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The Regional Dimensions of Worker-Nationalist Links

Comparative studies78 in this field in Southern Africa need to appreciate the close connections between union and nationalist movements within each country and between each country. All countries of the region experienced, in one way or another, retardation of black unions by colonialist domination, and migrant labour maintained rural-urban links long shattered in Europe, creating unions quite different from Western labour movements. At the same time colonialism and opposition to it pushed together different social strata and paved the way for alliances between black workers and middle strata. Decades ago George Shepperson and Terence Ranger began to unravel strands of nationalist-messianic thought amongst migrant workers, seeing links between classes, nations and regions. Black workers in Harare and Bulawayo, for instance, were attracted as much by the nationalist credo as the proletarian program of the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union. More recently African historiography has probed deeper into the lives of African workers. Jane Parpart has synthesized Poulantzian with Thompsonian approaches in a sensitive study of multi-faceted class-consciousness of copper workers in Zambia, noting "the evidence from oral interviews and other sources reveals considerable commitment to the nationalist cause among miners.79 Generally such a link is presented as worker support for external nationalism rather than constituting any organic contribution to nationalism by workers.

How is the relationship between nationalism/liberationism and labour movements manifest today at a time of changes? Ibbo Mandaza speaks of mythology surrounding national independence and armed struggle in Southern Africa that may be imbibed in academic analysis. The disparity between radical conceptions of liberation movements and the perceived reality of the masses becomes more acute in a post-colonial situation. Relationships will continue to be influenced by structural limitations, Rob Davies suggests, and the crux will be the lever of democratic control over the economy, and not the complexion of government.80 Zimbabwe and Swaziland offer two strikingly different examples to study.

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Zimbabwe : Workers, Peasants and ZANU PF

What have been the post-colonial political dimensions of worker-nationalist relations in Zimbabwe? Like in South Africa, black unions in Rhodesia were largely repressed, but weaker, often unregistered, "facing extremely hostile employers, situated in highly dispersed workplaces." The Second Chimurenga created large-scale penetration of workers, but especially peasants, by nationalist ideology that was able to draw on past heritage, as Ranger and David Lan have demonstrated.81 Like the ANC, ZANU was the carrier of a powerful historical image. Following independence, major strikes erupted in 1980-1 and again in 1985, forcing wages to be raised. Brian Wood feels that the role of ZANU/ZAPU works committees, rather than the weak union structures helped to bring about these rises. African nationalism thus at first acted to enhance worker conditions. Women workers also received some improvements to their status. But the rises were quickly eroded by a wage freeze and inflation, and many workers continued to live below the poverty line, and many repressive anti-union laws were retained. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was faced with an Industrial Relations Act of 1984 providing for the right to organise, but the state continued to discourage strikes. The adoption of a new five-year plan without consultation with unions, and the limiting of wage rises to 10% at a time of 20% inflation were vigorously contested by the ZCTU in 1986, which was disappointed with only a 15% wage increase in 1988 after the lifting of a price/wage freeze. A threatened strike by food workers in Bulawayo in 1989 was prevented by the ruling of Labour Relations officials.82

Robert Mugabe stated in 1988 that Zimbabwean unions were now strong, that ZCTU and ZANU fought for the same goal__improving the status of the worker__and that bargaining would soon be left to the workers.83 Nathan Shamurariya claimed in 1989 the government had encouraged formation of industry' unionism and a single union centre, formed parastatals to "try and put ourselves in a position where we represent the workers' interests," and that

"we still have to build up the trade unions so that workers can represent themselves and are not represented by Government. This is now making some progress. We have now. . .strong unions that are now criticising us, very strongly, in many areas. . .And that is good. . .The main gains of the workers have been the minimum wages. . .for the largest group of worker that are underprivileged, narnely the farm. . .and domestic workers. Even the ZCTU was praising that at the May Day Day Rally. But they were saying we should not put ceilings at the top and I think they have a point there. We should allow bargaining to go on. . . The complaint from the employers is that we've given them [the workers] too much rights. . .but we must protect the workers."84

But whilst nationalist rhetoric continued, little tangible gains were made beyond initial wage rises. The Labour Relations Act no. 16 of 1985 provided for collective bargaining and various forms of incentives and agreements, such as that of 1986 which required all employees in the Financial, Distributive and Service Undertakings to pay a levy of 0.5% of their monthly wage to financially support a new employer-employee council. Rather than confront issues of concern to workers such as transport and wages, bureaucratic exhortations to improve productivity were generously given. Addressing 300 workers at Eagle Tanning near Marondera, labour relations officer Lazarus Dhlakama "urged workers to be more vigilant and hard-working and acquire shares in their companies . . . to shun laziness, absenteeism and drunkenness. He urged . . . management to invite workers' wives to all important functions." Political donations were encouraged, and the Mozambique Solidarity Fund and the South African Solidarity Fund received donations of several thousand Zimbabwean dollars in 1986 from the Zimbabwe Posts and Telecommunications Workers' Union, whilst workers at the Kopje Post Office donated Z$63 to help Zimbabwean workers guarding Mozambican pipelines.85

By 1989 a major economic shift was in the air. The Promotion of Investment pointed to a busy Stock Exchange and "one of the most developed equity markets in independent Africa," but sought to combine this with "socialist" alms: "it is Government policy to encourage an active and viable private sector alongside a strong public sector." Perhaps symbolically, wages were the last item mentioned: "Government further recoguises the need for a more rational and market-oriented method of determining prices and incomes." The new investment code increased repatriation of foreign after-tax profits in high-priority projects from 50 to 100%. The ZCTU was one of the first to fight the shift, urging government to legalise strike action and set "the minimum not the parameters" of wages, but was in turn urged to bring forward "practical solutions" to economic problems, to adopt a "productionist" rather than a "consumerist34; approach, and to explain how to combine foreign investment with safeguarding worker interests.86

Colin Stoneman and Lloyd Sachikonye present a bleak picture of more recent events. In the late 1980's Zimbabwean high growth rates without World bank policies were a serious embarrassment to the Bank. Following bank blocking of loans, and events in Eastern Europe, Mugabe was effectively marginalised in a "coup" by the ZANU Right, who embraced the bank's "remedy." A full IMF Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) imposed selling off maize stocks to record a "profit" for parastatals, reduced incentives to farmers (leading to a 60% drop in the maize-sown area in 1991/2 over 1989) and a 25% devaluation in September 1991 that overnight turned Zimbabwe from a middle-income into a low income country. Government introduced its own SAP, threatening 50-60,000 jobs, ending food subsidies and price controls, introducing user fees in education and health.87 Today there is massive famine and hardship, and the drought will no doubt be used to "explain" the situation. Workers, communal area peasants and middle strata are particularly hard hit. A letter from an African small businessman in Marondera evokes the situation:

"Situation here under ESAP = Economic Structural Adjustment Program is hitting us hard, everything is sky-rocketing in terms of prices and rains never fall down. . .suffering is going to be enormous. There are serious shortages. . . We now term ESAP survival of the fittest. The only turning point will be 1995 elections."88

The latest controversy over redistribution of white-controlled land89 has allowed ZANU PF to recoup some wounded pride, its revival seemingly related to government's wish to retain the vital rural vote, or to rural influence within the party.

Ties between radical nationalists and peasants/rural workers forged in the Second Chimurenga have not easily evaporated, even if its heroic dimension was partly myth as Mandaza suggests. The reluctance to abandon cherished populist (at one time "socialist") aims such as land reform has been a factor in the lack of "reform" of the parastatal public sector.90 Tor Skalnes notes "that a guerilla war had to be fought in order to achieve majority rule meant also inevitably that at least some of the economic policies adopted after independence would benefit the peasants." The relationship between ZANU PF and rural workers is less clear. Lovemore Zinyama, writing on black producers in communal areas (60% of the population) suggests the close relationships developed between ZANU and peasants in war have been approximated in recent times by a partnership "in which the government contributes from the top while the farmers contribute from below." Whilst land resettlement has not been rapid, some improvement in rural facilities and the new-found prosperity of a limited section of black farmers creates a buffer for the state.91

Class has replaced race as the locus of the struggle for economic and political power, Daniel Weiner claims, and an alliance developed within ZANU-PF of white farmers, a "black bureaucratic bourgeoisie" and "emergent communal-area farmers." When he wrote socialist rhetoric was "slowly being replaced by pronouncements for trade and market liberalisation." Now even the rhetoric is largely gone__with capitalism being embraced by some government leaders such as Bernard Chidzero as the avenue for switching economic control to blacks. Ensconced in the dwellings of former settlers, "an already established Black middle class appears set to protect its growing property interests."92 Although the closeness between nationalists and peasants was not as pronounced with regard to urban workers, the role of ZANU in early wage rises, in organising Workers' Day (May Day) rallies, and in forming ZCTU created some links. Mugabe's May Day speech in 1989 at Rufaro Stadium, and the response of the ZCTU leadership, were still cordial, though Gibson Sibanda of ZCTU criticised the lack of attention to housing, taxes, unemployment and transport, urging the state to nationalise privately-owned buses, reminding the crowd "even here in Zimbabwe workers died in struggle against capitalism." Mugabe conceded such needs but repeated the need to unite behind ZANU-PF, though he was well aware of resistance to socialist ideology "in the style of life of many a leader" in both private and public sectors. Significantly this was the first May Day organised not by ZANU but by the ZCTU.93 By May 1991 worker banners demanded an end to price increases, and referred to government "bully tactics." Sibanda demanded to know how workers could further tighten their belts "when 50 kilos of mealie-meal costs one fifth of a domestic worker's wage." Disillusionment has been fuelled by repression of protests and interference in the University, as party organisation has moved towards more centralised forms.94

In a situation in which urban wages declined, inflation, transport costs and unemployment rose, workers faced anti-strike laws (most industries declared "essential") and strikes were virtually banned, the ZCTU increased its independent, critical stance to include questioning of government rhetoric and suffered the detention of its secretary in 1990. At times criticism is from the left, arguing in favour of worker rights and socialism. Chemical union leader Mike Mushyabasa states ZANU "must have strong links with workers. . .we are not an opposition party. All we are saying is: let's debate the issues that affect workers." Virginia Currin Knight notes:

"Meanwhile the industrialists and the capitalists, formerly among the most vocal critics of government policy. are now the outspoken supporters. . . This shift in alliances has alienated government's previous supporters: the students, the churches, the academics, the labour unions, . . .media and the workers."95

One of the problems in analysing these shifts is the lack of detailed studies of voting patterns, unions, and of ZANU itself. As with the ANC, ZANU analysis is frequently collapsed into leaders, yet there is great variation of class background and ideology amongst members.96

Ordinary African urban dwellers, like people anywhere, tend to view government-President-Minsters as one when it suits, and express their own likes and dislikes of politicians and policies. Yet Mugabe, if no longer as popular as before, buffeted by scandals, shortages and student protests, still retains enormous respect97 - in a sense he is himself, like Mandela, a symbol of African nationalism, like the Cock that defeated the Ox symbolised in the Karigamombe Building in Harare. Electoral alternatives such as Tekere's Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) have been hardly inspiring to workers and peasants, although it polled well in urban electorates and Manicaland. Most people living in the rural areas continue to support ZANU PF. Christine Sylvester shows that in the 1990 election, which saw ZANU-PF win the presidency (by 85% to 15%) and a majority in 117 of 120 seats but with only 54% of the electorate voting (90% voted in 1985), the official discourses on "unity" continued to camouflage basic class differences. Hers is a wonderful exercise in post-structuralist deconstructionism (the differences between ZANU (P.F.), ZANU-PF, ZANU/PF and ZANU PF), which concludes by characterising ZANU PF (I hope I have got the spaces right) as "a party able to subsume multi-narratives, and thereby attain the dreamy-powerful status of Party, continu[ing] a pretence which is not particularly persuasive."98 Theoretically the party appears in disarray since crises in Eastern Europe and South Africa simultaneously overturned common conceptions of world and regional balances of power.

The position of black labour has never been secure, with worker wages remaining generally below the poverty line of Z$120 (before devaluation) a month. Many working families must carry the weight of unemployed kin, with no social security. Rural and domestic workers continue to receive low wages and are poorly organised. In the meantime, what Sylvester calls the "black state bourgeoisie. . .uses proximity to government resources, as well as status and patronage, to amass power and economic standing disproportionate to its positions as bureaucrats, managers and technicians." The 1990 election was followed by strikes by 4,000 teachers and post and telecommunication workers (who were arrested), bank employees, airline engineers, steel workers, nurses and tax collectors, and student protests.99

ZANU PF, like other nationalist parties, has been able to use the cultural heritage, in its continued appropriation of history and culture - as heirs of the Chimurenga. Minister Joyce Majuru responded to questions from women unionists about sexual harassment by suggesting neighbourhood committees should be formed to fill the advice-giving role performed by aunties in traditional society.100 Angela Cheater believes this (ab)use of culture to create ideological models, such as in public rituals like May Day, is closely linked to political control, but that worker consciousness may also be seen in "home-made" terms. Black textile factory supervisors, harassed by local ZANU PF members as "sell-outs," joined the party as one way to circumvent the problem. Workers at the same factory, some of them party members, complained of a lack of party contribution to worker interests, and branded "workers' committees" as sell-outs. Seeing contradictions in government claims to be the centralised vanguard of workers, workers retreated into local/enterprise-oriented tactics.101 The abandonment of socialism by ZANU is likely to be contested by only a minority of politically conscious workers, although its appeal to some can be glimpsed in the pages of local newspapers.102 Writers who express dismay at the departure of ZANU PF from socialist-orientation often over-estimate first of all the level of socialist consciousness within the party, and secondly the level of pressure able to be put on government by organised workers. Similarly those writers emphasising the party's alienation from the masses, although accurately identifying a creeping corruption that exploded in the Willowvale Scandal,103 underestimate the cultural power of ZANU's own ideological weapons. In part these dichotomies reflect a tendency to neglect the links between nation and nationalism, between workers and nationalists. Independence was a big step. The gains are often intangible but irresistible.

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