Open Letter: REVEALED Why Atwoli Outbursts are SERIOUS

Open Letter: REVEALED Why Atwoli Outbursts are SERIOUS

That COTU collects Kshs.150 monthly from 2 million unionised employees & yet Atwoli is disconnected from workers & business needs is BETRAYAL.

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That COTU collects Kshs.150 monthly from 2 million unionised employees & yet Atwoli is disconnected from workers & business needs is BETRAYAL. What next?

Dear Ladies & Gentlemen [Workers & Employers],

Also known as #WorkersDay,  1st May, is #InternationalWorkersDay, a day set aside to honour the contribution of women and men across the world who contribute towards their country’s economy.

Traditionally, its the day the labour movement, worldwide, highlight the welfare of workers and issues that threaten industrial peace.  This year, it was expected, Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), the national umbrella trade union body in Kenya, would build on its 2019 Theme “eradicate corruption to create jobs” and catalogue the litany of woes of Kenyan workers during the last year, and score government / employers based on some performance index.

The 2019 edition of #WorkersDay, also popularly known as “#MayDay“ hosted at Uhuru Park, Nairobi Kenya didn’t only witness the lowest turn out since inception of COTU in 1965, after the dissolution of the Kenya Federation of Labour and the African Workers’ Congress.  Those in attendance were also treated to  deplorable sexists theatrics ~ completely irrelevant to workers concerns ~ by Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU). Secretary General Francis Atwoli.

Long Betrayed  – a Heads-Up for Kenya Workers

The failure and lack of sensitivity by the COTU Secretary General to either focus on the 2019 MayDay Theme nor the myriad of issues facing workers and employers, and instead deliver graphic foul mouthed sexist nuanced “insults” against specific [women] politicians was a personal insult to the occasion, and belittled the plight of workers and employers.  By informing the audience of his sexual preferences and tastes was grossly inappropriate – lacking in decorum and irrelevant !

While some in attendance took delight in the now familiar antics of Mr. Atwoli, and they reserve the right to drown themselves in momentary ecstasy.  However, the way these antics impacts their lives continues to be of greater importance, and that is where I wish to focus.

That COTU abandoned workers long ago is not news anymore. Its’ not only repeatedly evident the  leadership has decided to look away from corruption [which was this year’s theme] and which is eroding the quality of life of workers, but also failed to sound up grim developments which are true workers concerns including the dizzing taxes – with some paying 30% of salaries in tax,…fuel prices increase…, the recent 1.5% notice for housing deduction ……..pending CBAs……

The Union movement appears as disconnected as ever from the needs and demands of Kenyan workers and even businesses that employ them. After the peak performance by COTU Secretary General on 1st May  it can only be summed up in one word ~ betrayal ~ of workers and Employers.

Whereas the Atwoli / COTU mandate does not extend to the uniformed forces. That he spoke at length about the Somalia border dispute, one sees no reason why on the occasion he did put his weight behind the debilitating and life threatening concerns that may be affecting the Kenya Defence Forces.  Even a brief mention would have been good enough!

One wonders whether COTU has now gone beyond the tradition of representing workers welfare and has begun to openly sink its teeth into opposition politics – on the Governments’ side!

Way forward

I don’t wish to argue that unions are relics that must be discarded.  Rather, my purpose, is to detail how we – workers – must recognize the Atwolis’ of this world and their theatrics. As workers, we would do ourselves a lot of good if we understood this and re-invented our understanding of Trade Unions

I therefore attach the statement ~ Statement ~ just for you here-below.


Peter Ouma Muga


What’s Wrong With the Labor Unions in Kenya?

Some thoughts –  on Way forward for Trade Unions in Kenya;

I am not here to argue that unions are relics that must be discarded.  Rather, my purpose, is to detail how – workers – must recognize  and re-invent how they see Trade Unions.

What’s wrong with the Unions? Why are they in retreat when the need for workers solidarity is so clear and so great? Why can’t they bring workers together to resist the ravages of corruption, avoidable job-eroding trends, dizzing taxes, trends that erode / falling wages, increased exploitation and escalating poverty?

These questions are crucial to every worker in Kenya and need answers ~ the right answers. Yet, the conversation on unions and unionism, is often shrouded in confusion producing significant heat and acrimony. However, unless they up their game, the unions in Kenya have a sure challenge “they increasingly are failing to prove to workers that they have what it takes to defend workers’ interests.”

Sad reality of Unionism in Kenya

While the union principle in Kenya may be partly sound, yet the unions, fail to unite the workers. They fail even to protect the small and shrinking numbers who belong to them and pay their dues. It should be obvious to everyone that something is wrong! What may not be obvious, however, is what that something that’s wrong.

That’s why Kenyan workers, need to give serious thought to the union question. Indeed, it is supremely important that we do so because the [current and] future welfare of the Kenyan worker depends upon workers having clear and accurate information on the nature and character of today’s unions and on the correct principles of union organization.

Key lesson from the History of Unionism

Historically, unions were born out of a need for workers to negotiate. As long as the employers could deal directly with individual workers, the workers were virtually helpless. That’s why workers united into unions.  The exploitation did not however stop with the formation of unions. The unions only made it possible for workers to resist in groups.

At first, the owners of the means of production – the factories, mills, and the tools and machines needed to run them – have tried to destroy the unions. Compelled by profits and competition, Employers have tried to keep wages low and to get ever more production out of the workers. The workers, on the other hand, driven both by sheer necessity and by normal ambition to rise above a state of constant want, have sought to force wages up. A situation very much like dividing a pawpaw fruit in two parts. If one part was larger, the other had to be smaller – and this was the case whether the owners “pawpaw” was big, as in boom times, or small, as in lean periods.

Union Corruption – lip Service by Unions

Many of today’s unions, when first organized paid lip service to the plight of workers.  Corruption has followed inevitably. Even the union leaders who may have started out as sincere and honest people, were soon awakened by the harsh realities of Kenyan business, which quickly disillusioned them. The more hopeless the plight of the workers appeared, the more the union leaders turned to feathering their own nests.

Consequently, careerists and opportunists rose to the top of the union movement, and have continued to promote their own individual interests as merchants of labour unions, riding on and exploiting the workers’ instinct for solidarity. In strike after strike, the unions have sacrificed and bartered away the workers’ interests in exchange for such things as Union dues “checkoff” that practically make the Employers “dues collector.” And they seal these deals with group contracts that tie workers’ hands  – Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA).

This is corruption of the worst kind. It perverts the historic mission of unionism. Yet, despite their betrayals of the workers’ interests, virtually everyone who pretends to have the workers’ interests at heart upholds the present unions.

Different View – Real Unions

Today’s unions in Kenya have corrupted the purpose of unionism, and that [some of] their leaders are nothing more than lieutenants of the owners of businesses and they run the unions in the interests of these owners [Employer].

Consequently, workers need a new kind of union, a union that aims to unite all workers. Devoit of foul mouthed leaders.

What Real Unions Would Do.

However, before workers can achieve genuine workers solidarity, they must rise above their individual job consciousness and become class conscious ~ appreciate that “we are all workers.” 

The workers must learn that their own interests as individuals are linked together with those of every other worker. Then, and not until then, can they workers in Kenya organize themselves as a class, employed and unemployed, skilled and unskilled, office worker and factory worker.

Divided, the Kenyan workers will continue to be exploited, abused and deprived of the potential for using their collective strength. United, they will no longer be an easy group of people to rule. On the contrary, the exploiters [NOT all Employers] and their labor lieutenants [headed by the leadership of COTU] will learn that their ruling days are numbered.

In form or structure the unions should conform to the structure of industry. Each industry and service will have an industrial union, and all these industrial unions will be integrally united into one big union, with a common purpose and a common goal. Very much like the current structrue – but there will be no room for the Atwoli’s of this world!

All officers of these genuine working-class unions will be elected by the rank and file workers,.  You will NOT need to pay a none refundable Ksh 5 Million fee nomination fee to vie for COTU Secretary General a requirement after Atwoli joined the Union.  All leaders will be subject to immediate recall whenever a simple majority of the members so decide. In short, all power in the union will be in the only safe place for power to be – with the rank and file of the aware workers.

This will end the shameful practice, so prevalent today, of “unions” undermining each other, and you know in whose interest.  This will enable workers to fully use their organized strength in waging the day-to-day struggle.

However, while waging the day-to-day struggle with unity and militant vigor, the unions will never lose sight of the real goal, namely, tackling the toxic issues of society – corruption, exploitation, failed leadership….. and give the people a democratic mastery of their tools and products, and guarantee that every individual will have the opportunity to develop their talents and exercise their skills.

To this end, the Unions will proclaim the need for the organization of a political party of the working class.

What You Can Do

Now you know what creates the likes of Atwoli,  and you may now suspect why COTU and its unions today’s behave the way they do.   Why for 18 Years Atwoli has been at the COTU Helm, how much he pays and for which category of work he is involved in.

As a responsible citizen, its therefore your responsibility to voice your discomfort when the your rights as a worker, and a citizen are trampled and taxes callously levied […..whether its the kshs. 150 per month or 1.5% housing levy….] without the assurance it will be utilized in your best interest, and with you express acceptance.

My fulfillment will come knowing we succeeded in starting this conversation, and you found your footing in deciding the nature of leadership you desire in the union .


  • comment-avatar
    john muiruri 2 years

    Nyc read….i cant agree more with you peter.

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