Labour day presents workers an opportunity to reflect and rededicate themselves to the struggle for better wages and humane conditions that must include working hours that allow them time to rest and recuperate.
It is therefore clearly a day for workers to be bold about the timeless values of human equality, human dignity and human solidarity in a world that depends on the denial of all the three in order to maximize profits.
On May 1st 1995, the beloved founding president of Tanzania and African patriarch mwalimu Julius Nyerere boldly articulated the social imperative of worker solidarity when he stated , ‘Umoja na mshikamano ndio silaha ya kupamabana na dhuluma ya unyonyaji’ (Solidarity is the best weapon to fight the scourge of exploitation).
Mwalimu Nyerere probably the greatest champion of social justice that the world has ever known had earlier as president long discarded the temptation of building a system in which a few rich men pull the ropes around the necks of millions of economic slaves when he stated, ‘Some countries believed they could develop by having a middle class and they measured progress by the number of people in the middle class. We must be a nation of equals’
Today most people have given in to the idea of capitalism; a system whereby the means of production are controlled by individuals motivated by profits superficially but greed and selfishness at the basic level. Therefore phrases like ‘greed is good’ have come to characterize the workings of multinational corporations a good number of them with foundations in a willfully forgotten past of violence, exploitation , deceit and slavery
In a world that reveres wealth at first sight , the likes of Nyerere would come across as a little utopian if not outright mad. However he would not be alone , he would be joined by billions of workers and peasants across the world. These billions being the true producers of wealth but who are condemned to a state no better than a machine. They cannot afford the products they make or services they provide.
Worker solidarity is therefore important because in a capitalist paradise the worker should be paid nothing for his labour. This is partly the reason why governments fix a minimum wage in a feeble attempt to protect the poorest of the poor from the forces of greed.
In a critique of socialism entitled ‘why socialism failed’, Mark J. Perry, professor of economics and finance in the school of management at the university of Michigan states, ‘By failing to emphasize incentives, socialism is a theory inconsistent with human nature and is therefore doomed to fail. ‘
It is rather obvious that human nature as stated in this article does not have anything to do with the biblical niceties of being a brothers keeper. This has everything to do with the Darwinian principle of the survival for the fittest. The script is simple, accumulate colossal amounts of wealth and let it flow through the generations that fall under your lineage. This then guarantees the best chance of survival of ones genes.
However the world has seen increasing opponents to this type of primitive accumulation of material wealth. The opponents have not always come from the lumpenproletariat but often times from both the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. President Tedd Roosevelt while addressing a youthful audience was clear about his position on wealth. He said .’ It is a bad thing for a nation to raise and to admire a false standard of success; and their can be no falser standard than that set by the deification of material well-being in and for itself’
Today many Kenyans from the different socio-economic classes can readily identify with the statement of Roosevelt and concede that the deification of wealth by the Kenyan masses and its theatrical display by some of its holders has come to symbolize the greatest evil of our time.
Today Kenya faces a moral imperative to take deliberate steps that will grant affirmative action to millions languishing in poverty. This must include giving children from poor backgrounds access to education and creating affirmative action that grants the necessary preferential access to employment to descendents of the exploited workers and peasants. Its on this basis that the recent decision by president Uhuru Kenyatta to dish out the lions share of government parastatal jobs to the old Kenyan aristocracy was criticised by both friend and foe.
In the interest of longterm peace and stability, developing nations must avoid the reckless mistake of leaving behind what A lex La Guma in the short story, ‘out of darkness’ refers to as ‘the wreckage’.
While we often hear about the increasing gap between the elite and the masses what is often deliberately swept under the rug of hypocrisy is the growing suspicion of the worker and peasant towards the master of our capitalist system.
A time is coming when the masses must look their rich masters in the eye and declare that ‘If you do not make an arrangement to share your wealth , we shall make one to share our poverty’
Have a conscious day.