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Pakistan: Strike resists Telecom privatisation
But workers must remain vigilant
ONLY WEEKS before the G8 summit, Pakistan telecom workers, through all-out struggle, have shown how to fight privatisation - one element of the 'neo-liberal' policies promoted by the likes of Bush and Blair.
KHALID BHATTI, Socialist Movement Pakistan, [the Pakistan section of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated] reports on this important struggle.
ON FRIDAY 3 June, representatives of the Pakistani government signed an agreement with the nine-union strong Action Committee in Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd (PTCL), following ten days of strike action. This was reported on all the major satellite and TV channels, which showed scenes of celebrating telecommunications workers.
This was an important victory for the telecommunication workers and a major setback for the General Musharraf government.
The government agreed to the "indefinite postponement of privatisation" and to "all 28 demands [on workers' pay and conditions] and unions will start negotiations with management on the implementation of these demands".
Not yet over
However, it is clear that the struggle against privatisation of the company is not yet over.
The Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) and Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP) members, who played a leading role in developing the mass struggle of the telecommunications workers which led to the all-out strike, warned the Action Committee that the government's retreat was only temporary.
Indeed, over the weekend the government tried to ignore the agreement it had just signed and the Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunications briefed various journalists that he wished to reintroduce privatisation again by the end of June.
What particularly worried the government was the potential of a collapse in the Stock Exchange on Monday morning because recently PTCL shares have made up 25% of the volume of traded shares.
Also, it is undoubtedly the case that phone lines have been buzzing over the weekend with Musharraf's allies in the West (US imperialism, the World Bank and IMF) expressing their dismay at the government's retreat.
As a result, government spokespersons are implicitly using the fact that some of the union leaders are showing signs of wavering on the issue of privatisation in return for improved wages and conditions, to undermine the extent of the victory.
SMP members have warned union leaders not to fall into this trap, and emphasised the necessity to show a strong united position to the government during negotiations. We explained that government officials are making these statements in an attempt to give the impression that it is 'business as usual' and privatisation will continue without delay.
The Action Committee held a national meeting on Sunday 5 June, where it decided to reject any attempt to link acceptance of the pay and conditions package to privatisation. The Action Committee also threatened to restart the strike if the government proceeded to announce new dates for bidding for shares in PTCL. If the Action Committee maintain this position this will be a positive development, especially since some of the union leaders involved have capitulated to management in the past.
Notwithstanding these developments, the victory is an inspiration for many workers in Pakistan who want to fight against privatisation, 'downsizing', anti-trade union laws and the neo-liberal economic agenda of the IMF and World Bank, viciously implemented since 1999 by the Musharraf regime.
In the last five years the government has stepped up the pace of the privatisation process. They have tried to privatise PTCL since 1994, but failed on two occasions because of resistance from the workforce. The latest attempt was the most serious one in this regard.
The regime did not expect much resistance from the trade unions and was confident in announcing the start of bidding for shares for 10 June. But strike action and the protest movement forced the government to retreat.
In The Socialist 9 June 2005: