ZCTU calls for national strike

HARARE - Zimbabwe's largest trade union has called for a national strike to protest the government's skewed economic policies, specifically a sharp hike in fuel prices last week that they say has made it too expensive for most workers to travel to their jobs in this troubled sout

hern African country. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, an umbrella grouping of trade organisations, is closely affiliated with the main opposition party. Its officials said they were hesitant to divulge details of the planned strike, fearing retribution from the increasingly authoritarian government. No specific date was given for the launch of the strike, but officials said it would take place “soon”. Previous anti-government strikes by the labour body have been followed by a massive crackdown by the authorities. ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo said the labour body had completed balloting its members on strike action and workers were agreed that there was too much red tape in government because the authorities have assumed a lifestyle of comfort, adding “only mass protests will jolt them into action.” Matombo said the 10-fold increase in the price of regular fuel last week had forced most bus and commuters to more than double their fares, taking up as much as three-quarters of the monthly earnings of average workers. “Workers have demanded immediate action,” Matombo said. “It is very clear that most workers can no longer go to work because they can’t afford the transport costs. (The strike) will be indefinite.” There was no immediate comment from President Robert Mugabe’s government on the plans for another national strike, but he recently told a Defence Forces day commemoration that he would deal harshly with those who countered him through mass protests adding armed forces will turn their guns on protestors. Independent economist John Robertson said the impact of the fuel price hikes, when fuel was already in very short supply, would have a disastrous impact on the economy and the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans. “Everybody will be affected,” said Robertson. “We will be in a very serious predicament in terms of moving production goods, getting food delivered and moving coal, timber and heavy commodities to the factories. So, we will have a very serious shrinkage in the volume of business being done.” Long queues have become commonplace outside services stations, and even after the latest increases; official fuel prices are still well below prices on the black market. The fuel crisis has led to daily fuel queues for beleaguered Zimbabweans already grappling with shortages of many basic consumer goods, including staples such as maize meal, bread, milk and sugar. Zimbabwe is suffering its worst political and economic crisis since independence in 1980 with acute shortages of food, fuel, medicine and essential imports.

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