Historical Context and Status Of Trade Unions
The History of trade unionism in Malawi goes back as far as 1945 when the first trade union Transport and General Workers Union, then called Magalimoto was set u by two truck drivers cum nationalist-politicians by the names Lawrence Makata and Lali Lubani. This was amidst the strike activitity in Blantyre against poor wages and working conditions by teachers, night soil workers, domestic servants and rail workers (Dzimbiri, 2008). In 1949, the transport and General workers Union (TGWU) became the first trade union to be registered followed by the Commercial African Trade Union (CATU) IN 1952 and then the Nyasaland Railway Workers Union (NRWU) in 1954. A federation by the name of the Trade Union Congress of Nyasaland (TUCN) was formed in june 1956. A few years later, a braekaway federation called National Council of Labour (NCL) emerged. From 1949 to 1964, a total of 19 unions were formed with a combined membership of 4,763 (Dzimbiri, 2008).
During the last stages of colonialism, the trade union movement aligned itself to nationalist interests with the conviction that economic benefits to the working class and the nation at large would be guaranteed amidst political freedom (Dzimbiri, 2008). More importantly, some trade unionists were also key figures in a political party called the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was agitating for independence.
Barely two months after attaining independence, Malawi experienced a cabinet crisis. This was a muddle within first cabinet of post independent Malawi which was created by abrupt expulsions of some ministers from the cabinet and subsequent resignations by other ministers following an irreconciable and growing rift that had developed between the then Prime Minister Dr. Hastings Banda and cabinet ministers. Hence forth, trade union leaders were intimidated, harassed, forced out of office or thrown into detention without trial. By the end of 1964, fourteen trade unions out of 19 had been de-registered by the the Ministry OF lABOUR, All civil service unions were immediately banned and the Teachers Union of Malawi was renamed the Teachers Association of Malawi. Thereafter, in 1965, the rulling party Malawi Congress Party (MCP) calld for a compulsory affiliation mandate to meddle in unions affair, to resrtct trade union activities and co-opt union leaders who were regarded as potential threats into the state machinery ( Dzimbiri, 2007 and 2008). As such, the trad union movement lost its automous capacity to influence national policies and particularly labour relations in Malawi.
The socio-economic impacts of the structural Adjustment Prograqmme (SAPs) which the Government of Malawi (GoM) started to implement in the 1980s coupled with a wind of democratisation that was blowing across Africa in the early 1990s sparked a rejuvenation of a vibrant trade unionism. This process commenced with a strike activity that sprang from1992-1993 that one moment almost paralysed all sectors of the economy. This then resulted in a series of negotiations between government and workers and employers representatives. These negotiations paved the way for the rebirth and formation of more trade unions while the existing fives union which were affiliates of the only federation called Trade Union Congress Of Malawi (TUCM) fore-runner of the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), Demanded greater autonomy and influence on the direction of government policies and labour relations. These unions became part of the significant opponents of the one party state till its demiswe in june 1993.
Lately, trends of neo-liberal globalisation and national struggles in light of the nascent democracy have compelled the trade union movement to reconceptualise its historic relationship with the state. This has then opened up opportunities for new alliances, strategies and partnerships at both national and international level. Currently, there are thirty registered trade unions inMalawi including two federations namely: the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) and the quasi-defunct Congress of Malawi Trade Unions (COMATU). Of the twenty eight unions, twenty two are affiliated to the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), two are still reported to be affiliated to Congress of Malawi Trade Union (COMATU) while four are ot affiliated to any of the two federations.