Article from the June 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

...STOP PRESS...

Historic victory Pakistani tele-communications workers

by Khalid Bhatti, Socialist Movement Pakistan, (CWI)
FOLLOWING TEN days of strike action against the company (PTCL) in Pakistan, Government representatives signed an agreement with the nine-strong trade union Action Committee on 4 June, promising "indefinite postponement of privatisation." This was an important victory for the telecommunication workers and a major setback for the government of General Musharraf. All the major satellite and TV channels showed scenes of celebrating telecommunication workers. However since then, formal negotiations between the trade union Action Committee, PTCL management and the privatisation commission have broken down. This is because management and the government attempted to renege on their agreement with the unions by insisting that they sign a deal on privatisation before any discussions could take place on wages and jobs in the company. Some union leaders have threatened to restart the strike if the privatisation commission unilaterally announces privatisation once again. Wild cat strike action in response to the renewed threat of privatisation has taken place.

Pakistan 60,000 battle against privatisation

by Susan Fitzgerald

60,000 COMMUNICATION workers went on strike for ten days against the management of Pakistani Telecommunications Ltd. (PCTL) and the Musharraf regime's plans to privatise their industry.

This has been the biggest challenge to the government's $1.7 billion privatisation plan to date. As such, it is a decisive battle not just for the workers involved but for the Pakistani working class as a whole. It is a battle that they cannot afford to lose. Striking workers forced their trade union leaders to sign pledges that they would not sell out the strike, going so far as having some leaders swear on the Koran!

Bidding for the sell off of the PCTL, Pakistan's most profitable public utility, was due to begin on 10 June. The government's plan is to sell it for less than 50% of the value price. The line up of eager bidders includes a plethora of international telecom companies, and no wonder; as the workers put it, the PCTL is a "golden egg" which has brought in 29 billion Pakistani Rupees in profit a year.

In May, the Anti Privatisation Campaign launched by an alliance of nine unions involved in the telecom sector set up a "Trade Unions Action Committee" which to date has organised protests of over 40,000 workers in cities all over Pakistan. This was followed up with a series of public meetings. At the first meeting in Lahore, over 4,000 workers participated and an angry and radical mood was reported back.

While negotiations were taking place, workers engaged in two hour daily stoppages. 4,000 workers also occupied the head quarters of the PCTL in Islamabad. These actions were very important because sections of the union leadership wanted to call off protests while negotiations were ongoing.

Among the slogans of the strikers is the chant "Struggle or Death" and this is no exaggeration. The experience of privatisation in Pakistan has been horrendous. Privatisation has meant grinding poverty, super-exploitation, price hikes and falling living standards. The percentage of people living below the poverty line in Pakistan during the period of privatisation has increased from 22% in 1990 to 50% in 2004. Nearly one million workers have lost their jobs with over 7,000 factory closures. Working hours have in general increased from 8 to 12 hours, pension and health benefits have vanished. It is this experience of privatisation that is driving the strikers on.

In response, the State has raided the homes of activists. Hundreds of police and Frontier Constabulary were mobilised to "flush out" the now 6,000 strong occupation of PCTL HQ.

The support and solidarity given from the international sections of the CWI has had a huge and positive effect on activists. If the strikers' victory is secured, it will not just be a significant victory for the Pakistani working class but for the international working class in our battle against the handing over of our services to big business.



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