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THE Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is neither planning on transforming itself into a fully-fledged political party nor keen on providing the platform for the emergence of a new political outfit, a top official in the union has said.

The labour movement in the late 1990s provided the wind to the sails for the formation of the then united Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai as worker grievances then gave rise to a formidable challenge against the ZANU-PF government.

Disillusionment against the MDC by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a former ally, saw Lovemore Madhuku’s outfit transform into a political party after the 2013 elections.

Of late, talk has been that the ZCTU could follow suit, disillusioned by the MDC’s failure to deliver the promised democratic change.

Japhet Moyo, the secretary-general of the ZCTU, however, told the Financial Gazette this week that the trade union was “not in the habit of forming political parties” even as a damning survey produced by Afrobarometer poked holes into the MDC’s popularity in the country.

The report said the MDC’s support has been on the decline since its peak in 2008 of 57 percent to 31 percent in 2012 and confirmed that President Robert Mugabe was the most popular politician in the country.

“The ZCTU never said they will form a party in the 90s, the formation of a political party was a response to a challenge that was present then,” Moyo said.

“In the event of another crisis, I can’t predict that the ZCTU will go and form a party. If you recall back then labour was more organised at the time, unlike it is presently and whether labour has the same capacity to lead at that level is something I am not sure of.”

The influence still wielded by the ZCTU has come under the spotlight recently as it organised nationwide demonstrations last month against government over its failure to fulfil election promises and also led Worker’s Day celebrations across the country three weeks ago.

Both events turned out to be lacklustre affairs with low turnouts far-fetched from the huge crowd the ZCTU used to pull some 15 years ago.

With the economy undergoing never-seen-before decline marked by job losses and company closures, the labour movement has come under growing criticism for not putting enough pressure to bear on the government.

The country’s opposition political parties have also seemingly been pre-occupied with their own internal affairs, at the expense of putting together a united response to the national challenge.

The MDC-T has on the one hand been dogged by reports of an internal fallout between Tsvangirai and his deputy, Thokozani Khupe, while the MDC led by Welshman Ncube has been hard-hit by resignations of top officials.

The MDC Renewal Team led by Sekai Holland has been under fire following the departure to the United States of its secretary-general, Tendai Biti. While he has since returned home, many are beginning to question the party’s commitment to serving those who desire to see change in the manner Zimbabwe is being governed.

Generally, the opposition parties have been in the eye of the storm on whether to participate in the upcoming by-elections next month against ZANU-PF.

All these ructions in the opposition parties have created a void, which observers said the trade unions must capitalise on.

While conceding that the ZCTU’s response was not as visible as it was in the 1990s for various reasons, Moyo said that union was still in touch with the realities of the day.

“We are not an organisation that is always in the street. We are also found in the boardrooms and we will always change tact,” he said.

“We produced economic blueprints and some of the language used in our blueprint has been copied in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation document and provides information to government. We also have publications which ZCTU authored in the 1990s and during the term of the unity government”.

At its prime in the 1990s, the ZCTU led nationwide strikes which were a thorn in the flesh for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF, an occurrence which political observers said was now a thing of the past given the economic devastation which has taken place in the last three decades.

Allen Hungwe, a political commentator, said the old rhetoric of calling for mass demonstrations by the ZCTU would not find serious takers anymore as dwindling worker numbers affects the ZCTU. Hungwe urged the union to come up with new strategies. “The historical strategies of building processes that are pitched at national levels without grounding in community and self-organised community processes are no longer viable,” said Hungwe.

Moyo said it was a historical view that trade unions must always be at the forefront of the democratisation process of the country.

“When things are tough, the expectation is that labour must come and close the gap. It’s a historical view that we should be able to rise up and do something. Whether we are able to do so is something I presently don’t know and it is a leftist inclined view,” Moyo said.

It is not uncommon for labour movements to seek to occupy political space.

In neighbouring South Africa, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa last year announced its decision to launch a worker-based political party which would take part in municipal elections next year putting it at loggerheads with the ruling African National Congress, its former ally.

Source : Financial Gazette