Home » Governance » May Day – a Sad Remnant of Bygone Age

A few hundreds of people joined the throng, while the silent majority stayed at home — no doubt to the government’s eternal gratification.

BEFORE the turn of the millennium, hundreds of thousands of workers in Zimbabwe, rallied by their vociferous unions, would take out a few hours from their busy holiday schedules on May 1 to traipse the usual, well-trodden marching routes.

Flags, placards and banners were waved, slogans chanted, anger vented, police heckled, speeches made… and then everyone went home, or to the bar to reflect over the highlights of the day or drown their sorrows and celebrate their bit of fortunes.

Considered a labour highlight across the world for centuries, the Workers Day, otherwise popularly known as the May Day or Labour Day is a celebration of those who toil for long hours to create wealth for others.

It is usually marked through pomp and fanfare but in Zimbabwe, its gloss has worn off leaving many to ask just what has gone so terribly wrong?

This year Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating May Day last Friday, with labour bodies, as per custom, convening at various stadia around the country.

But the numbers the gatherings used to attract have drastically fallen and only a handful bothered to join the commemorations.

The main attraction, as usual, was Gwanzura Stadium where the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Zimbabwe’s biggest labour movement, held its main commemorations.

A few hundreds of people joined the throng, while the silent majority stayed at home — no doubt to the government’s eternal gratification.

Predictably, as they went along their way, they drew police scrutiny, but, apart from some isolated moments of tension, May 1, was, it must be said, a day to be quickly forgotten — a damp squib of an affair that served merely as a reminder of the growing impotence of organised (or perhaps better put, disorganised) labour.

With endless dole queues, derelict factories, unoccupied business premises and huge industrial establishments that are either turning into white elephants or are being taken over by churches, the very few workers still remaining in this treacherous economy, are autonomous, highly disposable individuals toiling away in a fast-crumbling private sector without any sense whatsoever of belonging to any particular class or grouping.

Public trust in trade unions is at an all time low mainly due to sharp divisions within labour organisations, itself a parallel of the country’s scandal-hit political parties, a situation which suggests that the unions and parties are generally viewed as much a part of the problem as a solution to it.

The prospects for Zimbabwean workers are projected to get worse as government and business seek to shield themselves through reforms to the labour law.

The reforms will, ideally, rapidly form pools of surplus through doing away with perceived idle labour, tilting the balance of power even more in favour of capital and against labour.

Certainly, the gloomy days are nigh.

At hand, in fact!

Solutions are unlikely to be found through the ballot box.

Experience in the recent past has shown that mainstream political parties are offering barely distinguishable policies or ideologies and are run by virtually identical cliques of politicians despite their stinging criticisms of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

For a nation whose economy has virtually collapsed, the few people still in employment have nothing to celebrate or commemorate.

To make matters worse, those in control of some of the surviving businesses are well connected individuals with the State’s full firepower at their disposal.

These know full well that there is nothing, currently, that can be done to stop them even if they ill-treat their employees.

Waving a few flags, chanting a few slogans, heckling a few police officers is not going to do it, but still, the questions is: what will?

Zimbabwe is heavily conflicted when it comes to the meaning of Labour Day.

A number of a new disaffected generation of workers is not sure about the original purpose of Labour Day.

Traditionally, there have been two major labour bodies, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) and the ZCTU that are sharply divided on political lines, the former being sympathetic to the ruling party and the latter on the other extreme end.

Since the turn of the millennium, however, there have been more schisms within the groups, most notably the clashes that divided ZCTU a few years ago.

While the George Nkiwane led ZCTU, considered to be the major one, held its celebrations at the traditional venue, Gwanzura Stadium, its other faction, branding itself as ‘Concerned affiliates’ gathered at Railton Sports Club where its proponent, Raymond Majongwe spent the day attacking his erstwhile colleagues.

This is how far these organs have alienated themselves from the workers.

Government and business, now having forged some strange partnership, are happy with weak trade unionism.

Workers have over the years shown readiness to align themselves with political parties, which means that they depend largely on the swing of the political pendulum to go the way they want.

This, observers say, is the reason why ZCTU has lost its old allure – a stark reflection of the situation in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), the main opposition party it conceived and is aligned to.

The party has seen its fortunes take a knock recently.

ZFTU reflects the politics in ZANU-PF, working to maintain the status quo.

Source : Financial Gazette