WSF (1999): “Zimbabwe Unions to Launch Workers Party: Is This the Way Forward?”
From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here
It was announced in March 1999 that the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is planning to launch a workers party to contest the 2000 elections. According to the announcement, the unions want a “strong and vigorous political party that could address these issues affecting us”. Clearly, this party is designed to intervene primarily in elections.
Workers Solidarity magazine has always covered the Zimbabwe workers’ movement in detail because we admire and respect the struggles of our fellow workers against hardships, the war in the Congo (costing 6 milion Zim dollars a day), and the repressive Mugabe regime. In March 1998, the unions organised a two-day stay-away against VAT. In August, September and October 1998, there were general strikes on a weekly basis against rises in the fuel price.
When DRC dictator Laurent Kabila arrived in early November 1998, he had to be protected from the working class with riot cops.The country is in a deep crisis — it is here that the working class must act to win a decent future: land, bread and peace.
The call for a workers political party reflects the growing power of the working class. It is quite clear that the unions are strong enough to launch a mass party that could win the elections. However, is a workers party the way forward in Zimbabwe?
We do believe in the importance of workers having political organisations to fight for socialism. In our view, the role of a revolutionary political organisation is to win the leadership of ideas: to win the majority of workers to the struggle for workers control, land and freedom. Won to such a programme, the working class can make the revolution through its mass organisations, such as the trade unions.
However, the ZCTU’s proposed party is seen simply as an electioneering organisation, aiming to introduce “worker-friendly” politics in parliament. But an electoral party cannot take the working class forward.
Parliament is not built to help workers. Parliament is built to trick workers into accepting decisions already made by the real rulers- the rich and powerful ruling class. You cannot get a chicken to give birth to a lion any more than you can get government to help the workers. Government always obeys the bosses – the owners of the economy. They do what the bosses want, regardless of the mandate from the electorate. So to try and use government and elections to help workers is an illusion. In fact, it is more likely to lead to a sell-out as the elected leaders become rich and corrupt. This danger is particularly serious in Zimbabwe, where hosts of political opportunists are certain to try and infest the workers party. Crooked politicians, democrats, preachers- all are likely to try their luck.
Finally, the issue of the party’s programme will be vital. The struggle of the unions is in large part a struggle against the Mugabe regime’s ESAP policy. Similar to GEAR, ESAP means privatisation, VAT, low wages, mass retrenchments and labour flexibility. An anti-worker programme.
However, the ZCTU’s own Beyond ESAP document fails to openly break with government policy -it calls for a more intelligent and revised ESAP programme. If this line is adopted by the proposed workers party, the result will be an exercise in futility.
ON THE STREETS
The unions are already a more powerful force than an electoral political party could ever be. To rely on such a party would be to lose sight of the incredible might of the working class in favour of a mirage. In addition, it seems certain that the party which the unions want to launch will not be a revolutionary group aimed at building the unions, and helping them on the road to the seizure of power by the working people, but a outfit aiming to use parliament to change society.
This is a mistake. There is no need for a electoral political party. The unions and other mass organisations of the working-class and peasants such as unemployed groups can do all the necessary work to deal with issues affecting the workers. If workers oppose a certain tax, for example, they can vote with struggle by striking and marching. We can draw up our demands at the union meetings and enforce them through mass action.
Why go the long way round by electing a group of politicians who will break their promises and stab you in the back? A parliamentary system is an advance– but can only be won through mass workers action– not a political party.