Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

Increasingly aspersions have been cast by different sectors of society including social, political and economic analysts and commentators, as well as the media, on the efficacy and efficiency of local trade unions and unionists.

Some commentators and analysts even doubting and questioning the relevance of trade unions, unionists anymore. Any ideologues worth the salt cannot but seriously ponder such postulations if not dismiss the all together. Because the essence of trade unions and unionists is the old age struggle of the workers in any society against the exploitative system.

In the true principle of dialectical materialism workers, and thus trade unions and trade unionists, shall exists and shall be relevant as long as the material conditions of the workers, manifested in their continued exploitation in the capitalist mode of production, remains.

In post-liberation Namibia although one has not been seeing mushrooming of trade unions, not to mention the fact that unions are not a single monolithic entity, rightly so as neither must and should unions be expected to be such in a multiparty democracy and culture that Namibia has been trying to nurture since independence. But there have been important pointers that unions, and indeed workers, and their allies simply cannot ignore. Slowly but surely, and perhaps stealthily and unnoticeably, workers have been finding themselves increasingly alone and isolated. Those who are supposed to be their ears and eyes, and in worse and dire times their shields if not spears, confined for some most of the times to their comforts of air conditioned offices, usually in the very same corporate headquarters, the very Capitalist fortresses they are supposed to bring down on behalf of the workers.

There can be no denial that the movement of the workers have slowly been eroding be it in zest or, ideology, if ever was any radical ideological disposition. Both at the shop floor level or grassroots level, as well as at the level of the leadership. Even the unity of the workers have been eroded. Evidence hereof is the recent strike by Shoprite workers. Dragging on close to three months. Because Shoprite workers themselves did not have the necessary unity and solidarity with only sporadic strikes by some branches of the company, with few sustained strikes by yet others. While the workers were striking, it seemed business as usual, especially within the broader labour movement if not the entire country. These are all pointers to something amiss within the labour movement, and by extension within the trade unions, if not the workers at large.

Not long ago veteran trade unionist, and a firebrand workerist, Evalistus Kaaronda, of NUNW fame, shipped out of the workers’ umbrella body to form a separate union. That has been ominously silent to say the least. Not to mention the fact that he also directly ventured into politics forming a political party. This also been conspicuously absent.

And it is not if all along, since independence, the trials and tribulations of the workers have not been mounting. With the workers many a times left without vociferous voices, swallowed by belly of the beast of tripartitism, if not lured into the apparent lucrativeness of corporate boards.

Coming immediately to mind in this regard are the miseries visited upon the workers in the fishing industry, continuing to this day, following their retrenchment when Fishcor quotas were siphoned off and wholesaled to an Icelandic company. Hence the infamous ongoing Fishrot saga today. The workers with little voice from the unions, is literally now preys and pawns to all and sundry, including opportunist politicians. With trade unions rarely seen or heard anywhere near to them when it matters most. Just, when Air Namibia’s fate has now been sealed with the future of hundreds of workers uncertain if not doomed, one hears attempts at salvaging by trade unions.

One is equally aware of bids for the establishment of what founders term a revolutionary union. Yes, indeed one cannot but agree that a revolutionary union has long been overdue in Namibia. Because a revolutionary vision and vigour is exactly what is and has been missing in the current workers movement in Namibia.

One cannot blame the labour-workers movement in Namibia for aligning itself with the Swapo Party of Namibia the latter being a natural ally as one of the foremost liberation movements. But with the country now politically free, 30 years down the line, the trade union movement surely needs a serious introspection of its own. One essence of the unions’ alignment with the Swapo Party as a governing party, must have been to ensure that Swapo does not lose sight of its historic in mission in the understanding of dialectical materialism, which is the unshackling of chains of Capitalism from the workers. None other than the unions which must have been continuing to remind and nourish Swapo ideologically and to provide it with both an ideological and political compass in this regards. There’s no denying or doubt that the union movement on this score, has failed dismally. Although one can and must give the unions the benefit of the doubt about the cause of the worker having been betrayed, certainly it is not yet Uhuru
for the workers and they are far from being liberated from Capitalist exploitation. Hence the erroneous deduction that the trade unions are irrelevant. But they cannot be irrelevant until the workers have been freed from exploitation.

That is why it is time for the unions, and the workers to go back to the basics of the workers struggle and revolution. To regroup and solidify the union and workers movement, ideologically and otherwise. Instead of forming splinter unions.