The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, like its ally the Movement for Democratic Change, squandered a unique opportunity to bring the government down to its knees when it failed to capitalise on the cash shortage which had bedeviled its main constituency, the workers, for more than four months.
Instead, sources, say the ZCTU, put everything on hold to help the MDC in its campaign for the local government elections as well as the two parliamentary by-elections. The MDC won the elections beating the ruling ZANU-PF in the local government elections and shared a seat each with ZANU-PF in the parliamentary by-elections.
It was only after the elections that the ZCTU went back to look at workers’ issues calling on them to march in protest against rising inflation, high taxes and human rights abuses.
The cash crisis had seen workers spending days in queues only to be given $5 000 to $10 000 which could only last them at most three days. The shortage had also resulted in some financial institutions charging workers to get cash, and man-hours being lost as workers spend hours in queues instead of being at work.
The government has now temporarily solved the cash crisis, though inflation, the biggest tax on the poor, continues to escalate. According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe an average family now needs more than $300 000 to meet its basic requirements for a month. The minimum wage is still under $50 000, which means a worker needs six months’ wages to meet basic requirements for a month.
According to the more conservative ZCTU figures, a worker required a minimum wage of at least $122 331.78 in August to meet the basic needs of a family of five- a wife or husband, and three children. This is almost three times the current minimum wage.
The ZCTU poverty line is calculated using official inflation which most people argue is way off the market as the Central Statistics Office uses controlled prices rather than market prices to calculate the family basket.
Sources say the ZCTU is currently pandering to the whims of donors who are pouring funds to the organisation because of its potential to confront the Mugabe administration and bring about change. The organisation is being given so much money that most of its leaders, including officials who are supposed to be employed full-time in industry, are being allocated organisation four-by-fours. Some have even been given expensively furnished offices which they hardly use.
The ZCTU has been increasingly relying on donors abandoning some projects that benefit its members. A project department that had been established to give loans to retrenched workers to start income generating projects was abandoned though some of the projects had become huge successes. The legal department was also left to die.
Subscriptions from affiliates are hardly sufficient to pay the rent for the offices which the labour centre occupies.