Pakistan: The struggle against privatisation of Pakistan Telecoms

A reply to the distortions of ‘Class Struggle’ publishes below a reply by members of the Socialist Movement (CWI in Pakistan) to material produced by some on the left in Pakistan on the question of the recent PTCL strike in the country. Its publication has been delayed by work that needed to be done by SMP members in the final period of the winding up of the strike and also afterwards.

The struggle against privatisation of Pakistan Telecoms

For over 6 weeks, 65 000 telecommunication workers were involved in a bitter struggle against the Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd (PTCL) and the government in an attempt to defeat the part-privatisation of the company .

This was a fight which gripped the imagination of hundreds of thousands of the Pakistani working class and trade union activists as well as socialists the world over.

The willingness of the workers to struggle, alongside the best left trade union leaders and activists, under very difficult conditions, was key in forcing the management to make concessions during the dispute. As well as this the flood of international solidarity and protests initiated by the Committee for a Workers International, and taken up by other working class activists, played an important role in pressurising the Musharraf regime and giving support to the telecommunication workers.

With the stepping up of neo-liberal exploitation of the neo-colonial world, and in particular, the drive to privatise what remains of state owned services and industry, these types of struggle assume even more importance in the workers’ movement internationally than before. This is especially the case, given the fact that there is an increasing global opposition to privatisation and the effects of capitalist globalisation.

It is the responsibility of genuine socialists and revolutionaries internationally where they have the resources to do so, to show solidarity both within the countries where these struggles take place and also internationally. During the struggle of PTCL workers this solidarity was welcomed.

Opportunist organisation

However, many telecom workers were outraged by articles about their strike written by an organisation ‘Class Struggle’, which has a certain base in Pakistan. This is in reality an opportunist organisation working as part of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party and is linked to the International Marxist Tendency and the magazine Socialist Appeal in Britain.

Both Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) and Trade Union Rights Campaign – Pakistan (TURCP) members understand that there can be differences on the left and amongst trade union activists on tactics, strategy and programme and this is part of the debate in the workers’ movement. However outright distortions and untruths are another issue. The unsigned article “The PTCL strike and the role of the Marxists, 6 June 2005” (see is an example of how this organisation distorts and slanders those who it differs from on the Left. Given the fact that ‘Class Struggle’ has at least on Member of Parliament in Pakistan, we are forced to reply to their distortions, despite the paramount importance of the work there still is to do in the struggle against privatisation in Pakistan.

This article gives a totally misleading impression about the balance of forces within the strike, its evolution, as well as the role of the best trade union activists and their relationship with the workforce. But the worst thing about this article is that it exaggerates the role played by their own organisation in the strike.

It is important to remember that this article was written when the battle by 65,000 telecom workers was still continuing. It provided absolutely no guidance as to how to further the struggle for the thousands of militant telecommunications workers who had put everything at stake to conduct this difficult and dangerous struggle. Workers who were under constant threat of arrest, torture and mass sackings looked on in disbelief at the antics of ‘Class Struggle’ in their written material.

In effect ‘Class Struggle’ used the article to glorify and self congratulate the role played by themselves in the strike. In the article’s introduction they claim “Against all the attempts of the union leadership to reach a compromise with management and state, the workers fought for the acceptance of all their demands. The Marxists of the PTUDC played a decisive role in this.” This last sentence claimed that they played “a decisive role” as an organisation as a leading force in the strike, this simply has no connection with reality.

This article’s weakness is not just one of pompous self-congratulation; it also has many factual errors and distortions which indicate the limited involvement of ‘Class Struggle’ as an organisation. Further evidence of this lack of involvement – despite their claims to the opposite – is the limited coverage given to this extremely important struggle on their website and the delay in producing such material. The Socialist Movement Pakistan and the Trade Union Rights Campaign sometimes wrote daily reports of the developments in the strike and did not have to rely on reprinting quotes from telecommunication workers in Pakistani newspapers to give a mood of the workforce but gave eyewitness reports.

It is necessary to correct the factual errors in their main article of 6 June 2005. According to this report “the administration accepted 28 of these demands, including a package of two billion rupees”. The package offered by the management at that time was not Rs2 billion but Rs3.5 billion (it has since risen to over Rs 5 billion). The Action Committee of trade unions had at this stage already rejected this amount. Every telecom worker knew the amount on offer by management as an inducement to accept privatisation except these self appointed leaders of the strike, who were unfortunately not even aware of simple facts. This demonstrates how little they were involved in this struggle.

This report continues by commenting “However the 29th point and fundamental demand to stop the privatisation of the company was not accepted. Despite the temporary nature of this victory, it will have a serious impact on the working class of Pakistan. The workers are very excited over their victory and now very confident. The workers have won the battle but war is far from over”.


This statement is self-contradictory. If the demand to stop privatisation was not accepted, then why did the government have to postpone the bidding date of June 10? The government was forced to sign an agreement on 4 June to indefinitely postpone privatisation of PTCL. This was reported on all the major news channels but ‘Class Struggle’ – two days later – and giving the appearance of living in a parallel world were dreams become reality, simply denied this ever happened.

Many trade union activists, as well as the Socialist Movement Pakistan, warned at the time of the June 4 agreement that the government would come back once again and attempt to reintroduce privatisation. However, it was completely wrong of this article to attempt to deliberately hide that a big concession, albeit temporary, had been made by the government. Thousands of telecom workers celebrated all over the country because their struggle had forced the government to give a commitment at that stage that privatisation was postponed. And yet Class Struggle denied this had ever happened in their written material.

In their material they also claim “The qualitative leap in the class consciousness of the PTCL workers was expressed at very beginning of the strike when workers forced the nine different trade unions at the company to form a joint action committee to struggle against privatization”. No-one would doubt the consciousness of the workforce but this statement from a factual point of view shows how ill informed these people are! They even don’t know the basic facts about this struggle.

The fact is that action committee was formed in April 2005 on the initiative of, Lala Hanif, Secretary General Lions Unity, a union which Socialist Movement members are involved in. In all the public meetings of the Action Committee throughout the country, he was introduced as founder of this body. Every telecom worker knows this fact, except this opportunist organisation, which was not an integral part of the struggle.

Undoubtedly there was a mood for unity amongst the workforce which existed in the run-up to the strike which was entirely natural and recognised by the leadership of the Lions Unity union. But to somehow say there was a clear division between all the workforce and all the union leaders is a simplistic distortion of major proportions. Of course there were right wing union leaders involved in the Action Committee, forced onto a more left wing stance by the militancy of the workforce. In the last part of the strike this has become clear to those not intimately involved in the struggle with the massive betrayal by the national leaders of the Employees Union (who signed a secret deal to accept privatisation with management) who were part of the Action Committee. But there were other left union leaders involved in the strike who were committed to a serious and militant struggle against privatisation.

The Action Committee was instrumental in developing the movement against privatisation and also issued the call for the strike to begin. This strike was built in a gradual process which started at the end of April. These developments have been outlined in detail on the CWI website (at the time of writing there have been 20 items on the CWI site). The 2 hour token strike and protest public meetings started from May 12 and then an indefinite strike started from May 26. All these decisions were taken by the platform of the Action Committee.

The article also goes on to say “Comrade Manzoor Ahmad, member of the National Assembly and president of the PTUDC addressed the workers twice, after every speech the enthusiasm and determination of the workers to fight until the end was sky high. Comrade Manzoor also fought against the privatisation of PTCL in parliament”.

This is a rather pathetic way to try to promote a Member of Parliament elected on the ticket of the bourgeois PPP. Manzoor did belatedly raised the issue in the National Assembly. However, at the time when the PPP and MMA (the alliance of Islamic parties in parliament) organised an opportunistic walkout to express opposition to privatisation of PTCL, he was not in the country – so importantly did he view this vital struggle. He was in Sri Lanka attending a meeting of the committees of the Asian Social Forum meeting and was still there when the union leaders called off the strike as a result of government concessions. As for the speeches he made in Parliament are concerned, then many MPs belonging to the PPP and MMA also made speeches every day in Parliament supporting the strike.

Fantastical claim

In perhaps their most fantastical claim of the article when they talk of the wish of the Action Committee to sign an agreement on privatisation, they said “It is entirely possible that in the absence of the intervention of the PTUDC [A trade union platform that ‘Class Struggle’ is involved in], that this cowardice and betrayal on the part of the union leadership would have led to the disappointment and demoralisation of the workers. The bold and correct intervention of the Marxists gave the workers a clear strategy of struggle throughout the strike”.

At no stage in their article do they actually explain what this “clear strategy” actually was. This statement can only be described as a bit delusional. The reality is that this organisation is not able to influence the actions of a single unit of PTCL workers because of the small numbers of telecom workers they have in their ranks. In reality, from the beginning to end of the strike they were not really involved in the decision making process at any level.

The Socialist Movement Pakistan has respect amongst 12 leaders of the Action Committee out of 30. TURCP and SMP members are in a far better position to influence this struggle because of the role they played in movement and also they are involved in the trade union activities in PTCL for more than 15 years. SMP has more than 18 members in PTCL unions and the TURCP more than 100 including many important leaders of different unions, but even then we are not in position to say that we can change the outcome of this struggle. We make a big difference through our members and sympathisers. However even with these forces it would be wrong to say that, at this stage, we can stop leaders who want to betray the movement from doing so.

There are leaders on the Action Committee, who want to make a compromise on privatisation, but still there are leaders, which want to fight against it. If the leaders of Action Committee decided to betray and sell out the movement, no left organisation at the moment is in the position to stop them. Any body can make the statement that they will determine the out come to try to delude their own members internationally but that does not mean this is actually true.

SMP and TURCP members were proud to play an important role in the strike. However, we did not claim a monopoly as ‘Class Struggle’ always does. The SMP, for example, worked closely with the Peoples Rights Movement on organising a number of events in solidarity with the strike. Many other left parties and trade unions were involved in the struggle, some earlier and some later.

The gains made during the strike and the historic struggle it represented could have not been possible without the determination shown by the leaders and activists of action committee, working alongside the thousands of telecom workers. The Socialist Movement Pakistan cannot give a guarantee that Action Committee leaders will never betray the workers, but at the same time we also have to recognise the progressive role played by a whole layer of the trade union activists and leaders in standing up to the pressure of management and the Privatisation Commission.

Genuine Marxists always take a balanced and positive approach towards workers struggles. We never hesitate to criticize the wrong policies and tactics of the leadership of struggles but at the same time neither will we take a position of automatic distrust of all leaders.

This has been the approach of the ‘Class Struggle’ in this dispute. In effect they have said that all the union leaders at different levels were not to be trusted and had no real support amongst the workers. And the reason for this only becomes clear when a study is made of which unions ‘Class Struggle’ has supported in the past in the telecoms industry. In reality they are attempting to conceal a rather sordid part of their history when they used to give support to the most right-wing union in the industry, the sh;Employees Union.

In an article entitled “A victory of PTCL workers against the draconian measures of the Musharraf regime” (October 13 2004) they give an account of a victory in the struggle in the telecoms industry over wages and conditions which was purportedly led by the Employees Union. This article describes the union leadership as “radical” and speaks in glowing terms of how ‘Class Struggle’ had carried interviews with the “prominent leaders of this union” in their publication in Pakistan. However, as members of the Lions Unity union explained at the time, this was no victory at all since management denied having made any agreement with this union. In this case, ‘Class Struggle’ was again guilty of ignoring reality except in this case they declared a victory when none in fact existed!

Employees Union leaders support privatisation

Now the leadership of any union can degenerate over time for various objective and subjective reasons. However, the leadership of the Employees Union has always been known as a right-wing. SMP members have copies of a letter dated 22 April 2004 in which the union leadership states to the Minister of Information Technology and Telecoms: “Sir, we assure you that we will support all the policies as per desires of privatisation commission or government, which includes privatisation, downsizing, and other policies that they want to implement". The union president and general secretary simply carried this policy through to its conclusion by signing a deal behind the backs of the workers and the other trade unions to accept privatisation at a crucial stage in the most recent strike. However, not one word of explanation for this can be found in ‘Class Struggle’s’ material.

But Class Struggle descends even further into the gutter by attempting to smear others in the unions who have played a progressive role. In an article written on 13 June, Lal Khan, Secretary General of Class Struggle refers to a “couple of ‘heroes’ on the payroll of a sect in Britain were at the forefront of setting up this yellow union”. Undoubtedly this refers to SMP members and the role they played in the formation and development of the Lions Unity Union – but then the leadership of Class Struggle have never been prepared to come out clearly and say what they actually mean. As far as people being on the payroll of organisations in Britain, this kind of language is the refuge of the desperate – individuals who are obviously have to plummet to smears and innuendoes in place of reasoned political argument. Organisations like ‘Class Struggle’ themselves rely on donations from left organisations and individuals internationally. Are they on the “payroll” of these individuals and organisations?

But even more hypocritical is the fact that the leadership of Class Struggle at the time of the formation of the Lions Unity Union regarded it as a great step forward. One of its members mentioned in their articles on the PTCL dispute, Kabir Khan, is one of the many activists and members of precisely this “yellow union”, whose leaders are on the “payroll of a sect in London”. How do they justify this? Such libel deserves no place in the workers movement internationally.

If ‘Class Struggle’ played such a leading role in the strike why were they unable to launch a campaign for international solidarity? Even in their 6 June article they were unable to make any mention of such a campaign. It is not an accident that the TURCP launched this international solidarity appeal and the CWI organised an impressive solidarity campaign, which many of the trade union leaders, activists and members appreciated. The main reason for ‘Class Struggle’ not organising a serious international campaign was that they were not sure that this struggle and strike would reach the levels of intensity that it did. They were also not sure and confident enough about this struggle and outcome, because they were not seriously involved in the process at any stage.

International solidarity campaign

The TURCP and SMP were involved from the beginning in the process and they played important role in the mobilisation and unity of the telecom workers. They were confident enough to launch an international campaign. Every day the representatives of the Action Committee read out messages of solidarity that the CWI had been responsible for getting, such as the support of national trade union leaders in Europe. When these representatives announced the news of pickets of Pakistani Embassies on the call of CWI in many countries, this received a huge response from the workers in the occupation of the headquarters of the PTCL

The opportunism of the leadership of ‘Class Struggle’ is becoming increasingly well known throughout Pakistan. However, in their coverage of the latest telecommunication strike their method of claiming to be leaders of any struggle that occurs has sunk to new depths.

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July 2005