Divided they fall

The German philosopher Karl Marx was right when he said, “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”. More than 150 years after this critical saying by Marx, workers around the world remain bitterly divided. And the workers’ agenda is derailed as a result.

Perhaps it is an appropriate time to revisit this slogan by Marx following the divisions that currently bedevil the labour movement in Botswana. It is common knowledge that the powerful labour federation Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) is going through a tumultuous period.

At their recent congress in Palapye, Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) voted to leave BOFEPUSU following a strained relationship between the union and other public service unions. BOPEU’s main gripe is that the federation has sidelined it on very important labour matters. BOPEU also feels that BOFEPUSU is a politicised organisation that is flirting with the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change.

Be that as it may, the latest development is a clear demonstration that indeed workers in this country are not united. The formation of BOFEPUSU by five public service union five years ago gave workers hope that finally the workers were singing from the same hymn book. With a 30,000 member union ditching BOFEPUSU, surely the federation has received its major dent since its formation.

As a bargaining collective BOFEPUSU’s strength was felt by those in the corridors of power and those with influence. Who will forget the 2011 public service strike?

The coordination of the strike was a major success because of the unity that prevailed within BOFEPUSU. For the first time in history of this country the government’s operations were paralysed. While the workers ultimately did not get what they wanted, they demonstrated through their numbers what a united workers front could do.

Four years later, a significant player in the formation of BOFEPUSU has pulled out of the federation. Talk is that Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) may also pullout of the federation. This is not desirable, and would leave BOFEPUSU even weaker. The labour movement should get its act together and unite lest they perish.

We are appealing to the country’s two labour federations, BOFEPUSU and Botswana Federations of Trade Unions (BFTU) to join hands in the struggle to fight for workers’ rights.  Failure to unite is a clear betrayal to the workers’ agenda.

Lack of unity amongst the workers is a great concern. The unity of workers is not only key but also critical. When united, workers are capable of pushing for their rights more effectively. 

Today’s thought

“You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads that the rest of us paid for. You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.”

- Elizabeth Warren

Editor's Comment
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