The changing roles and challenges of trade unions in Zambia: a case of Zambia National Union of Teachers, 1953-1991

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Chibangulula, Chikonde Naomi
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University of Zambia
This study is a historical investigation of the changing roles and challenges of trade unions in Zambia using the case of Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT). It started as Northern Rhodesia African Teachers Association (NORATA), in 1953 and became Northern Rhodesia Union of Teachers (NORUT) in 1962 and finally ZNUT in 1964. The research was prompted by the fact that there is a gap in literature regarding the history of worker consciousness among teachers. Whereas there is so much literature regarding the history of other unions such as the Mine Workers’ Union of Zambia, literature on Teachers’ Unions in Zambia tends to cover only a short period and this makes it highly difficult to understand how the latter thrived in different eras of Zambia’s political history. Three main areas were investigated which included the roles, the unions’ relationship with government and the challenges and ways of response. This study utilised the qualitative method of data collection. Both primary and secondary data was collected from the University of Zambia Main Library, National Archives of Zambia and ZNUT Offices. Oral interviews were also conducted with former union officials. In analysing the data, historical evidence was scrutinized by comparing what each source stated. The major findings of the research were that the general roles and challenges changed in nature due to several factors unique to each period. There was a shift from being mundane in the federal period to being creative during self-rule. For instance, in the area of advocating for improvement in working conditions, the NORATA and NORUT maintained in the federal era that the only solution for the accommodation crisis affecting teachers was to build more houses. As more teachers were unaccommodated in independent Zambia, the contentions changed when the union was known as ZNUT. Government was advised to explore other avenues such as appealing to councils and mining companies to accommodate teachers in their houses. The general challenges such as disunity took on a different nature. Disunity in the federal days was characterized by most primary school teachers feeling alienated because they believed that NORATA and later NORUT only served the interests of secondary school teachers. The opposite occurred in the era of independence as the later were outnumbered. The climax of this disunity was 1991 when Secondary School Teachers formed their own union. Relations with government also changed as they tended to be cordial if it honoured its obligation of paying salaries and hostile if it failed. Furthermore, the ways of response to the challenges were never static. The union moved away from being dependent on financial aid in the federal days to being self- reliant by establishing credit unions in the era of independence. The study concluded that NORATA, NORUT and ZNUT thrived in a changing political economic and social environment and this fact made it possible for the roles, challenges, ways of response and relationship with government to change overtime. The study further concludes that a number of successes were scored such as the introduction of maternity leave for both married and unmarried female teachers. However, the ZNUT could not foster real unity among all its members by 1991 as Secondary School teachers decided to leave the union. Key words: Worker consciousness, Association, Trade union and Credit union
Teachers' union--Zambia , Trade unions--Zambia