President Isaias Afwerki made a statement on 28 August 2009 at the national conference marking the 30th anniversary of the NCEW in which he highlighted the essence and objective of Eritrean workers. Noting that the significance and objectives of workers movements should be viewed from an economic, social and political standpoint, the President explained that workers productivity is affected by the level of societal progress. He went on to explain that people’s standard of living depends on workers’ productivity and called on the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) to strive to nurture a skilled and committed workforce. Full text of the President’ statement follows:- The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) is one of the many aspects of the Eritrean people’s struggle and thus I congratulate all those who struggled under its banner as well as those who organized this seminar.
We can use such occasions to talk about the history of workers’ movements in the first quarter of the 20th century or during the 50s and 60s, but the primary objective and target of such occasions is to determine who workers are and identify their future role and place among the society.
Today’s agenda, ‘The Meaning and Objective of Workers’ Movements’ is a reminder of the need for continued extensive seminars on the role of workers in society; for to talk about the meaning and objective of workers’ movements we will need more of similar occasions in which to conduct in depth discussion regarding the topic at hand.
I will try to address the meaning and objective of workers movement in relation with the socio-economic and political development of communities and what significance it had in our case. What is the objective of such movements? We can perhaps talk about the different stages of workers movements in Europe and the Unites States over the past 100 years; however, generally speaking, workers movement is something that came into existence following the industrial revolution. With the advent of industrial development, societies or countries were divided into three different categories, namely highly industrialized economies, developing countries and underdeveloped ones. And this is not just past history but it is the present global state of affairs as well. Since we cannot talk about the history or the role of workers in the unindustrialized world, to include all the categories of countries I mentioned above, we will talk about the significance and role of workers movements on a global scope.
I mentioned earlier that we will examine the role of workers movements in the social, economic and political aspects of societies. The most direct influence such movements have is on the economic level, which in turn affects the social and political lives of societies. In all the different stages of human and global development, even during the early days of mankind, the fundamental meaning of existence was to improve one’s living through the development production and output. Developing production systems and tools from the basic to more sophisticated levels and thereby increasing output, which in turn would change the mode and meaning of the lives of human beings.
If we ask what economy signifies at the present stage of world development or even during the early periods of human existence, it is the industrial and technological endeavor to change people’s lives. To change people’s lives for the better, you need to continuously modify your tools and technology as well as organization. In view of this fact, we can identify the level of organization and the sophistication of technologies in all the three categories of societies; i.e., the developed, developing and the underdeveloped. Thus we can see that the history, development, role, objective and meaning of workers organizations vary in all the three different worlds.
Having established the fact that the meaning and objective of workers movements differ according to the levels of industrialization and organization, we come to the question of who or what a worker symbolizes. In general terms a worker is someone who produces or works to produce something, although the level of productivity varies from one worker to another. The level of productivity of different workers varies according to their skills, experience and the modes of technology they apply. Another factor that affects workers’ productivity is the state of economic development within their respective communities.
Although experts might make extensive analyses, economy can be simply defined as production, distribution of resources and consumption. But when we look at the economy from the perspective of the role of workers, we can focus on two of the afore-mentioned aspects of the economy-production and the distribution of resources.
Whenever we talk about the political and social aspects of different societies taking economy as the basic factor, we should start with the level of productivity within the respective societies as well as the contribution and share of individuals in the society’s resources. The concept of the role and meaning of workers movements is much more clearly explained in relation with the aspects of economy just cited.
There is a tendency to often associate workers with only the production side of the economy. However, the role of workers in the distribution of resources as well as their share within the resources is of equal importance.
When we look at the social aspect of the role of workers we can note that people’s social standing in their community or society is directly affected by their economic status. Numerous ambiguous theories might be put forth in this case. However, the social standing of every individual within a community or country is determined by his/her economic status. If one’s income is among the lowest in the society then one’s status in the society is a reflection of one’s income; the same applies for those who earn medium and high incomes.
Thus, people’s social standing can be determined by whether they produce or work for a living or whether they live on others’ production. Another factor that can determine social standing is where individuals rank in the distribution of resources. If a person does not get the share of resources that is proportionate with his/her production, then he/she can be unfairly classed in the lower income category. Thus, a person’s access to national resources can determine his/her social status. Citizenship could also be described in terms of social status. One could be first-class citizen, second-class citizen or may not even have any citizenship at all; and as such this could decide one’s position in that specific society.
The availability of opportunities is also another factor that determines one’s status in a given community. If one is marginalized from the allocation of natural resources of a given country, this state of affairs is tantamount to being robbed of one’s rights to different economic opportunities. Even one’s access to basic services such as education, health and job opportunities determines one’s status in that specific community. The same thing applies to whether someone has rights or not. It is worth mentioning at this juncture that the mere casting of ballots in elections does not at all signify that one’s right has been ensured; it would be misleading to think so. Hence, to determine whether if someone has rights or not in a given country, we should try to understand his/her status in that specific society. It is equally significant to understand the role of workers in society while talking about social status.
The third political meaning is that of defining the objectives of workers movements. Viewed from this standpoint, politics is quite often an extension of economy or socio-economics. Political systems or politics cannot exist or be created in a vacuum. Economy is the foundation of politics, and that economy deals with production and distribution of resources and products. No matter what name or color a certain political system bears, the decisive factor in the final analysis is which section of the society that particular political system serves.
And as I have mentioned earlier, society comprises of various sections within it, and thus the political system that benefits a specific section of society represents only the beneficiaries. Hence, in such a situation we could not say that there exists a political system that fulfills the aspirations of the people at large, because it has never been witnessed in history. As political systems are usually described in terms of their specific characteristics, the main factor for determining the system’s nature should primarily be its representation of a given section of the society. Is it a system that looks out for the interests of the productive members or that of those who idly depend on the toil of others? A certain political system might bear various descriptions and colors, but eventually the most important question is which section of the society that system represents. A system that fails to ensure fair and just representation of all sections of a society has its own characteristic feature.
A lot of other additional questions could be raised in order to determine the representation of a political system in a society. And these similar questions could motivate members of the society to bring about economic growth and stability, in addition to improving their standard of living. Finding an answer to these questions could help one to understand if there exist stability, good living condition and economic prosperity in that society. If a political system in a given country strives only to promote the interest of the few, there exists no quality of life, as it is determined by the living standard of the majority.
There is also no stability as long as the system represents the interests of the few. It may somehow appear as if there exists stability by employing various deceptive ploys, but such state of affairs is only short-lived. In a nutshell, suffice it to say that there would be no stability in a country where the political system represents only the minority or the few. Thus, the prevalence of stability and security in a given society could be viewed from the standpoint of the nature and representation of the political system in power. And it is absurd to argue that any political system that fails to ensure fairness and justice in a society would be secure and long-lived. The prevalence of stability in a community could, therefore, be determined by answering the questions raised above.
Likewise, within political perspective struggle, organization and conflict that surface in a society are just a method or a means to an end. A struggle for an organization and even a given organization in itself could never be an end in themselves, but rather a means applied to attain the set goal. Conflict too is not only a consequence but also a means to an end. Hence, the objective of all struggles, conflicts and organizations is to ensure fair and just allocation of resources. The absence of fair and just distribution of resources and products usually entails conflict, which in turn leads to struggle, be it on the part of the neglected sections inside or external ones. And until the desired goal is realized, the struggle would continue through employing various methods, including raising arms. Thus, such a scenario could be viewed from the economic, social and political angles.
The role and position of workers movement is another significant factor that requires elaboration. And we can talk about the role and status of workers movements from the dynamic nature of political, social and economic spheres. In fact, workers and their movements were the driving force in the transformation of socio-economic and cultural progress in the industrialized countries. The scope and effectiveness of workers movement goes parallel with the level of development of a particular society. Societies can be categorized in 3 stages, namely underdeveloped, developing and developed. In those underdeveloped societies, the role of workers movement is quite minimal and could even be said to be non-existent. Similarly, in the developing ones, their role is relatively major and comprises considerably large section of the society.
But in those developed societies in the industrialized countries that completed the process of transformation, workers comprise the biggest section of the society. Although they may have their own characteristic features in describing the progress of workers, their role could be defined in the aforementioned three stages of societal development. In those underdeveloped and developing societies, the effectiveness and growth is to be viewed within the framework of their pace of progress and the stage of development they have reached. We could cite many examples from the objective situation in the world, but it is better to talk about the major topics of importance in this regard. In light of this, we can talk about the role and position of workers and their movements in the respective category of society. It is also ironic to say that the journey of progress of the underdeveloped and developing societies would be retarded at a certain point. In view of the fact that all societies strive to reach the highest state of economic progress, the path taken to this end always assumes the same dimension.
And as all societies and countries work tirelessly to achieve economic prosperity and improve the people’s standard of living, the transformation process continues to assume its own dimension at an accelerated pace. The role and position of workers in industrialized societies could be described in this way. But even in those underdeveloped and developing ones, their role and status could be perceived from the society’s dimension of transformation, as they are marching towards the industrialized stage of development. Taking lessons from history those in the underdeveloped and developing world should strive to nurture productive workers.
What we refer as development or prosperity is at the end of the day where we are heading. There can be nations far behind us, some who exceed us or some at an equal level with us, but each one has its own aspiration as to how to attain a comfortable standard of living, which has the capability to utilize any equipment at hand and enhance their productivity.
Speaking from this perspective, the goal of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) could be defined as follows. One thing that needs to be underlined here is that the workers and their objectives are inseparable from the society. Of course, the workers are a part of the society, but they differ in their role and contribution; yet, the goal of the Eritrean Confederation of Workers should not be separately looked at from the rest of the society. The working class, however, is the driving force to all-round societal development, and for that reason plays a decisive role in a given society. Hence, the role of the workers in bringing about economic, political and social changes is vital. The goal of the NCEW is therefore at the forefront of different organizations and associations in society. There can exist a National Union of Eritrean Women, Students Union, Youth Union or may be other related associations, in the final analysis, however, the role and standard of the workers confederation in a given society is importance. For that reason, a workers confederation means forming a working class which is fully equipped technologically possessing strong educational background so as to ensure productivity. The workers confederation therefore needs to have educated workers because productivity goes hand in hand with it. In addition to this, the availability of workers with ample experience is another very important criterion. If the productivity of the working class is upgraded, a country’s economy is equally strengthened. All these experiences, education or skill also needs to be enforced by providing technologically advanced equipments to the workers. The goal of the workers confederation is hence producing such kind of workers but not just on individual basis.
The second most important task of the confederation is nurturing an economically, socially and politically well-informed working class. Economic productivity needs awareness in addition to education, skill and experience. Hence, the movement needs to give continuous lectures so as to upgrade the political, economic and social awareness of the workers. This is one of the major objectives of the workers confederation.
Furthermore, the movement should have an organization of high efficiency and strength so as to effectively achieve set goals. The capacity and the awareness could be well in place, but the organizational structure is of utmost importance. A disorganized worker cannot maintain his/her position in a given society; that is why the working class needs to be well coordinated.
In addition to the three major imperatives, I have prepared extra two in connection with some with wrong understanding of the workers confederation. One of these that needs to be underlined here is that the workers union should not be taken as an organization always ready for riots and related public disturbances. If we look at the history of workers in Europe or maybe the United States, they had different experiences.
If we look at how the administrations that were in the areas were just referred to were handling the issue and movement of workers, for instance they took them separately from the rest of the society and sidelined its real political, economic and social meaning because they had an understanding that it is the workers who rioted for salary scale or related public demonstrations. But having such an understanding of workers is very narrow and indeed wrong. This issues need concentration, because taking a workers union as one that instigates such things and taking it as a means for chaos would just be insane.
Another thing that might have direct relations with the above mentioned issue is that the workers have their own labor law, and so taking the workers as a group who usually speak about on their issues and laws would just be another mistake. This means that there have to be criteria. The labor laws should be drafted in a way that fit the economic, social and political issues. Otherwise, it would just be talking on some nitty-gritty matters; but of course the workers union and any other organization needs proper law, because as I mentioned earlier, one cannot talk of economic, social or political achievements without having law. It is, however, an utter mistake to take the union as one that argues on terms and articles of the labor law.
It may be difficult to cite each and every single one of the thoughtfulness needed in this section, because of the different levels of development among societies. We have the underdeveloped, the developing and the developed societies; but we cannot really talk about the developed or industrial society, because we know our position. The underdeveloped countries and the developing ones often experience polarization when it comes to the workers union and other societal organizations; this may be due to domestic and foreign interferences or interests that utterly lead to a state of paralysis among the society.
Of course, the issue of polarization is natural, and mostly the cause for such things is unequal distribution of resources. But what we witnessed in most underdeveloped and developing countries nowadays is vertical polarization. This includes polarization based on religious, racial, tribal or ethnic differences. Indeed, such differences constitute a dragging force for development and paralyze the achievement of the said objectives.
Such polarization among the society or the Confederation is a bottleneck for development, and one cannot speak of economic prosperity or development in such areas. When vertical polarization prevails in a certain area, social harmony vanishes and there is no social cooperation, because it is unnatural. In the underdeveloped or developing nations where vertical polarization exists, corruption gets on the rise and the few interest-oriented groups who benefit from such things misuse their position to assist members of their social class.
These types of people plunge societies into chaos and social variances without which they cannot uphold their mission of promoting. One cannot exploit one’s position without resorting to vertical polarization of people; it is a rat hole for individuals in this category.
Thus, if the categorizations of societal classes do not occur naturally among such underdeveloped and developing societies, the aforementioned problems arise.
In the end, such unnatural occurrence of class division becomes a cause for friction, unrest, civil wars and destruction. Hence, in order to properly identify their role and place among the society, workers movements have to consider the atmosphere and the level of development in which they find themselves. They also have to overcome the obstacles that might hamper them from achieving their goals. They have to be able to challenge the traditions and attitudes that can negatively affect the role of workers movements in their respective societies. Furthermore, unions should consider the attitude and ideology of those in power towards such movements.
The numerous workers movements established in the 20th century or the last quarter of the same century had been severely weakened. One of the major reasons for this weakness is the conspiracy by special interest groups. These special interest groups, irrespective of whether they are in power or not, derail workers movements applying different means, including corrupting union leaders. Derailment is one of the most favored methods of the special interest groups by which they weaken struggles like workers movements in order to safeguard their interests.
One of the tools of derailment is to use race, religion and other affiliations with view to instigating mistrust and division among members of workers union. Many examples from both the developed and underdeveloped countries could be cited but what we have to consider is the one that happens frequently, and that is the suppression of workers movement. If the movement can’t be weakened through suppression, one creates various layers in between the members of the movement. Many examples could be mentioned regarding those three reasons. We can view a certain country’s movement, how it began, the stage it has reached, and when and how the union got weakened and what the factors for the movement’s failure. And a lot of reasons could be mentioned. So the reasons for failure should be considered carefully. If there exists a workers union or movement, it should realize the objectives besides recognizing the obstacles so as to tackle them, and that will make it a strong organization. Efforts focusing on the background and history of a given workers union is not a bad idea. However, what is important is the current status of that union at present.
And at the present era regarding the global situation, how it influences workers union should be carefully studied. The workers union today needs to analysis developments in different parts of the world as well as in each country so as to realize its objectives. And the current world economic meltdown is the outcome of going against the natural and cultural courses of societies. Another incident in the history of movements is the struggle waged by various societies in different parts of the world.
The development humankind is we are currently witnessing runs counter to natural societal progress. Other developments are those historical incidents that surfaced in the 20th century and their present outcome. It is also imperative to highlight the fact that mistakes and loss opportunities were encountered in the popular struggles waged in different parts of the glob. With the changes taking place at the global level in the 20th century, the role of special interest groups that began to expand beyond Europe, the US and Asia, where their specific mission is not a point of contention, as they seek to monopolize other people’s resources and instigate problems. In order to realize their goals of monopoly and greed, such special interest groups make futile attempt towards weakening and polarizing societies, and thereby suppressing popular oppositions. As I mentioned earlier, all these divisive ploys employed by the special interest groups are mainly designed to exercise monopoly over the resources of others.
Besides polarizing and fomenting discord among societies, as well as weakening workers movement, these quarters resort to military adventurism, which serve as a potent weapon for monopolizing and dominating other societies along with their resources. The military adventurism we are currently witnessing in different parts of the world is part and parcel of this scenario.
Despite the fact that financial institutions play key role in the economic development of a given country, such institutions nonetheless have been diverted to serve their own vested interests as amply demonstrated in the prevailing world economic meltdown.
These special interest groups installed with the concept of speculation in these financial institutions, seek to ensure their narrow interests’ as opposed to providing efficient economic service and making due contribution for the well-being of societies and countries. The greed-oriented practices of such interest groups over the past 100 years gave rise to the current economic crisis which has already exposed the world to multi-faceted chaos.