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Trade unions turn up heat on Mugabe
Business Day (SA)
April 02, 2007

HARARE — Zimbabwe's main labour union said yesterday it expected thousands of workers to stay away from work for two days this week to push for higher wages in a strike that could pile more pressure on President Robert Mugabe.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said a majority of its affiliate unions had signed up for a job boycott tomorrow and on Wednesday, chosen instead of a demonstration amid fears of possible violent reprisals.

Mugabe, battling a crumbling economy and resurgent opposition, has accused the ZCTU of being a western stooge, sponsored to oust him for seizing white-owned commercial farms.

His ministers have called on workers to ignore the boycott, warning the unions "against inciting violence".

ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo said the party was going ahead with the stayaway because talks between labour, industry and government officials on a higher minimum wage and other improved work conditions had not yet yielded results.

"As far as we are concerned we gave adequate notice for this job boycott, and we are trying to protect workers from brutality by not staging any demonstrations."

The ZCTU said that workers wanted a minimum wage of Z$1m ($4000 on the official market but worth only $50 on the black market) and for the government to resolve an economic meltdown and increase access to anti-retroviral drugs.

Mugabe has faced international condemnation over a crackdown which left main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai injured and hospitalised after police stopped a banned prayer rally to protest against a deepening economic crisis.

The unions are aligned to Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Labour Minister Nicholas Goche accused the ZCTU of "playing politics" by calling for the boycott. "The government has learned it is individuals in the ZCTU who are aligned to the opposition politics, who want to be seen to be participating in the western-backed violence aimed at regime change in Zimbabwe."

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told state media that police would be deployed in all major towns during the strike.

Political analysts say Mugabe's crackdown on the MDC and the fight against the deteriorating economy by the unions are likely to keep the pressure on the Zimbabwean government.

Zimbabwe's ruling party adopted a motion on Friday to hold elections next year and endorsed Mugabe as its presidential candidate.

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