I am writing from Berlin, Germany, where I attended an international summer school in Kassel, organised by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung under the theme, “Making Globalisation Fair”.
This summer school brought together youths from twenty different countries in one place. My take away message to the world is that throughout academy, there is a possibility and hope that globalisation will be fair and these are not just idealist views but realist as well.
Not all the people in the world want fairness, and in order not to promote fairness, nation subdue others. We have interrogated globalisation from an angle of International Division of Labour and what this means to me is that there is no trade that takes place in the world without labour and because the labour producers are not involved in determining trade as commodity it shifts to global inequality and without reforming the global institutions, we will never make globalisation fair.
In attempting to make globalisation fair, one needs to look into different dimensions. One is the setup of the trade union, with the understanding that trade unions are political in nature. There has been a narrative that the moment the trade union affiliates itself with a political party, it loses its independent and dies a natural death.
In Namibia, the biggest trade union federation NUNW is a creation of the governing SWAPO Party. I am now convinced that in order for the trade union to be independent and serve its mandate, it should have free political independence. The tactics and strategies of yesteryear cannot always be seen to achieve the crises of today. And that is why in Namibia the trade unions have lost momentum and culture of true representation.
As I narrate my experience to the world, I realise that we need to replicate some of these models, provided that they fit in our Namibian context. A good example of best practices learned from other countries is that Namibia should have a national trade union organisation that report to an international body, which is entirely independent and the representatives who sit on this body are labour experts who have a duty to act in the best interest of the workers.
This body, which conforms to the standards of ILO (International Labour Organisation) and its mandate is to investigate and charge companies that do not conform to the good working relations. Trade unions in Namibia are setting up the government to fail. This can be seen through the formation of their structure. For example, not all members of the NUNW umbrella body are supporters or members of SWAPO. The best strategy that has been demonstrated is to allow the unions to lose their relevance in the Namibian space.
That way it perpetuates a culture that government is not concerned, unions are not concerned and the working group are left with no hope. If the Namibian trade union structure continues the way it is currently, we will have all the trade unions dying a natural death.
To get the ball rolling, the workers must stop paying their union fees and demand the unions to represent them without fear or favour. The second option will be to start lobbying lawmakers to compel employers to give employees a substantial stake in the shares of the company, spread the ownership of the company and eventually spreading their economic power in smaller pieces but with great impact which will be felt by everyone.
What is the role of the unions and how can government be a potential decision maker on global fairness? States and multi-national companies are talking about free trade agreements, environmental laws, tax free and sustainable charter. But there is no one who talks about the harsh conditions under which the goods were produced. The unions are not visible to voice up for the rights of the workers.
In Namibia, the workers are on their own and recently, we had Checkers employees having their salaries being deducted for toilet visits. We have about 600 Langer Henrich Uranium Mine workers who have been sent home. We have Weatherly Mine and Otjihase sending home about 450 workers and we have an escalating unemployment rate of 34 percent. Apart from the uranium and copper prices that have dropped, this is all because the recent financial crisis has led to a loss of trust in the quality of corporate governance and the balance of the financial markets all over the world. The economic crisis that erupted in 2007/2008, and since deepened, has revealed severe shortcomings in corporate governance.
An urgent independent regulatory body is what Namibia needs that will have the power to sanction, impose tariffs for non-compliance, power to dismiss unions that are losing the very essence and meaning of genuine representation.
* Tuyeni Konica Kandume is Secretary for Labour and Justice of SPYL.