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Zaire Table of Contents


Organized Labor

The case for corporatism was strongest in the area of labor relations until 1991, when independent trade union organizations were officially recognized. The political pluralism of the First Republic had given labor unions freedom to maneuver among the various interest groups and parties. Trade unions performed an opposition role but were by no means united over what that role ought to be. Some were reformist, others more radical.

In 1967 the Mobutu government forced the unification of the country's fractious trade unions into a single organization, the National Union of Zairian Workers (Union Nationale des Travailleurs Za´rois--UNTZA). Then the government brought UNTZA under its control, making clear that UNTZA was to be an instrument of support for the regime. Officially UNTZA was a specialized branch of the MPR, carrying out some syndicalist functions, such as negotiating contracts with various firms, but operating under the supervision of the MPR secretariat.

Resolutions of the 1978 UNTZA congress reveal a balance between political concerns and purely syndicalist ones. There was a motion of support for Mobutu. By contrast, several specific resolutions dealt with the interests of workers, such as control of consumer prices, equitable distribution of revenues and goods, and representation of workers on the administrative councils of public enterprises. It is revealing, however, that all the resolutions were drafted in the MPR secretariat in the expectation that they would be adopted by UNTZA without significant debate.

Having a captive trade union federation did not spare the regime from labor strikes. What it meant was that any strike was a "wildcat" strike and had no official leaders with whom to negotiate.

The clearest evidence that structural conflicts between the trade unions and the regime were being papered over came early in 1990, when Mobutu called for a national dialogue. Memoranda prepared by various groups were not supposed to be released to the public, but Jeune Afrique claimed to have learned that the Kinshasa office of UNTZA was the author of a memo calling for the resignation of Mobutu.

Following Mobutu's April 24, 1990, announcement of the end of the one-party state, UNTZA lost its monopoly position and with it the right to the "check-off" or withholding of union dues at source. UNTZA remains the strongest trade union federation but has to contend with eleven other officially recognized unions, some of which represent Christian, liberal, or social democratic tendencies while others have grouped employees in particular trades or sectors. In the new, competitive environment--amid a deteriorating socioeconomic situation--strikes are even more common. Indeed, teachers, medical personnel, and other public-service personnel are frequently on strike because of low or nonexistent pay, and the lack of public services resulting from the strikes has further contributed to the deterioration of the economy and society.

Data as of December 1993