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Failed stayaway raises questions about ZCTU's consultations
The Standard (Zimbabwe)
September 23, 2007

THERE is something seriously defective when the leadership of the country's largest workers' representative organisation calls for a nationwide strike but workers ignore the call.

It is tempting to suggest the leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is in danger of being divorced from the reality that every ordinary worker confronts.

What is also probably true is that the ordinary worker has lost confidence in the leadership of the ZCTU and does not want to be used as cannon fodder. The last successful strike staged by the labour movement was in 1997. But soon after that the leadership changed. There hasn't been a strike of the magnitude of the one in 1997 yet the current conditions are far worse than those of 10 years ago.

The failed two-day ZCTU nation-wide stayaway on Wednesday and Thursday last week exposed a serious flaw in how the ZCTU engages its membership. Most workers on Wednesday were surprised to hear there was a stayaway. Yet the whole of last weekend and the days before Wednesday, the single most important discussion in commuter buses should have been around the merits and demerits of a stayaway, with leaflets being widely distributed at bus stops and advisory sms text messages in overdrive.

The ZCTU will cite the arrest of its officials and intimidation by security agents in the period leading up to the stayaway. But such is the nature of any given struggle, and the response by the State and its agents should have been anticipated.

It is an insult for the ZCTU leadership to suggest that the stayaway was a success - a successful failure? - when the overwhelming majority of workers did not heed the call for a stayaway. It is not as if every single district, provincial and national leader of the labour movement was arrested on the eve of the stayaway.

The entire workforce in the country is far greater than the total security personnel in the country and clearly if a majority of the workers had stayed away from work, in all the urban areas countrywide, the law-enforcement agencies would not have coped. They just do not have that many officers to go around.

But it is precisely because of the dearth of strategies on how to negotiate the treacherous terrain we operate in that workers have become apathetic to any calls to join strikes. This is not the first time there has been such a failure, but this one was spectacular and raises serious doubts about the labour movement's leadership and its strategists. The ZCTU also needs to consult those before them who were successful in calling for mass action.

In the 60s and 70s the nationalist leadership was able to outwit the Rhodesians because they anticipated the State's response. They were always one step ahead. If the ZCTU leadership intends to confront the regime, they will need people capable of going beyond mere announcements. Pronouncements are one component in the arsenal of the struggle to get the regime to begin to respect workers and their rights.

While the State may have won the battle last week, they have not won the war. In fact, they were pretty shaken. That is why the State media carried statements recanting the government's wage freeze as well as announcing an upward review of prices of commodities that had vanished from the shop shelves because manufacturers found it uneconomic to produce goods they were required to sell at below production costs.

For the ZCTU this was an opportunity squandered and its leadership may have illustrated its irrelevance to the cause of Zimbabwean workers.

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