Thursday, January 17, 2013

Curbing the mushrooming of splinter unions

Curbing the mushrooming of splinter unions
Thu 17 Jan. 2013, 14:00 CAT

The discourse between Zambia Congress of Trade Unions president Leonard Hikaumba and labour minister Fackson Shamenda over splinter unions provokes laughter. Hikaumba is asking the government to help in curbing the mushrooming of splinter unions as they undermine oneness.

But Shamenda's response is that the forming of splinter unions will not stop as long as there is no leadership provided by ZCTU. And he says that the government is not going to regulate anything, but that ZCTU could solve the problem by being relevant and accountable to their members.

We all know that the current legislation that allows for the proliferation of trade unions was a product of the MMD. Before that, ZCTU was protected and enjoyed the monopoly of being the sole representative of all Zambian workers. What is Hikaumba asking for? What does he want the government to do to curb the mushrooming of splinter unions? Does he want the government to legislate against splinter unions? But the government says it won't regulate that because that is not the problem. The government says the problem of splinter unions is a product of poor, irrelevant and unaccountable trade union leadership.

No one has forced the labour movement to fragment or proliferate. Yes, there is a law that allows for pluralism in trade unions, splinter unions. But that law does not make it mandatory for trade unions to proliferate and to fragment. It is the workers and their leaders who choose to proliferate and fragment.

We have consistently questioned the wisdom of having more than one union in an industry and even of having one confederation in the country. This is a small country, with a small economy and workforce. The numbers of workers in our small industries are also very small. Fragmentation of these small number of workers through the proliferation of trade unions does not in any way strengthen workers' representation. It instead weakens it. This fact is well known to all our trade unionists and their members and they have repeatedly raised concern over this issue.

But if this fact is well known, why are we still seeing so many trade unions being formed in one industry by workers and their leaders? If this is a very well known fact, why do we still have more than one trade union confederation in one country? There can only be one explanation and that explanation is the one given by Shamenda: the presence of an irrelevant and unaccountable trade union leadership; the absence of leadership provided by ZCTU.

Truly, there can only be one explanation for this: selfishness, greed and vanity. There are trade union leaders who don't care much about the plight of the workers, who care much about their own positions. And Hikaumba should ask himself why he should continue being at the helm of ZCTU when he has failed to unite the workers, curb splinter unions and strengthen the labour movement. Hikaumba has been at the helm of ZCTU for many years now, what has he done, what is he doing to strengthen the labour movement? Can Hikaumba explain and justify his continued leadership of ZCTU in the current situation and circumstances?

Hikaumba is talking about curbing splinter unions without explaining why the situation is what it is. Why? Is it because it will expose his leadership deficiencies?

The truth is Hikaumba has failed to unite the workers of Zambia both within ZCTU and outside ZCTU.
But why are workers allowing themselves to be led by the current crop of trade union leadership which is simply out to benefit itself at their own expense?

We all know that unity and solidarity make strength. And probably that is why ZCTU sloganeers about solidarity and has named its headquarters Solidarity House. But what solidarity is ZCTU championing?

We all know that while this universal truth - unity and solidarity make strength - is not relevant to the trade union movement alone, no other institution depends on it more than the trade unions and nobody can gain more from it than the working people. The capacity of workers to negotiate, promote and defend their rights and conditions depends to a large extent on their opportunity and ability to act collectively. Divisions and scattering of this collective strength weakens their position towards their employers and reduces the possibility that trade unions will represent workers' interests in an optimal way, be it at the level of enterprise or professional sector or within the framework of the socio-economic institutions of our country.

What we have said about ZCTU and Hikaumba also equally applies to the Federation of Free Trade Unions in Zambia and its leader Joyce Nonde-Simukoko. They have both failed to unite the workers of Zambia and increase their capacity to negotiate with their employers for more progressive or better conditions of service.

All acknowledge that one of the major weaknesses of our trade union movement today is lack of unity. The proliferation and fragmentation of trade unions over the last two decades has badly undermined the efficiency, effectiveness, representativeness and credibility of our trade unions. Today we have two trade union confederations in the country - ZCTU and FFTUZ - competing with each other, to the sole benefit of the opponents of the workers' welfare. For what? In whose interest?

There is need for our trade unions to start playing an indispensable role as guardians of workers' rights and conditions. They are not doing so well on this score today. To play this role well, unity and coherence in trade union policies and solidarity and mutual support will be more essential than ever.
The random creation of unrepresentative and ineffective unions has become the cause of divisions, confusion and abuse of trade union scene in our country. With good leadership, this problem can be minimised. A critical look at the reasons for this proliferation and fragmentation of trade unions will always reveal that they are rarely inspired by the true principles of freedom of association and trade union pluralism. They rather find their origins in the multiplicity of factors of distorted political, historic, legal or economic nature, or may be a consequence of the selfish ambitions of certain trade union leaders.

Trade union unity - both in action and in structures - should be the most urgent priority for the trade union movement in our country if its wants to be truly of value to the workers and to preserve or restore its credibility for the future. And only those who are capable of uniting our workers and their unions should lead the labour movement. This is the criterion on which trade union leadership should be weighed and judged. Only those who can increase unity should stay in the ranks of our trade union leadership.

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