May Day political struggles


MAY Day is a holiday that has over the years lost its meaning and glamour.
Once upon a time, in our long gone socialist era, this was a time for fiery speeches from labour leaders.
Besides the various displays of life at the workplace, we looked forward to the Government representative taking to the podium.
It was at this point and in Rufaro Stadium that the minimum wage would be announced.
I made it a point never to miss the May Day speech.
Only once, on business in Italy did I miss the speech.
I was, however, reminded it was May Day by hordes of crowds wearing red and marching in Rome to gazes of disdain from disinterested shoppers and diners. Today all this is gone and the Rufaro Stadium ceremony has lost its lustre.
Red colour appropriated by white capital as symbol of bloodshed in fight against empowerment?
It is still a national holiday, but one that passes quietly like our recent one.
Only that I had been reminded of it by two interesting news pieces; one was a claim on workers rallying behind Tsvangirai in MDC-T factional fights while the other was on ZCTU advising politicians not to attend the workers ceremony.
The former explains why workers no longer take notice of May Day passing. Which politicians now?
My brain wondered about the latter.
As fate would have it, later I went to buy meat from a large supermarket here in Harare.
As per my shopping tradition I took the obligatory quick march inspection of the shelves teaming with mainly South African produce.
I eavesdropped on a conversation between mother and child, no more than 10 years old;
Son, “Mum, can I have this ball please?”
Mother, “How much is it?”
Son, “US$23”
Mother, “No, that’s too expensive”
Son, “Please mum, I want it.
“You can take it off my salary.”
Mother, “No my dear, you will come and buy it when you get your salary.”
I stared at mother, then at child before I made haste for the butchery, avoiding further confusion in the process.
Hours later, over a beer, I mentioned my supermarket encounter to a friend of mine who once lived in the Diaspora.
She was not surprised in the least.
She explained this was an emerging trend among middleclass children.
They expect and are paid salaries for doing home chores.
I wondered how many other strange workers we have out there.
Could such phenomena perhaps explain why we have workers that rally behind a political faction while at the same time claiming to be apolitical?
About apolitical workers I searched in vain in history cellars for texts on times when workers were this.
I came across a quote from John Mansell Mphamba, of the ICU, 1929.
It is representative of labour ideology in this country from colonisation up to 1945. I reproduce it from a chapter by Ian Phimister and Charles van Onselen in a book on labour history;
“First the white man brought the Bible, then he brought guns, then chains, then he built a gaol, then he made the native pay tax.
“Were they told to do this in the Bible?
“Why does the whiteman want all this?
“It is because the whiteman wants more money.
“He can make money with machinery, he gets money out of the ground, he makes paper and turns it into money.
“The whiteman does not want to give the natives money.
“Join together and keep on knocking – you will win in the end.”
The book is aptly titled, Keep on Knocking.
This is a title influenced by this speech which speech itself was reflective of early despair with Christianity.
Mathew 7 verse 7 says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you,” Mphamba knew better.
One had to be more militant with the knocking.
Another quote I enjoyed, from this book, comes from Masotsha Ndhlovu and refers to the same era.
“We natives do not depend on crops anymore, but we remain in town and earn wages – we are the workers in mines and farms and railways.
“As people of Africa we find we are not all in one class.
“We are all suffering and we are paid less because we are black.
“We are Christians, but we ask for bread and butter that is all.”
If the above two quotes are not politics then what is?
Why should workers then be expected to be apolitical?
From 1945 to 1965 the local labour leadership went through major political transformation.
This resulted in most of its leadership becoming full blown politicians, signalling the birth of African nationalism.
Key transformative events that influenced or had catalytic effect on this include formation of Benjamin Burombo and the African National Voice Association, the Voice.
This sought to merge the interests of workers, peasants and traders into a unified African struggle.
In 1948 Benjamin Burombo became a key figure during the famous national strikes of that year.
The transformation of labour into a mass struggle had also received support, between 1945 and mid 1950s from Charles Mzingeli of the Reformed Industrial Commercial Union (RICU).
Mzingeli became a dominant figure in Salisbury politics, not just fighting for labour issues, but rights of all black people.
It was therefore not surprising that by the late 1950s many other trade unionists had become pioneer nationalists.
In 1957 the SRANC of Bulawayo joined with the Youth League of Salisbury, and membership included trade unionists like George Nyandoro, Joshua Nkomo, Grey Bango, Reuben Jamela, James Chikerema, JZ Moyo, Francis Nehwati and George Silundika.
These developments were reactive to a poisoned political landscape.
Godfrey Huggins up to 1953 was intent on implementing policies to protect whites from competition by keeping Africans in low grades as unskilled workers.
This clearly meant a labour struggle against this was inseparable from a political struggle.
In 1953, Britain supported white settlers in creation of a Central African Federation which nationalists dismissed as an attempt by whites to consolidate their power. And in 1962, the Rhodesia Front came to power.
A year later in 1963 the Federation was formally dissolved.
In 1965 UDI was declared marking an end to a chain of events that were to trigger the beginning of the armed struggle, Second Chimurenga, in 1966-7.
Most trade unionists-cum-nationalists went into exile to join the armed struggle.
Clearly, the workers’ struggle has always been political until recently when capital made it apolitical as an appendage of a political party, sorry faction.
Defies logic?
Yes like the concept of the salaried ten-year-old.


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