The pulling out of the Civil Servants and Allied Workers Union of Zambia (CSAWUZ) and Judiciary and Allied Workers Union of Zambia (JAWUZ) from the Zambia Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) is sad but was an imminent development.
It is apparent that workers in our homeland have had a raw deal over the past decades. This situation has been worsening from year to year. Inflation, wage ceilings, casualization of labour, preference for capital intensive investments, weak labour laws, and compromised militancy of trade unions have all worked against the social and economic interests of the Zambian proletariat. The ZCTU of today is a far away cry from what it was in the 1970s and 80s.
The question is, why did we have a militant trade union even under a one party state and not today? What has led to the trade unions being compromised under our petty-bourgeois multi-party system? Two developments were responsible: The trade union leadership joined neo-liberal capitalist political parties whose ideology is anti-workers and pro-capital. Trade unions were therefore denied of leadership that would have stood and defended workers rights against the structural adjustment programmes that were imposed on the Zambian working masses during the 1990s. The former trade union leadership basically betrayed the cause of the working masses.
Concurrently with this development was also a systematic de-radicalisation of the trade union leadership funded and organised by various foundations from the leading imperialist countries. Seminars, workshops, system-strengthening projects were introduced that basically reduced the social capital and ideological militancy of trade unions.
Trade unions have therefore been co-opted to support and facilitate the affairs of neo-liberal capitalism. They have eventually and subtly abandoned the interests of their members. The Zambian worker and pensioner is today more exposed and defenceless than ever before. And this is what the neo-liberal capitalist system will continue to perpetuate in our homeland.
Key lessons can be drawn from this development. First, the autonomy of trade unions is critical and has to be cultured, maintained and defended. It is such autonomy that ensures trade unions remain true to the causes of the workers and do not quickly get compromised by those wielding state power and owners of capital.
Secondly, just as capital has neo-liberalism as its ideology; workers have their own opposing ideology also, that is, socialism. Socialism was born out of the working class struggle and puts the interests of the working masses above all others. Socialism is the only tool at the disposal of the working masses to emancipate themselves from exploitation and subjugation. There can be no militant trade unionism without a socialist orientation. In Lunda, they would say “cheyi cheyi, chamukwenu chamukwenu” (yours is yours and what belongs to others is theirs)! Workers have no space of their own in the capitalist ideology.
CSAWUZ and JAWUZ have therefore to draw on these key lessons as they seek new national affiliation. Zambian workers have been betrayed for far too long; it is time for a new and meaningful national representation of the workers.