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Pakistan Telecom workers: Strike ends but opposition to privatisation continues
FOLLOWING ALMOST three weeks of struggle against privatisation most Pakistan Telecommunication (PTCL) workers have returned to work. This was after the national leaders of the Employees' Union, one of the unions in the nine-union strong Action Committee, signed a deal with the government.
The semi-military government, under ferocious international pressure from its imperialist backers, was desperate to break the workers' opposition to privatisation fearing that it could undermine the regime's whole economic policy. They employed a combination of concessions and repression.
The concessions were quite extensive, including a 30% wage increase, no redundancies for two years for PTCL workers employed before 1992, quotas for the children of retired PTCL workers and leave cash payments of £500-600 per worker. However, in return the government was demanding that the trade unions not only end this particular struggle against privatisation but sign a deal not to further oppose privatisation.
The Action Committee refused to give up its opposition to privatisation and on 11 June Musharraf's regime deployed military units to guard PTCL installations and ordered widespread arrests of trade unionists. Over 1,100, mainly local, trade unionists were rapidly jailed. Three days later the Employees' Union leaders signed a deal with the government and, as one of the largest unions in the PTCL, effectively split the workforce.
Against this background the government announced that it had decided to sell the management rights and a 26% stake in the PTCL to Etisalat, the United Arab Emirates' state-owned telecoms company. But Etisalat has said that it will not finalise the purchase until the unions drop their opposition to privatisation.
The Action Committee is still negotiating with the government but is refusing to sign a deal that includes acceptance of PTCL privatisation. Furthermore, there is still the issue that repression must be stopped. While the local trade unionists who were arrested have been released, up to 15 trade union leaders are still being detained and others, fearful that they could be arrested, are in hiding.
The PTCL workers' struggle has attracted widespread support and, even though work has resumed, there still remains large scale opposition to privatisation. Within the Employees Union there is much opposition to their national leadership deal with the government. The local regional leaderships in Balochistan, interior Sindh and Karachi have announced that they are breaking away. Employees' Union leaders have not been able to hold workplace meetings to justify their position.
Activists are drawing conclusions from this struggle and drawing up plans to resist any attacks that the new Etisalat management attempt to make and to oppose any further privatisation. At the same time they are continuing to demand the renationalisation of all privatised industries, this time under workers' control and management.
Protests need to be continued to demand that all PTCL trade unionists are released from detention and that no further repressive measures are used against the telecoms workers.
ON 15 JUNE protests took place in several European countries in solidarity with the Pakistan telecom workers who were suffering arrests and victimisation for fighting the government's privatisation plans.
The protests were organised by the Committee for a Workers International (CWI - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) after requests for solidarity from the Trade Union Rights Campaign in Pakistan.
In response, Pakistan embassies and consulates were picketed, including the embassy in Dublin where there was a well-attended lunchtime picket. A delegation led by Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP), Socialist Party councillor Ruth Coppinger and Socialist Youth representative, Paul Murphy met the ambassador.
Joe strongly protested the brutal methods employed by the regime and warned the ambassador that if the intimidation and arrests continued the Socialist Party would step up its campaign. Joe explained that he intended to raise the issue with the Taoiseach (Irish PM) who is due to attend an upcoming meeting of EU leaders, where relations with Pakistan are to be discussed.
In London, a 40-strong lobby outside the Pakistan High Commission included Janice Godrich, PCS president (the main civil service trade union), John McDonnell, Labour MP, and Glenn Kelly, executive member of UNISON (the largest public sector union in Britain).
Janice Godrich and John McDonnell spoke to the first secretary to the high commissioner and presented a protest letter demanding an end to the sacking of trade unionists and an end to the repression.
In The Socialist 23 June 2005: