internal security bureaucracy is likely to resist any moves to abolish the camps, which offer a flexible way of dealing with political enemies without having to go through the courts.
Indochina Issues, No. 31. Centre for International Policy, 120 Maryland Ave, NE., Washington DC 20002.
Filipinas fight on
THE build-up of military forces at the Bataan Export Processing Zone in the Philippines, following the walk-out of more than half the 20,000 strong labour force (see NI No. 117), has not prevented continuing industrial action.
Though some workers have been frightened by the arrests of many Filipino labour leaders and unionists, the feeling of solidarity in the zone is generally high. In particular, the workers have declared they will all walk out again if any unionist is salvaged’, the Filipino term for summary execution.
This new industrial militancy at such a strategic site has been a severe shock both to the Marcos regime and the foreign investors for whom the zone was built
But there have been similar actions in the capital, Manila, itself. At the Ding Velayo garment factory’ negotiations to end what the union President calls ‘the inhuman treatment of workers in a workplace like an oven’ only’ led to the ‘preventive suspension’ of union officials and two strikes in 1981 and 1982. During the second strike the women workers and their families. including pregnant women, mounted a picket line for over nine months and bare-handedly fought the combined and fully-armed forces of the police, military ’Metro-com’ troops and management ‘goons’ no less than three times.
Their example has encouraged other women workers to take the initiative and received widespread support With only a small strike fund, they received financial help from workers in neighbouring factories and also from .ieepney (minibus) drivers whose routes run through their area
The Ding Velayo union has yet to win its demands. The factory has laid off many workers, especially union members, and taken on casuals. Meanwhile, the union President and other officials are still banned from the premises while a ‘yellow trade union’ sympathetic to management is allowed to enter and organise. Moreover, the union Vice-President, Veronica Razon, and a union member, Conchita de Ia Cruz, are in Camp Crame detention centre, charged with incitement or conspiracy to rebellion, accusations which carry severe penalties.
INDIA has the dubious distinction of having the world’s largest oppressed minority. ‘Untouchables’ constitute only one-seventh of the population but that amounts to 105 million people— one person in forty in the world today’.
‘Untouchables’ are also called ’Harijans’ ‘Children of God’. This term, which was used first by Gandhi, has gained currency in Indian society generally but is rarely used now by the younger generation of Untouchables, who consider it demeaning.
The distinction between Untouchables and other Indians is not racial (they do not look different) but lies in the nature of their traditional work: sweeping streets, scavenging or cleaning latrines. Only a minority now perform these tasks but old attitudes die hard and are reinforced by economic advantages to the higher castes if they can continue to treat the Untouchables as a guaranteed pool of cheap labour.
Although such discrimination is illegal, enforcing the law is a very different matter and, as a new report from the Minority Rights Group shows, the level of violence against Untouchables has been increasing over the last decade as they have struggled for some kind of economic independence. Whole families and neighbourhoods have been murdered — shot. stabbed, burned alive — women and girls raped, goods and land stolen.
The Indian government reserves a quota of jobs and university places for Untouchables. And some of the violence has been directed against this policy. There were riots in Gujarat in 1981, for example, over the setting aside of places in medical schools. Over forty lives were lost and more than two thousand Untouchables fled their homes.
The government did not give in to the demands of the anti-reservationists. But the report says that the issue is ‘dormant rather than resolved’ and that ‘there are many elements in society who cannot tolerate any form of social progress for the Untouchable community’.
The Untouchables of India.
WESTERN Samoa is settling back into a period of uneasy political peace after months of upheaval.
The island-nation, first of the colonies in the South Pacific to win independence, has been the victim of a well-meaning exercise in writing Western democratic provision into its constitution.
During pre- independence talks with New Zealand. Western Samoa’s traditional leaders sought to marry the chiefly or matai system with Westminster. The Matai are head of extended family groups, in theory appointed by consensus but in practice mostly hereditary holders of the title. Matais have wide financial and social powers and some younger Western Samoans chafe under the traditional system, claiming authority is abused.
When Western Samoa became independent in 1962, it was born with a electoral system which limits suffrage and the holding of office to the matai. Supposedly voting according to the consensus of their families, the matai – there are 14,000 out of a population of 160,000 – elected their fellows to 45 out of 47 parliamentary seats.
But the real trouble came when Chief Justice R.J.B. St John, an Australian, rule that sections of the Electoral Act which deal with the matai were contrary to article 15 of the Constitution, which said that all people were equal before the law. Nothing short of universal suffrage would satisfy the constitutional strictures, the Chief Justice found.
Many Western Samoans were concerned that this finding put under threat not just the Electoral Act, but their whole traditional social system.
The Government last year took the matter the Appeals Court, which eventually overruled the Chief Justice, finding that elements of the traditional matai system were also embodied in the Constitution.
However, the tension surrounding the matai, suffrage and authority energy from Western Somoa’s sever economic problems.
Sizing up cities
IF you want a good place to live with reasonable job prospects choose a city of no more than 600,000 inhabitants.
This is advice you could draw from a new study by Professor Paul Bairoch for the International Labour Organisation. He has found that there are certain population threshold limits beyond which some urban problems become serious.
Traffic congestion, for example, starts to strangle a city when it reaches the 200,000 mark. At this point the city fathers are well advised to invest heavily in public transport. Beyond 600,000 they should think seriously about an underground
It’s at 600,000, too, that pollution becomes a major threat for those in temperate zones, though those in hotter climates feel it at around 500,000.
Beyond two million the would-be immigrant would do well to look elsewhere. The job situation doesn’t usually get any better and most other things— like crime, housing and schools — get worse.
Back on the bottle
AFTER the passing of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes at the World Health Assembly in 1981 many people thought that the problem was over— that Third World mothers and children would no longer be at the mercy of the multinational milk salesmen
Those who knew them of old thought otherwise — the companies have a long history of saying one thing at international meetings and then carrying on regardless, safe in the absence of any monitoring system.
And sure enough this is precisely what they have tried again. The difference this time however is that there is someone watching. The coalition of action groups that form the International Baby Food Action Network have just published a report that, for 1982 alone, logs 14,985,160 violations of the code involving 83 companies in 80 countries. While the Code, for example, outlaws free sample distributions to mothers it has been shown that free samples of the Nestlé product Lactogen are being distributed to mothers in Singapore hospitals. A doctor at a government hospital explained that 95 per cent of the 400 mothers who gave birth in September 1982 went home with a free sample of Lactogen.
‘When Nestlé come they just drop it off. They know we are going to give it to mothers so they send it automatically. It costs them quite a lot of money, I’m sure, but they’re quite happy to give it away because mothers carry the tin to the market and buy more of the same.
Nestlé gives out 72,000 samples per month in the Philippines in much the same way. Each of the company’s 60 representatives has a quota of one thousand tins a month for distribution. When one of them was asked whether they gave the samples directly to mothers he replied: ‘No, the doctors do it for us. That’s how we promote the product’
Keeping in with the doctors is, of course, an important objective for the companies.
In January 1982, for example, Nestlé provided the morning and afternoon snacks for 50 doctors on a course run by the Society of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians in Thailand. They also helped to finance a dinner the following day for over 400 members — distributing pens and diary cards and setting up a display featuring its products.
Nestlé are by no means the only offenders, though they are one of the most significant Carnation has been running ads in newspapers in St Lucia that promote evaporated milk for use with babies. Nutricia has been advertising on television in the Bahamas describing their products as ‘the nearest thing to mother’s milk’. Wyeth in Singapore employs seven ‘mothercraft’ nurses who visit mothers at home. According to the local marketing manager ‘They teach mothers how to prepare S-26 formula It is their job to recommend S-26 and SMA. Why else would we have them?’
It is clear from this report that the companies cannot be trusted to abide by a voluntary code. And even if they accept it now how long will they stick to it while it is costing them money?
Nestlé’s distributor in the Bahamas was told by the company to stop distributing samples to clinics serving low-income families after the passage of the International Code in May 1981. Interviewed in December 1982 he said that he had been told to resume distribution of the samples.