Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/399/4863
Capitalism means poverty and exploitation
FOR YEARS, the majority of Pakistanis, like many people throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, have seen their living standards slashed by their government's 'neo-liberal' policies - encouraged by Western imperialism.
In the last three years the price of vegetables, flour and fruit has doubled. Some people are forced to sell their body organs in order to buy food so that their families don't starve. In one Punjabi town over 3,000 people have sold their kidneys to rich Pakistanis who have had theirs damaged by drinking polluted water in the cities. This is capitalism at its horrific worst.
You would think that under conditions of overwhelming poverty like this and under the semi-military dictatorship in Pakistan, any fight-back would be impossible. But you would be wrong.
Recently 65,000 telecommunications workers led a courageous struggle to stop the privatisation of their industry, (sometimes in temperatures of over 50¼C, with workplaces occupied by the army, and mass arrests of strikers).
Without the determination of the workers to fight this strike would never have taken place. But left-wing trade union leaders and activists played an important role as well. The Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP - the CWI's organisation there) and the Trade Union Rights Campaign - Pakistan also played an important role, particularly at those crucial stages of the strike when refusing to compromise in the face of threats was important.
President Musharraf is a big ally of US imperialism. He is the driving force behind a massive privatisation programme to satisfy the multinationals' appetite for profits. This is the second time in recent memory that the government tried to privatise what is a vital resource for the majority of the population. At least 30,000 telecom workers would have been sacked and the rest would have had their conditions slashed over time.
In the run-up to the strike an Action Committee of the nine unions in the industry was set up which organised mass meetings, involving 41,000 workers all over the country. A two-hour strike happened every day. When management and the government refused to negotiate properly then the Action Committee, with the full support of the workers, called for an all-out strike. They also threatened to shut down the telecommunication system as a last resort.
The all-out strike lasted over ten days and the dispute overall was the longest in the public sector for 36 years. Up to 6,000 telecom workers occupied the main headquarters of the telecommunications company.
On Friday 4 June, the government was forced to sign an agreement agreeing to the postponement of privatisation indefinitely and to discuss 28 other demands by the unions. But behind the scenes they negotiated secretly with one of the leaderships of the unions who subsequently betrayed the struggle and signed a deal to accept privatisation.
Telecom workers returned to work but the majority of the union leaders up to now still refused to accept privatisation. The government was forced to make major concessions during the struggle including a package which was worth 5.2 billion Rupees on better wages and conditions. This would never have happened without the strike.
The SMP which has members in the leadership of the Lions Unity union produced leaflets which were distributed all over Pakistan in the telecoms depots which explained why privatisation was being implemented and what it would mean.
The Trade Union Rights Campaign initiated by trade union activists and SMP members also organised appeals for international solidarity and protest which the Committee for a Workers International responded to with great success.
Two rounds of lobbies outside Pakistani embassies internationally were organised. UNISON delegates, including CWI members, at their recent public sector workers' union conference in Glasgow occupied the Pakistani consulate for a short time to protest about repression of trade unionists.
Thousands of messages of support were sent - many of them were read out to the workers occupying the headquarters of the company boosting the strikers' confidence.
Capitalism has no other face in countries like Pakistan - it means super-poverty and exploitation.
The telecommunication workers' struggle shows that with a fighting socialist approach it is possible to win concessions. But the only way to end these conditions is the struggle to overthrow capitalism and feudalism for good and replace it with a socialist society.
Pakistan - protests and support needed
UNISON GENERAL secretary Dave Prentis has written a letter of protest to the president of Pakistan, concerning the arrest of trade unionists involved in the strike against the privatisation of Pakistan telecomms (PTCL).
Prentis calls for the immediate release of all workers and the reinstatement of those sacked. He also calls for the PCTL management to open negotiations with the trade unions.
More international protests are needed, demanding that all PTCL trade unionists are released from detention and that no further repressive measures are used against the telecom workers.
Protests should demand: Release all telecommunications workers and trade union leaders. No more arrests. For the immediate withdrawal of all paramilitary and police forces from in and around PTCL premises. Honour the 4 June agreement - No to the privatisation of PTCL.
Send to: HE Pervez Musharraf, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, President House, Islamabad, Pakistan. Email: email@example.com
Please send copies to:
Protesters picket warship
ON 23 June, 12 members of the Socialist Party (CWI, Ireland) picketed the Pakistani warship, PNS Tippu Sultan, which was visiting Cork as part of the city's European Capital of Culture celebrations.
Stephen Boyd, Socialist Party, Cork
The local Evening Echo carried an article on the protest and information on the Musharraf government's repression of Pakistani telecom workers. So did a local radio station. We distributed a leaflet about the telecom workers' struggle to the Pakistani sailors and soldiers encouraging them to contact the workers in Pakistan and the Socialist Movement (CWI Pakistan).
Cork city councillors, 'dignitaries' and Irish navy and army representatives were at a reception on the warship. Socialist Party councillor Mick Barry refused to attend in protest at the government's privatisation plans and its repression of telecom workers.
The picket ended after Mick Barry and two young party members boarded the warship and delivered a letter of protest to the Mission Commander.
In The Socialist 30 June 2005: