By Tafadzwa Masango and Dambudzo Mapuranga
THE Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) gave birth to the MDC and, for close to two decades, this parent-child relationship has been financially beneficial to the two organisations.
The politicisation of the labour movement for the purpose of regime change has served the West.
However, this relationship has been to the detriment of workers. Instead of representing workers’ interests, labour unions have focused more on scoring cheap political points for the opposition.
Recently, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) pulled out of the ZCTU, citing partisan politics and abandonment of the workers’ cause by the umbrella body.
Well, it’s taken ZIMTA close to 20 years to see the light, but as they say, better late than never.
This dabbling in politics was never going to end well and where labour leaders choose to become willing tools in attacking and sabotaging a constitutional Government, things are bound to get out of hand and workers end up getting the short end of the stick.
Various European trade unions have played key roles in the politicisation of the ZCTU.
Among them, we have the Danish Trade Union Council, which sent Goerg Limke to Zimbabwe to transform the ZCTU into a political party between 1996 and 1999.
Part of his mission included identifying other groups in the country, apart from the ZCTU, that would join the proposed new political party to spearhead the regime change agenda.
The transformation of the workers union into a political party that would work to reverse the Land Reform Programme meant that, for the first time in the history of the country, workers and their employers, previously strange bed fellows, were to operate as one.
Another key player identified by researcher Michael Barker is the British Trade Union Council (TUC).
The TUC was one of the conduits used to channel funds to the MDC in its formative years.
The TUC is funded by the British equivalent of the US’ National Endowment Fund (NED), the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
In fact, in 2002, the late Morgan Tsvangirai was recorded on camera on the SBS Dateline programme in Australia admitting that the MDC was being financed by European governments and corporations.
He also confirmed that some of the money was being channelled to the MDC through a British firm of political consultants called BSMG.
A few days ago, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo jumped into the fray at the closing of the 108th Session of the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference where he alleged that “…our security forces, have committed acts of violence and harassment against trade union leaders.
We remain concerned that Government interference with trade union activity remains common in Zimbabwe.”
That is very rich, coming from a senior official whose country has written the handbook to union busting.
Secretary of State Pompeo, like those before him, continues to play big brother in attempts to protect the project that the US inherited from the British.
Trade unions in the US are in a deplorable state because of decades and decades of being sabotaged by various US administrations and government agencies.
Over the last several decades, American big business has led a sustained assault on unions.
And its mission to undermine worker power has had a quiet but important ally — the US Government.
In some cases, various groups of workers, including public defenders, have been sued by the US Government for attempting to raise their incomes through collective action.
US anti-trust laws were originally passed to prevent business monopolies.
But they’ve been weaponised as an anti-worker tool – ironically strengthening the grip of the same corporate interests the laws were created to weaken.
Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have brought numerous suits against workers who have attempted to organise to raise their wages.
The DoJ and FTC have done so even as they have permitted corporate consolidation and monopolisation across the US economy.
The FTC, in particular, has rather peculiar priorities.
In 2014, it filed anti-trust suits against two music-teacher associations over a code of ethics provision that could limit competition among members and increase their incomes.
The FTC can abuse anti-trust law this way because of an unfortunate legal loophole.
Workers classified as ‘employees’ under federal law enjoy an anti-trust exemption and can therefore bargain collectively through unions.
But workers classified – or misclassified – as ‘independent contractors’ cannot claim the same legal protection.
Twenty million Americans, and growing, fall into that category.
Almost no group of (even nominally) independent workers and professionals is safe from the antitrust cops.
Although doctors are a generally well-paid group of professionals, they are often at the mercy of a few powerful private insurance companies.
Over the past 30 years, the FTC has filed numerous cases against doctors who attempted to bargain collectively with insurers.
In the late 2000s, the FTC publicly opposed an Ohio executive order that granted collective bargaining rights to home healthcare workers, who provide essential care for elderly and disabled people.
These workers are disproportionately women of colour, often live in poverty and are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse on the job.
The perversity of all of this only becomes clearer when you consider the general powerlessness of American workers.
Only 10,7 percent of wage and salary workers are members of a union, while in the private sector, that figure is 6,5 percent. (These numbers are likely to decline further in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that public sector workers cannot be required to pay union dues, even if they benefit from a union’s collective bargaining.)
Many workers also have only a few employment options where they live.
The low rate of unionisation and lack of alternatives for many workers in the US make it easier for employers to hold down wages.
Furthermore, some 30 million workers are bound by non-compete clauses that prevent them from leaving for greener employment pastures.
Here is an interesting footnote about trade unions in the US:
When workers seek to organise and bargain collectively, employers often hire so-called ‘persuaders’ to orchestrate and roll out time-tested, anti-union campaigns.
Union-avoidance consultants do exactly what their job titles describe – they help employers keep their businesses union-free, by either defeating union organising campaigns or assisting with decertification efforts to unseat an existing union.
So much for protecting the rights of workers in the US.