Echoes: Strikes — like sanctions — are not targeted

IT is hoped that several developments in the past week or so will finally open people’s eyes to see that party politics is the only game in town; that politics is not the only thing worth concerning oneself with; that they can operate outside party politics. There is a whole lot of things you can achieve without the toxic constraints of politics.

Apparently, civil servants this week accepted the salary offer from government while negotiations continue because life is always work in progress particularly in this turbulent economic environment. It is unrealistic and impracticable to have 100% of your demands met, thus civil servants’ leaders have parked some of their demands in the true and genuine spirit of negotiation so as not to throw away the baby with the bath water.

That said, civil servants’ leaders should be commended for focusing on and sticking to labour issues when the temptation and pressure has been there to mix and contaminate labour issues with partisan politics. Civil servants should stay independent of the ruling party and the opposition because their membership does not automatically support either side.

Furthermore, it is good for democracy that we have many centres of power, which cannot be the case if labour unions become appendages of political parties, resulting in fewer independent and autonomous voices. Concentration of power is antithetical and inimical to democracy. Unions are free to differ and fight among themselves — but without the infusion of toxic party politics.

In that vein, the move by the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Union (Zimta) in May this year to break away from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the largest labour umbrella body in the country, was most progressive in enhancing and spreading democracy at various levels, part of which is autonomy and independence of agency. This devolution of operation and decision-making is the essence of democracy.

Confirming the move, Zimta secretary-general Tapson Sibanda said: “The Zimta national executive felt its continued affiliation to the ZCTU violates Zimta’s principles and constitutional provision of political non-partisanship.

This position was taken after it became clear that the ZCTU dabbles in opposition party politics.”

Sibanda said Zimta structures had diverse membership who subscribe to various political parties and, therefore, could not affiliate to a labour centre that openly supported a particular political party. He said the association had not yet identified a non-partisan labour centre, hence, did not foresee itself joining any other centre other than pursuing its own issues through the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) via the Apex Council.

“The NJNC is the only route that civil servants can channel their grievances and be heard and that is through the Apex Council. I can neither confirm nor deny that some members of the Apex Council might be partisan, but it is a case of personalities rather than the institution itself,” Sibanda said.

Indeed, the necessary distinction has to be made between individuals in their own right, on the one hand, and institutions they serve, on the other. You cannot serve two masters simultaneously. That’s why it is said that lawyers are first and foremost officers of the court, and defending their clients comes second — a distant second.

As officers of the court, lawyers have an absolute ethical duty to tell judges/magistrates the truth, including avoiding dishonesty or evasion about reasons the lawyer or his/her client is not appearing, the location of documents and other matters related to conduct of the courts. Well, I was able to witness in real time in a front-seat row this week a lawyer being evasive and dishonest about the location of title deeds which the lawyer knows very well are in the hands of her client. Suffice to say the lawyer was left with egg on the face and was forced to admit that the document is with her client. My point is that she put defending her client at any cost ahead of being primarily an officer of the court.

It’s the same with trade union leaders who put the interests of a political party ahead of serving the interests of workers, their primary mandate and raison d’etre. Double-dipping in political and labour matters can leave one in an invidious position of conflict of interest. Last week there was a report to the effect that the main opposition MDC had allegedly refused to accept court papers in a case in which the party’s five former workers are demanding their outstanding salaries. The aggrieved workers reportedly sued the party under its past name, MDC-T, which it has since abandoned and reverted to the original MDC name. The ex-workers recently approached the High Court seeking a garnishee order against the party’s share under the Political Parties Finance Act, approximately $3 million. Caleb Mucheche, representing the former workers, said that the MDC (MDC Alliance as it is called in Parliament) had refused to accept the court papers. He said: ”They have refused responsibility arguing that they are not MDC-T and that those court papers are being served to the wrong political party. This is actually devastating as the party is blowing hot and cold. When it comes to the allocation from the government, they are the MDC; but when it comes to paying former workers, they do not accept that they are the same political party.“

Will the ZCTU come to the assistance of these workers who are being sent from pillar to post, hither and thither?

Well, there are serious doubts about that because the ZCTU is heavily conflicted by being politically compromised, seriously so — like the lawyer who put defending her client above her primary role as an officer of the court.

Wrote a great legal mind, Isaac M Meekins, in 1926: “No member of the (legal) profession should lose sight of his high duty as an officer of the court and conduct himself after the manner of the ‘hardest fendoff’ and drift into a fee-first lawyer. A fee-first lawyer is as greater menace to the constructive influence of our fraternity as was Judas in the organisation of the Twelve. The fee-first philosophy is nothing more nor less than a painful betrayal of the high ideals and practical possibilities of the greatest of all the professions.”

Likewise, the ZCTU seems to have drifted into the fee-first quagmire, with donor funding dangled for them to dabble in partisan politics and engage in strikes to the detriment of workers’ interests. Like Judas Iscariot, they would rather betray and abandon the poor, suffering workers because there is more money to be made from politics and strikes, which are externally funded.

This week, there was another related development. A media report read: “Harare City Council workers’ representative unions have proposed a minimum salary of $2 000 and called for a review of allowances.”

Well, it’s now the turn of those who have been goading and pressurising civil servants to go on strike to avert a strike against themselves. Whose side will the ZCTU be on in the event council workers down tools? I foresee quite a dilemma there for the ZCTU. As one can see, the ZCTU is again heavily conflicted as it has to choose between prioritising the interests of its political allies, the MDC, who run Harare City Council, and council workers, who are the primary constituency of the ZCTU.

All in all, the lesson is that there is no separate economy for Zanu PF or MDC supporters. We are all in the same economy and we should all pull in the same direction because if you don’t, it will backfire on you sooner or later.

We are in the same boat; we are in the same difficult circumstances. If doctors go on strike, both Zanu PF and MDC supporters die because strikes are not targeted. Everyone is suffering from the sanctions because their effects are not targeted in spite of the brazen lies being repeated by the United States and the European Union. Likewise, when nurses go on strike, the strike is not targeted at Zanu PF-supporting patients, but all who happen to fall ill during the duration of the strike. Producing a party membership card won’t save you.

Let’s not be misled or mislead ourselves into doing suicidal things because politics is not the only game in town.

Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: nkumbuzo@gmail.com

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