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World - Africa

Unions call another one-day strike in Zimbabwe

graphic November 17, 1998
Web posted at: 9:51 a.m. EST (1451 GMT)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Zimbabwe's increasingly militant union leaders have called for a second one-day strike to protest stiff increases in the price of fuel. And in a printed directive to members, the main labor union said Tuesday that workers should be prepared to strike until their demands are met.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions ordered a work stoppage for Wednesday, after talks with the government produced no agreement on wage increases or a rollback of the 67 percent fuel price hike. The October 31 price increase has made the cost of public transportation skyrocket, as an economic crisis deepens throughout Zimbabwe.

Last week Zimbabwe was paralyzed by a one-day strike called to protest the price increases. Related violence left at least one person dead and several others injured. And even before the first strike, riots broke out in Harare and two other towns on November 4.

Industry and Commerce Minister Nathan Shamuyarira said talks on Monday, which were attended by industry, government and union officials, did not reach any firm position on the fuel price rises, which the unions want reversed.

But participants agreed that wages should be increased by about 20 percent to offset the effect of price hikes, he said.

Before the meeting, the ZCTU said concrete proposals on how to tackle a deepening economic crisis, reflected by rising interest rates, inflation, unemployment and social unrest, were necessary to avoid strikes on Wednesday.

The government says the fuel price increase is crucial to the viability of the state oil procurement agency NOCZIM, which has been receiving subsidies since the beginning of the year.

But the unions argue the government has tolerated mismanagement and corruption at NOCZIM, and is unfairly passing the bill along to the public.

Shamuyrira said strikes would achieve nothing other than damaging the economy and invited the unions to stay at the negotiating table.

Unions accuse Mugabe government of corruption

The ZCTU accuses President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's sole ruler since the end of white-minority rule in 1980, of running down the economy by diverting resources into a political patronage system aimed at sustaining his government. Mugabe denies the charge.

The labor movement also accuses Mugabe of devoting too much of his time in the last three months to the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Zimbabwe has deployed tanks, aircraft and more than 6,000 troops to back embattled President Laurent Kabila.

Mugabe is backing Kabila against the Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebellion despite strong protests at home that his cash-strapped country cannot afford the war.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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