Trade Union Democracy: Key to Worker’s Liberation

Published on 29th November 2005

When Kenyans were fighting against the colonialists, little did they know that they were removing them to create room for their own homegrown colonialists.

Yes. This has been the case and still is the case. Some labor leaders, without shame have taken up the whip and are chastising their colleagues, the very people who are taking care of their upkeep through remitting their monthly sweat in the name of check-off.

Workers in Kenya, and I can say this with the loudest noise possible, are slaves in a country they call home. They have been reduced to slaves by their so-called leaders who have demonstrated pagan and out dated leadership, alien to the modern society.

What should I say when I hear that Kenya, has the longest serving general secretary, in the whole world? The name of one of Kenya’s trade union leaders was recently entered into the Guinness Book of Records and the tenure spans from 1958 to present date. We cannot boast of this as an achievement as it borders on sycophancy and mediocrity on the part of his members. The trade union leadership is a leftover of a regime that was bent on muzzling the rights of the proletariat that fights to earn a living. They connived with the capitalistic elite that was there then, and which has now perfected its cause under the NARC leadership.

We need to ask ourselves: Is there any relationship between 1958 and the 21st Century? Shall we remain part of the global society with the present leadership at the helm of workers cause? If we do not move with speed, it is very possible that we shall be rendered irrelevant for tomorrow’s use.

Mr dear Comrades, in the name of solidarity, something is terribly wrong. For eleven pregnant years, I was in active trade unionism. I was exposed to the decay and deteriorating standards in workers representation. Bribery, corruption and witch-hunting are the underlying understanding in the labor movement. Workers continue to suffer, as leaders are busy in the gamble game.

The Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) comes nowhere near to what a worker’s umbrella body should be. It has no capacity to withstand modern temptations in the fast changing world of work. Globalization and mergers have rendered COTU irrelevant. COTU is a museum piece possibly fit to provide historical references.

The representative monopoly COTU has enjoyed since early 60s is still a big obstacle to democracy and workers’ solidarity. In 1991, Kenya underwent a very historic moment when Section 2(a) of the country’s Constitution was repealed to give room to greater freedom and democracy. I stand here today to declare that unless COTU’s monopoly is brought to a halt, workers will never test freedom. This monopoly has by its own mandate created a beleaguered leadership that is so allergic to change that it has created a patriarchal society that resists any change that may threaten their territorial interests.

It is unfortunate that the cause of workers is no longer the concern of any pack. The informed and those who have demonstrated a degree of independence have been sidelined and even denied affiliation at COTU. They are seen as ‘bastards’ because their mothers refused to disclose names of their fathers before birth. Such entrenchment of dictatorial hegemony has seen workers being left out in important national decisions. Their political position is important in this land of the living and it must be reclaimed.

There is an urgent need for the formation of another force with enough capacity to provide controls and inspection to the myriad of labor activities in Kenya. If I say that COTU is myopic, then it means the other centre to come must present a superior agenda as prey to the about 6 million potential and the would be organized workers in Kenya. Out of 6 million workers COTU could be boasting of, only 380,000 are at present subscribed as members, some willingly and others by force.

In other words, though COTU would feel threatened, the grazing ground is so vast to feed all and have something for nobody. It is time for workers to realize the essence of freedom. It is time for workers to make informed decisions by deciding their destiny rather than leave it on the shoulders of ‘two blind men’ on the highway.

Trade union elections are due from January to 21 May, 2006. It is an opportunity for a visionary leadership to break through ranks and provide an alternative leadership that is seriously needed at this point in time. Workers must rise to the realization that they have a role in the provision of leadership in the land. A strong and vibrant trade union must bring forth a strong political and economic leadership. Who says then, that workers should not form a party that subscribes to their ideals? National elections for 2007 should bring a worker’s political dispensation. Then, we shall be safe!


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