In 1976, Zambia obtained a World Bank structural adjustment loan. In 1978, the country sought assistance for a stabilisation package from the IMF, with an extended facility from 1980-1983. The adoption of IMF/World Bank policies required acceptance of conditionalities, such as removal of subsidies on basic foodstuffs, liberalisation of the exchange and interest rates, removal of import controls and liberalisation of prices. The impact of the IMF/World Bank measures have been discussed by various scholars (Fundanga 1988; Sano 1988 and Wulf 1988) and need not detain us here. Suffice to mention that all these measures ran against the logic of a state controlled economy and were initially resisted. But as the legitimacy of the regime declined, especially with the food riots of December 1996 and massive strikes by workers, government had to reach accommodation with the IMF/World Bank (Simutanyi 1996). Zambia’s unilateral withdrawal from the IMF in April 1987 was to prove disastrous as creditor countries connived to starve Zambia of foreign funds, thereby worsening living standards and provoking workers to link economic problems to political mismanagement and the one-party system
As the adoption of multiparty system became a political conditionality to accessing IMF/World Bank loans after 1989, Zambia was to join Kenya and Ivory Coast in adopting a two-prong process of political and economic reforms. The workers’ opposition to structural adjustment in Zambia found expression in the formation of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in July 1991, as a broad-based movement of workers, academics, business-people, students, the unemployed and retired politicians. The workers, through the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) provided the organisational basis for the pro-democracy movement. However, as it turned out, the pro-neoliberal elements in the MMD was to dominate economic policy and the MMD officially adopted a neoliberal economic agenda. Paradoxically, Frederick Chiluba, former chairman-general of the trade union federation was to go on to win the leadership of the MMD and eventually was elected President of Zambia in elections held on 31 October 1991. The subsequent transformation of the MMD into a right-wing neo-liberal force with the acquiescence of the trade unions raises important questions for the working class in Zambia. As with the experience with Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the MMD which was sponsored by the Zambian working class was hijacked by business elements, while the social democrats and reformers within its ranks were sidelined and in some cases purged.
Events in Zambia assume further importance not only because it is an important capitalist state in Africa, but also by its connection to South Africa economy, the biggest and most important centre of global capitalism on the continent. Zambia is not only one of South Africa's biggest trading partners on the continent, but that its copper mining industry has been dominated by South African capital since colonial times. South Africa has the continent's biggest and historically most militant working class, of whom at least one million are migrant workers from the Southern African region, including Zambia, which signal immense possibilities for working class struggles in Africa.
One of the reasons the resistance of the Zambian working class was initially stronger than in many other African countries was because it is based on a comparatively much more developed industrial base. Unlike most African countries, the mining sector is the mainstay of the economy and has since independence consistently provided over 90 percent of export earning and 65 percent of government revenue. The economic crisis of the 1980s had a negative impact on copper mining, contributing to leading a decline in copper production and slump in government revenues. The decline in the economy also affected others sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and agriculture. Manufacturing slowed down and declined under the weight of import liberalisation measures introduced in the mid-1980s and accelerated under the MMD government after 1991. To the extent that in 1993, virtually the whole textile industry had collapsed.
Between 1985 and 1993 the working class exploded in a manner that had last been seen during the colonial period. For example, there were over 200 strikes, in virtually every sector of the economy during that period. The main demand was for higher wages in response to the effects of neoliberal (structural adjustment) policies adopted by the UNIP government and later the MMD. Whereas during the UNIP era, government was able to concede and reverse the
6 III Conferencia Internacional La obra de Carlos Marx y los desafíos del Siglo XXI – Neo Simutanyi