Commentary: Striking KAA Workers Struggling in a Political Vacuum

Striking KA workers should not expect support from the "vulture class" steeped in opportunism

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.

Okoth Osewe
Secretary General
Kenya Red Alliance (KRA)


  • Ape Researcher

    Is there any diff Btw Chimps and Kenyans?

  • KAA striking workers sacked
    Posted Monday, April 9 2012 at 15:04

    KAA SACKS striking workers and issues dismissal letters. Says operations in all airports in normal operations.

  • Michael Wafula Ingozi

    How foolish are these striking kenya workers ?The solution to their grivancies is to form a formindable workers political Party that will represent them in Kenya Parliament Hence there is not a single political Party in Kenya siding with Workers!

  • Introduction: Violations of Trade Union Rights in Kenya

    2010: Teachers faced a series of reprisals for taking part in a pay strike. Six local government union officials were arrested, taken to court and suspended from their jobs for their part in trying to organise a strike. Although recent legal amendments favoured trade union activities, unions still face difficulties especially in collective bargaining.

    In Practice
    Interference in trade union activities and intimidation: Employers have depicted unions as incompetent organisations and try to convince their employees not to join up, claiming that they will get higher wages that way. Union leaders and members have been threatened with dismissal or actually sacked for participating in trade union activities, as was the case during the January 2009 teachers’ strike. Trade unionists have frequently had problems obtaining meetings with their employers.

    Obstructing the right to strike: In practice, the right to strikeis frequently violated in Kenya. During the notice period, the Minister of Labour generally intervenes and proposes a mediator for the dispute. If the negotiations break down, the government usually refers the matter to an industrial court, pre-empting any decision to take strikeaction. In cases where workers have become frustrated with the lengthy process and have decided to go ahead with a strike, their action has usually been declared illegal. The January 2009 teachers’ strikewas ruled illegal by the Nairobi industrial court.

    Workers allowed to join unions in EPZs, but with restrictions: Workers in the export processing zones (EPZs) are theoretically allowed to join trade unions, but they still suffer appalling working conditions, and those who complain are threatened with the sack. Labour law does apply in the EPZs; however, there are many exemptions. According to the Tailors and Textile Workers Union (TTWU), most firms based in EPZs have refused to recognise trade unions and obstructed their efforts to organise workers. The Kenya Textile Workers’ Federation adds that getting workers to join a union is difficult because the managers at EPZ companies use non-registered organisations to recruit casuals on their behalf.
    Refusal to reinstate sacked workers: Razco Food Products Limited, an ice cream manufacturer, sacked 24 workers following a dispute between the company and the Bakery, Confectionery, Food Manufacturing, and Allied Workers Union (BCFMAWU). Justice was done, however, when on 31 July, the Industrial Court ordered the arrest of Razco Limited’s Managing Director for failing to obey orders directing him to reinstate the 24 sacked workers pending the determination of a suit between the union and the company. The judge further ordered the firm to pay the workers their salary and other benefits owed to them and not to stop the workers from entering the premises and instead allow them to work, pending the outcome of the dispute.

    Strikers face charges in court: Six officials of the Kenya Local Government Workers’ Union employed by the Naivasha Municipal Council were arraigned in court on 31 January charged with illegal assembly. The six were arrested at the council’s premises on 12 January after an aborted strikeover unremitted statutory deductions amounting to Kshs. 9 million and the victimisation of union officials. The six – Jackson Waweru (branch chairman), Daniel Kagori (branch secretary), Benjamin Cheserer (treasurer), David Karimi (shop steward- water and sewerage dept.) Patrick Gakobo (shop stewardengineers department) and Hassan Godona – denied the charge and were each released on bond or cash bail pending trial. All six were acquitted by the court on 16 April. However, they were also suspended from work by their employer. On 28 September, the court ruled that they be reinstated back to work, but by the end of the year they had still not been reinstated to date.

    Striking teachers arrested: When the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) called a national teachers’ strikein January during a pay dispute, Education Minister Sam Ongeri said the strikewas illegal, and warned that teachers who participated in it would be sacked or would have their salaries withheld. He also said that any teacher caught inciting others to take part in the strikewould be arrested. It was then reported that 42 teachers and union officials were arrested on the first day of strike. Confrontations between protesting teachers and KNUT officials, on one hand, and police on the other, took place in Mombasa, Kiambu, Gatundu, Meru, Kakamega, Isiolo and Vihiga districts. In some instances, police used tear gas to disperse teachers who had taken to the streets, waving placards as they protested. Tens of teachers were reported to have been injured in the clashes. The strikewas later declared illegal by the industrial court but continued for 11 days until it was called off after an agreement was reached over a phased-in pay rise.

    Reprisals against striking teachers: In February, only a week after the negotiated resolution of a national teachers’ strike, a directive from the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) ordered 90,000 teachers who serve as school heads, deputies, department heads and senior teachers to leave the Kenya National Union of Teachers’ (KNUT) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET). The order was seen as retaliation for the KNUT national teacher’ strike. The directive ordered teachers to resign their positions or face disciplinary action if they refused to leave the union. The teachers’ unions have appealed against the directive to the Ministry of Education. Further discussions were held with the TSC, and it was resolved that teachers in management positions would be able to join the union but could not take up leadership posts, as it could lead to a conflict of interest. This position was set out in the Revised TSC Code of Conduct and Regulations for teachers in Kenya.

    Further reprisals against teachers’ strike: In a further reprisal against those who took part in the national teachers’ strikein January, the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) refused in April to deduct and remit union dues to the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) for the month of January (the month when the teachers went on strike.) The TSC claimed that cash flow problems in the Ministry were the cause of the delay. However, the TSC did remit the January deductions to the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), whose members did not go on strike.

    Universities breach collective bargaining rules: Two months after signing a collective agreement with Universities Non-Teaching Staff Union (UNTESU) on 25 June, not a single university had paid the 15% salary and 7.5% house allowance increments. On 31 August, the union threatened to go on strikeif the universities failed to pay, and also took issue with the universities’ management for failing to register the CBA within two weeks as required by law. The strikewas called off after the government allocated the resources needed to respect the collective bargaining agreement.

    2011: The right to strike is still being undermined in practice in Kenya, where 40 strikers were dismissed by fruit multinational Del Monte and striking tea workers faced threats and intimidation. The Postal Corporation, after obstructing collective bargainingnegotiations, obtained an injunctionblocking its workers from going on strike. A Chinese company was ordered by the Industrial Court to reach an agreement with its workers’ union after negotiating in bad faith. Privatisation and the prevalence of casual, short-term contracts are making union organisingall the more difficult.

    In practice
    Trade unions under attack : The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) has warned that the labour movement is under attack from multinational corporations that engage in cutthroat competition. As a result of privatisation many workers have had to re-apply for their jobs under new contracts, often with multinational corporations which usually require them not to join labour unions. The unions have lost members as a result. Furthermore, an increasing number of employees are on part-time, temporary and contractual basis, making union organisingmore difficult. At the Kenya Power and Lighting Company 5,000 of its 8,000 employees were employed on casual contracts. After a dispute erupted in September the company agreed to hire more workers on full time contracts.

    Obstructing the right to strike: In practice, the right to strikeis frequently violated in Kenya. During the notice period, the Minister of Labour generally intervenes and proposes a mediator for the dispute. If the negotiations break down, the government usually refers the matter to an industrial court, pre-empting any decision to take strikeaction. In cases where workers have become frustrated with the lengthy process and have decided to go ahead with a strike, their action has usually been declared illegal. Employers won a court order declaring the tea pickers strikeillegal in October.

    EPZ employers refuse to recognise unions: Although labour laws apply in the export processing zones (EPZ) most firms based in EPZs have refused to recognise trade unions and obstructed their efforts to organise workers. The Kenya Textile Workers’ Federation adds that getting workers to join a union is difficult because the managers at EPZcompanies use non-registered organisations to recruit casuals on their behalf.

    Chinese construction company negotiating in bad faith:
    Construction on the Thika Road Highway was disrupted on 23 August when 400 workers went on strikedemanding better pay, working conditions and medical cover, an end to exploitation, long working hours and the illegal withholding of drivers licenses. The Kenya Building, Construction, Timber Furniture and Allied Industry Employees Union (KBCTFAIE) sought in vain to reach an amicable negotiated solution with the SINHYDRO corporation. According to the union, tri-partite negotiations failed because of the lack of good will on the part of the employer. Company management called in the police to disperse the workers who went on strike.

    On 28 September the Industrial Court of Kenya ordered the SINHYDRO corporation to commence negotiation of a collective bargainingagreement with KBCTFAIE to be concluded within 45 days.

    Del Monte Kenya targets union activists for dismissal :
    Forty workers were dismissed in retaliation for a week-long strikeat Fresh Del Monte’s fruit processing factory. Some 1,700 workers walked out on 12 October to protest unpaid allowances, increasing insecurity due to the widespread use of temporary work contracts and a deteriorating working environment which resulted, in what the Kenya Union of Commercial, Food and Allied Workers (KUCFAW) believe, was a work-related death.

    The company obtained a court injunctionon 13 October calling for an end to the strikeand a resumption of work. Workers returned to the factory to find a notice instructing them to reapply for their positions. They refused to do so under these circumstances, returning only on 19 October after the union and company reached an agreement under the auspices of the Industrial Court. This provided for a return to work under existing terms and conditions.

    However, the agreement stipulated that disciplinary procedures would be applied to a group of workers alleged to have committed illegal acts during the strike. Del Monte Kenya management proceeded to dismiss 40 workers, including nearly every shop steward. KUCFAW began procedures to contest the dismissals in the Industrial Court.

    Striking tea workers face threats and intimidation:
    On 18 October tea plantation employees went on strikeover the increased use of machines for picking tea. Employers did not consult with workers prior to the increase, breaching an agreement with the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union (KPAWU). The union feared machines would cost the jobs of 80,000 workers directly employed by the tea industry in Kenya and thousands indirectly employed. A new agreement was sought to specify the portion of tea that would be plucked by the machines and how much would be picked by workers.

    At least two of the companies affected by the strike, the Williamson Tea Company and Tindirect Tea Company, hired new staff to replace those on strike. The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) reported that tea workers belonging to KPAWU were being subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture in police cells, and the harassment of trade unionists and their families. Companies sought to dissuade workers from striking by using various intimidatory tactics such as evicting striking staff from company houses and disconnecting water and electricity. By 26 October some KPAWU leaders had been held by the police for two weeks without charge.
    The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) initially obtained a court order barring tea plantation employees from striking, but this was later overruled by the Industrial Court further to an application by COTU and KPAWU. Employers still insisted the strikewas illegal. The union called off the strikeafter two weeks to allow for negotiations with the tea multinationals over the use of machines.

    Collective bargaining obstructed and strike blocked at post office:
    On 30 November the Postal Corporation of Kenya won a temporary injunctionpreventing members of the Communication Workers Union (COWU) from continuing a strikebegun that day. COWU members were prohibited from taking industrial actionfor a period of 14 days and restrained from interfering with the operations of the postal corporation.

    COWU had called its 4,000 members out on strikein face of the refusal by the corporation to start collective contract negotiations after several attempts by the union to get negotiations underway. The union was demanding a 48% pay rise. The Postal Corporation of Kenya had offered them a 2% increase. Other issues included the refusal to pay overtime, changes in the staff pension scheme and the union’s demand for the resignation of the head of the Human Resources department, whom they felt had frustrated their bargaining efforts.

  • 23-11-2011

    Beware; pundits are back to confuse voters

    Published on

    By Okech Kendo

    The pundits are back in full force. They ‘analyse’. They suppose. They expose. They presuppose. And they are predictable.

    The pundits � talking heads who seem to have answers for every question � dispose at whim presidential aspirants who do not motivate their predictive curiosity. Just a quote and you know who pays the piper; who triggers the curiosity.

    This curiosity needs to be energised quite often to sustain punditry.

    It is a seasonal, night duty that comes every five years. The latest season of harvest has arrived, and approaching peak.

    For some pundits the season arrived earlier, with some presidential aspirants having launched their campaigns months after the 2007 General Election.

    For the early starters ambition has grown prurient, gathering nauseating odour at every turn of the presidential marathon. They have attracted pundits and MPs whose value they know. Now they want their intellectual detainees to draft the masses onto their agenda.

    Yet some presidential aspirants who speak the language of the masses do not seem to attract as many MPs and talking heads. The seemingly good � some are men of God or �born again� � are presented as soloists who may not make the mark beyond their nuisance value to the race of high stakes.

    The skew subverts the old adage that a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.

    Here, a gallon of gall attracts more flies than a glass of honey. �Gallish� presidential aspirants are attracting pundits and MPs, like moths take to light. They are hyper they would ashame horses on steroid.

    The pundits have choice flattery for their targets: To George Saitoti, a Party of National Unity presidential aspirant, they assign great potential. They claim the professor of mathematics, who wrote a PhD thesis on the �Algebraic Value of Zero� can simply “reactivate his old Kanu networks” to outrun competitors.

    Deceptive certainty

    The Kajiado North MP was vice-president for 13 years under President Moi. He was a Kanu insider from head to toe. The pundits assume the �networks� still exist.

    Never mind Saitoti has since moved from Kanu to Liberal Democratic Party, Narc, Narc-Kenya, and now PNU chairman.

    For Uhuru Kenyatta, a potential Kanu/PNU Alliance presidential candidate, the flatteries are limitless. They call him scion (son is peasantry and does not bring out the pedigree) of founding President Jomo Kenyatta. Uhuru is the richest Kenyan according to Forbes Magazine. Pundits say he can use inherited wealth to outsmart rivals.

    One MP claims some of his colleagues treat Uhuru as their ATM. This could be true because moths do not love light for nothing.

    Pundits rate Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, the top presidential aspirant, with opinion polls asserting the lead. They say the man is a strategist and mobiliser par excellence, with endless rabbits to pull out.

    Pundits have something also for little Eugene Wamalwa, who has been hip-to-hip with other presidential aspirants. They claim �Boy Eugene� could simply cite the Wamalwa name and all Ford-Kenya networks of his late brother Kijana Wamalwa would respond.

    Never mind the late Kijana had moved from Ford-Kenya to National Alliance Party of Kenya, and died while in the National Rainbow Coalition. Eugene has since left Simama-Kenya, and Ford-Kenya for New Ford-Kenya. He also waltzes with PNU Alliance, where he is probably the seventh cog in the G-7 of his makers � William Ruto and Uhuru. But Eugene does not attract as many pundits and MPs because mkono mtupu haulambwi.

    But pundits don�t fly after a man of God, Mutava Musymi, whom they say, “was a fiery, anti-establishment preacher in the Baptist Church”.

    Now you know wealthy presidential aspirants attract more pundits and MPs because they pay the pipers, who are quick to pick quarrels to defend their sponsors.

    The pundits, who are also political bandits, hit for rent. They can tell, often with deceptive certainty, what would happen beyond the 2012 General Election; even a run-off between the lead-candidate and second-best loser.

    They rely on templates of yesteryears. Their logic is founded on the values of the old constitution. They seem off balance with the new Constitution that seeks national values.

    And pundits could soon metamorphose into think tanks for the mushrooming presidential campaign secretariats. Some already have, even though in public they spew �treated� analyses, which are intended to mislead voters.

    Most of these secretariats, as keen observers have noticed, are sprouting to the west of Nairobi. Many presidential secretariats are in Lavington, Nairobi�s second home of the rich.

    Wananchi robots

    In the leafy suburb, there is quiet enough to induce strategic thinking, which is often assorted opinions, to persuade the sponsor the campaign has a thinking team. This team is expected to distil strengths and weaknesses of the paymaster.

    Quite often, they tell the paymaster the good news, often with an exaggerated slant.

    Often the narratives of most pundits are disjointed, and generalised. They often take wananchi as a stagnant mass, caught in a time warp.

    They imagine wananchi are herds, waiting to be reactivated to vote.

    Times have changed, and so let pundits and MPs have their rent, but should let the people have their way. When they analyse they make you understand it is he who pays the piper who call s the tune.

    Writer is The Standard’s Managing Editor Quality and Production.

  • I fully concur with bwana wafula ingozi…. on the above posted comments …that all registered workers via trade union or through other recognised workers organisations should come out of their partisan political mind set and trance and form the much anticipated “kenya labour party”, the bafoon steering COTU has nothing to offer worker but to use their predicaments to his advantage to further his ill gotten wealth.


  • Benjamin K . Muraa

    OMera Jaluo Janduong Mangeng Museveni Kaguta The President of Uganda Is Going to Take Migingo Ugingo !
    How are You going to defend Migingo(Ugingo From Museveni Thuggish)?

  • I wish all Kenyans would come together as one. There is no point anymore of crying foul over the last elections. The former PM and all other politicians should work to make a better country rather than spread imminent fear of people fighting again. We need to grow the economy now and care for welfare of Kenyans. For example instead of government officials both serving and retired having to enjoy so many expensive cars, lets use that money for police communication equipment and cctv’s in hot crime spots. Before anyone criticizes me, I did not vote uhuruto. BUT we cant afford to let the country go into war, look at Egypt now. politicians world wide are all liars, none really cares for the common citizen at ALL.
    My dream is to walk in the streets of Nairobi, my village and the rest of Kenya without fear of crime and be regarded as a fellow Kenyan rather than an individual from a certain tribe.

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