An all-out strike continued at the state-owned national air lines PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) for the third day. All planes were grounded by the airline and more than 150 flights cancelled yesterday. The Joint Action Committee formed by the PIA unions, officers’ association and pilots’ association, called for an indefinite strike against the planned privatisation of the airline and the introduction of the essential services laws to ban the union activities and protests of the PIA workers.
The government reacted brutally and paramilitary forces and police opened fire on protesting workers in Karachi, killing four workers and injuring eight others. The security forces also used water cannon and batons to stop workers entering the main airport terminal.
Four union leaders are missing and the police deny they have been arrested or are being held in custody. It is believed that they were picked up by the security services. The government has also stopped the salaries of the protesting workers.
The government denied that it ordered the security forces to attack the workers. It claims that others did it to malign the government.
This brutal and gruesome act by the security forces failed to break the strike and protests but, on the contrary, it made the strike more solid and wide-spread. The chairman of the PIA has resigned in protest over the use of brutal force against the workers.
The Joint Action Committee of PIA employees started its protest movement against the privatisation of the PIA in December 2015. This protest movement forced the government to postpone the privatisation for six months. The Joint Action Committee offered the government to give it the management of the airline for one year and if they fail to run the airline on profit, the government can privatise the airline. The JAC is confident that they can turn around this ailing and loss making airline within six months.
The government, after retreating from the privatisation plan, decided to go on the offensive and imposed an essential services law, to ban trade union activities and protests for six months. The government also banned the strike and made it illegal for workers to go strike. This law also give powers to the top management to fire any worker or pilot who they think might be involved in union activity or in protests.
The government is using state repression to crush the PIA workers strike and wants to show to the other workers that it will not tolerate any resistance against its economic policies.
Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) members are actively involved in this protest movement and strike. It is urgent for the trade union movement to immediately organise protests and solidarity strikes throughout Pakistan to give the clear message to the government that all the trade unions and workers’ movement will stand beside their brothers and sisters. This urgent need for unity and solidarity with the striking PIA workers is a real test for the trade union movement.