THREE MONTHS TO CONTAIN THE FRENCH BATTLESHIP
During the years working as a worker soldier in France, the event of the French soldiers opposing in the Black Sea in which Uncle Ton had the honour to hoist the red flag has enhanced Uncle Ton’s awareness on the working class and the Russian October Revolution. Moreover, it was reinforced by the resound of the patriotic activities of the Young Nguyen Ai Quoc in France. Nguyen Ai Quoc sent the Petition of the Annamese (or the 8-content claim) to the Versailles Peace Conference on 19 June 1919. This urged Uncle Ton to leave for Paris to meet the outstanding young person who had the same will. Regretfully, Uncle Ton could not meet Nguyen Ai Quoc. In August 1920, Uncle Ton was deported from France.
Right after returning to Saigon, Uncle Ton immediately thought of the gathering workers into an organization. In France, workers were entitled to found unions. In our country, this was not permitted. Therefore, Uncle Ton called the comrades to found a Union in the late of 1920. This was executed mainly at places of plenty of workers as Cho Quan Power Company, Ba Son Shipyard, Saigon Commercial Port… The Union headed by Uncle Ton had the purpose to unite the working class, fighting for the interest of the working class and labourers, opposing oppression, exploitation, injustice. This Union ran in secrecy so it was called the Secret Union.
From 1920 to 1925, the Secret Union had led many struggles of Saigon – Cho Lon workers, winning success and making great sound such as the strike of 600 dyers at Cho Lon, especially the strike of over 1,000 Ba Son workers in August 1975 to contain the French battleship.
Ba Son today is a big shipyard, a big repair factory of our country. It is a meaningful historical relic. It is the relic of a big site, an important industry of first existence of ancient Saigon, the cradle of the struggle movement of Saigon – Cho Lon working class in the national liberation.
In August 1925, on the voyage to suppress the revolutionary activities in Quang Chau (China), the three French battleships moored in Saigon Port. One of them, the Jules Michelet, had to be urgently repaired at Ba Son. Uncle Ton knew it. It used to be present in the war intervening to the Soviet Russia. It was a big battleship as the France where he used to work on. Now, what purpose made it to come here? Suddenly, Uncle Ton remember the roaring sound of cannons pouring on Sevastopol some days. Being used to hoist the antiwar red flag with the international proletarian spirit, none better than everybody, Uncle Ton clearly understood the intention of the French Colonialists that they would use it to oppress the Chinese Revolution, the place where the national liberation flag in Asia. Being aware of the heavy duty on the shoulder of Ba Son workers in this historic event, Uncle Ton summoned the Executive Board. He said:
- “Oppressing Chinese Revolution means doing the same on Vietnamese? Ba Son workers can not help them. What today it does on China will tomorrow applied on us. We must try to prevent them”.
Uncle Ton threw his blow into the air.
The Executive Board decided that, in all ways, they had to impede the Jules Michelet. In case they could not, it was to make it delayed as long as possible.
After a long thinking, Uncle Ton suggested:
- We may base on economic reasons for this political strike. From the past to now, Ba Son workers have been paid twice a month. The pay-days have been off during half of an hour. From the date when the French Engineer Cuoc-xi-an (the supplementary position of the French Engineer) came, the pay-days have been cut off down to 15 minutes, the workers’ salaries have been truncated. Now, we can base on this. We called the workers to take a demonstration and then a strike. Is it logical?
The plan has been carefully discussed and assigned to the Ba Son Union for execution. Uncle Ton, moreover, contacted the Newspaper office of “Cracked Bell” of Mr. Nguyen An Ninh, asking the newspaper to call labourers and workers in Saigon Cho Lon to support the strike of Ba Son workers.
On the date of 04 August 1925, the pay-day of Ba Son Workers, 30 minutes before the pay-time, all workers stopped working. All machines were out of work. The taskmaster, panic, ran to report Cuocxian. In a red face, he fisted on the table:
- Expel the oppressors out of the factory!
The workers, in unison, cried:
- Going home! We are all sacked!
Cuocxian’s face turned from red to pale, understanding.
The next day’s morning, two groups with over 1,000 workers, from two directions, gathered on Espagne Street in order and silence. One representative claimed 03 contents:
- Making a 20-percent raise.
- Making half an hour on pay-days.
- Re-employing those sacked.
Each word of the representative was supported by the workers acclaims. The Representative asked:
- “You workers agree?
Immediately, the workers replied:
- “Yes, yes. A 20-percent raise ”.
The demonstration stirred up the City. Policemen were mobilized with guns and sticks in hands. Fire was not done… maybe they were not ordered…
The demonstration dispersed. The next day, and the day after… Over consecutive eight days, Ba Son was as silent as grave. The dominators were in confusion. The Michelet had been ordered to make urgent repair, but the workers went on strike…
The progressive newspaper, especially the “Cracked Bell”, reported the strike, and eloquently stating the reasons to support the workers. Uncle Ton and the Union continued to call Ba Son workers to patiently struggle, mobilizing workers and officers at firms, factories, even famers from the outskirt to donate money and rice to support the strike of Ba Son workers.
On 11 August, The South Governor and the Naval Commander unwillingly invited 04 representatives of workers. They ordered and made threat:
- All of you must work tomorrow. If not, Ba Son will be closed, all of you sacked!
The representatives proudly answered:
- It’s your right.
Ten days later, the factory owner reluctantly posted a Notice to accept a whole 10-percent raise and to pay the days of strike. The struggle, at first, was successful. Not in any haste, the Union called workers to turn from strike to slowdown strike, prolonging the time of battleship repair.
No sooner than 28 November 1925, over 03 months anchoring at Ba Son, Jules Michelet could just leave the shipyard.
The above event was stated in the VI Congress of International Communist by the Indochinese Representative in 1928 that: “Ba Son workers did not repair the Michelet because France may use it to oppress Chinese peoples”. The Ba Son workers’ strike has not only enlightened the perception, the organization skill, the international proletarian spirit of Saigon Cho Lon workers in the mid 1920s of 20th century, it also confirms Uncle Ton’s credit and the Union founded and led by him.
In the new time of revolution, the important source to found and develop the country is to widen the international friendship, cooperative relations with mutual benefits, to actively integrate as defined by the Party at the XI National Representative Congress: “Consistently executing the foreign policy of self-control and independence; being friends, reliable partners and responsible members in international community. For the interest of the country, the people, for the prosperity of Socialist Vietnam”.
Extracted from “Uncle Ton (1888-1980)’s life and career”
Su That Publishing House