Botswana Land Boards Boards Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) is a progressive and internally admired Trade Union that organises workers in the whole of public service, parastatals and private sector.
As a formation representing the economically exploited, oppressed and marginalised, BLLAHWU has cultured itself appropriately so as the factory of militant and radical pursuits in the course of workers. This is the true voice and vanguard of the working class in their class struggle within the context of capitalist system that has no regard for the workers and the poor. Economic liberation and empowerment of the people is the chief content of struggle.
Just recently in December 2019, the colossal BLLAHWU dubbed “mokgankgara”, held its Congress under the theme “deepening working class agenda for unity in action”, and such the theme is the subject matter of this commentary.
Let’s first understand the character of the organisation BLLAHWU. This is a membership centred Trade Union, hinged on worker control and servant hood of leadership. In engagement platforms within constitutional structures, there are robust and open debates bordering on inner democracy.
The debates are premised on criticism and self-criticism. While so, the cardinal principle of democratic centralism prevails in the processes of decision making. Such is the culture that has sustained BLLAHWU as a progressive Trade Union.
Under the auspices of solidarity and internationalism, the Union continues to be a member of international bodies and having fraternal relations with a number of Trade Unions in other Countries.
Having laid the aforesaid, it is also chiefly Imperative and correct to highlight that, BLLAHWU is the cradle, garrison of progressive labour politics and torch bearer of working class agenda in Botswana.
The Union remain unmatched, unravelled in its loyalty, dependability, dedication to the cause of the working class and the poor who are the motive forces.
The mandate of BLLAHWU as a labour movement is not some shallow workerist politics which are limited and confined to bread and butter issues often pursued by yellow or/and gum boot trade unions. The Union unapologetically pursue the path that Trade Unions have a role to play in socio-economic and political sphere of this Country to influence public policy towards social justice and equity.
It is unacceptable and offensive that workers as creators of wealth of this country are mere spectators and side-lined to the periphery when it comes to wealth distribution, or that as bakers of the national cake, it cannot be tolerated that they get chased away from the table of cutting of the cake.
The theme of the Congress as enunciated above; make a clarion call on the urgent and vital need for unity and working together within Labour movement, and for this working together to be in the formidable spirit of true dedication to the agenda of working class without.
The unity is much needed at a time when there are divisions within labour movement. Of course this will not be realised in abstract, for there is a milieu within which this can be reached. In endeavour to accomplish the letter and spirit of this theme, there is great necessity for sacrificial, principled, committed leadership with ideological clarity and devotion to the class they represent rather than vacillate and at times doing things in a manner that assist the agenda of the oppressive class.
The working class must seek to build its hegemonic power in all terrains of the state among others the economy, arts & culture; environment and so forth. Together with this nature of leadership must be active membership that is class conscious. It is worthy to emphasise that being a vanguard means you provide ideological and strategic direction even if you are not in leading a structure in the organisation, you are most disciplined and dedicated.
Workers and labour movement will not achieve their objectives without unity and organisational discipline. Unless working class get organised as a motive force, we are not going to achieve any meaningful gains. A motive force acts as a motive force, when it is organised as such. The call for unity is also extended to civic society which is pushing its struggle or agenda in a fragmented and uncoordinated way.
The progressive forces within civic society need to have a conference where they will draw a common agenda of a minimum programme to be unleashed. Further there is need for Trade Unionism and community activism to work together.
On the mandate to workers, BLLAHWU continue to staunchly represent members at various workplace social dialogue platforms, dispute resolution i.e both at alternative dispute resolution process and litigation at Court. The Union in its iconic role and influence in the Country ‘s industrial relations have submitted for crafting of disciplinary procedures with involvement of workers through Trade Unions in line with Public Service Act, crafting of grievance procedures in the workplace, and conditions
The Union continue to advocate for greater conditions of service of workers who toil and work indefatigably for this Country but living in abject poetry as majority of them are in the strata of the working poor.
Furthermore, it is the submission of the Union that there be establishment of an independent and functional Public Service Bargaining Council and formation of other industrial councils to entrench the ideals of Convention on the right to organise and collective Bargaining cementing industrial democracy to, pay attention to issues of occupational Safety and Health, ratification of new convention 190 on violence and harassment.
In our campaign programme we are against casualisation of labour and precarious jobs which pose manipulation of workers in those circumstances, we are against privatisation and its manifestations such as downsizing which come at the recommendation of Bretton woods institutions of IMF and World Bank who push the agenda of the West through aid embedded with structural reforms that destroy economies of third world countries such as ours.
To push this agenda, that’s why workers need analytical alertness, understanding of how global and international context affects us and creatively offer appropriate solutions. We will oppose any move to privatise national entities that provide social services for their privatisation leads to loss of jobs and costly services to the people as private entities are driven by profit maximisation at the expense of social responsibility.
We are concerned by the tendency by Government to collapse some state owned enterprises in order to launch take over by friends of those in Government.
An attempt was made with Air Botswana, and the recent target is Botswana Meat Commission. We will fight against corruption and poor service delivery to the people which is occasioned by inadequate resourcing and greed by those in power.
We need to systemically and radically change the financial system in the Country, and that warrant for re-looking into the work and role of Bank of Botswana and other institutions marshalling the financial system. There is need for broader economic interventions to assist the downtrodden.
It is a call by BLLAHWU for effective decentralisation so that Local Government as having proximity to the people can be capacitated with power and resources to carry its mandate, something that will nurture our democracy.
With regard to legal framework, there is need for review of the Constitution to constitutionalise labour rights, establishment of an independent dispute resolution away from the current set up of Department of Labour that under Ministry of Employment , Productivity and Skills contrary to I.L.O standards on effective dispute resolution system. This should be completed by establishment of appellant court specialising in labour matters. To build national policy consensus, the High Level Consultative Council to be transformed into a true tripartite structure similar to National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) of South and comparable structures in other jurisdictions.
BLLAHWU is determined that we are pursuing a struggle of completion of freedom and liberation of the people of Botswana in particular workers and the poor, therefore we are for a developmental state that pushes the agenda of workers and the poor, addressing the issue of poverty, unemployment and inequality. It’s really unacceptable for a Country so rich to be having the working poor and high rising levels of underemployment and unemployment.
We need to focus and emphasise more on social protection in the workplace. More efforts and resources need to be channelled towards fighting gender discrimination and gender based violence that painfully affects mostly women.
In conclusion, to achieve the agenda for economic empowerment of the workers and the poor there must be a revolutionary policy to guide the navigation in the trenches of the struggle. . ANC Strategy and Tactics 1969 as adopted by a Conference of ANC, Mogorogoro, 25 April -1 May 1969 state that, “a revolutionary policy is one which holds out the quickest and most fundamental transformation and transfer of power from one class to another.
In real life such radical changes are brought about not by imaginary forces but by those whose outlook and readiness to act is very much influenced by historically determined factors. To ignore the real situation and play about with imaginary forces, concepts and ideals is to invite failure. The art of revolutionary leadership consists in providing leadership to the masses and not just to its most advanced elements; it consists of setting a pace which accords with objective conditions and the real possibilities at hand”.
Yours in Solidarity Justice and Prosperity
*Ketlhalefile Motshegwa is BLLAHWU Secretary General. This is the speech he delivered at the recent elective congress