On September 4, 1996, more than 100,000 public service workers in Zimbabwe returned to work after successfully defying the threat of mass firings by President Robert Mugabe.
The strike ended after a lengthy cabinet meeting voted to rescind the threat to fire 7,000 strikers and agreed that all those who participated in the walkout would be reinstated.
It was the second time in as many weeks that the Mugabe government was forced to back down.
Initially the regime fired all those who had left their jobs and arrested two union leaders, John Makoni and Charles Chiviru, who were only released on the condition that they not contact any union members. They were arrested for inciting an illegal strike among public sector employees.
Florence Chitauro, the manpower and social welfare minister, refused to talk with striking workers until they returned to work. The strikers, however, demanded an agreement before returning to work that their raise would meet the cost of inflation.
Officials insisted that there would be no change in the offer of a 9 percent raise, presented to unions in July. But as the strike continued into its third week and won widespread support, the government offered an additional 20 percent raise and rescinded the firings for all but 7,000 workers.
The strike first began on August 20, after members of the Public Service Association rejected the initial government offer.
The average civil servant made less than $100 a month at the time, and the real value of even that salary had been largely eroded by inflation, running at 22 percent annually.
Joining the walkout were doctors and other health care workers, fire fighters, tax collectors and other clerical workers.
Mugabe outraged strikers by declaring he was unaware of any discontent among civil service workers and by taking a well-publicized honeymoon—following a lavish wedding celebration on which he reportedly spent $650,000 of taxpayer money—in the midst of the confrontation.
The 72-year-old president-for-life had accumulated enormous wealth during his 16 years of rule. He wed his former private typist, Grace Mugabe, on 17 August 1996.
The strike was the biggest social crisis in Zimbabwe since Mugabe took power in 1980, displacing the white-rule Rhodesian regime in a deal brokered by the British government to maintain capitalist domination of the resource-rich country. – World Socialist Web