Lucien van der Walt, May 1999, “Trade Unions in Zimbabwe,” Labour Movements: Research Committee (RC) 44 Newsletter, International Sociological Association, p. 8
By early 1999, it was clear that the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and its allies in the struggle against the repressive and corrupt ZANU-PF regime of Zimbabwe, as well as against Structural Adjustment, were aiming at setting up a political party. Zimbabwe was a de facto one party state; opposition parties could run in elections, but the odds were heavily stacked against them by restrictive laws, ZANU-PF’s tight hold on state resources (which could be used for patronage, propaganda and repression), the peculiar structure of the parliament, and the power of the unelected chieftancy in the countryside.
ZCTU was probably inspired by the union-backed Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), which had swept the elections in the 1990s, displacing the post-colonial UNIP/ Kaunda regime. But the MMD in office was almost a textbook confirmation of the anarchist / syndicalist rejection of parliamentarism: it quickly emulated the worst excesses of UNIP, in terms of corruption, accumulation and repression, and it also accelerated – rather than ended – Structural Adjustment.
Going beyond the article below: ZCTU ambitions culminated in the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC): far superior to MMD, it however lacked a real programme or strategy for substantial change for the popular classes; unions had no direct control over the party, which advocated a mixture of political reforms and neo-liberalism; it was not even a social democratic party. And Mugabe, unlike Kaunda, was never willing to step aside. The story of the MDC over the next decade would be grim: heavily repressed, faced with a series of “stolen” elections, marred by splits and internal intolerance (for example, the expulsion of the International Socialist Organization-Zimbabwe in 2002), and outmaneuvered by ZANU-PF’s supposed “land reform” (a subject for another article), with the unions hammered by the country’s economic collapse, the MDC has ended ingloriously as a junior partner in ZANU-PF party-state through the unprincipled “Government of National Unity” deal of 2008.
PDF of the 2000 article is here.