Thousands of workers in Zimbabwe are expected within a week to join a nationwide “stay away” called by the 300,000-member Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). Their chief demand? A living wage in a country where workers have been reduced to beggars due to the ever-rising cost of living.

The protest against the deteriorating standard of living in Zimbabwe comes after State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa threats to labour leaders: “(If) the (ZCTU) leaders want to start a war we are more than prepared to deal with them.” What that could mean has been on very public display in recent weeks.

It is important to note that Zimbabwe ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantee the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, the government disregards these rights.

A similar strike last September was nearly derailed by the arrest of the top leadership of the ZCTU. Although the same action may be taken this time around by the police, the spy network — Central Intelligence Organisation — and other state security agents, it appears as if workers are well-prepared to face the government head-on following the recent brutal attacks on opposition leaders and their followers.

Against this background, thousands of workers are expected to strike, and with good reason. The poverty line currently stands at Z$1million (A$4970) per month for a family of six. More than 85 per cent of people in Zimbabwe are believed to be living below the poverty line. Inflation stands at almost 2000 per cent, the highest in the world.

The majority of workers in Zimbabwe earn an average of Z$150,000 (A$791) with the least paid in the agricultural sector netting a paltry Z$32,000 (A$159), an equivalent of 12 kilograms of mealie-meal (aka cornmeal) per month.

The situation will be fuelled by the recent increases in urban fares of Z$5000 (AU$24) per trip. Most workers can hardly fork out Z$10,000 (A$48) per day for commuter bus fares. Under the current chaotic economic environment, an average worker needs at least $250,000 (A$1242) for urban bus fares per month and a monthly salary of Z$1.2 million (A$5964) to live.

Government spin doctors have already tried to derail the proposed strike through threats and “disgruntled” affiliate unions of the ZCTU who, they claim, are against the strike. These tactics were used last September but failed to yield the expected results for the state. The government then ordered its security agents to attack the striking workers.

One cannot rule out the possibility that the top leadership of the ZCTU will be harassed or locked up before the strike. The government will be banking on draconian laws such as the Public Order and Security Act to instill fear in protestors.

Read more on the Zimbabwean situation from Sokwanele here

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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