BY TAMARA PEARSON
Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and major civic organisations are organising an indefinite mass "stay away" (general strike), beginning on June 2, aimed at forcing the government of President Robert Mugabe to step down. Organisers are encouraging people to attend mass protests in all urban centres.
Lovemore Matombo, leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, urged workers to "store a bucket of mealie [corn] meal and some of your meagre earnings at home because when we go on stayaway ... we will not come back until our demands have been addressed". The ZCTU is demanding that the Mugabe regime repeal a 300% hike in fuel prices.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told supporters at a rally in Harare on May 25: "We want to embark on a week of democracy marches in every town and every workplace. We must be prepared to be arrested, we must be prepared to make a mark to ensure that we will never again be oppressed."
Representatives from the governments of the United States and Britain have been meeting with MDC leaders, hoping for Mugabe's removal so that "emergency economic measures" can be adopted. The MDC hopes to implement its pro-Western economic policies, based on neoliberalism and privatisation, by riding to power on the massive discontent of Zimbabwe's working people.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing a wave of strikes since March 18, when most factories, shops and companies in Zimbabwe's main urban centres were closed for two days by a stayaway called by the MDC and ZCTU.
On May 8, a strike called by the Zimbabwe Teachers Association began for higher pay. The strike was overwhelmingly supported in most major poor areas. It lasted 14 days before the Labour Court ruled it illegal. The Progressive Teachers Union has said teachers will begin indefinite industrial action if their demands are not met.
On May 21, technical staff at the state-owned Zimbabwe Electricity Supplies Authority went on strike to demand a salary of Z$125,000 a month (about A$300 at the unofficial exchange rate). At a demonstration on May 20, power station workers held placards which declared "Gata must go!", referring to Sydney Gata, Mugabe's brother and executive chairperson of the utility. The workers are frustrated by his extravagance, he buys a new car almost every month, despite the crisis in Zimbabwe.
The strikes come at a time when the country has run out of foreign currency. As Briggs Bomba, a student activist in Bulawayo, told Green Left Weekly: "Getting the most basic commodities remains a nightmare for most families. Importing basic goods is next to impossible. The government is telling drivers to 'put your car on diet! Save fuel'. Harare municipality announced last week that all services requiring transport had been grounded, including fire engines and ambulances."
At the start of May, the electricity contract between Zimbabwe and Eskom, South Africa's electricity company, expired. Electricity is now limited, with workplaces being forced to do without power for many hours each day. "Some companies, which were already struggling have had to cut production to below 20%, threatening thousands of jobs.", Bomba said.
From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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