Young and unionized workers in Zimbabwe live in a country in a state of flux but where there are immense opportunities to bring back the power of the unions whose existence is threatened.
How young workers are to become catalysts for change in unions is the central theme discussed at a recent five-day activist school in Harare organized by IndustriALL Global Union with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
The activist school, to which constitutional and labour experts made presentations on scenarios for the country, discussed topical issues on governance and human rights, social and economic development, trade unions and activism, and organizing, recruitment and mobilization. Emphasis was put on understanding the context of the recent elections as well as national economic development strategies. There were also sessions on project management and media and communication.
Given Zimbabwe’s current crisis, characterized by the disputed 30 July elections, economic collapse, high prices and cash shortages, high unemployment, and a public health crisis in which 25 people have died from a cholera outbreak in townships where most of the workers live, these are important topics. Local governments in cities including Harare are failing to provide clean water to residents and even basics such as regular garbage collection.
The closure of factories and the slowing down of activities in most sectors of the economy led to declining union membership while those working earn low wages. With most workers now in the informal sector, unions need to find innovative ways to recruit them. To this end, the suggested mobilization strategies included campaigns, demonstrations, pickets and strikes
Nineteen young workers, eight of them women, from eight IndustriALL affiliates under the Union Building Project attended the activist school. The workers agreed to establish a network to defend workers’ rights, develop leadership skills, promote learning and sharing of information and knowledge, and build solidarity and collaboration at workplaces and within communities. Affiliates from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions also attended the workshop.
Says Tendai Makanza, IndustriALL regional officer for Sub Saharan Africa:
Young workers have immense potential to revive unions in Zimbabwe. This workshop starts the process to strengthen youth capacity for trade union work.