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Labour union threatens fresh protests
May 02, 2007

HARARE – The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) on Tuesday promised to call nationwide protests by workers in two months’ time to press for better pay and living conditions in the face of a deepening economic crisis in the southern African country.

ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo told thousands of workers at May Day celebrations in Harare that the union – the largest representative body for workers in the country – wanted employees paid wages linked to the country’s runaway inflation and that President Robert Mugabe’s government urgently moves to fix the bleeding economy.

"In July we need to be strong to demand (PDL) (poverty datum line or breadline) linked wages within a specified time frame. We will toyi toyi (march in streets) if we fail to get PDL linked wages," said Matombo, who has been arrested and tortured by the police in the past for organising worker protests.

The PDL is estimated at above Z$1.5 million, way above the average monthly salary for most Zimbabwean workers which ranges between Z$200 000 to $500 000.

Matombo also called for the repealing of the draconian Public Order and Security Act under which scores of union activists have been arrested for organizing protests without police permission as required under the law. The ZCTU leader also urged the government to scrap a tough media law under which dozens of journalists, who are members of the union – have been arrested.

Labour Minister Nicholas Goche, who snubbed an invitation to attend the May Day celebrations, was not immediately available for comment on the ZCTU’s threat to call a general strike by workers if its demands for more pay were not met. But the government has in the past deployed armed police and soldiers to crush strikes by the ZCTU.

Zimbabwe’s long-running economic meltdown has manifested itself through record inflation of 2 200 percent and the highest in the world, surging unemployment, shortages of food, foreign currency and just about every basic survival commodity.

The economic crisis that has fuelled political tensions in the once stable country has hit hardest cities and towns most of which have become hotbeds of opposition to Mugabe’s government.

The threats by the ZCTU to call for more strikes comes just a month after the labour federation staged a two-day nationwide job boycott in the first week of April over the country’s fast deteriorating economic crisis and worsening conditions for workers.

The job boycott largely flopped as workers turned up for work and businesses opened but analysts attributed this to fear of a government backlash, especially after government security forces had a few weeks before the work stoppage brutally stopped an opposition prayer rally.

And in a show of force, heavily armed police mounted several roadblocks on roads leading to Highfield working class suburb where the ZCTU May Day celebrations were taking place.

Crowd control water canons were also prominently displayed at police stations in the suburbs of Mbare and Southerton, not far from Highfield. – ZimOnline

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