Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents


The Working Class

This class includes employees of public and parastatal (see Glossary) entities, large private companies, small companies, rural plantations, and lumbering enterprises. The public-sector employees have been the least content, principally because many are not covered by civil service status and have known repeated layoffs, delays in pay, and insecure work conditions. Turnover in the work force of large corporations, however, including the large parastatal General Quarries and Mines (Générale des Carrières et des Mines--Gécamines), has tended to be low. Consistently paid salaries, company stores, and company medical services have been key elements in retaining the long-term loyalty of such employees. Turnover also appears to be rather low in rural enterprises, where isolation has resulted in localized recruitment patterns and little contact with other workers.

Workers have shown a sense of class consciousness in launching episodic strikes beginning as early as 1941, when at least sixty were killed at Élisabethville (now Lubumbashi). Unions, however, have been generally weak, and the postcolonial state has generally controlled similar episodes by coupling the offer of limited concessions with the jailing or intimidation of strike leaders. Whereas workers have shared a clearly articulated sense of who "they" are--namely, acquéreurs, politicians, abacost (see Glossary) wearers, Mercedes owners, and regime courtiers--"we" has been a less clear-cut category and has tended to be defined by place of work, city, and ethnicity. Still, the general consciousness of inequality and of social polarization has remained acute; fueling it has been the dramatic decline in workers' incomes (see Gross Domestic Product , ch. 3).

Data as of December 1993