Commentary: Striking KAA Workers Struggling in a Political Vacuum
Since last week, workers of Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) have been on strike and they have been threatened with the sack if they don’t return to work soon. Security officers have been mobilized to Kenya’s key airports as scabs to help alleviate strike damage. The sacking threat to the striking workers is reminiscent of similar threats that were issued to both Kenyan nurses when they went on strike a few weeks ago and workers of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) who downed their tools last month. The threat of sacking striking workers is a common weapon used worldwide by desperate employers to force workers into ending industrial actions with various degrees of successes and failures.
In the case of the nurses, the Medical Services Minister, Professor Peter Anyang’ Ngong’o, “sacked” them en masse before they were re-employed and this brought the strike to an end. KBC workers were also “sacked” before they got back their jobs thereby ending the strike action. Just before the nurses and KBC workers laid down their tools, Kenyan teachers had also been forced into taking strike action to force the government to address their grievances. Although the teachers were never threatened with the sack, their strike ended following a fake “return to work formula”. In all the cases where workers have resorted to industrial actions, their demands have always revolved around the same issues – higher wages, better working conditions, better remuneration and job security.
The teachers could not be threatened with the sack because of the impracticality of sacking more than a quarter million teachers, all at one go. Similarly, the nurses were reinstated because of the impossibility of replacing them in the country’s hospitals at one go. In the case of the nurses, the sacking threat worked because they accepted to be “re-employed” without the conditions that prompted the strike being met. In the same token, the impossibility of replacing KBC workers at one go is what prompted their “re-employment” after they were sacked. By “Sacking” KBC workers in order to force them back to work, the government’s strategy worked because the workers’ demands were never met even though they returned to work. The success of the “sacking threat” strategy in the case of both nurses and KBC workers is what is driving the Management of Kenya Airports Authority to threaten the striking workers with the sack unless they return to work.
Bosses of Kenya Airports Authority are likely to succeed with the “sacking threat” because compared to nurses and KBC workers, replacing the KAA workers is much easier, given the lack of technical sophistication in their work. The use of police officers as scabs at the airports should illustrate how easy it is for the workers to be replaced and for this reason, it is likely that they will all return to work if threatened with the sack.
Just like the teachers, the nurses and the KBC workers, the KAA strike is taking place in isolation, without official COTU support and with no political support whatsoever. No political party has come up to put pressure on the KAA’s’ management to address the grievances of the striking workers because no mainstream party in Kenya is a Workers’ Party or sympathetic to workers’ struggles.
A Workers’ Party could easily seize power in Kenya
With over 15 million workers in Kenya, workers form the biggest constituency in Kenyan politics and any Presidential candidate who can get the support of the working people of Kenya can literally walk to State House with a landslide majority vote in the forthcoming elections. The problem is that working class politics belongs to the Socialist bloc which is currently not represented in the capitalist-dominated political marketplace in Kenya. Working class politics has no room for ethnicity and because all political parties in Kenya lean heavily on “ethnic solidarity” mobilized by various ethnic chieftains, it is impossible for these parties to propagate alternative politics that appeal to workers. Although class politics is not a complicated science, and although workers are the biggest voting bloc in Kenya, class politics is still “too hot” for the average political vultures steeped in opportunism and ethnicity. In the case of the striking workers, the simplicity of class politics can be illustrated with one common aspect of the strikes.
When teachers, nurses, KBC workers or KAA workers go on strike, individual workers from these sectors do not down their tools as members of different ethnic groups but as a class of exploited wage earners who feel that they deserve better economic and working conditions. It is the only time when the Luo, Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin etc. teacher, nurse, banker, casual worker etc. downs tools for the benefit of the class they belong to.
A Workers’ Party could easily gain the support of workers in Kenya by setting up a minimum living wage (commensurate with the rate of inflation) for all workers in Kenya. Such a Party could gain recognition of workers in Kenya by taking up Workers’ demands such as the abolition of starvation wages, compulsory unionization of all workers, guarantee to job security and medical insurance, decent housing among other key demands.
To address these demands, a Party with a different ideology opposed to capitalism will have to surface in Kenya and educate workers about its politics to convince them to bring the Party to power because workers have the numbers necessary to help any party seize power in Kenya. Most importantly, workers are the producers of wealth (tax money) constantly looted by politicians but they are permanently kept away from the running of society by the greedy ruling class aka “vulture class” which has been screwing Kenyans since 1963.
The role of the Kenya Red Alliance (KRA) is to introduce working class politics to Kenyan workers and the youth with the objective of leading workers to power as a means of changing society. It is not a very easy process but it has to be done because capitalism is not working for Kenyans. After more than 48 years of capitalist class rule, there is ample evidence to illustrate that the system has crumbled. Despite the huge amount of wealth they produce, the system is denying workers the right to live on their wages by confining them to starvation wages and when they take a collective industrial action, they are threatened with the sack to force them to accept the status quo.
The situation will not change and there is no Jesus Christ who will descend from the sky to liberate Kenyans from poverty, mass unemployment, starvation, homelessness, corruption, tribalism and other vices brought about by the rotten capitalist system of government. Kenyans will have to understand their problem, seek the correct ideas and implement them otherwise they will continue to suffer endlessly as they hope for salvation from the vulture politicians they elect to Parliament at every election.
Kenya Red Alliance (KRA)