afrol News, 5 July - After a successful 48-hours national strike, shutting down 90 percent of businesses in Harare and Bulawayo, the Zimbabwean trade union ZCTU considers an indefinite strike unless the government reverses its recent 70 percent hike in petrol prices.
According to reports from Zimbabwe, a majority of businesses, especially in industrial areas, were totally shut down by the strike against Mugabe's government on Tuesday and Wednesday. According to the President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Lovemore Matombo, "We believe the response to the strike call is now well over 95 percent." Matombo yesterday stated his satisfaction with the overwhelming support.
The ZCTU dismissed state-controlled media reports that the stayaway had failed. According to Zimbabwean radio, it was "business as usual" in Harare. ZCTU Secretary General, Wellington Chibebe, denied this and added that he was pleased by the support and pleased "because there has been very little violence."
The ZCTU had called the strike to protest against the new taxes on petrol on 12 June, hiking the already high petrol prices by 70 percent. Matombo called the taxes a "corruption tax", claiming they were only necessary to finance the massive corruption by President Robert Mugabe and his followers.
Zimbabwe has suffered chronic fuel shortages for the past 18 months. Prices have tripled over the same period and sent fares soaring on the mini-buses used by most urban workers to commute. This has hit hard at the already over-burdened majority of the poor of Zimbabwe, according to unionists.
The strike however also has developed from a protest against fuel taxes into an anti-government manifestation. Trade unionist were blaming Mugabe for mismanagement and recalling his support to the self-styled "war veterans", which have caused the decline of the Zimbabwean economy and massive unemployment. The Zimbabwean economy has shrunk by 6.1 percent the last year and the inflation rate is expected to rise from 60 to 100 percent this year.
The government quickly answered by declaring the strike illegal, referring to a new law that prohibits strikes if they are held for political rather than economic reasons. The government thus promised protection to workers wanting to go to work. A government spokesman claimed the strike was "a political ploy by unions aligned to the MDC" opposition party.
The "war veterans" supported the government, threatening to evict any foreign company owner whose factory closed during the strike. The "war vets" unsuccessfully earlier had tried to take control of the ZCTU.
ZCTU President Matombo, strengthened by the massive national and international support of the strike, today answered government and "war vets" threats by calling for an indefinite strike. "All the workers want an indefinite stayaway from work to force the government to bring about change," claimed Matombo.
An indefinite stayaway had been planned by ZCTU since mid-June, but the union had "decided to go on a two-day stayaway because we felt we should give the government time to discuss with us," said Matombo. The government had however not been willing to enter a dialogue. "Now our members are angry as they feel the government is not sympathetic to the workers' plight. They feel this time there will be no going back. They want an indefinite boycott."
Government yesterday also lost another symbolic battle when three journalists arrested in Harare on Tuesday, covering the strike, were released after the Attorney General refused to prosecute them. The Attorney General said that the journalists had no case to answer, an announcement understood as an answer to Mugabe's fight against the freedom of the judiciary and the freedom of the press.
While the ZCTU gains momentum among the overwhelming majority of Zimbabwean workers, it has also noted massive support from international trade unionists. Especially strong support has come from the powerful South African union COSATU.
COSATU yesterday stated it "fully supported" the stayaway and would assist in further actions. "We will back further protests," COSATU spokesmen Patrick Craven and Moloto Mothapo said. The COSATU spokesmen also joined the ZCTU in rejecting the government's claim that the strike was illegal, stating it was "clear that the precondition for economic recovery in Zimbabwe is the return to the rule of law and orderly distribution of land."
In conclusion, COSATU called on the Zimbabwean government "to ensure that it accelerate the return of the rule of law, curtail the thugs that masquerade as war veterans, especially the conduct of looting land and factory invasions and finally create conditions for a free and fair presidential election. We believe that Zimbabwe's economic woes and the downward spiral of the workers wages could be averted if the government commits itself in action to fulfil the above."
Regional trade unions also are committing themselves to increase the political pressure against Mugabe by their governments. The unions, while stating their " disappointment with regard to the role of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Zimbabwean impasse," confirmed their distrust in the Harare government. Regional unions of the SADC are to send a mission to monitor, "not only the elections but the processes towards the elections as well," according to a statement.
Meanwhile, actions in Zimbabwe are going on, and might go on for a long time. Although the strike officially has ended, it is still going on in reality. According to the Zimbabwean 'Daily Newspaper' today, "There were few people in Harare's central business district and most shops, banks and post offices remained closed. Firms in the industrial areas also remained closed."
The MDC opposition has so far wisely not exploited the political aspect of the strike. The strike is however widely seen as the beginning of the opposition's campaign for the presidential election next April. MDC demands are mostly parallel to the striker's demands.