Pakistan: Telecom workers win battle against government.

Telecommunication workers in the state-owned Telecom Company PakTel Communications Limited (PTCL) started a protest campaign after the death of one telecom worker in Rawalpindi region.

He died in his office because of ill-treatment by his senior officer. He was denied the right of promotion, when he went to see an officer to raise his case that officer abused and threatened him. He fell to the ground and was taken to the hospital where he died following a heart attack. One union leader of the Telecom Lion’s Union (in which members of the Socialist Movement Pakistan play an important role), Malik Maqbool went to see this deputy general manager, he also threatened the union leader and registered a false case against him. The police arrested the union leader on 18th March from his house and put him in jail. The union started a protest campaign but at first management refused to listen to them.

Socialist Movement, Pakistan, began to get involved in this campaign with Azad Qadri Central Committee member and National Deputy Secretary general of Pak Telecom Lions Unity Union and a member of the CWI in Pakistan, playing an important role . Our members took the initiative to form the PTCL United Workers Action Committee , which includes all the unions in the telecom sector. This action committee started a campaign to force the management to accept the following demands:

  • Withdraw the false case against union leader and immediately release him.
  • Stop the privatisation and downsizing.
  • Gave compensation to the deceased worker’s family including employing his brother.
  • Take action against the responsible officer.
  • Public apology from the management.

The Action committee organized six protest meetings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and two big demonstrations in Lahore and Karachi under the leadership of Lions Unity union. Socialist Movement members played a key role in these demonstrations. The Action Committee also held two press conferences which were widely covered by all the main news papers.

The Action Committee decided to organise a protest march in front of Parliament House . On 24 March more than 450 workers protested in front of Parliament house for more than 3 hours, led by Azad Qadri, Ashraf Khan, Shaukat Satti and others. The government was forced to start negotiations with the Action Committee. The Minister of Telecom and IT held a meeting with the leaders of the Action Committee and accepted all their demands. The case against the union leader has been withdrawn unconditionally. We have received information that the PTCL management are privately saying that “the socialists in the Action Committee have forced us to make concessions”.

The management also tried to put pressure on the leadership of Lions Unity union to stop their involvement in the movement. This victory is small but very important in the context that government is desperately trying to privatise PTCL. This victory is morale boosting for all Telecom workers.

Workers want to fight against the anti-worker policies of the management and government, but some union leaders are against struggles like this. One union leadership which has avoided struggles in the past is the union recognised as the official bargaining representative by management called the Telecom Employees union. From their actions it seems that the leadership of this union wants to collaborate with management for their own interest and perks. This union has a history of betrayals. During the present battle this union sided with management and refused to join the Action Committee.

This is the second victory of PTCL workers within one month. In the first week of March workers in Lahore forced management to stop transfers of 400 workers from Lahore to Islamabad. The management wanted to close down some operations and sections and planned to retrench 3000 workers. When management in Lahore tried to close down one section, the workers stopped work and started to protest. More than 2000 workers marched through the main square and blocked the main Mall Road for 4 hours. The management forced to retreat and cancelled their plans of closure and retrenchment. Socialist Movement and Lions Unity union played the leading role in this struggle.

But now government and management are preparing for a final show down with the unions. Socialist Movement members are helping to prepare the Lions Unity and other unions for this decisive battle. The SMP has decided to produce a leaflet against privatisation and retrenchment. This most recent succesful struggle against victimisation shows what role experienced, socialist trade union activists will play in the struggle to defeat privatisation of Paktel.

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April 2005