Nearly 300 trade unionists and workers participated in the first TURC-K national convention held in Kotli (Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, POK) on December 8.
They were from different public sector organisations including health, education, local government, civil servants, electricity and non-gazetted employees. This was a very large gathering of trade union activists and workers, participating from all the eight districts of POK.
Alongside the national convention, the TURC-K hosted a reception to celebrate the landslide victory of the Democratic Panel of health workers (in all the eight district and central elections held earlier this year) under the slogan of ‘Workers of the World Unite!’. Members and supporters of the TURC-K had extended solidarity towards their election campaign earlier this year, held after a gap of 12 years; it was an important step towards building democratic trade unions in POK.
During the first session of the national convention, a TURC-K national organising body was formed for the purpose of building, developing and expanding the work of the campaign into other public and private sectors. (See below for names of members).
Various speakers expressed the feeling that basic democratic rights have been snatched from them, but related how workers are also getting organised and united. The effective strike action led by the earthquake-affected workers’ Alliance in February this year had proved that, by uniting on a single platform, workers can achieve their rights more effectively.
The victory of the Democratic Panel in the health workers’ elections (organised around the Paramedical Staff Association, the second largest workers’ organisation in POK) was a victory of all workers. The Democratic Panel has had much success since the elections. They have been able to get implemented the promotion of over 300 health workers – an issue pending for years. The contracts of over 269 workers have been extended for another year and back-dated salaries have now been paid. The government has also agreed that contract workers will be regularised.
Speakers during the convention underlined these points with comments like:
“Strike action, led by the earthquake-affected workers, has exposed all political parties and shown the urgent need for a mass party to provide political representation for the working class”.
“The strike was very successful in linking up and bringing together workers from various sections”.
“The victory of the Democratic Panel is of historical significance and the slogan of ‘Workers of the World Unite’ needs to be extended. When this is understood by working class people and practically implemented, a revolutionary change will begin to take place in their lives”.
“The ever increasing crisis in world capitalism means increased attacks on the lives and conditions of the working class through the brutal policies of a free market economy, privatisation, down-sizing, etc. These policies have ruined the lives of millions of workers around the world, including in Kashmir. Workers in POK have been denied their basic democratic rights including labour laws, labour courts and the right to form trade unions. Workers in Kashmir, who are divided by the Line of Control, need to build links and extend solidarity with each other. This united working class is the only force which can solve the National Question and pave the way for the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government – by getting rid of feudalism and capitalism”.
Two resolutions were passed. One was a condemnation of the martial aw imposed by the Musharraf regime (disguised as a State of Emergency), the suspension of all democratic rights and the restrictions imposed on the media. “This convention demands the immediate release of all social and political workers, trade unionists, lawyers, journalists and students and condemns the government of ‘Azad Kashmir’ (POK) for supporting these policies”.
The second read: “The convention extends solidarity to the historic strike action led by the earthquake-affected workers earlier this year and demand that the government issues notification of the agreement reached with the Employees’ Action Committee in the negotiations held on 16th February 2007.”
The convention also agreed the following demands:
- The implementation of a minimum wage announced by the government (Rupees: 4,600 per month) to all workers in the private sector (health, education etc).
- The restoration of the rules for the Old Age Benefit law,1976, in all the industrial units in POK, with the resulting benefit for thousands of workers.
- The formation and implementation of labour laws and labour courts and the right to form trade unions. Service tribunal benches must be formed in all districts of POK, so that public sector workers can resolve disputes locally.
- The government to pay pensions to local government department workers on time and regularly.
- The government to scrap all anti-worker laws, including the brutal Special Power Act.
The Convention extended solidarity to workers across the Line of Control in Indian Occupied Kashmir and condemned the ruling coalition government, led by the Congress Party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), for their anti-worker policies.
All the office bearers of the National Organising Committee were appointed by the meeting and an organiser and secretary were appointed for each of the eight districts of POK.