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‘We are not just a union, we are a family’ class, kinship and tribe in Zambia’s mining unions

journal contribution
posted on 2020-12-21, 22:33 authored by Robby Kapesea, Thomas McNamaraThomas McNamara
© 2020, The Author(s). Trade unions in Zambia and in several other developing countries have been understood to create ‘detribalising’ class consciousnesses. In contrast, we argue that Zambian understandings of unionism have developed through similar political economic processes to those that generated ‘tribes’. Values and structures that enable concepts of the good life more commonly found among Bemba speakers and Eastern Zambians have been naturalised into Zambia’s mining unions, guiding union policy and practice in a manner which limits North Western Zambians’ union participation. Utilising Lazar's (2018) understanding of unionism as kinship, we explore how Zambians of various tribes attempt to utilise unions to achieve what they see as human flourishing and social justice. We foreground that people’s understandings of the good life frequently incorporate gendered and gerontocratic hierarchies and we demonstrate that intra-national unionisms are co-created through (and influence) local cultural norms and political histories. This encourages anthropologists of trade unionism to ask what values and hierarchies are rendered invisible in other union ‘families’, and to explore intertwinements between unions and communities enabled through kinship, rather than through Civil Society Organisations.


Publication Date



Dialectical Anthropology






20p. (p. 153-172)


Springer Nature



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