Labour Day Should Make Meaning To Work And Living Conditions

Morris Komakech

Ugandans spend Labour Day unconsciously as simply another public holiday. Labour Day has a long treacherous history whose commemoration requires deeper and purposive reflections on understanding labour. The debate on labour has spanned generations, and yet no one ever explains the relations of labour to capital like Marx and Engels ever did.

These analyses allow us time to place appropriate value on our everyday struggle for work, income, and a better living, as humans. Irrespective of your qualification, political connections, or ethnicity, we should use Labour Day to evaluate the changing meaning of labour in this era.

To Marx, Labour, is a commodity in the market. He averred that capitalism separates the person from his labour, and allows the person to sell his or her labor in the open market to a bidder.  In the capitalist organization of labour, man is alienated from the product of his own labour – that is, through differentiation and specialization, either one is hired to make parts of a whole with no idea of the whole, or are paid very little that they hardly afford the product of their labour (simplified).

With the hegemony of neoliberalism, many anti-statist policies such as restructuring and deregulation have created havens for exploitative corporatists in the private sector that bring impress upon us a lifestyle transitions and diseases. The state has retracted from its public obligations – in funding social services provision, while maintaining some juridical powers. Unlike in the past where government was the main employer, in the aegis of neoliberalism, it has relegated these roles to corporations/private sector.

Uganda is a captive of neoliberal policies allowing for limited jobs in government, which are tightly controlled and distributed on sectarian basis. The bureaucracy, political patronage, and corruption conspire to sabotage rapid growth in the private sector to absorb the abundant labour.

The Museveni regime adopted structural adjustment program in the early 1990s and have since created an economy in which the state, and not government, maintains partial control over certain sectors – such as banking, education, health, while allowing greater role for private investors in every aspects of life.

Unfortunately, the over dependence on foreign investors have not yielded much to the needs of the ever growing pool of labour. This has led to a huge gap in services (decline in quality of education, and near collapse of healthcare system), and a huge labour pool.

Recent statistics demonstrates over 80% youth unemployment, and over 90% unemployment rates among university and college graduates. Moreover, those employed are likely to be underemployed, in precarious employment – part time, occasional employment with no job security, benefits, and/or unsafe and stressful working conditions.

Our working conditions have a direct bearing on our living conditions, which inadvertently affects our overall health. Capitalism produces mental health crises in its zeal for expropriating profits wherever it is entrenched.

In its response to the sluggish private sector growth, the Ugandan state has shifted its employment policy from contracting social service providers to lavishing politics. The wage bill for elected and appointed politicians surpasses the state investment in career public servants. This should worry the left leaning labour unionists.

The relation of labour to freedom is in the control over land. Ugandans are losing their land and control over productivity, even for subsistence. When the regime expropriates all the land from the people, then everybody will start to rent land they once owned for a fixed period as proposed in Buganda recently. If you have no income to service your tenancy, you are rendered homeless – dehumanized. Without ownership of land, everyone becomes a tenant. That is the essence of powerlessness and loss of freedom. The way this economy is organized and operationalized will appropriate your land and place it in the hands of a few landowners.

A Labour Day reflection like this allows for a conscious reflection on the meaning of labour, and a better understanding of the economy and emerging changes in societal structures of power and class. Independent workers Unions should emerge from every profession and field of service besides professional associations. Evidences show that in capitalist societies, a high union density remediates unfair labour expropriation.

Mr. Komakech is a Ugandan social critique and political analyst based in Canada. Can contact via