Pakistan: New pickets at Pakistan embassies across Europe

Following the recent military crackdown against striking telecom workers in Pakistan (see separate report on this site, ‘Strike remains solid, as one union leadership betrays struggle’), new protests were organised at Pakistan embassies and consulates, on 15 June, across Europe. Here are is a selection of reports.

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Austria

On 15 June, we organised a picket in front of the Pakistan Embassy in Vienna to protest against the planned privatisation of the telecommunications system, the PTCL, and the repression of trade union activists in the industry. The opening hours of the embassy are a problem for working people but still a group of protesters came together with a megaphone and banners ("Stop the Repression against Trade Unionists" – "Stop Privatisation – Solidarity with PTCL-Workers").

Using the megaphone we informed people living in the area about the events in Pakistan. We also spoke in English to make sure that all people working in the embassy would understand us.

Shortly after we started our protest, a chauffeur driven limousine arrived at and a representative of the Embassy left the car. We confronted him with our demands. He was obviously not happy about us being there. He waved his hands and shouted at us, saying "We have the right to privatise". His argued that it was not up to protesters in Europe to decide if privatisations should take place in Pakistan but the Pakistani people. We replied that neither he nor the regime in Pakistan represent the "Pakistani people", as 60,000 PTCL-workers have resisted privatisation.

He then left very quickly and refused to take our protest resolution.

The antics of this Embassy official will not change the fact that there are people in Austria who are determined to show public solidarity with telecom strikers and trade unionist in Pakistan fighting repression and privatisation.

Britain

London lobby demands: "Musharraf hear us say, union rights are here to stay!"

In London, a 40-strong lobby outside the High Commission for Pakistan was organised on Wednesday afternoon (15 June) to protest against the arrest of a thousand of our brothers and sisters who are campaigning against the attempt to privatise Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd (PTCL).

Janice Godrich, president of the PCS (the main civil service union in Britain), addressed the lobby and members of the public, after she handed in a protest letter to the High Commission. The letter demanded an end to the sacking of trade unionists and an end to state repression. It made the point that the regime, led by Pervez Musharraf, used claims that it is ‘democratic’ and allows the ‘right of freedom of expression’ to negotiate up to €60 million in aid from the European Union. This latest victimisation, intimidation and repression of trade union members and their families exposes the false nature of this claim.

Janice told the lobby that the First Secretary to the High Commissioner listened with diplomatic sympathy to the demands she made, even agreeing at one point that the privatisation should not go ahead! Janice informed him that, in her capacity as President of the PCS (which organises 324,000 workers in Britain), she has contacted civil service unions throughout Europe to help spread the international protest movement. Janice stated that the pressure on the Pakistan authorities would be increased if the Pakistan regime and PTCL managers did not back down.

John McDonnell, Labour Party Member of Parliament, joined Janice at the High Commission to add his voice to the protest. He later explained that the Campaign Group of Labour MPs would be discussing the issue at its meeting later that evening. John explained that he would be tabling an Early Day Motion to the House of Commons today. That means that Pakistan workers’ campaign, and opposition to the brutal repression, will be formally recorded in the British parliament.

Glenn Kelly, a member of the National Executive Council of Unison (the largest public-sector union in Britain), also spoke at the protest. Members of the TGWU and Amicus unions, alongside other activists, also participated. Members of the public passing by were given leaflets explaining the issues and signed protest petitions.

This was the second lobby of the High Commission and represents just one small part of the protest campaign. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the Pakistan workers’ struggle.

 

Ireland

Over 20 members of the Socialist Party attended a lunchtime picket at the Pakistani Embassy, in Dublin, to protest against the brutal repression of General Musharraf’s regime of telecommunication workers.

Matt Waine, Socialist Party, Dublin

The protest was supported by many workers as they passed by and even drew a visit from the police. A delegation, including Joe Higgins TD (MP), Socialist Party Councillor Ruth Coppinger, and Socialist Youth representative, Paul Murphy, were invited in to meet with a representative of the Ambassador.

Joe Higgins strongly protested the brutal methods employed by the regime and warned the Pakistani representative that if the intimidation and arrests continued the Socialist Party would step up its campaign. Joe explained that he intended to raise the issue with the Irish Prime Minister who is due to attend an upcoming meeting of EU leaders, where relations with Pakistan are to be discussed.

Sweden

"Release all arrested workers, now!"

"We are back outside the Pakistani Embassy with a bigger lobby than last time, representing growing protests from trade unions and others. "All arrested telecom workers must be released now! The military and paramilitary police must leave the workplaces immediately!"

This was the message from Wednesday’s demonstration outside the Pakistan Embassy, in Stockholm. The main speaker was Arne Johansson, editor of Offensiv (weekly paper of the CWI in Sweden), representing the newly formed Solidarity Committee for Telecom Workers in Pakistan. He described recent events in Pakistan regarding the telecom strike and government repression, and the solidarity work in Sweden.

"The UNI – Union Network International – which represents service and communication trade unions internationally has sent a message to General Musharraf in Pakistan. UNI warns of privatisation and demands that intimidation of the workers should stop", Arne said.

He also read out a resolution from a region of the state white-collar workers’ union in Sweden and promised much more to come.

Arne Johansson, and Lina Thörnblom, from Elevkampanjen (a youth rights campaign), met the second highest ranking official at the Embassy, who assured the protesters that they had listened to the protest and would report it to Pakistan.

Other speakers were Lina Thörnblom and Elin Gauffin from Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (the CWI in Sweden). A group of Pakistani workers living in Sweden attended the protest. Even in this upper-class area of Stockholm, people were shocked about the news we told them about Pakistan. Around 30 euro was collected, in a short time, for the solidarity campaign, and protesters also sold copies of Offensiv and collected signatures.

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