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Trade unions and politics inseparable

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD) 

Deputy Leader, BCP

 

The involvement of workers and trade unions in politics is an endless debate. This is in part because workers are part of the society in which they live. Therefore political and economic decisions affect them for better or for worse. From the onset there is need to make a clear distinction between the involvement of trade unions in politics and their participation in partisan politics.

 

When it comes to the question of whether trade unions should be involved in politics, the answer is a resounding yes. However the controversy arises when we attempt to answer the question as to whether they should be involved in partisan politics. In this discussion we use politics and partisan politics interchangeably.

 

The truth is that historically workers were involved in politics. They continue to be actively involved in partisan politics. There is no doubt that workers will continue to be involved in politics in the future. This phenomenon is a product of the objective and subjective conditions.  Way back in the early 1900s workers in Britain came together to form the British Labour Party.

 

The workers took the decision after realising that the existing political parties at the time, being, the Conservative and the Liberal parties failed to adequately represent their interest. Today the British Labour Party is one of the two dominant political formations in the United Kingdom.

 

Recently in Africa we saw Labour Unions actively taking party in regime changes in Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In South Africa COSATU forged an alliance with the African National Congress and other democratic forces to fight the apartheid regime.

 

In Zambia for example, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) propelled the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) led by Fredrick Chiluba to power, overthrowing the United Independence Party (UNIP) of Kenneth Kaunda through a democratic process in 1991.

 

Like in South Africa workers in Zambia were forced to partake in partisan politics because they came to the conclusion that the ruling party under Kenneth Kaunda had become authoritarian – harassing journalists, detaining union leaders, eroding civil liberties and displaying other tendencies that undermined the rule of law and democracy.

 

Official corruption was on the increase. The same applies to Zimbabwe where the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) led by Morgan Tsvangirai and other union leaders formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to challenge ZANU-PF under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe.

 

In Botswana there has always been a tug of war between union leaders aligned to the ruling party and those who were associated with the progressive opposition parties especially the Botswana National Front (BNF). Some of the key players at the time were Klaas Motshidisi, Ditiro Saleshando, and Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri to mention but a few. However at no given time did organized workers form a strategic alliance with a political party.

 

The 2011 public sector strike led by Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) marked a turning point in the involvement of workers in politics in Botswana. The poor handling of the dispute between the government (as the employer) and the federation forced the workers to publicly declare that they will support the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) in the 2014 general elections.  Besides BOFEPUSU adopted a working class ideology that is anti-capitalist and therefore anti-establishment.

 

The examples enumerated above are a clear demonstration that there comes a time when the urgency for democratic change and social transformation takes precedence over all other considerations. This is the stage in which we find ourselves in Botswana today. When such a time comes there are no fence sitters – it is either you join the democratic movement for regime change or you are on the side of the oppressive status quo. It is a situation that is characterised by arrogance, corruption, wasteful and illegal expenditure, and looting of public assets.

 

Most of our citizens strongly believe that the democratic space in Botswana has shrunk since 2008. Government has virtually declared war on the judiciary, tertiary students, workers and independent journalists. They introduce crucial policies and legislations without consulting the citizens.

 

The more recent example is the amendment of the electoral law introducing the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and cessation of supplementary registration of voters. The electorates and their elected representatives were never consulted when BCL Limited was placed under provisional liquidation. The ruling party has refused to transform the state media into a public broadcaster. Government’s tight control of state media denies Batswana of alternative views on matters of national concern.  

 

Prominent patriotic Batswana have come to the same conclusion that democracy in Botswana is under threat. When addressing the African Leadership Forum in 2014 Festus Mogae, the former President of the republic told his international audience that Botswana is regressing because the current leadership does not respect the rule of law.

 

In her book entitled “Madam Speaker Sir” Margeret Nasha the former Speaker of the National Assembly described the current government as authoritarian. Just this month, on Monday 7th November 2016 to be exact, Kenny Kapinga the former Deputy Commissioner of Police and former Botswana Ambassador to South Africa and Zimbabwe also concurred with President Mogae and Parliamentary Speaker Nasha that under President Seretse Khama Ian Khama public debate is being stifled and Batswana live in fear.   

 

Even some prominent members of the ruling party have also voiced the same sentiments. A political tourist and currently the Secretary General of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) once advised that; “If they want to save the BDP they should recall Ian Khama. We want to change government and save the country’s democracy.” The thrust of his argument was that there was rampant corruption because the ruling party has overstayed in power. Although these words will embarrass him now, he was spot on.  

 

Presented by: Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD); BCP Deputy Leader at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Panel Discussion at Masa Square Hotel, Gaborone.

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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
Samson

… 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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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

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 www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    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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