Review of Striking Back: The labour movement and the post colonial state in Zimbabwe 1980-2000 - Norma Kriger

Book Review
African Affairs, April 2002, pp. 260-261

Striking Back: The labour movement and the post-colonial state in Zimbabwe
1980-2000
, edited by Brian Raftopoulos and Lloyd Sachikonye. Harare: Weaver Press, 2001 (distributed by the African Books Collective, Oxford). xvii  + 361 pp. Z$1242.00 paperback. ISBN 0-7974-2286-2.

The third in a trilogy on Zimbabwe’s labour history, this edited collection is a timely contribution to understanding labour in the post-independence period. The labour federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), a ruling party creation after independence, became a critical player in the drive to remove the ruling party, ZANU(PF), and President Mugabe. In September 1999 the ZCTU launched a political party, the MDC, to contest the June 2000 parliamentary elections. The MDC displayed strong urban support and won most seats in Matabeleland, despite ZANU(PF) violence and intimidation. In March 2002, MDC presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, will challenge President Mugabe, who has established a dangerous and rigged playing field.
The ambiguities in the development of the labour movement are a recurrent theme. Brian Raftopoulos’ essay addresses these tensions most comprehensively. First, ZANU(PF) and government interventions in labour relations in the first years of independence were positive (for example, establishing minimum wages – though real minimum wages peaked in 1982 (p. 8), protecting workers against unfair dismissals, legalizing unions for all private sector workers), but government repression and party authoritarianism also stymied the development of an autonomous labour federation and collective bargaining. Second, the introduction of structural adjustment in 1989-90 allowed unions the freedom to engage in collective bargaining with employers, but also hurt workers. Third, the ZCTU, led by Tsvangirai from 1988, took advantage of its greater autonomy to improve its organization and educate workers: overall union membership doubled to 25 per cent of about 1.5 million formal sector workers between 1980 and 1990 and remained steady through the 1990s, despite retrenchments and often declining real wages (Sachikonye, pp. 91-2). (The MDC claims one in five workers have lost their jobs since 1999.) Fourth, the ZCTU developed and provided the organizational framework for broad social alliances (for example, with public sector workers, students, human rights groups, white commercial farmers) in support of democratization, the rule of law, and  ‘national ownership’ of a structural adjustment programme. But its alliances diluted its earlier emphasis on class struggle and ended in the late 1980s’ anti-imperialist and pro-socialist rhetoric with calls for redistribution (including land reform). Finally, despite the MDC emerging from the ZCTU, only 21 percent of MDC parliamentarians are unionists, thus creating tensions in the MDC/ZCTU relationship.
Patrick Bond argues that ZANU(PF) is not the ‘Left’ or even a ‘progressive’ social force, that such a force exists within the ZCTU and in and around the MDC, and that its task is to formulate an anti-neo-liberal economic programme to clarify for the masses whether Tsvangirai or Mugabe can best address ‘the more profound conflict over Zimbabwe’s economic future’ (p. 51). Bond predicts, spuriously thus far, that Mugabe will accommodate the international financial institutions (p. 48). Paris Yeros explores the ZCTU’s international politics in the 1990s, showing how its strategy has been to keep all options open, as it has manoeuvred membership in anti-imperialist African labour federations and in the social democratic ICFTU. Yeros’ (and Bond’s) nightmare scenario – ‘multiparty democracy’ with two essentially bourgeois parties (the MDC and ZANU(PF)) arguing over which can best implement the liberal agenda (pp. 85-6) – ignores more menacing futures.
Lloyd Sachikonye provides a useful chapter on unions’ institutional development.  Lovemore Madhuku highlights aspects of law that promote and weaken unions (for example, ‘ridiculous’ strike provisions, denial of union rights to public service workers, lack of constitutional protection for collective bargaining and the right to strike). Richard Saunders traces the capacity of the labour movement to mount effective industrial strikes and finds only some of their goals being met. In a chapter on the inadequacies of labour laws for women, Naira Khan and Niki Jazdowska advocate, inter alia, the need to make sexual harassment at work a legal offence. Blair Rutherford’s district-based study of farm workers documents convincingly how the ruling party supported worker challenges to the ‘domestic government’ of white commercial farmers but then withdrew, leaving workers at the mercy of white farmers until the recent land occupations. Suzanne Dansereau finds that mine-workers benefitted from significant improvements after independence but that most continue to face company barriers against gaining skills, higher wages, and ending their dependence on rural and other income sources. Lastly, Yash Tandon attributes farmworkers’ poverty to global economic structures, and especially industrial oligopolies’ exploitation of the rural areas.
This valuable collection contains interesting differences and agreements among contributors that might have been signalled or explored. Tandon focuses on the ZCTU’s/MDC’s fatal missed opportunity to build solidarity between urban and farm workers in early 1998 (pp. 248-9). Raftopoulos laments that Mugabe’s courting of the war veterans in late 1997 kept them from an alliance with the labour movement (p. 12). These contributions, along with others, raise questions about how war veterans fit into class analysis. The authors also often articulate divergent class conceptions. Tandon sees farm workers as peasants; Rutherford views farm workers as distinct from peasants; Yeros conceives of all workers as peasants; and Dansereau laments that mineworkers are not yet fully proletarian. Arguably, contributors (for example, Yeros, Bond, Raftopoulos) who emphasize the constraints of the neo-liberal global order miss how Mugabe is demonstrating an alternative route, albeit no more likely than previous strategies to promote equity or growth. Finally, many of the essays take leadership ideology seriously even as they document its breathtaking volatility – which ought to raise questions about its importance.

Norma Kriger
Goucher College, Baltimore MD