Page Top

Foreward for ZCTU Publication

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) supports the promotion of democracy in Africa at many different levels, the support of civil society through trade union cooperation being one of them. Democracy means to strike a balance between the conflicting interest of different groups in society.

The representation of worker’s interest by trade unions constitutes as essential part of democratic development. Co-operation with trade unions is therefore the Foundation’s activity with the longest tradition. All trade union-related activities of the Foundation are closely coordinated with the German Trade Union Federation (DGB), its affiliated unions, the International Trade Union Secretariats and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

FES promotes institutions of civil society, such as trade unions, women’s organisations, human rights organisations and environmental organisations. It offers support for preparation and conduct of general and free elections, assist in decentralising government structures and promotes dialogue on economic and social policies to contribute to the solution of necessary restructuring processes.

It is my hope that through support of publication such as this, we can make a contribution towards a united trade union movement in Zambia.

The views expressed in this monogram are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FES.

Dr. Reinhold Plate
Resident Representative
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Zambia Office
July, 1997

Page Top


It is beyond dispute that trade unions constitutes an important factor on any country’s terrain of industrial relations. In true democratic states trade unions are treated as part of an overall system of a decentralised decision-making where group interests are taken into account in the process of shaping the equitable rules of work. In short trade unions in a democratic environment have to be accepted rather than merely tolerated.

In his book "What is wrong with Unions" [ Fn 1: Wigham, Erick What is Wrong with the Unions? (Penguin Books: London 1961 )] written more than thirty five years ago about British Trade Unions, Eric Wigham argued that one of the weaknesses of British unions then was inter union rivalries coupled with an outdated trade union structures. This is probably one issue that researchers on Zambia’s labour movement must focus on in order to determine the true character of the Trade Union Movement in Zambia.

Admitted that Trade Unions are important and, probably indispensable, in a democratic country, the question immediately arises as to the capacity of the labour movement in such an environment to sustain itself and become more relevant to the call of labour as well as the broader interest of the community. For if the notion that trade unions are important must be defined in terms of their expected roles in society and their capacity to fulfill them.

The capacity of trade unions to be relevant and achieve their objectives may be frustrated by a number of factors. Two of these stand out very clearly; internal union bickering and external pressure.

The axiom ‘Unity is Strength’ need not be over emphasised in relation to the labour movement: because of what the State stands to gain in a disorganised labour movement, any show of weakness, any crack or disagreement within the labour movement is a premium and is taken full advantage of by the government.

In Africa and in Zambia in particular the tradition of political ties between the trade unions and the government has meant that pressure must be brought to bear on unions to conform to overall political goals and programmes.’ [ Fn 2: Kassalow, E.M. Trade Unions and Industrial Relations: An International comparison (Random House Inc. NY: 1969) p.294.]
While this was more readily manifest during the early years of independence, the advent of plural political systems should not necessarily spell the end of that culture. In fact, it should put the trade unions on alert and guard against associating plural politics with trade unions strength and autonomy: the opposite could indeed be the case.

The degree of virulence to control the labour movement may vary although the attempts to check and control and sometimes limit trade union freedom are almost universal. Legislation provides one such avenue of control. In some cases governments have used subtle methods of infiltration or incorporation in order to achieve the needs of control.

To lurk in the abyss of history is not to commit a heinous crime as to forget the lessons that it can provide. As far back as 1960 Julius Nyirere, the first President of Tanzania said the following on the relationship between the state and the trade unions:

The trade union movement was, and is, part and parcel of the whole nationalist movement. In the early days (before independence) when a trade union went on strike, for instance, its members were in dire need of funds to keep them going, we saw no doctrine which would be abrogated by our giving financial support from the political wing to the industrial wing of the same Nationalist Movement. It would clearly have been ridiculous to preach .......(a)doctrine of ‘independence’ of (the labour movement) from political control and so deny them the assistance they needed from the (political wing).’ [ Fn 3: Julius Nyerere, ‘The African Trade Unions,’speech, Dar-es-salaam, December 1960, Quoted in Kassalow, E.M. Trade Unions and Industrial Relations: An International Comparison) ibid p.295]

To argue that this type of thinking has ceased is to close one’s eyes to reality: it is indeed to forget the cardinal point that most political cultures in most developing countries from upon any form of organised institutional independence that would have a tendency to check the excesses of the state.

Again, as early as 1965 the Singapore National Trade Union Congress (SNTUC) recognised this challenge when it noted the existence of a ‘highly divisive, centrifugal forces at work, in the new societies, and the need for all modern forces to overcome the inertia of tradition’. [ Fn 4: Singapore National Trade Union Congress (SNTUC) The Problems of Workers in Developing countries, working papers presented by the central committee of the SNTUC to the International Labour Seminar, October 18, 1965 (Singapore, 1965). p 7]
Although SNTUC acknowledged the difficulties involved in separating the labour movement from the state, mainly because of the relationship between problems and solutions to the challenges of labour and political action necessary to bring about the required changes, it was emphasised that a balance through agreement with the government had to be struck.

The proceeding discussion demonstrates the precarious position in which the trade union find themselves. It emphasis the point that the trade union situation in any country will depend on the established relationship between trade unions and the government, the structure of the labour movement itself and the instruments of control and administrative regulation of the trade unions by the government as well as the importance of internal union relationships.

This is the central theme attempted in this publication.

Page Top


Darlington Banda is a Lecturer of Labour Law and Land Law and Property Relations in the School of Law at the University of Zambia (UNZA) where he has taught since 1990. He also taught at the Copperbelt University from 1988 to 1990 when he left to join UNZA. He specialises in Labour Law and Industrial Relations although he has another interest in Land Management and Property Law. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Master of Laws (LL.M) degrees from the University of Zambia. He also holds a Master’s degree in Land Economy (M.L.E.) from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

He has had extensive experience in Labour related consultancies and has a fruitful engagement and association with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Lusaka Office and this publication is a direct results of that association and support. He has written numerous papers in the wider field of Labour Relations.

He is married with one child.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | März 1999

TOC Next Page