By Immanuel Lokwei,
Last year in February, Israeli union workers, employed on full-time bases, went on strike on behalf of their fellow subcontracted workers. These subcontracted workers’ woes echo current Kenyan medical workers’ grievances which pertain demands for wages increment, July salaries disbursement and better medical facilities. But unlike the Israeli subcontracted workers, our medical workers they themselves will have to hit roads if their threat to strike is unheeded and if it isn’t a bluff.
But here is a pressing question we should be asking ourselves: given what is at stake if this strike materialize – the probable loss of life, congestions in hospitals and unprecedented circus that could paralyze or prolong resolution between Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) and the government similar to the dramas and uncooperativeness witnessed in the recently “resolved” Kenyan teachers’ strike, all of which can otherwise be averted – shouldn’t another body of workers that poses less health and economic damage if it were to halt its services be appointed or out of its sense of “brotherhood” and neighborly concern for its sick countryman propose to go on strike on behalf of these medical workers in the event that the government fails to address the medical workers issues promptly?
To rephrase the question: can medical workers or any employed persons “strike” without they themselves discontinuing their services?
The difference between the two cases, between workers themselves striking and other workers striking on behalf of the aggrieved workers, lies in the reasons for action. In the former case, the motivation is mainly economics, for instance wage increment and better benefit packages. We will term the motivating factor of the latter case as “pursuit for humanness.” I shall elaborate these two points in the following paragraphs but generally we see two distinct sets of objectives or incentives motivating action in these two cases.
We might claim that the second class of workers, those that strike on behalf of other workers, are a close variety/cousins of the “Last Man” referred by Francis Fukuyama in his book, End of History and the Last Man. In the “end of history”, when an ideal form of governance has been attained, Fukuyama implies that mankind would have transcended struggle for economics and instead will be preoccupied with a “struggle for recognition.” Fukuyama argues that economic interpretations of history “are incomplete and unsatisfying, because man is not simply an economic animal… Hegel saw rights as ends in themselves, because what truly satisfies human beings is not so much material prosperity as recognition of their status and dignity.” Unlike the first class of workers, like our medical workers, the second class of workers is motivated to action not by the imperatives of economy, but by a sense of their humanness. In our case, the “end of history” would therefore mean the “end point” of our Kenyans workers’ striking evolution; it would mean the attainment of an ideal and effective method of striking hopefully motivated by our senses of shared dignity.
We in Kenya might not have yet reached this point of history, our own “end of history,” for our workers histories attest to this fact. If it is the transportation sector striking, we have not yet witnessed teachers or any other body of workers standing up for the transportation sector’s concerns. In regard to teachers’ complaints, the teachers themselves and mainly they alone and have to hit roads single-handedly, to demonstrate and to risk loss of employment and salaries. But though we have not witnessed change of our modes of striking, this negative testimony could be an indicator of a potential we Kenyan workers can achieve.
In the words of Konstanty Gebert, a scholar of Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish life in Poland foundation, we can either be workers who strike with “our heads held up” or with “our heads bent down.” Those workers who strike with their “heads bent down” (as has been our Kenyan case) are those that are compelled by extreme economic pressure and neglect to stand up for their basic economic rights. The other lot of workers who strike with their “heads raised up high” are the workers who identify with other workers, who share in this unity and who in Martin Luther King’s wisdom understand that human dignity compromised elsewhere is human dignity compromised everywhere. They are the workers who stand up for other workers.
Bearing in mind the consequences highlighted in the second paragraph if the impeding medical workers strike comes to be while upholding that human dignity is at the pinnacle of the pyramid containing man’s highest goods, and emulating the example set by the permanently employed Israel workers, is it a prime time yet to galvanize workers from other walks of life not necessarily the medical field (and whose actions would have less disastrous impact on our economy and health of the nation) to rise up in support of our medical workers’ concerns? Are we there yet, at the “end of striking-history?”