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Zimbabwe Labor Unions Promise Season of 'Dissent' if Demands Not Met - 2003-10-14

Labor unions in Zimbabwe are promising a season of dissent and confrontation, if the government does not meet several demands, including a review of the taxation system.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions says it will mount unspecified actions before the government's announcement of the 2004 national budget, which is expected later this month or early in November. The unions also say that if the government does not address its issues, the protests will continue beyond budget day.

The unions are demanding a review of the country's taxation system to ease the plight of workers in the hyper-inflationary economic environment. Inflation in Zimbabwe is estimated at 426 percent.

They also want to see the government take concrete steps to address the economic decline. And they will also be protesting what they call the collapse of the rule of law and rampant human rights abuses by the government.

The Trade Union Congress was involved in a failed nationwide action last week, when the police arrested 55 people, including its top leadership, before they could march. They were released without being charged after police recorded statements from them. The arrests drew widespread condemnation from international labor organizations, including the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions.

It is an offense in Zimbabwe to hold demonstrations without permission from the police. But Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions President Lovemore Matombo says his union will defy the law if the police refuse to grant permission for its marches.

"We want the whole world to know that the government does not believe in the rule of law," he said. "We will advise government in writing through the police, and whatever the answer is, that action is just going to come, we will do it."

Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence 23 years ago. Shortages of fuel, basic foodstuffs and cash have become the normal situation, and workers are finding it increasingly difficult to cover their expenses.

A year ago, announcing the 2003 budget, Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa introduced measures he said would bring inflation to less than 100 percent by the end of this year. But inflation continues to be more than four times that much.