Zimbabwe workers joined their global counterparts Tuesday in observing International Workers Day but faced a gloomy prospect given the collapse of the economy, the country's harsh political environment and widespread personal hardship.
Four out of five workers are unemployed and inflation has reached 2,200%. Many are unable to afford transport to their jobs let alone put three meals a day on the table.
Some 3,000 workers gathered at Harare's Gwanzura Stadium for an event organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the country's main labor organization.
ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo said the union is pushing for the government to sign a wage-price stabilization protocol to cushion workers from hyperinflation. But he said the government is moving too slowly while Zimbabwean workers suffer.
Matombo said his union would organize protests in the next few weeks if Harare does not raise wages over the poverty line, which the union pegs at Z$1.5 million (though the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe last placed it at Z$980,000 for a family of six).
Masvingo-based labor expert Elliot Muposhi told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that workers should unite in pressing for their rights.
In Bulawayo, workers represented by the ZCTU gathered at White City Stadium while members of the rival Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, seen as pro-government, gathered in Stanley Square, as correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported.
Founding president Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, a former trade unionist, said the social contract the government proposes as a solution to the economic crisis won't work if Harare continues to crack down on labor leaders for organizing strikes and on business leaders for raising prices.
Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu that the plight of workers is worsening.