THE May Day celebrations in Zimbabwe confirmed one thing: the beginning of the end of the relationship between the opposition and the unionised workers in the country. It was a bad day for the opposition and a curse for the future.

It was curious that the main opposition party did not give a solidarity statement at the May Day celebrations at Gwanzura Stadium in Highfield, Harare.

This is despite the fact, the opposition MDC which has since morphed into a number of factions was originally midwifed by the trade unions.

It was the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) that in 1999 convened the National Working Peoples Convention (NWPC) which among its resolutions was for ZCTU to consider forming a political party that carried the aspirations of workers.

To all intents and purposes, MDC was a left-leaning political party. A party that had workers, students and peasants’ interests at its core.

Over the years, the party split over personality and ideological clashes among the top leaders. However, until 2018 it still had a semblance of being a leftist party.

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Human rights activist and independent blogger Takura Zhangazha encapsulated well the changes in the opposition in his blog. He wrote: “As we proceeded with not only the formation of a working peoples political party and constitutional reform via referendum campaigns in 2000, we also became aware of what was a third hand in our activism. This was of the white liberals who had access not only to money but also international foreign policy support.

“We could not easily fend these comrades off. They had embedded themselves within our popular support and eventually decided to influence the Morgan Tsvangirai leadership team from any leftist leanings.”

I would add, it was not only the white liberals but also a motley of black nouveau riche who could not help, but became even more liberal than the whites.

Secondly, the rise of personality cults within the opposition is not based on any ideological inclination but populism.

These developments have led leftist Zimbabweans on the crossroads. A decision has to be made whether to be swallowed by the tide of liberalism or join the bandwagon of ideologically bankrupt populism? Yes, there is also the third option, leftist reorganising and getting back to the basics.

I can’t help but borrow once more from Zhangazha’s blog on this. He wrote: “But what is important is that the labour movement survived the fact of its support for a new political party. The ZCTU still exists. And for that we are grateful.”

Zhangazha is also aware of how it is not easy and a number of things have to change among the workers if they have to rest.

“The only challenge that appears to be emerging is that labour rights activism is increasingly being diminished mainly because workers are no longer as conscious as they used to be of their rights.  But also, because scarce employment opportunities have made unionism abstract or unimportant. 

“Most employees in the contemporary world no longer care about workers’ rights.  They simply want to keep their jobs and never question or organise on behalf of collective worker interests,” Zhangazha opined.

As Zhangazha correctly observed, many workers do not think that they are simply labourers in the true sense of the word because of the positions they hold.

They are oblivious to the fact that most are only one paycheck away from poverty.

If that point becomes clearer to those in lofty position and opinion leaders then we would understand the reasons for leftist political parties are still unfulfilled a quarter of the century later after the formation of the MDC.

Workers, students and peasants are worse off than they were 25 years ago.

Many earn far below the poverty datum line, education has been privatised, the public health system is in comatose and the majority of pensioners now need to depend on social welfare.

Now is the time for the left to awaken from their slumber or the lull by liberals of trickle-down economics.

It needs no further exploration that the time is ripe for the working class to unite and rescue themselves from the clutches of neoliberal economics.

Is it not shocking to Zimbabwean workers that employees in the United States, the United Kingdom, German or the Nordic countries have minimum wages, basic health insurance and even free tertiary education? Why should Zimbabweans be going where others are coming from?

It is time that workers of Zimbabwe unite and realise they are their own saviours.

That politicians and political parties should be voted because their policies are aligned to the aspirations of the people, not because they are handsome or popular.

It came out very clearly from the ZCTU that workers are struggling and cannot make ends meet.

Working conditions are getting worse and there is no pension to talk of.

Now the ball should be in its court and they organise a second NWPC for a way forward.

After all is said and done, all the big political parties in Zimbabwe are just different shades of neoliberals, they all worship capital and see privatisation as a panacea to all the economic ills the country has. We need new politics. We need new politicians.

It is a sad conclusion that the leftists have changed, they have gone to bed with capital.

The workers themselves have to come back to rescue the situation. It is a truism that it is either you are at the table or on the table.

Capitalists don’t think twice before they have workers for dinner. Workers now, more than ever, have to be organised and be at the table themselves or very soon the tribe known as trade unionists will be extinct.

There it is — workers of the world unite and we only have the chains to break.

  • Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.