NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

INTERNATIONAL: Attack on trade unions is an attack on democracy

29 September 2005, Posted in News

The former IMF General Secretary, Hans Bieber, said a nation’s democracy should be judged in terms of how it treats its trade unions. The Cosatu Central (CC) recently resolved that the South African government could make a loan to Zimbabwe but only if the Zimbabwe government guaranteed to protect democracy and labour rights and end state repression”. This resolution and Bieber’s statement attest to what is happening to Zimbabwean workers who are attacked economically by denying them their dignity and rights.

ZANU PF youth attack homes

In October 2003 the Iron and Steel Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe had a general meeting attended by about 500 workers to explain proposed amendments to the labour law.

A week later Zanu PF youth numbering about 50 attacked houses of two shopstewards for holding the meeting. They showered their houses with stones and in one house broke eight window panes and the other 19. Their families were traumatised by this attack.

The shopstewards called in the police who came after 30 minutes when the mob had already dispersed. One of the shopstewards decided to report the matter to the local police station. While the policeman was taking down the statement, the Zanu PF youth arrived and severely beat him up in front of the police. The police did nothing. The youth then decided to hang him with wire around his neck, from a beam in the police station. He survived by clinging to the neck of one policeman and refusing to budge.

After he had escaped and survived this mob attack, the local police arrived at his home to confiscate a statement which he had drafted with the help of a sympathetic policeman. The next day the head of the CID came to take a statement from him about the attack on his house and assault but he has never heard from him since.

Police kill striking workers

It is not the first time members of this union have suffered attacks for doing normal trade union work. In 2001 the union declared a deadlock on wages and conditions of employment. The union then called for a sit-in strike after satisfying the legal requirements. The first day of the strike everything went well. On the second day the police came and found workers sitting down inside the factory. They opened fire and killed four workers injuring 19 others.

Workers ran in all directions and were pursued even to their houses which are on the company premises. Their properties were broken during this attack and the walls of the houses still bear the bullet holes from the police guns.

The leadership of the union was arrested after this attack. The union is suing the government on behalf of the deceased workers and those who were injured. The union was told by the police that they are not allowed to hold any commemorations of this event.

This is a shared experience across most trade union leadership who are locked up during strikes or thereafter. The union has devised innovative ways like staying at home until management agrees to grant an increase. The tactic does not protect the leadership who are locked up but it protects workers from police action.