Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

On the latest teachers strike

Posted by CM on March 17, 2008

In an environment of hyper-inflation like Zimbabwe’s, regular strikes for pay increases are hardly surprising. It is difficult to keep up with which group of civil servants is on strike at any given time.

There was therefore nothing really new about the most recent teachers’ strike. And weeks before a seminal election, there was nothing surprising about Mugabe’s announcement of a salary increase which sounds impressive until you compare it to the rate of inflation.

But the speed with which the strike was called off by the teachers’ union after Mugabe’s vote-buying tactic, while understandable, says some depressing things about the Zimbabwean situation:

Thousands of teachers in Zimbabwe’s state schools have ended a three-week strike after being awarded a 754 percent salary increase by the government, their union said on Friday.”We urge teachers to return to work,” said Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, calling the salary increase a victory for teachers and the nation.

Majongwe said the government agreed to hike the monthly teachers’ salary to 3.4 billion Zimbabwe dollars (115,300 US dollars at the official rate, but just 115 US dollars at the widely-used black market rate), up from 369 million Zimbabwe dollars.

About 100,000 teachers walked off the job country-wide three weeks ago, demanding a salary review and better working conditions.

The southern African country is in the midst of an economic crisis marked by the world’s highest inflation rate of 100,580 percent, widespread food shortages and 80 percent unemployment.Teachers are migrating in droves to neighbouring Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, many taking menial jobs to earn money to support their families back home.

The teachers’ demands are entirely reasonable. And I would not advocate continuing strike action that would disrupt the school system even more than Mugabe’s economic mismanagement has done over the years.

Yet how long will the paltry increases keep the workers going? How long will they give them a sense that they are on top of inflation? Two days? Not at all? With those levels of inflation, periodic small pay increases only slightly, imperceptably slow the sinking and falling behind.

The periodic increases may not be nearly enough, and yet it is not possible to have daily raises to keep up with inflation. Yet having a job of any kind is still better than not having one, and there are still meaningful non-monetary perks attached to working in the civil service. Most use their constantly eroded salaries as a minimal base from which to do other things to try and supplement their salaries.

As long as the inflation situation remains as it is, worsening every day, workers are forced to judiciously use the leverage of strike action to try to get a living wage from their employers. But this is a short-term, losing proposition for everyone: the only sustainable solution is a political and economic overhaul in which hyper-inflation is dealt with once and for all.

But

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