May 23, 2006

Zimbabwe unions back strikes

Zimbabwe's main labour federation, a key ally of the divided opposition movement, have decided to lead a national strike for higher wages as the economy teetered on the brink of collapse. The meeting coincided with a Harare by-election expected to test the level of popular discontent with the ruling party Zanu PF, accused by critics of driving the country deep into crisis with an annual inflation rate now topping 1.000 percent. "We are now going to be more militant than ever before because ... no matter how hard we try to cooperate with the government, without the necessary push from the streets we may not get what we want," Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Secretary-General Wellington Chibebe said. "The first general council meeting which we will call any time after June 16 will decide on the timetable, possibly end of June, July, August thereabouts," he said.

Before, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has been declared persona non grata in Zimbabwe and will not be admitted to the country while President Robert Mugabe reigns. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said it would mount a court challenge against the Zimbabwe government's "illegal" stance on Vavi. Vavi's permanent banning by the Zimbabwe government came to light in a weekend court case in which banned trade unionists were given the green light to return to Zimbabwe in future - except for the Cosatu general secretary. ZCTU lawyer Alec Muchadehama said Vavi was considered a "threat to Zimbabwe's national security". He said the government also accused Vavi of master-minding a "blockade" of Zimbabwe's Beit Bridge border post with South Africa before parliamentary elections in 2005. However, no such a blockade happened after a South African court outlawed the Cosatu plan.

In the meantime, the main opposition party retained its parliamentary seat in a key by-election. State radio has reported that the main faction of the divided opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) polled 7.949 votes against 3.961 for Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party while a smaller MDC camp managed 504. Before the elections, police had detained senior opposition politicians from the renegade MDC faction during a road campaign in Budiriro. (Rts / Cape Times, South Africa)

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