The Socialist 9 June 2005 |
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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
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
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
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