Faced with the problem of keeping strategic war materials flowing off Saigon's docks and up to the front lines, U.
Faced with the problem of keeping strategic war materials flowing off Saigon's docks and up to the front lines, U.S. officials Tuesday (27 DEC) ordered about 300 United States soldiers onto the docks to unload ships.
Tuesday was the second day of a strike by 2,500 Vietnamese dock workers who are angry because 600 of their number were replaced by U.S. troops at a new United States Army terminal on the Saigon River north of Saigon. This terminal took some of the work load off the desks in Saigon but when the stevedores at the new facility were actually replaced by a battalion the U.S. Army's Transport Corps, a general strike of dock workers was called, directed against ships with military cargoes.
It places the U.S. soldiers now unloading the ships in the role of strike breakers. But officials felt the cargo was of such priority that drastic action had to be taken.
The U.S. Army says the Vietnamese labour unions involved -- the parent Confederation of Vietnamese Workers and the Port and Allied Dock workers -- had known for sometime that their work gangs at the new Saigon river facility would be replace when the port battalion arrived. But Bo Van Tai, Secretary General of the Saigon Council of the confederation, said neither union had agreed to the layoffs.
Behind the strike is a desire on the part of the U.S. Army to improve efficiency and security on the Saigon waterfront. The Army wants to eliminate the traditional "shape up" of workers and replace it with a union hiring hall. That way, all workers could be registered and investigated.
One U.S. Army source explained the situation this way. "The way it is now, the 'kal' or pier boss, goes down to the central market and picks out whomever he wants, Viet Cong or anyone. There are kickbacks and favouritism. If you get a man fired for stealing, he turns up on another pier a couple of days later."
The strike is now (Wednesday 28 Dec) in its third day with no end in sight and U.S. officials put more troops to work unloading cargo.