The expatriate community might own every Land Rover in Kenya and spend its time eating at the swankiest Nairobi restaurants, but the expatriate is a great supporter of trade unions.
In his own country – I am especially thinking about the expatriate who is employed on a two-year contract in some British curriculum school or other – he was a member of one of the many UK trade unions for teachers, possibly the NUT.
He joined this trade union because he believes that professionals, like factory workers, perform labour and therefore need to protect their rights under capitalism by holding together as teachers across the country and as unionists across the spectrum of work.
He believes in the nobility of work and that indeed, it is workers of all types who directly grow the economy and NOT smelly owner-employers of the sort represented in his native Britain by the Confederation of British Industry (‘Nazis’) and in Kenya by KEPSA (‘Nasties’).
He loved his union, and not only because it gave him a free diary every year. He loved it because it fought for better pay and working conditions, because it supported teacher rights, because it trained teachers in all areas, and because it agitated very strongly for the rights of pupils to be taught in ways that benefited them in terms of workload and curriculum.
Back in the UK, because of the unions, no government could introduce a new curriculum like that proposed in Kenya, which basically plans (at taxpayers’ expense) to farm private-sector pawns into private-sector jobs according to skills and content shaped by private-sector owners.
But in Kenya, things are different. After some time reading the newspapers, the expatriate might come to the conclusion that although Kenyan unionists correctly agitate, yes, for better pay, this is fundamentally ALL that they do.
Yes, they deserve better pay. But the annual demand for an 800-per cent increase in pay is something that the expatriate will soon come to question, as is the troubling fact that too many government-employed workers (doctors, lecturers) moonlight, getting simultaneous employment in the private sector.
Let’s face it: even when the lecturers were on strike, a substantial number of taxpayer-salaried ‘academics’ were still earning in the private sector as they would if they weren’t striking.
Which is troubling. If eventually paid well from the public coffers, all the labourer’s labour should, it stands to reason, happen in the public sector; he should not be permitted to break the unionist code by supporting a private sector that threatens to undermine the rights of professional colleagues, patients or pupils.
Such moonlighting would be perceived as treachery and be borderline impossible in many countries. To the expatriate trade unionist, this all seems a bit like building the nation with one hand and destroying the nation with the other.
If we are to have universal healthcare and education, we need a healthy government that’s ready to listen, and a healthy union movement that’s ready to push in all the right directions.