Pakistan: Historic Victory for Pakistan Telecommunications workers

Ten day strike forced the Government to retreat – Pakistan Telecommunications privatisation postponed for an indefinite period

Yesterday evening, in a massive victory for telecommunications workers in Pakistan the government announced the postponement of the privatisation of Pakistan Telecommunications for an indefinite period. This brought to an end the 10 day long strike of telecom workers.

The government and PTCL trade unions action committee has signed an agreement yesterday, after 4 days marathon negotiation session. This is the first victory against privatisation in Pakistan in the last 15 years. This is also the longest strike in the public sector in the last 36 years.

As a result of the agreement the government was forced to announce the cancellation of the bidding process for PTCL shares scheduled for 10th June. Management has also accepted the 27 other demands put forward by the Trade Union Action Committee, although details of how these will be implemented still have to be thrashed out between the unions and government.

This victory clearly shows that even what may appear impossible can be achieved through workers unity and mass struggle, determination and courage to face all odds to win. This victory, it should be remembered, was won under a military regime, whose President, the Chief of Army Staff, General Musharraf is one of the main allies of US imperialism’s policies in the region – fully supporting neo-liberalism and US military ambitions in South East Asia. Super-exploitation and the crushing of any working class opposition has been the norm in Pakistan over the last decade. And yet despite all the threats, harassment, intimidation from the state, the telecom workers showed their courage and determination to defeat the privatisation.

The agreement was signed by the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Information Technology and Telecommunications and the Secretary of Privatisation and Investment (the highest level government officials) and the 10 members of the Trade Union Action Committee. According to this agreement: “The government representatives and Trade Union Action Committee have successfully concluded negotiations in a very cordial atmosphere on the basis of the following terms:

  • The privatization of PTCL is postponed for indefinite period.
  • The Action Committee calls off the strike.
  • No victimisation or action against the strike leaders and workers.
  • All 28 demands are accepted and unions will start negotiations with management on the implementation of these demands.
  • The privatisation commission will share all information with the unions and continue negotiations with them, and no further step will be taken on privatisation without the consultation of unions.

Socialist Movement members have explained that this massive victory has come about as a result of the mass struggle conducted by the telecom workers but that thatthe danger of privatisation has not disappeared for ever. The government will try to bring this issue onto the table once again and the workers have to be ready for this eventuality.

This victory is a big inspiration for all the public sector workers and unions in Pakistan and will reverberate throughout South East Asia, including amongst the neighbouring working class of India which has proud traditions of struggle. Celebrations have already started throughout the country.

Impact of the International campaign

The Union Action Committee has issued an official statement of thanks to the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan and to all unions, political parties, individuals and especially Committee for a Workers International (CWI) for its support. When the leaders of action committee thanked the TURCP and Socialist Movement for its key role in this struggle in the 4000 strong occupation of the PTCL headquarters in Islamabad, workers cheered and chanted slogans of “Workers unity” and “Long live the TURCP”. The workers also made phone calls to the offices of the TURCP to congratulate its leading activists.

The International campaign played very important role in this victory. The management and government officials told union leaders that they had never experienced such a situation where so many unions and political parties sent messages of support and protest. They also said that the TURCP made this struggle not only a national campaign but also an international campaign. “I never felt such pressure before,” said president PTCL, “with so many emails and letters of protests being received.”

Article from Dawn, largest circulation English language paper in Pakistan, 3 June

PTCL privatization put off

By Sher Baz Khan

Islamabad, June 3: The government on Friday put off for an indefinite period privatization of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company (PTCL) planned for June 10 after a deal with the company’s workers unions which in turn called off their nine-day strike, both sides said.

The decision is a major change in the government’s plan as it came after repeated government statements not to defer the sale of 26 per cent strategic shares of the PTCL. The decision to postpone the June 10 bidding was taken at a meeting of a high-powered committee with union leaders, PTCL President Junaid Khan told Dawn. The committee had been holding talks with the labour leaders over the past four days.

Privatization Minister Hafeez Shaikh had earlier on Friday said in an interview to Dawn that it was the government’s ‘resolve to go ahead with the PTCL transaction on June 10 and we hope that the protesting employees of the company would understand it’.

Mr Khan said that the committee, comprising the secretaries of information technology and interior ministries and the Privatization Commission, agreed to the workers’ demand to put off the privatization they had opposed.

While no new date was set for the planned auction of the PTCL shares, the committee agreed to continue talks on the workers’ other demands such as job security, pay scales and promotions, the official said.

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June 2005