Although his pay amounts to “peanuts” Simon Mukurazita (52) has to summon all his strength every morning to get to work.
Sweating for a paltry $240 every month, he does not remember the last time he had an increment whose impact made a difference.
Even May Day celebrations — which will be held today — no longer invoke the excitement he used to feel during the early years of his working life, which now spans three decades.
“May Day,” he quips with a sardonic smile, “It’s meaningless now. It is just a day that doesn’t mean much anymore.”
He remembers how he would join hands with many other workers and rally behind the umbrella workers’ body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), then led by firebrand trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai — now the MDC-T president and Prime Minister in the coalition government with former arch-rival Zanu PF, led by President Mugabe — engaged in politics after the latter scorned him saying if he wanted to challenge him, he could cross over the threshold into politics.
Mukurazita still has fond memories of the years when Tsvangirai successfully led the trade union body, which was then a thorn in the government’s side.
Despite the multiple-currency regime’s injection of life into the hitherto comatose economy, this year’s May Day celebrations come at a time when civil servants are at loggerheads over salary increments while other private companies are tottering along. Awarding significant salary increments to their employees, therefore, would be suicidal.
The Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe recently expressed concern over the increasing gap between the rich and the poor.
The centre said it was unfortunate workers still had to contend with a long list of grievances that include poor remuneration, job insecurity and discrepancies in salaries.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Lovemore Matombo-led ZCTU faction, said as far as they were concerned, there was nothing to celebrate on May Day anymore.
Majongwe, who also leads the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, said this year’s commemorations came at a time when the trade union movement in Zimbabwe was facing serious challenges.
“Pandering to political opinion and functioning as appendages of political parties is the biggest undoing of the Zimbabwe labour movement,” he said.
He said it was unfortunate that politicians always talked about issues of workers’ salaries, but the talk never translated into action.
“We are surprised that the PM (Tsvangirai) chose to aid one side without hearing from the other. We feel undone,” he said.
He added that even if the MDC were to takes over the running of government, ZCTU would remain vigilant in fighting for workers’ rights.
Secretary-general of the George Nkiwane-led faction, Japhet Moyo, however, argued the ZCTU was still vibrant, although this might not seem visible because of changing dynamics in the fight against labour policy. “There are now many players challenging the labour policy, especially well-funded non-governmental organisations,” he said.
Moyo said although they are celebrating May Day today at a time when hospitals were now running and shops well-stocked, the majority of workers were still not able to access goods and services because of low salaries.
“We are celebrating this day against a background of poverty and misery as nothing much has changed. Official records show that only last year, over 4 000 employees lost their jobs, so we are only celebrating because this is an international day,” he said.
Analyst Ernest Mudzengi said there was an array of challenges bedevilling the ZCTU, but it still remained important.
“The ZCTU indeed remains a relevant force, but obviously there are challenges there which are not only peculiar to the ZCTU because they emanate from the economic situation in the country,” he said, adding that it was unfortunate factionalism was bedeviling the workers’ body.
Labour consultant Cain Mazorodze said there were many factors that have continued to militate against effective labour activism in Zimbabwe.
“The infighting in the biggest labour body, the ZCTU, has seen a lot of effort being directed to consolidating personal gains at the expense of labourers whom the body is supposed to represent. At the end of the day, such divisions are counter-productive and have choked the labour body in as far as fighting for rights of workers is concerned,” he said.
He, however, said the ZCTU was entirely to blame as there were other economic factors that seemed to choke their fight for better salaries.
Admittedly, many companies are struggling to stay afloat and the liquidity challenges have made it worse.
Apart from infighting within the labour movement, other factors have also compounded the movement’s ineffectiveness.
Police recently banned the ZCTU’s planned marches meant to be part and parcel of May Day commemorations today in Mutare and Kwekwe. Security reasons were cited.
Officer commanding police in Mutare, Chief Superintendent Joseph Chani, wrote to the ZCTU that permission for the march had not been granted and they had to confine their celebrations to the venue, Sakubva Stadium.
Wellington Chibebe, the ZCTU secretary-general, however, said the ban was irregular. “We are a trade union and we are allowed to march when we want to and we don’t have to seek permission to do so.
Instead we are supposed to just notify them,” he said.
Civic society groups and political parties opposed to President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF have in the past accused the police of stifling freedoms of Zimbabweans by banning gatherings and marches.