From the TUC

“The Chamber that Delivers”: lessons from Zimbabwe

20 Nov 2010, By

All too often, my Stronger Union posts are about defending trade unions from attack, and that’s especially been true of Zimbabwe. So instead, here’s news of a fantastic advance that Zimbabwean workers have made over the last decade: the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), whose congress the TUC helped to fund last month. ZCIEA brings together over a million informal economy workers (many of them street traders, self-employed craftsmen and women, and so on) to campaign and lobby for their rights, for better working conditions, and for economic justice. It may sound a bit like a Chamber of Commerce, but ZCIEA was formed under the umbrella of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and as in many developing countries, the informal economy represents a massive majority of employment, so unions have to organise in that sector. Just to put it in perspective, ZCIEA’s paying membership constitutes 8% of the total population of Zimbabwe (an organisation that size in the UK would have 5 million members!), and there are up to a million more involved in some way but without paying (a regular issue, for obvious reasons, in informal economy associations). It is the largest, most geographically comprehensive organisation in the country. TUC adviser Annie Watson, who helped found ZCIEA and is often treated by them at least as their midwife if not more, was at the congress last month and interviewed many of the activists for the TUC website. ZCIEA’s story is an inspiring one, and it totally refutes the suggestion that trade unionism is outdated, exhausted or past its sell by date. As someone said: “yes, we can!”