Yours Truly Ideologically chose this week to look at the mushrooming of trade unions not knowing that this week would rob the country of one of her gallant revolutionary souls by the Name of Ignatius Shixwameni.
Many tributes has since been pouring testifying to his revolutionary spirit. But few dare to put this spirit in its proper ideological context. Except for the Swanu President, Tangeni Iijambo who referred to Shixwameni as a fellow communist and socialist. Indeed a socialist Shixwameni was, not by fashion and fads but by conviction. And that is why he turned out to be a principled statesperson that he came to be till his passing on this week. Thus this weeks’ column aptly looking at unions in Namibia is but a befitting tribute in the words Iijambo, to a “fellow communist and socialist”.
In terms of the freedom of the media, the 1991 Windhoek Declaration, among others, declares towads striving to a pluralistic press.
This means the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinions within the community and/or society, country. A noble ideal, one must say, if it is to be realised but which must be subjected to and goes parallel with another equal important declaration, that of diversity of the ownership of the media, which in Namibia is hardly mentioned and/or focused on and which as far as media ownership in Namibia, has continued to be in the hands of a few.
Since independence, the country has been experiencing the mushrooming and/or proliferation of unions and/or workers representative organisations. Workers in its wider definition or interpretation, as opposed to a narrow and crude definition of workers in terms of workers in factories. That this has been the case is natural in view of other attendant constitutional rights and freedoms, among them the right and freedom to belong to organisations of one’s choice, as well as the freedom to organise on the shop floor as well as of assembly.
Such a proliferation of workers representative bodies is natural, given not only the increased awareness of the workers regarding their rights and freedoms. But also given that, at the same time, despite such awareness and the enshrinement of the rights and freedoms of the workers in the Constitution, inversely workers seem more than ever to appear victims in their many and various places of work. So to speak on balance the conditions of the workers seem to have been deteriorating more than they have been improving. While it must have been to the contrary, workers have increasingly been finding themselves with any recourse in terms of upholding their rights and freedoms. If all together having no recourse at all. This is despite their Constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. And the rights and freedoms seemingly prescribed by the Labour Act of 2007 as amended by the Labour Act of 2012.
“To establish a comprehensive labour law for all employers and employees; to entrench fundamental labour rights and protections; to regulate basic terms and conditions of employment; to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees; to protect employees from unfair labour practices; to regulate the registration of trade unions and employers’ organisations; to regulate collective labour relations; to provide for the systematic prevention and resolution of labour disputes.” These indeed are noble ideals. But can the workers and/or employees be said to be far better off now with instruments such as the Constitution and the Labour Act?
Your guess is as good as that of Yours Truly Ideologically. But let’s take a leaf from the recent dispute of the workers of Shoprite. Which did not only bring to light the pitiful remuneration of Shoprite’s workers but their overall inhumane welfare as well exploitative working conditions. Shoprite must have been in the country for as good as Namibia’s independence, if not longer. That is more than 30 years. This time the workers as it was revealed, have been represented by their unions. But it was the action of the workers themselves which was the last straw in seeing to it that concrete action is taken to improve their working conditions, including an increase in their wages. Somebody in the union movement obviously must have been sleeping on duty, let alone labour inspectors and what-have-you, who must have been be awakened to ensuring the health, safety and welfare of employees as per the Labour Act.
The bottom line is, while the unions have been claiming to be representing them, in reality workers have been abandoned and left to their own lot and devices.
Hence the mushrooming of trade unions, most of which are there but more than anything else, only to exploit the miseries of the workers rather than truthfully, dedicatedly, honestly and as a matter of class consciousness there to represent the workers and their interests. As long as this remain the reason why unions are mushrooming, that is opportunism, rather than a true belief in delivering the workers from the yoke of Capitalism. If not class conscious and ideological, the myriads of trade union springing up every second, minute, day, week and/or month, shall make no difference, and an everlasting one for that matter, to the material conditions of the workers.
The exploitative conditions of employees/workers can be generalised, with a few exceptions, and these exceptions if they do exist, are really few and far in between. Name it, in the industry, civil service, non-governmental organisations, farming, domestic workers, all workers are at the same sharp end of the blades of job givers, with profit the objective and exploitation the essential imperative in profitmaking.
Simply because in all these instances few jobgivers have a culture of the rights and freedom of the employees and workers. Be that as it may be how can they respect such rights and freedoms if they are not and have never been within their DNAs? Let alone protect such rights and freedoms? The shackles of the exploitation of the workers thus cannot be unchained by the unions, given the elitism of unions and their leaders in this day and age. Thus workers as much as was the case with Shoprite, must lead their own battles, of course with the solidarity of other progressive strata within society, notable the civil society movement.
But this behooves a culture of rights and freedoms, of not only employees and workers, but of all and sundry, in the psychic of most of our citizens. Until then one cannot really be fooled by the mushrooming of unideological unions as a prelude to the true liberation of employees and workers. Until such unions are ideologically inspired and not driven by opportunism.