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Giving workers their due attention

Ordinarily today the working people would have paraded, everybody who produces with his hands or his brain, that is, joyfully looking back at the year and celebrating with their fellow global proletariat fruits of their labour.

But things are different. The Coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll, both in terms of mortality and the sea of unemployment it is creating.

As the International Labour Organisation has noted, “The COVID-19 crisis impacts on both the demand and the supply sides of the labour market, and it has major implications for the goal of ensuring full employment and decent work. In particular, the crisis is pushing many families into poverty and increasing existing inequalities. Efforts to contain the spread of the virus have disrupted production flows, caused demand for non-essential goods and services to plummet, and forced enterprises around the world to suspend or scale down operations. While many people have lost their jobs and income, many others continue to work. Making sure that work can be performed safely is a shared priority. The lessons from previous global crises have shown that governments alone cannot address the challenges stemming from strong shocks. COVID-19 continues to spread across the world with a trajectory difficult to predict. The health, humanitarian and socio-economic policies we implement will determine how quickly and strongly we recover.”

In our case, unemployment was already a cry for many pre-COVID-19. The pandemic has not only aggravated the situation – the socio-economic downturn it has caused is also eating away at the meagre income of those fortunate enough to be in gainful employment. Then comes inflation that has eroded that very paltry salary our workers are earning. Worse still, collective bargaining is no longer a reality!

For unionised workers, it’s now a nightmare! Gone are the days when, for instance, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions would call for a press briefing and the government would tremble. Unions have become paper tigers. They can barely speak for their members. In fact, most, if not all, trade union leaders have become tenderpreneurs. No wonder Edgar Lungu rebuked them at last year’s Labour Day celebrations! It’s because they have sold their souls to the devil; they can no longer claim to be representing workers, it’s about their bellies. That is how trade unionism has been defined today.

It has even become common for a minister of labour to lecture union leaders on what constitutes collective bargaining, how and when to declare an industrial dispute, to protest/strike – including issues of the tripartite labour council meetings. Workers have indeed been left alone, orphaned. What should have been a great day for reminding the global community of the importance of the workers, May 1 has been reduced to just another holiday in the calendar year.

As Fidel Castro noted, before the Revolution May Day “was the occasion for each sector of labour to set forth its demands, its aspirations for improvement, to men who were deaf to the working class interests, men who could not even accede to those basic demands because they did not govern for the people, for the workers, for the peasants, or for the humble; they governed solely for the privileged, the dominant economic interests. Doing anything for the people would have meant harming the interests that they represented, and so they could not accede to any just demand from the people. The May Day parades of those days marked the complaints and protest of the workers.”

Today we don’t even have complaints – union leaders are compliant to the political leaders in power!

But we cannot underestimate the importance of workers. Even the little that our governors have managed to keep to themselves – looted – is a product of the proletariat. The wheels of the economy move because of workers. It is time to give the workers, the producers, the same attention, reward and opportunity the politicians give themselves.

As Pope Francis says, “Now, more than ever, dear friends, we must build a future from below, from a politics with the people, rooted in the people”.

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