Monday, September 24, 2007

Whose interests are they serving?

Whose interests are they serving?
By Editor
Monday September 24, 2007 [04:00]

The differences that seem to be deepening between the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leadership and that of the Federation for Free Trade Unions of Zambia (FFTUZ) is not healthy and is extremely worrying. More than ever before, the workers of this country need to unite and tackle the many problems that affect them. They also need unity to regain the ground they have lost over the last 15 years.

It is therefore imperative for the leaders of our trade unions to overcome anything that impairs this unity. The unity of our workers and their unions is the basic guarantee of their getting something positive out of this order. It is only through the unity of our workers that conditions of work and employment can be improved.

It is sad that when most of us were hoping for a new unity on a new basis between ZCTU and FFTUZ, today that doesn’t seem to be feasible as the leadership of the two unions are fighting each other instead of engaging those who are exploiting and abusing workers.
Our trade union leaders should base all their actions on the highest interests of the workers of this country.

We expected that, taught by the mistakes and setbacks of the last 15 years, our trade union leaders would have become wiser and handled the affairs of their members much better. It is hard for any organisation or person to avoid mistakes, but they should make as few as possible. Once a mistake is made, it should be corrected, and the more quickly and thoroughly, the better. The labour movement in this country has over the last 15 years made serious blunders that have brought the workers and their unions to their knees and placed them at the mercy of capital.

A trade union leader should have largeness of mind and he or she should be staunch and active, looking upon the interests and welfare of the workers as his or her very life and subordinating his or her personal interests to those of the workers. Only thus can he or she be considered a true trade unionist leader. Every trade union leader must be brought to understand that the supreme test of the words and deeds of a trade unionist is whether they conform with interests of the workers. At no time and in no circumstance should he or she place his or her personal interest first; he or she should subordinate them to the interests of the workers.

There is need for our trade unions to come together, protect and improve jobs. In many families, jobs are the dividing line between a decent life and a wretched existence. Workers need a living wage and a conducive environment. They also have the right to join unions of their own choice and to participate in determining policies that affect their lives. But of course joining with others to form trade unions is not a matter of principle but one of expediency because they know that “divided they fall and united they stand”. In matters of labour, unity is of great importance because numbers matter in negotiations with capital.

We shouldn’t forget that there are many big battles that need to be fought by our trade unions - which unfortunately are not being fought. Nothing that our workers attained was granted to them graciously. Anything they attained was granted to them only after a gruelling fight, after strikes and organised movements, demanding wage increases and improved conditions of work. The workers should be made to know that they have to fight. They have to keep up a constant fight in order to obtain some small benefit in this economic order. They have to fight so that their most elemental rights would be respected. They have to know that what they don’t do for themselves, nobody else will do for them; what they don’t win by their own work nobody will win for them. They work for others but no one works for them. They give everything with generosity - their sweat and energy - but no one gives back to them anything.

It’s not our intention to delve into the merits or demerits of the arguments being banded around by our trade union leaders on why it is not possible for ZCTU and FFTUZ to merge or unite. In some cases, historical facts are being twisted to justify weak arguments. What is of concern to us is that the workers of this country are not getting much from their representatives in both ZCTU and FFTUZ. We are not asking anyone to perform miracles. We do appreciate the serious difficulties that our trade union leaders have to confront in today’s Zambia to gain any little benefit for their members.

The situation is really difficult and it requires a lot of mobilisation and thinking. And this doesn’t seem to be abundant. Amidst these difficulties and challenges, there appears to be a tendency of giving up and the pursuance of narrow personal interests. In some cases union leadership is becoming a form of employment with huge benefits. These obstacles or challenges have to be overcome if our workers have to harbour any hope of survival.

We therefore urge ZCTU and FFTUZ leaders to find a way for strong cooperation and unity if they can’t totally merge. There’s very little ZCTU or FFTUZ can achieve alone. There is need for them to unite and form a solid block in the defence of workers’ interests. The problems that are hindering unity between ZCTU and FFTUZ have very little, if not nothing, to do with the interests of the workers. They appear much more to be matters concerning the political interests of the trade union leaders themselves.

This being the case, there’s really nothing of substance that separates these two unions. But should workers’ interests be held back by the political interests of trade union leaders? The answer is a categorical no. Serious and well-intentioned negotiations between ZCTU and FFTUZ can easily clear any differences they may have. The egos and ambitions of the leaders of ZCTU and FFTUZ should not be allowed to hold back the progress of these unions. It is therefore imperative for them to overcome anything that impairs the unity of our country’s trade unions.

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