M’membe shares his reflections on Zambia’s first workers’ strike with JAWUZ leadership
By Staff Reporter
To mark Zambia’s first workers’ strike, Dr Fred M’membe yesterday visited offices of the Judiciary and Allied Workers Union of Zambia (JAWUZ) in Lusaka’s Woodlands.
Sharing his reflections on the miners’ strike of May 21, 1935 with JAWUZ president Peter Mwale, Dr M’membe, the Socialist Party 2021 presidential candidate, urged all Zambians to support the trade unions.
“Comrades, the situation for the working class is not easy today and it’s not going to be easy tomorrow. The conditions under which the working people have to survive today are harsh, the conditions under which the unions and their leaders have to operate today are harsh,” Dr M’membe said. “They require a lot of support from all citizens of this country – support from the church, support from political parties, support from all citizens.”
Dr M’membe said May 21 is supposed to be a very important day in the calendar of the labour movement in Zambia.
“This is a very, very important day which is not recognised at all in our calendar,” Dr M’membe said. “On the 21st May 1935, we had our first strike in the country, the first workers’ strike in this country in Mufurila. On 20th May 1935, the colonial authorities announced an increment in the native taxes from 12 shillings six pence to 15 shillings. They sent people with loud speakers in the mining compounds where native miners were staying to announce this increment.”
He said the workers the following day decided not to go for work in protest against the native tax increments. “Led by William Sankata, Ngostino Mwamba, James Mutale the miners refused to go underground and we had our first workers’ strike in this country on 21st May 1935,” Dr M’membe explained. “That strike quickly spread to Rokana mine in Kitwe and to Roan Antelope mine in Luanshya. In Luansyha, the strike became a bit more violent. The miners in Luanshya had added another grievance to the taxes issue – they were complaining about maltreatment or mistreatment. The humiliation they were subjected to, they could not take it anymore.”
He said the workers were complaining that they were not being treated as human beings and were demanding to be treated in a dignified manner.
“They were saying ‘stop insulting us, calling us boys when we are old men; stop kicking us around’. The colonial authorities responded with brutal force. They brought in soldiers who killed six miners and wounded 13,” said Dr M’membe.” Five years later in 1940 there was again another strike at Rokana in Kitwe over the issue of respect. Miners were complaining about being insulted, being called boys and being kicked around. In this strike mine police killed 13 miners and wounded 17. Out the 17 wounded four later died.”
Dr M’membe said this is the history of our working class struggles in this country which is not recognised in our calendars.
Dr M’membe indicated that he felt it was necessary to reflect on May 21 on workers’ issues with “our comrades in the trade unions”.
He added that the JAWUZ was a union that had represented workers in a courageous and resolute manner.
“We came to this very progressive trade union with a much more enlightened and courageous leadership of comrade Peter Mwale (JAWUZ president),” he noted. “We are thankful to the leadership of this union; we have been very well received. We had a good discussion with the leadership on the issues affecting the working class and the struggles ahead.”
Meanwhile, Dr M’membe said the situation for the working class in Zambia was not easy today and that it was not going to be easy tomorrow.
“The conditions under which the working people have to survive today are harsh. The conditions under which the unions and their leaders have to operate today are harsh and they require a lot of support from all citizens of this country – from the Church, the political parties,” explained Dr M’membe.