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Rediscovering trade unionism

NKOLE Chishimba, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions president, says the labour movement needs to rediscover itself.

He says the current political environment has changed the labour movement’s landscape.

“We need to rediscover ourselves because disunity takes away the opportunity for unions to represent workers effectively. We need to be very courageous because without courage you fear to say what you want to say and that divides us further,” he says. “If we want to get somewhere we need to be courageous.”

Chishimba says internal conflicts are more severe than fighting an external enemy.

He notes that unity and solidarity is key in the labour movement.

“With solidarity and unity, we can win because internal conflicts have more severe consequences than fighting an external enemy. There was division [in the labour movement prior to the August 12 elections). Fortunately, the majority refused the stupidity and said we need to move together,” Chishimba notes. “We were called names, they aligned us to the UPND and we were sworn enemies. We have conquered a very rough path.”

He also says the PF wanted to push bill 10 down the throats of Zambians at a very high cost adding that some trade unionists were paraded in support of bill 10.

It is very true that the labour movement needs to rediscover itself. Most union leaders soiled themselves during the PF regime. They dined and wined with Edgar Lungu and his minions. They didn’t see wrong in doing so. They abandoned their members at the hour of need.

Yet, as Philip Randolph noted, “The essence of trade unionism is social uplift. The labour movement has been the haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden, the poor.”

And Pope Francis says, “Trade unions have been an essential force for social change, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.”

What we witnessed in the last 10 years was a total departure from the essence of trade unionism. When celebrating the International Labour day in 2020, Edgar himself told the nation how union leaders were lobbying for themselves. Indeed, the labour movement has been weakened in our country just like some Church leaders had also joined the bandwagon of shameless praise singers. Blind loyalty had taken centre state. Instant wealthy and luxurious lifestyle had engulfed most leaders/people at the expense of their followers – the flock.

Now they have been exposed and they want to paint themselves holier than thou! Much as neo-liberalism does not support vibrant trade unionism, much of the weaknesses – fragmentation – we are witnessing in the labour movement is out of selfishness. Our trade unionists are doing all this as if they did not read Theodore Roosevelt’s clarion call that, “It is essential that there should be organisation of labour. This is an era of organisation. Capital organises and therefore labour must organise.”

Splinter unions have become the order of the day because of those benefits associated with being a labour leader aligned to a governing party! This we have seen.

And PF did not spare any credible organisation and institution. They made sure they corrupted almost everyone so that they could control things easily. For instance, those still calling for the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs are mostly people who had direct or indirect benefits through that conduit. So, we understand how corrupt the system had become.

But we appreciate the fact that Nkole and his colleagues have come back to their senses. This is the time to introspect and get back to the real reason for trade unionism. Let them reengage with their members and start afresh.

Because as Friedrich Engels noted, “In a political struggle of class against class, organization of trade unions is the most important weapon.”

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