September 22, 2006

Trade union leaders arrested for protests

A planned nationwide protest by Zimbabwe’s labour movement against the economic and political conditions ended before it began, when riot police officers, militia and government threatened to react against anyone who joined in. Leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which had organized the demonstration, were arrested and in some cases, according to some reports, also beaten as they left their office in Harare, the capital, to lead more than a thousand marchers to the planned starting point for a downtown protest. The congress’s call for union members and shopkeepers to walk off their jobs also fell flat after the government ruled that a strike would be illegal and that those who participated could be fired. The trade unions cancelled the protest after the arrests.
Mlamleli Sibanda, spokesman for ZCTU, said that 15 union leaders and activists had been arrested in Harare, 20 in the second southern city of Bulawayo and four in Chinhoyi. Armed police were conducting body searches and spot checks of cars at the roadblocks, a scenario which was reportedly taking place throughout other major towns and cities throughout the country. The trade unionists have in the meantime been released.
The ZCTU said its protests were aimed at highlighting poor wages, high taxes and lack of access to anti-retroviral drugs to fight HIV/AIDS. The union initially called for day-wide strikes across the country’s urban centres, but later scaled this down to two-hour marches over fears that a heavy clampdown from the authorities would keep workers at home. The union is also calling for an end to the arbitrary arrests and beatings of street hawkers and self-employed citizens. Even before the demonstrations, the authorities were adamant in their attitude. "The police will be out in full force to maintain peace and order," Wayne Bzudzijena, a police spokesman, said. "Those who want to go about their normal, legitimate business in town can do so without fear."
In the meantime, a delegation from the American Centre for International Solidarity of the AFL-CIO union federation has been kicked out of Harare by the government. The delegation of seven, led by Bill Lucy who is the head of the US delegation to Cosatu's 9th National Congress and the president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, were on their way to meet members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. The American delegation was visiting Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions' members - some of whom were arrested when they tried to stage peaceful and legal protests against poverty. (The Times, London/Zimbabwe Online, South Africa)

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