Why workers have taken an active role in August polls
During this year’s American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisation (AFL-CIO) convention that took place in Philadelphia, President Joe Biden joined workers to celebrate the efforts that unions have put in, over the years, to develop America.
In his remarks, Biden, who has been described as ‘the most pro-union President in American history’, by the late Richard Trumka, noted that he is not afraid to be associated with unions because they not only built the US but also him.
Instructively, Biden received great support from the AFL-CIO. Trumka not only campaigned for him but also mobilised millions of workers to turn up and voted for him. As a consequence, Biden, over and above appointing a former unionist president, Marty Walsh, as the Secretary of Labour, openly supported AFL-CIO in championing for the enactment of the Pro Act that will see unionisation mainstreamed at places of work.
Noteworthy, Kenya finds herself in the same spot as many world trade unions. The dilemma at hand is whether to participate actively in politics or not. However, over the years, a consensus has been reached that it requires a political decision to fix a majority of labour issues. , before fixing our economy we must first fix our toxic politics. And in fixing our politics, we must take an active role as workers’ representatives.
Nevertheless, Cotu has always taken a role in the political process. Unbeknown to many Kenyans, I remain the only Secretary General of Cotu-K who is not serving as an MP. Tom Mboya, Clement Lubembe, Dennis Akumu, Juma Boy and Joseph Mugalla all served as MPs while serving as Cotu-K bosses.
Be that as it may, realising this delicate but important duty, the labour movement moved to not only endorse the Azimio-One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga but also campaign and mobilise for him. In Raila, Cotu-K found a man who not only understands the place of trade unions in our history but also appreciated their duty in building a better Kenya.
On the other hand, having looked at the candidature of William Ruto, in tandem with his history and character, Cotu-K resorted not to having any negotiations with him. Kenyan workers, from the onset, made it clear they cannot negotiate with Ruto considering the threat that he presents to Kenyan workers.
For instance, in the first term of the Jubilee government, Ruto took an active role in trying to weaken the labour movement. Through his Minister of Labour and other proxies, he tried, in vain though, to create another ‘Cotu-K’ that would have equally aided his attempt at the presidency. Clearly, Ruto started laying plans for his 2022 bid as early as they took office. To him, Cotu-K was a ‘threat’ to his presidential bid and he, therefore, needed to either stop it by buying off its leadership or neutralise it by creating a similar entity.
It would, therefore, be a failure on the part of trade unions to remain neutral when regimes that are not alive to the plight of workers or those that are a threat to workers’ welfare are not stopped from taking power.
One might ask, why should trade unionists take the backbench and wait for the wrong individuals to take over positions of power when they can take an active role in the election of the right individuals? Other than waiting for the wrong individuals to take over power and thereafter start demonstrations and strikes, we thought it wise to take part in the formation of a government that can feel proud of the labour movement and always resolve matters amicably.
Further, it is the workers who are, today, faced with hardships that have been a result of poor governance that has negatively affected the economy. It is workers who suffer most when leaders who are only interested in State resources rule.
Come August 9, workers are going to stand their ground and choose a leader who will safeguard their rights and welfare. That leader, the workers are going to elect, is a man of integrity whose character captures the dreams and aspirations of this country.
— The writer is Secretary General, Cotu (K)