Urgent solidarity needed!
Government offices were severely disrupted on 18 March, when public sector workers affected by the 2005 earthquake, in the Poonch division of POK (Pakistani Occupied Kashmir), went on an indefinite strike.
At the district HQ, Rawalakot, over two thousand workers held a protest demonstration.
Workers from health, education, PWD (Public Works’ Department – road workers), clerical, judiciary, Grade 1-1V accounts department, and municipal and other departments gathered at the district courts premises. A large contingent of PWD workers, with placards, shouted slogans against the government.
The main protest demonstration was led by the PWD workers’ banner. Their demands included overdue wages that have not been paid for the last 19 months. Banners displayed other demands, including: Pay overdue salaries to workers; Scrap the anti-workers, special Power Act; Release of HBA (House Building Advances) at district level; Pay compensation instalments to earthquake affected workers; Regularize contract workers and Increase salaries linked with inflation
The protest demonstration was led by leaders of the Poonch Division Employees Action Committee (EAC), including the Secretary General, Sardar Imtiaz Khan. The demonstrators marched through the main town centre shouting slogans against price-hikes and against the ruling class and state bureaucracy.
A protest meeting was held at the main crossing in the town. Sixteen representatives from different public sector workers’ associations spoke, including the Chairman of the national organizing committee of the TURC-K (Trade Union Rights Campaign – Kashmir), Khalid Mehmood.
All of the speakers were very critical of and condemned the Muslim Conference government (POK), led by Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, for not meeting their demands.
One speaker said that workers’ salaries were not paid for months on end, when the prices of daily commodities have rocketed, while the son of PM Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan spent over 1.6 million rupees of public money to make a foreign visit with unknown females! The speaker went on to say: “After strike action in February 2007, the government issued ‘minutes’ of the negotiations with strikes, but the rulers, after more than 13 months, have not issued any notification relating to the agreed workers’ demands, including a minimum wage for contract employees (4600 rupee’s per month), regularization of contract workers, the right to organize trade unions, the establishment of labour laws and labour courts”.
Other rally speakers said that the prime minister of so-called ‘Azad’ (‘Free’) Kashmir expanded the government cabinet, at cost, by inducting more ministers and advisors, while grinding poverty, price hikes and unemployment was the fate of the working class.
Khalid Mehmood, the TURC-K representative, said: “There is a need for a permanent struggle to eradicate the problems that confront the working class. We salute workers for their enduring struggle. The solution to their problems does not lie with the ruling class. Workers have to grab their rights by force, as the rulers usurped their rights and live on corruption, at the expense of the working class”.
Khalid added: “When workers, once again, start to struggle for their legitimate rights, they will cross the LOC (Line of Control) dividing Kashmir and will be involved in each others’ struggles”.
Hundreds of public sector workers, particularly the JKSRTC (Jammu Kashmir State Road Transport Co-operation), have been on strike action for their unpaid salaries and against the neo-liberal policies of the INC-PDP (Indian National Congress and Peoples Democratic Party) led coalition government in IOK (Indian Occupied Kashmir).
“We condemn the police action against workers and the arrest of trade union leaders. All public sector workers in co-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, and workers on both sides of the dividing Line of Control, have a clear common cause.
“We, on behalf of TURC-K, extend full solidarity for workers in struggle and demand the immediate release of arrested workers and representative of trade unions from this platform.The working class movement needs to provide a solution to their problems.
“We appeal to workers in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, from this platform, to pass a solidarity resolution for the workers in IOK”.
Khalid Mehmood, continued: “This part of Kashmir is called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, and the Muslim Conference government and its prime minister hailed ‘military democracy’ here. On the other hand, the working class continue to be denied their basic democratic rights.
“Rulers of POK and Pakistan continue to loot and plunder the working class and the poor; the working class has a crucial role to play for the attainment of rights”.
“Today, also, is an important day”, Khalid elaborated, “It is five years ago that US imperialism, led by the Bush regime, imposed a war on the working class and the poor people of Iraq. US imperialism has been conducting the war for cheap oil. We condemn and demand the immediate withdrawal of US imperialism and its coalition forces from Iraq”.
“On behalf of TURC-K, we express complete solidarity and support to the workers’ demands, and add that there is no way forward but to continue to struggle. If the demands of the workers are not met, the next step should be to shut down hospitals and switch off electricity; we will see then how the government would function”.
“Until the notifications are issued by the government, workers need to expand and broaden their struggle to achieve their demands”.
Apart from the demands of the strikers, other resolutions were passed at the mass rally, including calling for solidarity with Iraqi people and a demand for the withdrawal of US imperialist forces, the immediate release of trade union leaders in Kashmir and worker activists from JKSRTC, and condemning police brutality against workers and their families.
Strike action also took place in other areas of Poonch division. Solidarity press statements were published by workers’ associations, in different parts of POK, in support of the strike.
Appeal for solidarity with earthquake affected workers
J Khan, Trade Union Rights Campaign – Kashmir (TURC-K), Kotli, Kashmir
The Trade Union Rights Campaign – Kashmir (TURC-K) has been in the forefront of helping to organise solidarity for thousands of earthquake-affected public sector workers in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (POK).
On 18 March, 2008, workers began an indefinite strike in Rawalakot (POK). The main protest demonstration was led by a banner demanding that immediate payment of overdue salaries of workers who have not been paid for the last 19 months.
The Employees’ Action Committee, through the Union Rights Campaign – Kashmir (TURC-K), made an appeal to trade unionists and young people for messages of solidarity to be sent to the striking workers, and protests to be sent to the authorities concerned. TURC-K is organising solidarity action in Kashmir.
Please include in the letters of protest the following demands made by the Employees Action Committee:
- Pay overdue salaries to workers
- Pay compensation instalments to earthquake-affected workers
- Release the HBA (House Building Advances) at district level
- Regularize contract workers
- Increase salaries linked with inflation
- Set up Labour laws and Labour courts in Kashmir
- All workers in the state should be given the right to form trade unions
- All anti-labour laws scrapped, including the Special Power Act
Please send letters of protest to
- Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan. Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir
- President Musharraf of the Federal government of Pakistan
- via the website
Please send all solidarity messages to:
- Employees Action Committee, c/o TURC-K