By Amina Saddiq
For three weeks in May and June Pakistan saw an upsurge in class struggle, with the military regime forced to seize physical control of the country’s state-owned telecom corporation and arrest over a thousand telecom workers in order to force through its privatisation plans. The Employees’ Union has now signed a deal with the government allowing privatisation to go ahead, but a rank and file organisation of telecom workers is still opposing the privatiation.
A strike started in May at the Pakistan Telecommunication Company (PTCL) against plans to sell off 26% of the corporation’s shares to private bidders. On 3 June, after ten days of strike action, the government signed an agreement with the nine-union rank and file Action Committee representing PTCL workers, making massive concessions on issues of job security and pay as well as postponing its privatisation plans “indefinitely”. Within a week, however, it had reneged on this deal and initiated widespread arrests in order to forestall the unions‚ threat of further strikes to prevent the sell-off.
On 18 June, the privatisation formally went ahead, with the shares bought by Etisalat, a company based in and largely owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates.
On 21 June a deal, still with extensive concessions but also a promise not to oppose privatisation, was signed by the largest union in the Action Committee, the Employees’ Union. The Action Committee is still negotiating with the government and is refusing to sign a deal that includes acceptance of PTCL privatisation. Up to 15 trade union leaders are still detained and others, fearful that they could be arrested, are in hiding.
General Musharraf’s regime has combined repression with concessions. His government sees the PTCL privatisation as a central plank of its neoliberal economic policy. PTCL has grown by 56% in the last year; it is now a major element of the Pakistani economy, accounting for more than 15% of shares traded on the country’s stock exchange. But if the ruling class has shown great determination in this struggle, so have the workers.
The formation of a united Action Committee, not only uniting different unions but overcoming regional, ethnic, and religious divisions, is a powerful symbol of the transformative power of class struggle.
Telecom workers in Britain should do all they can to support this struggle, which show how workers’ solidarity worldwide can defeat the neo-liberal plans of bosses and government.
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