Kae Matundu Tjiparuro
Are trade unions in Namibia truly facing a relevance crisis in Namibia as social analysts would postulate in a recent article in the New Era daily.
For Yours Truly Ideologically most of the analysts completely missed the ball, especially in their analyses that trade unions are facing a relevance crisis. Under the current capitalist dispensation, and its attendant siphoning off of profits by hiring the labour of the workers and having them toiling a quick fix exploitation of Namibia’s national resources, the workers cannot and should not expect eternal relieve. Instead of perpetual exploitation, up and until the capitalist system is overthrown.
The long-running withholding of the labour by Shoprite by workers, protesting the exploitation by South African, if not global retail entity, also has reference. As much as one must appreciate the just brokered solution, especially the workers themselves who have been toiling under slave-like working conditions and starvation wages at Shoprite, one equally cannot and must not be under the illusion that this is in any way a panacea to their perpetual exploitation. For there’s no way that the company, inherently exploitative as it is and has been, true to its capitalist exploits, can be expected and be hoped to genuinely give in to the demands of the workers. That would mean delivering the workers from the colonial yoke of capitalist exploitation. Something which simply is and cannot be within the DNA of capitalist companies and entities. Nor within the DNA of the unholy alliance between the Namibian State and capitalist corporations. And as much also the Labour Act of 2007. Its provisions, in all realism and
honesty, are not and could not have been intended to ultimately deliver the workers from the yoke of Capitalism. Other than rendering their continued exploitation bearable, and the siphoning off of the country’s wealth, in the name of presumed necessary investment, smooth.
While workers in terms of the Labour Act can legally and legitimately withhold their labour, the “no work, no pay” principle applies and has been applying. Forcing them to meantime starve and eventually force them back to work. Simply the “no work no pay” principe is at the same time taking away this right. This is Capitalism in reality and practice. Hence the conclusion that the Labour Act may ultimately not be worth the paper it has been written on. This is as far as truthfully delivering the workers, including the Shoprite workers, from the yoke of big corporations, and Capitalism.
Workers in the agricultural sector, including farm helps in rural areas, where most of the farmers are farming for subsistence, have a minimum wage of N$4.62 per hour at entry level, on top of the employer providing monthly rations as well as accommodation and ancillaries. But within the retail sector this is not the case. A worker within this sector, like the ones at Shoprite, receives on average N$1,500 a month. With this she/he has to cover all the imaginable living cost. What else can this really be than exploitation of the highest order? And slavery!
Workers have been living on this starvation wages for as long as Shoprite has been in Namibia. This predating independence. Thirty years after independence when the situation for the workers must have changed for the better, this is not the case. The Labour Act notwithstanding. With trade unions leaders at best idling. Not that the trade unions are no longer relevant as some analysts would want to make the workers and sundry believe. Because as long as Capitalism continues to exist, and thereby the exploitation of the workers, trade unions will continue to be relevant. Even if only to bargain for the bare minimum working conditions. Because as long as the trade unions are not ideologically fired, to the extent of demanding the overthrow of Capitalism, ultimately propelling the deliverance of the workers, harsh conditions at the work place, including starvation wages, shall continue to be the norm as is currently the status quo.
This is the point most of the analysts seem to miss in the New Era article alluded to. Attributing the working conditions of the workers solely to the inability of the trade unions. Without contextualising and depositing such inabilities alluded to, in the nature of capitalism. In essence as a factor of the ideological indisposition of trade union leaders. Because of their ideological indisposition and bankruptcy, trade union leaders are blinded to the actual cause and explanation of the inhuman working conditions of the workers in Namibia. Yes, one can have “relevant” and strong unions as our analysts would have it. In the event in which workers may made to believe they are enjoying better working conditions. But are better working conditions in a given capitalist system really what they are, or made out to be? No! Not in the absence of overthrowing, and not overhauling, the capitalist mode of production; followed by workers control of the means of production and ownership of the factors of production. An
d finally a socialist (egalitarian) distribution and sharing of the fruits of controlled and communal production.