The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ called for a historic 3 day Job Action from 3-5 June 2019. The job action came at a time when;
- Incomes of the working class have been eroded by hyperinflation
State has heightened repression against dissenting voices and citizens are living in fear of their own State.
- Teachers in particular are still smarting from a crackdown after the February job action and the victimization of Union leaders in January 2019.
- Other Unions are trapped in the hope of fruitful talks with an insincere employer.
- Teacher Unionism has been compromised after years of betrayal of the working class by pseudo Trade Union leaders.
Teachers’ response to the call for job action
The teachers welcomed the move to protest against underpayment. Our phones were inundated with calls from thousands who wanted to join the protest. Our membership structures on the ground on the other hand were doing a sterling job marketing the protest to non-members. We conducted two surveys on a daily basis to establish the success of the job action. From our survey on day one we interviewed 15 590 teachers. 8 244 had reported for duty from the survey marking a 56.5% attendance. Second day attendance dropped to 45% and this morning it was at 40%. These figures point to a great success story of a peaceful job action which builds towards a crippling nationwide strike in the education sector if our demands are not addressed.
We interviewed those who refused to take heed of the call, (1 200 teachers interviewed on random basis), and established the following:
- They were afraid of being victimized like what happened in February when they lost their leave days – 60%
- Not aware of the job action – 5%
- Have a strong bond with their learners couldn’t let them down – 2,5%
- Lost faith in impact of job actions – 15%
- Waiting for their Unions to call for job action – 10%
- Away from duty for examinations and other personal business – 7.5%
The survey brought to fore pertinent issues that have to be addressed if future job actions are to deliver the desired outcomes. It should also be noted that those who participated in the job action now want to abort reporting for work until their grievances are addressed.
Response from school administrators
As was expected the government initially ignored the call and wanted to portray the business as usual posture. As the protest gathered momentum School Heads were instructed to force teachers on job action to sign for leave days. We are handling 17 cases that are still to be resolved from a total of 212 of this nature.
The School Heads also used derogatory language spiting our Union. Statements like “your union is too small to shake government” were frequently used to try and demobilize teachers. In other instances the previous victimization of ARTUZ President and Secretary General were used as examples to intimidate teachers.
Roll calls were also introduced to try and instill fear among teachers while Union leaders were barred from accessing schools for organizing which was in violation of the right to organize as guaranteed in section 65 of Zimbabwe’s constitution.
Response from State apparatus
Members of the dreaded Central Intelligence targeted our regional leaders, they visited 42 schools where our leaders are stationed. They would proceed to ask questions about ARTUZ, how the member joined, number of ARTUZ members in that area, where ARTUZ gets funding, what motivated member to join among a host of other questions. The questioning would be concluded with threats of unspecified actions if one remained a member of ARTUZ.
Five of our members fled the country for their own safety after persistent credible threats to their lives during this job action and we are expecting them back soon. Six have been in hiding. Cde Godfrey Chanda was abducted and detained in Gweru on 4 June while touring schools in the district gathering information on the strike. He was interrogated and released without a charge after being banned from addressing any teachers in Gweru district.
In short the State collapsed our coordinating network by haunting our leadership.
The government further called for a National Joint Negotiating Council, NJNC meeting during our job action to give false hope to the teachers. They hoped to divert the attention of teachers to the flawed negotiating process.
Response from other Unions
One Teacher Union, name withheld, issued a lengthy press statement encouraging their members to distance themselves from the protest. They accused ARTUZ of being an appendage of the Movement for Democratic Change.
The other Unions were publicly indifferent but were demobilising teachers behind the scenes, (evidence received from teachers is documented.)
The positive outcomes
- The government was forced to convene an NJNC meeting to address the salary crisis.
- More teachers tasted action and are now ready to fight more battles.
- The issue of teacher salaries dominated the national discourse for the three days.
- Other Unions will definitely call for action soon to complement actions by ARTUZ.
- The consciousness of the teacher movement was enhanced through rigorous debates on different platforms.
Victimisation forced some of our members to suffer unnecessary mental and physical pain. We are taking legal steps to address this continued victimization of our members.
Lessons for the future
- Union should conduct robust training workshops to enhance the teachers’ appreciation of labour rights.
- The Union should continue entrenching its footprints in all parts of the country.
- The leadership should have organic linkages with the membership.
- Union should set up safety nets for its members.
- State should be sued for violating rights of the teachers.
- All violations should be documented and complaints raised with ZHRC, ILO and other International Rights bodies.
- Develop synergies with other like-minded Unions from all sectors.
- Maintain the momentum born out of the job action.
The job action was a success in a repressive environment and ARTUZ leadership will make further reviews and in consultation with members, outline the next steps. The struggle continues!
Source: Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ)