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Non-politicization of trade unions: Is BOPEU right?

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

The issue of trade unionism and politics has not only affected relations between trade unions and government. It has also affected relations between trade unions themselves. Notably, since Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) took the position to support the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in the run up to the 2014 general elections, relations between other BOFEPUSU affiliates and Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) have soured.

The reason for such strained relations is that while BOPEU advocates for non-politicization of trade unionism, BOFEPUSU believes that trade unionism and politics are inseparable. However, BOFEPUSU recently clarified that its support for the UDC is not permanent and in 2014 it supported the UDC because the UDC had a pro-labour manifesto. BOFEPUSU further stated that going forward, it will support any political party, including the ruling BDP, if it is pro-labour.

It reiterated its long held position that trade unionism and politics are inseparable. Not only that. By stating that it will support any pro-labour political party it affirmed its view that partisan politics and trade unionism are not irreconcilable.  

The question that ought to be answered, then, is whether or not trade unionism and politics are inseparable. This question cannot be adequately answered without first defining a trade union and politics. In terms of the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organization Act, CAP.48:01, a trade union means ‘an organization the principal objects of which include the regulation of relations between employees and employers or employers’ organizations or between employees and employees’. Politics is the practice and theory of influencing other people at a civic or individual level. Politics is also defined as the struggle for the control of the means of production and the distribution of resources.

To the extent that the distribution of resources underpins the relations between employees and employers, trade unions, in regulating such relations, inevitably deal with politics. For instance, trade unions may be faced with policies which promote privatization at the expense of labour rights.

The question is: in such cases, should trade unions condemn capitalism which is the basis for privatization and advocate for an alternative political ideology, e.g. socialism or they should just condemn privatization as a policy?

It is my view that it is not possible to condemn privatization as a policy, as trade unions often do, without being anti-capitalism. Put differently, it is not possible to advocate for state ownership of the means of production as a policy, as trade unions often do, without being pro-socialism.

Therefore, to the extent that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is a capitalist party, condemning capitalism is as good as condemning the BDP. Similarly, to the extent that the Botswana National Front (BNF) is a socialist party, condemning socialism is as good as condemning the BNF?   

It is, therefore, my view that trade unions’ condemnation of certain political ideologies and promotion of others is amiss, for not only does it inevitably amount to partisan politics, but is also not representative of the trade union members who support the condemned political ideology and those who do not subscribe to any political ideology. But, can trade unions not subscribe to any political ideology? Does the extent of protection of labour rights not depend on the government’s political ideology?

It is my view that human kind in all its endeavors, including labour relations, is controlled by the political ideology of the government of the day. Therefore, trade unions, like any social unit, are controlled by a political ideology, either consciously or unconsciously. In the result, though BOPEU or its leadership may not publicly state its affinity to any political ideology it does, in reality, subscribe to a political ideology through the influence of its current leadership.

But, is the issue political ideology or partisan politics? The issue seems to be partisan politics for even BOPEU has not, in fairness to it, said trade unionism and political ideology are separable. It has only condemned partisan politics in terms of which a trade union publicly declares its support for a particular political party and encourages its members to vote for such a political party. I am inclined to agree with BOPEU, though it also unconsciously often gives away its political alignment through the clothing and regalia which is associated with leftist political parties.  

As a microcosm of society trade unions’ membership is diverse. Trade union members support different political parties, and it cannot be right for a trade union to violate their right to the freedoms of conscience, choice and association by compelling them to vote for a particular political party. Invariably, such a political party is often the one preferred by the trade union leadership and not necessarily by the majority of the membership.  

The only consequence of such compulsion is division within the trade union movement. The disunity, real or perceived, between other BOFEPUSU affiliates and BOPEU is evidence of that. It is this consequence that several commentators warned of when BOFEPUSU took the decision to support the UDC in 2014.

Then, we were told that the whole federation supports the position, but today BOPEU has proven that our fear was justified after all. In fact, it is not only BOPEU. Many BOFEPUSU affiliates’ press releases in the run up to the 2014 general elections indicated a neutral approach to political party alignment.       

Politicization of trade unions, especially regarding partisan politics has proven to be detrimental to workers the world over. In South Africa where the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has entered into a tripartite alliance with the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), the workers have been betrayed because COSATU cannot freely champion the workers’ agenda since it is bound by the ANC’s resolutions. The issue of e-tolls is an example and the former COSATU Secretary General, Zwelinzima Vavi, lost favour with the ANC because he defied such resolutions in the interest of the workers.  

Still in South Africa, COSATU lost nine affiliates, including the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), which was expelled for questioning ANC resolutions which were taken to the detriment of the workers, but COSATU could not challenge them since it is in government with the ANC. This will happen to BOFEPUSU if it enters into an alliance with any political party when such party assumes state power.

History has shown that no ruling political party can ever be a true partner of labour because governments invariably sacrifice workers’ rights, as they do other sectors’ rights, to satisfy capital. Even the Labour Party in the United Kingdom has often left workers in the rain to satisfy the interests of multinational companies and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s so-called structural adjustment policies.

Governments, with the aim of attracting investors and growing the economy, often compromise, through legislation and policies, such employment terms and conditions of service as minimum wages, hours of work, and minimum workplace safety standards. How can any trade union enter into an alliance with government if government can betray workers for the sake of profits? What method will BOFEPUSU use to avoid falling into such a trap when such giants as COSATU failed?

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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