Without a Workers' Party defending Workers' rights in Kenya will be difficult.
Whenever workers in Kenya take industrial action to demand higher wages, better working conditions, better remuneration or job security, the narrative is usually the same. A strike outbreak is usually followed by negotiations between Workers’ representatives and the government; a deal entailing a “return to work formula” is usually reached; some promises are usually made by the government for the implementation of the deal; the government usually reneges on the promise forcing the affected workers to take a new strike action in a never ending cycle.
The case of the 25,000 Kenyan nurses who have been on strike for more than a week follows the above narrative with one big deviation – that this time around, the striking workers have all been sacked by the Minister for Health, Prof Anyang Nyongo. In doing so, Professor Nyongo has not only violated the Constitution with impunity but has also trampled on the rights of the workers to go on strike. Just like all other strike actions by workers in Kenya which have been defeated in the past, the Nurses’ strike had three major weakness that guaranteed its failure before the strike was even called.
Lack of political support
Although the strike precipitated a huge crisis in the health sector, its first weakness was that it had no political support. None of the political parties in Kenya (including PNU and ODM) supported the workers because it is not in the interest of right-wing or opportunistic parties to support striking workers.
In the absence of political support, the strike action could not be discussed in Parliament as a matter of urgency. The reason for lack of political support is that none of the political parties in Kenya represents Workers’ interests. These parties either represent individuals concerns or inter-ethnic interests of members of the ruling classes at the top of these parties.
Without political support, industrial actions of workers will continue to be defeated and it is for this reason that the Kenya Red Alliance (KRA) believes that workers in Kenya need their own Party. KRA welcomes all the sacked workers and all workers in Kenya to join the Alliance and help materialize political support in the struggle for Workers’ rights in Kenya.
Lack of solidarity
The second weakness of the strike was lack of solidarity from other workers due to lack of “working class politics” in Kenya’s political marketplace. Without a formation like KRA, which could unite Kenyan workers to face the enemy (the capitalist State and its representatives), coordinating solidarity in support of any group of striking workers is difficult.
Kenyan workers are at a stage where although other workers across the country could sympathize with their striking colleagues in other sectors, sympathetic workers may not be able to stage “sympathy strikes” in solidarity with their colleagues because of fear, lack of proper organization and poor coordination.
The Unions, which could coordinate such actions, are themselves weak or led by leaders who are politically bankrupt, corrupt, opportunistic or self-centered. If other workers in other sectors could also lay down their tools to demand the reinstatement of the sacked nurses, the government would be forced to listen because of the impossibility of sacking millions of workers at the same time.
Working class politics is about workers seizing power but due to lack of direction and ideas, workers in Kenya have, and will continue to suffer at the hands of the capitalist ruling class running the government on behalf of thieves and robbers looting public resources for personal enrichment.
KRA is available and could coordinate solidarity strikes by workers across the country but only if workers understands its politics and join the Movement. In the meantime, the corrupt regime running the government of Kenya will continue to use threats of mass sackings to contain the “strike menace” that threatens to bring government services to a standstill.
The third weakness of the strike is what led to the actual sacking of the striking Nurses. This is lack of International connections to workers. Any Workers’ Movement or Party that seeks to drive working class politics in a given environment has to be connected to fighting Workers’ organizations, Trade Unions, Movements or Political parties around the world. Why?
The threat of mass sackings by the bosses is always alive. Any worker in any sector has financial obligations which have to be met every month and the boss knows this. Under exploitation, poor working conditions or starvation wages, very few workers will resort to strike actions if they know that they could be sacked.
If workers are linked to a local organization, movement or party with connections to similar Workers’ organizations internationally, it can become possible for the local organization or party to send an international appeal for fund raising to address the plight of sacked workers so that they can continue with their struggle while at the same time fulfilling their economic obligations. In the absence of such connections, sacked workers after an industrial action will always be on their own. This is usually a big advantage to governments or bosses exploiting workers in any sector.
An International appeal may not just be for funds. It could also be in the form of pressure on the government to address the plight of workers and to warn against draconian actions such as mass sackings.
The KRA position
KRA condemns the Kenyan government for the drastic action of sacking the striking workers. The Alliance believes that by sacking the workers, Professor Anyang Nyongo acted illegally because the Constitution does not give the Minister the power to unilaterally sack workers exercising their right to go on strike as stipulated in the Constitution.
The sacking of the 25,000 nurses is evidence that the Kenyan government does not care about the welfare of workers across the country. This illegal action should serve as a signal to workers in other sectors that they should begin to organize much more consciously because they are facing a common enemy which is now taking new steps to eradicate possibilities of industrial actions in the future. The sacking of the nurses may appear to be a bold step by the government but, in reality, it is a testing of the waters to establish how workers would react to such draconian and illegal measures.
KRA’s message to the striking workers is that they should not go down on their knees to beg the government to reinstate them but they should fight any scabs being hired by the government to help break the strike. The nurses should set up strike Committees across the country to coordinate the struggle for their reinstatement.
These committees, in conjunction with the Nurses’ Union, should lobby other Workers’ organizations in Kenya to show solidarity with the sacked nurses by staging sympathy strikes to demand for the reinstatement on the sacked nurses.
Today, it is nurses who have been sacked and tomorrow, it will be workers in another sector. The solution to threats by employers to sack striking workers is “coordinated actions” by workers, locally and globally. There is no other solution and the sooner workers in Kenya understand this basic fact, the faster they will move towards uniting to face both the government and exploitative bosses who do not care about Workers’ rights and freedoms.
KRA demands that: all the 25,000 striking workers be reinstated; all conditions presented by the Workers’ representatives should be met; the Minister for Health, Professor Anyang Nyongo, should step down for violating the New Kenyan Constitution by sacking the nurses unilaterally; the Ministry of Health should stop hiring scabs to break the strike because the strike is legitimate; all workers in Kenya should unite to fight a common enemy – the capitalist state and its representatives like Professor Anyang Nyongo who is acting with impunity and in total disregard of the interest of the striking nurses.
Kenya Red Alliance (KRA)