number 7, december 11, 1998

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Union wants WCC to tackle Mugabe on banning strikes

By Stephen Brown

The leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Morgan Tsvangirai, has called on the WCC to condemn a ban on strikes in the country.

Last month Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe declared a six-month ban on strikes, prohibiting "the inciting of, or taking part in, collective industrial action meant to put pressure on the government to change laws".

The government has said it will introduce a permanent ban on strikes next year.

Tsvangirai, the ZCTU’s secretary general, told Ecumenical News International yesterday he was hoping that the WCC "will take a very strong resolution and make it clear to government that this is unacceptable".

The ban follows growing industrial action by unions and other organisations as unrest grows over the nation's troubled economy. Inflation and massive price rises are making it difficult for many Zimbabweans to survive. The most recent one-day stay-aways, on 11 and 18 November, brought the country to a virtual stand-still.

However, asked at a press conference today whether the WCC assembly would rebuke Zimbabwe for its ban on strikes, Dr Janice Love, the moderator of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, said that the WCC had a "long-standing policy" of not criticising the governments of countries in which WCC meetings were taking place.

Tsvangirai was speaking to ENI after addressing a meeting on international debt, organised by the Jubilee 2000 coalition, at the assembly.

During his speech, he criticised, without specifying any particular country, "ruling elites who have found a way of borrowing (international loans) on behalf of the people, and then secreting the funds outside the country".

At the time of the struggle against colonial rule, there had been a "unified program", but since liberation "a certain group of people assumed responsibility for us and made us accountable to them instead of them being accountable to us", he said.

Under the presidential decree banning strikes, trade unions which recommend, encourage or incite people to engage in unlawful collective action will have their registration suspended. Employers who encourage staff to join illegal action can be fined or gaoled for up to three years or both.

Zimbabwe’s trade unions were now "facing very serious constraints in terms of their liberty to operate", Tsvangirai said. The presidential ban on strikes "incapacitates our ability to organise".

"The whole world church movement is here and we cannot be seen to be operating the other way round when people’s rights are trampled upon and people’s freedoms are not observed," he said.

"Churches throughout the world must campaign for human rights 50 years after the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and I think it is important that these conditions also apply here," he said.

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark the anniversary, the WCC assembly issued a declaration supporting "the indivisibility of human rights, including social, economic and cultural, civil and political rights, and the rights to peace, to development and the integrity of creation".

The ZCTU has not called any stay-aways since 18 November, saying it wants to give tripartite talks between government, employers and trade unions a chance to succeed. But a tripartite meeting on Wednesday ended without agreement after a key government minister, Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa, failed to turn up.

"It’s a disappointment, but we’re used to so many disappointments. But we’re hopeful that this process can be taken further and these issues can be resolved without necessarily anarchy and chaos," Tsvangirai told ENI.

However, he refused to rule out further strikes.

"Obviously, we cannot put all our eggs in one basket, in the negotiating option. We will have to make sure that we also have the rights to take appropriate action."

According to a local political analyst, Lupi Mushayakarara, the ZCTU is the only national organisation in Zimbabwe apart from President Mugabe’s ruling ZANU (PF) "with a membership and a leadership".

"It is not surprising people look to the ZCTU to become a political party," she said.

Ecumenical News International

Read other articles in this issue:

Union wants WCC to tackle Mugabe on banning strikes
Padare: the good and the bad story
Africans put their case to the West
Take Black Theology seriously, WCC told
Polygamy issue resolved
African 'gentility, humility' model for next millennium
Africa's gift of Ubuntu
Don't turn other cheek, women victims told
Churches want state to re-regulate markets
Malawi president won't sign death penalty
Chaz is all over the campus

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor