THE Congress of Democrats (CoD) president Ben Ulenga blames the breakup of the teachers’ strike on the National Union of Namibian Workers’ relationship with Swapo, and urged members to disaffiliate from the ruling party.
“Workers cannot take a decision together with the Swapo Party to strike,” he said, adding that the union federation’s affiliation to the ruling party meant that the NUNW would have to account to the party at its upcoming congress, and not to the workers.
“Many workers go for loyalty alone and do not know what the affiliation implies,” he said.
“This paradoxical relationship, which in the present situation means that the trade union movement NUNW and its public sector unions such as Napwu [National Public Workers Union] and Nantu [Namibia National Teachers Union] are affiliated to their employers – their bosses – has rendered, and continues to render, the NUNW weak and meaningless,” Ulenga said.
Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, Ulenga said Namibian workers should learn from the “hostile” stance demonstrated by the Swapo Party-led government against the workers and their unions during the strike.
“The current huge differences in income between poor and rich Namibians will not be helped by a docile trade union movement,” he said. “It is therefore high time that workers act to end this undermining relationship with the Swapo Party.”
The CoD said the national teachers’ strike was characterised by naked intimidation of teachers by the government, as well as an “unnecessary” High Court order and threats of arrest and imprisonment of so-called instigators of the strike.
Ulenga, a former trade union leader, condemned the manipulation exerted by the Nantu leadership on teachers and Swapo’s pressure on the union leadership in turn, which he said resulted in the union leaders negotiating in bad faith and signing an agreement without getting the necessary mandate from their members.
“Clearly, there is confusion on the side of trade union negotiators as to who are their principals – their bosses. Is it the trade union members or is it Swapo Party and Government? This confusion arises from and feeds into the clearly unhealthy and debilitating relationship currently existing between the NUNW and Swapo Party – the so-called affiliation politics.”
He said it was regrettable that all sorts of institutions, including the Swapo Party Youth League, stepped in to call for an end to the teachers’ strike without the workers’ demands having been met.
He, however, applauded the unity demonstrated between members of Nantu and Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) during the strike.
Ulenga also disagreed with many critics who called the strike illegal, arguing that an unprocedural strike was not necessarily unlawful.
The CoD is of the opinion that the relationship between the NUNW and the ruling party not only debilitates and destabilises the maintenance of peace and stability, and the quality of public service, but is also “seriously fatal” for the short- and long-term interests of a vast majority of organised and unorganised working people.