Popular struggles have often featured demands for material improvement, but not for its own sake. The tedious drive for marginal economic gain becomes meaningful when part of a bigger struggle—for dignity, respect, freedom and all else that makes for a fulfilled life.
It was this understanding that inspired 19th century trade unionists campaigning for an 8-hour workday, their most famous slogan being, “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours for what we will.”
We want bread and roses
In 1912, women immiserated by a wage cut went on strike in America’s then textile capital, Lawrence Massachusetts.
They wrote on their placards, “We want bread, and roses too”, demanding fair pay but also dignity in their work. “Bread and Roses” went on to become a much-loved socialist slogan, with roses denoting not something frivolous but “a sharing of life’s glories”.
Reflecting on the anti-colonial struggles of the mid-20th century, Martinique philosopher and revolutionary, Franz Fanon, observed, “For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread, and above all, dignity.” Guinea-Bissau revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, similarly affirmed, the people are “fighting for material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children…”
Freedom and development
In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere at times echoed these same sentiments. He insisted on the need for both “freedom and development”, an ambition reflected in the best of Ujamaa, initiatives like the grassroots-organised communal villages of the Ruvuma Development Association.
Unfortunately, though, the aspiration for bread, roses and dignity, for freedom and development, is not always realised. This was true in the latter years of Ujamaa, as a once democratic ideology of communal wealth building gave way to a top-down, statist agenda.
More recently, President Magufuli coined a new slogan, “Hapa kazi tu!”, meaning “here only work”. This was in response to widespread frustration with entrenched corruption, the promise being to ensure a clean and effective government instead.
Magufuli’s initial anti-corruption campaign seemed to honour this promise, and so met with an enthusiastic popular response. But that enthusiasm has since waned.
Tanzanian politics has taken a sharp authoritarian turn—opposition politics have been curtailed; leaders arrested and held without bail; journalists disappeared and extra judicial killings are on the rise; pregnant school girls denied education; farmers, pastoralists and fishermen tormented in government security “operations”.
Tanzania’s economy is also suffering, and with it the wellbeing of its people. Promised investment in health and education has not materialised, undermined by poor budget performance.
Although official growth figures remain stable, for many people, household budgets are tight.
Magufuli now explicitly invokes an Ujamaa legacy, claiming to prioritise wanyonge, the down-and-out. But if his is indeed a revival of Ujamaa, it is of the latter-day, top-down authoritarian version.
‘Hapa kazi Tu’
In the current context, “Hapa kazi tu!” sounds more like a harsh order, a demand to obey in exchange for a meagre reward.
People don’t want work alone, work without freedom or material improvement. They need something more. Wanahitaji kazi, pia bata.
They need to work but also to celebrate, to “share life’s glories”, to have “bread and roses”, “freedom and development”, to “live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children…”
People need work and life.