Vietnam 'broom of Titoism'



March 11, 2007

The Washington Times Forum



The Washington Times (et cetera section of Feb. 26) featured excerpts from Steve H. Hanke's article "The Broom of Titoism" regarding Marshall Josip Broz Tito's attempt at resolving communist Yugoslavia's surplus labor problem. "Tito came up with a simple, but ingenious, economic strategy; he ... exported surplus labor."

Communist Vietnam has taken a page out of Tito's playbook, and is now exporting a great share of its labor force in an attempt to quell the unrest that fermenting in that country. Seventy percent of the population is under 30 years of age. According to its labor department, Vietnam has a labor force of 43 million workers, and some 8 million Vietnamese of working age are jobless.

The government set a goal to send 500,000 Vietnamese workers overseas by 2005 to countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and South Korea. The Labor Ministry has identified the United States, Australia and Canada as new major markets for Vietnamese guest workers this year (
Exporting workers is not new for Vietnam, for after the communist takeover in 1975, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese laborers were sent to the Soviet Union and European East-Block countries as a form of war debt payments, and many ended up jobless and stranded.

In 1999, the Vietnamese government also provided workers, mostly female -- albeit illegally-- to a Korean garment company making clothing for J.C. Penney and Sears in American-Samoa. The so-called "guest workers" were paid a pittance, exploited under deplorable sweatshop conditions, beaten, sexually abused and imprisoned.

The high court of American Samoa levied a fine of $3.5 million against the Korean company that abused the 251 mainly women workers and the Vietnamese government for exporting the workers. Vietnam has never paid the fine.

People in remote and mountainous areas in Vietnam remain unaware of these opportunities and rely on middlemen when they want to apply for overseas jobs. Swindlers flock to these rural areas, pretending to be representatives of job-supply companies recruiting workers for overseas jobs and promising large sums of money for their services. According to the Vietnamese government, "Legitimate contractors" are supposed to charge a finders fee of only $2,000 (U.S.) each and another $150 for health certificate and visas.


However, recruits have to top off this amount with additional payments under the table.

More than 30,000 Vietnamese workers have been sent to Malaysia -- a number are Montagnards from the impoverished Central Highlands. To pay the recruitment fee, the workers' families have to raise the money either by borrowing at usury rates, or selling their land, livestock or other assets. Those who aren't swindled outright and actually get a job overseas, upon arrival, often find their wages aren't what was promised. The Vietnamese contractors and/or the host-country contractors siphon off a considerable amount as costs for housing, food and work-related equipment.

In some cases, food and housing are not provided, or if so, it is substandard, and workers have no health-care. Workers are "tied" to one company, and if they quit their jobs, even because of abuse, they can be sent back to Vietnam without receiving any wages or just abandoned in the host country with no money and no way home.

Vietnamese "guest workers" are employed as farm workers, household servants, in sweatshops, and in other jobs requiring heavy labor that the local labor force no longer wants to do. Women who don't end up in sweatshops or as housemaids are often employed in the sex trade or are sold off as wives to locals who can't find wives in their own country.

Mr. Hanke says, "Rather than modernize the economy, Mexico's politicos have also used Titoism's safety valve; when incapable of fostering productive jobs, export the labor force. ... Last year, almost 30 percent of Mexico's labor force was working in the United States." A great share of the U.S. agricultural labor force comes from Mexico. While Congress heatedly debates immigration, communist Vietnam has seized the opportunity and embarked upon a stealth strategy to penetrate the U.S.

As if the U.S. didn't already have a critical immigration problem, communist Vietnam wants to get in on the action and its Labor Ministry has negotiated with the U.S. government to send "guest workers" here to work as welders, gardeners and citrus-harvesters. However, the Vietnamese government is charging the workers a king's ransom -- $20,000 each -- for the privilege of coming to the U.S. to work -- far beyond the means of the average impoverished Vietnamese.

Thi Thanh Nhan, director general of Advanced International Joint Stock Co. (AIC), a labor export company, says workers' contracts can be for as long as three years, after which laborers can be granted permanent residency by the U.S. government. This sounds like a high-priced Vietnamese government undercover "coyote" operation for the more privileged.

There are still plenty of our former allies who are persecuted and have suffered for years in Vietnamese communist concentration (termed re-education) camps, who would just love to be able to come to the U.S. as "guest workers" and fill these jobs. However, the State Department feels these allies should stay in Vietnam.

The Montagnards lost half their male population fighting for the United States. Since the communist takeover, Montagnards have and continue to suffer from gross human rights abuses, religious persecution and thinly disguised genocide.

Recently at a Hanoi press conference, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, gave her answer to the debt the U.S. owes these loyal allies by proclaiming that the Mountagnards must stay in communist Vietnam (AFP, Feb. 5). Meanwhile, the U.S. imports Vietnamese "guest workers," and after three years they "can be granted permanent residency." Go figure.


* Mr. Benge spent 11 years in Vietnam as a Foreign Service officer, five as a prisoner of war, 1968-1973. He is very active in advocating for human rights and religious freedom for the peoples of this region.


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