BY BRENNA MATENDERE
THE Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) has defended its decision to call off the strike by educators, saying they were protecting their members who had been put on the firing line.
Teachers are demanding a minimum salary of $1 700 or payment of their current earnings in hard currency because the country’s surrogate bond note currency was fast losing value. They are also demanding better working conditions and non-monetary benefits such as residential stands, duty-free vehicle imports and free education for their children, among other demands.
PTUZ, together with the Zimbabwe Teachers Association on Sunday called off the strike that started on Tuesday last week and issued a joint statement urging their members to go back to work.
However, other unions like the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTRUZ) came out guns blazing accusing the two unions of selling out the labour struggle by buckling under pressure from the employer before their demands had been met.
In an interview with Southern Eye yesterday, PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou said they called off the strike because thousands of their members, who had heeded the call and stayed away, would have lost their February salaries.
“The purpose of a trade union is to advance the interests of members and defend any gains made. Having advanced the interests of our members in a spirited two–days turn-up a week, one-day turn-up and four days stayaway, the employer targeted our entrenched hardcore fighters for decimation. The strategy was simply to withhold their February salaries. As much as we could have appealed to the courts against such a move, the wheels of justice do not turn so fast in Zimbabwe. One of the reasons for suspending the industrial action was in order to protect our hardcore members, who were in their trenches and were about to be sprayed with poison gas,” he said.
Zhou said another reason for calling off the strike was that members were being intimidated by State security agents and war veterans.
“Another reason for the suspension of the industrial action was the total invasion of schools by rogue youths, war veterans, security forces, councillors, among others, and the threats and systematic targets of teachers. This posed serious threats to educators in their residential areas outside schools. The decision to suspend the industrial action was painful, but worth taking to protect all members who heeded to the stayaway call,” he said.
The PTUZ leader also lamented the fact that some teachers did not heed the call to go on strike and continued reporting for duty, saying that weakened the industrial action.
“Such a protective measure (to call off the strike) would not have been important had all teachers given heed to the stayaway. Trade unionism is about collective security by acting as a group. I could personally not envision the enjoyment of cowards at the suffering of real cadres,” said Zhou.
In a statement released on Monday, ARTUZ said: “The wheels of inevitability have finally delivered the dreaded, but expected reality, sister unions have jumped ship. Our battle for a living wage, which we began in earnest with a 275km salary caravan from Mutare to Harare — followed up with a salary camp at (Finance) minister Mthuli [Ncube]’s office and capped with a historic job action have been compromised. The so-called big unions stepped in and gave false hope to the teachers, yet the intention was to rock the ship, which was gathering momentum.”