Pakistan: Telecoms strike continues despite management manouevres

Negotiations fail, while the movement picks up momentum

Negotiations between PTCL management and the nine union strong anti-privatisation action committee have failed. Negotiations were initiated by the management to pressurise union leaders to end the daily two hour strike and public meetings against the privatization. The president of the state-owned Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd (PTCL) said that management was ready to accept all the demands put forward by the union action committee, but that they were in no position to stop the privatisation process. Union leaders demanded to issue an official notification of agreement to implement all the other demands, to test out this claim by the bosses. However, management refused to do so immediately and in protest the union leaders left the meeting.

Leadership divided

The leadership of unions’ action committee is still divided on the question of negotiations. Three of the largest unions want to start negotiation, but smaller unions are in favour of a boycott of any meetings with management. This is especially the case with the two unions linked with Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamat-e-Islami who are opposing any sort of talks. They were even not willing to sit in the meeting yesterday with management. These union leaders are well known for an opportunist approach. But they would have no hesitation in betraying the telecoms strike on the instructions of their political party leaders. This is especially the case since both the PPP and Jamati-e-Islami are not against privatization, and support free market economic policies.

There is a danger the opportunist action of the PPP and Jamati-e-Islami causing divisions on the action committee on this issue. The management has realised this and it attempting to pressurise the other union leaders to bring these unions to the negotiating table so they can take advantage of the differences in strategy and tactics.

The Pakistani Trade Union Rights Campaign (PTURC) and the Socialist Movement (CWI in Pakistan) have agreed to the commencement of negotiations because at the moment the management is under huge pressure from the government to settle the dispute and if necessary give some concessions to the workforce. This would be the best time to force the management to accept all the unions’ main demands. But we have also argued to continue the strikes and mass rallies during the negotiations and only to call of action when the government and management have agreed to all our demands.

Workers want to fight to the end. They have practically taken over the strike. The public meeting on 16th May in Quetta (Baluchistan) showed the real mood of the workers. This was the largest meeting ever organised in telecom sector, in which 1500 workers participated.

Now the daily two hour strike has spread to every corner of the country. There were some problems in Karachi in the beginning, because the MQM (a Karachi based linguistic political party) was forcing the leadership not to observe token strike there. But workers refused to "follow orders" and are now observing the daily two hour strike for the last two days.

Impact of material

The leaflet produced by the PTURC has received a tremendous response nationally. We have received many calls from telecom workers all over the country. The workers are distributing this leaflet and demanding more. The response has been more impressive than we really thought. Workers are saying that after reading this leaflet they are more determined to fight against privatisation. Many are saying that it is the first time they have seen material like this. The Socialist Movement and PTURC also have launched a campaign of solidarity meetings to get support from other sections of workers for the telecom dispute. The first solidarity meeting will be held in Islamabad on 23rd May. Other meetings in Lahore, Multan, Karachi, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, and other cities will follow.

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May 2005