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The role of unions has for a long time been a subject of research and contention in our recent history and the modern-day class struggle that continues to pit the proletariat against the propertied class.
Unions have, throughout the course of the 21st Century, so enmeshed themselves with the bourgeoisie in various respects and in others, drinking wine with political elites.
For some, it has been an unholy alliance that has sacrificed the working-class struggle on alters of political expedience yet for others, a holy alliance that has seen unionists rising to take over government positions.
In Namibia, the question is, to what extent does a union mother board that affiliates with the Swapo party truly face the same party in the face and tell it off where it is failing?
It is the great debate that has seen raptures among comrades.
The very bone of contention that has created some form of enmity and cold war between those that have opted out of the marriage of convenience with Swapo and those that have put the ring on the finger.
Yesterday, the very same question reared its head at NBC where the role of NAPWU in negotiating for the workers was cast under the spotlight.
Anger, disillusionment and a sense of defeat.
These were the raw emotions that were plastered all over the faces of some NBC workers yesterday, minutes after the Namibia Public Workers Union (NAPWU) announced that the strike was over.
The decision, taken after weeks of protest action midst political statements from an array of parties, had the automatic effect that NAPWU had to withdraw its court case in which it was accusing top management and board of bending strike rules by using scab labour.
Petros Nevonga, the NAPWU general secretary went at length to explain the implication of the decision, trying to balance the strong sense of defeat with some breakthroughs on making contract labour permanent.
But it was all clear for some that it was a half-backed victory which dangerously swung to the extent of outright defeat.
For some workers, the end of the strike did not provide enough room to save face, to remove the stink of defeat or forestall the possibility of citizenry coming to the conclusion of telling them, “We told you so!”
The workers began putting the blame squarely on the feet of the union when it became apparent to them that there were no more strategies up its sleeves to sustain the strike.
Some workers had to stomach the shock of Nevonga at some point saying that, despite having gone into the strike full-blown, there was never any money.
The whole journey has felt like workers being taken out of the shackles of Egypt only to be marooned in the desert before shuffling back to Egypt.
And the whole experience has left a bad taste in the mouth of many.
Indeed, workers threw off the window whatever regard they still had in Nevonga and his union, with some, visibly taken over by emotion, rallying their colleagues to dump the union.
Nevonga found himself stuck in an environment which soon after declaring the strike’s end, degenerated into scenes of hostility and open-air exchange of words.
The NAPWU leadership stood outside the precincts of the national broadcaster, enduring being labelled as “sell-outs”, “weak”, “compromised” and “beaten at your own game in your court-yard”.
Some couldn’t take it lightly when the union told them that they were misbehaving, apparently for airing their views without being given the mic.
“You were here trying to convince us!!!”
“They failed us!!”
“There is nothing for us man!! What did you do (Johannes) Lengi? You did nothing! Don’t” play man!!!”
“We didn’t get anything….zero!!! But you are still here telling us stories!!”
‘So many words…. I just hear words, I just hear words, words, words… many important questions, just words, words, words!! Just words, Mr. Nevonga, all you giving us is words!”
“Mr. Cleaner, you gave us so much confidence! Not a word from you again.”
Such was the intensity and nature of the words thrown as Nevonga stood stock-still holding the mic.
But then Nevonga himself got emotional and personal when he was told that he was being a politician, and acting like one with ambitions.
He had previously been asked if he even knew the price of bread, statements which he responded by asking for more respect from the workers on his person.
However, for some workers, who were at the very front of the demonstrations, the return to work is not itself a defeat, as the whole experience has allowed them to tell their stories and show that they have a voice.
Yet as they return to work, while others are fearful of mass retrenchments midst what is likely to be a hostile working environment, others are planning to distance themselves from the union.
But some that spoke to us, said the decision has to be taken collectively, to stay or not to stay with NAPWU.
If the workers are to stay with the union, expectations are that NAPWU will have to re-invent itself to better understand the character and nature of the modern-day board of directors, their tact and tenacity and capacity to withstand labour combat.
NAPWU has not been that social media friendly, with no trending hash-tags preaching about the strike, constant social media updates on strategy, way-forward and backroom negotiations.
The board has been issuing statements, and the workers themselves have been leveraging, optimally, the power of social media.
Yet for others, returning to work means they seek to fight their battles from within and to take time to consider if the marriage with NAPWU still had any vestiges of honour.
Teary-eyed, Namibia’s long time activist and voice, Rosa Namises, did not shy away from calling out NAPWU on its links to the Swapo party.
“I know that unions and union leaders can be compromised and they can compromise the workers. I know that, from many years ago, I know. We were fighting that until today you must be freed from the links of a political party because it doesn’t work like that.
“It is very much a compromising situation, a very hard situation, to
negotiate for people, especially workers when you are linked to a political entity. And that is what is also difficult, that is what I observe here today. Very difficult. Very hard!” she said to applause.
Yet it was at the point where she told Nevonga that NBC workers had demonstrated restraint and respect, suggesting that if it was elsewhere, he would have been attacked, that NAPWU took issue with her.
They criticized her for attempting to incite the workers with Nevonga out-rightly jabbing, “I reject your comment!”
Divisions rocked the NBC workers as the whole situation further got aggravated yesterday with physical tussling from workers that became emotionally charged and confrontational.
However, work is supposed to commence within 72 hours, yet there seemed to be no agreement on whether that would lapse on Friday or next week Monday.

Julia Heita

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