A reasonable negotiation? Workplace-based unionists’ subjectivities, wage negotiations, and the day-to-day life of an ethical-political project
ABSTRACT: This article analyses how, through adopting responsibility for their co-workers’ livelihoods, workplace-based unionists shaped Zambian mining capitalism. I argue that union branch executives learnt that they could best assist their co-workers through offering them financial services and through co-operation with company HR. During wage negotiations, unionists drew strength from this understanding, encouraging them to see ever-decreasing salaries as market-driven, and discouraging the militancy that has on occasion raised wages. Building upon the anthropology of trade unionism, I detail how tangible solidarities within a workplace shape unions’ ethical-political projects; and argue that subjectivation through union ideologies can discourage scrutiny of structural injustice. Linking anthropology that explores capitalism through relationships and moral norms to liberalized capital's disempowerment of unions, I claim that unionists’ moral, technical, and physical labour mitigated, yet inadvertently enabled, worsening working conditions.