For a fighting, democratic union!
“This was a most representative meeting”, said one of the health workers who attended an important meeting on 4 September. “All 8 districts were represented; the best for anytime over the last few years’.
Over seventy health workers, amongst them most of the health workers’ trade union leadership, and activists from district to central levels, attended the meeting in Rawalakot. They came from all eight districts of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (POK), which is also called ‘Azad Kashmir’.
They discussed the crisis in the union and the need for democratic elections to the central union body, which were last held in 1995! They also discussed problems that the working class face due to massive price hikes.
Health workers, numbering over 12,000, are organized in the Paramedical Staff Association (PSA), the second largest public sector workers’ organisation in POK, after school teachers.
This representative meeting also proved to be a mile-stone towards the struggle for democratic rights of working class people, including the right to organise trade unions.
The PSA is the first trade union in POK to adopt radical resolutions, calling for the right to organise trade unions, demanding decent labour laws, labour courts, and fighting against neo-liberalism, privatisations, and down-sizing.
The main session at the September meeting was introduced by Khalid Mehmood, the ex-Chair of the PSA. He explaining the crisis the union faced due to it not having an elected central body, since 1995.
“Without a representative body, we were not able to defend the rights and interests of health workers, in particularly, and public sector workers, in general.
“As to the charter of demands that we should take into consideration, we should call for the opinions of all the membership, to press the government for the implementation of our demands, which would only become reality if we are properly organized around our common interests. Then the government would have to listen to our demands!”
Since last October’s devastating earthquake, which mainly hit three districts of POK, Muzaffarabad, Bagh, and Poonch, working class people continue to face hardships. Eleven months after the earthquake reconstruction has yet to begin!
Working class people were facing multiple problems, and the government has not fulfilled its own pledge of 3 month salaries bonus and to give a ‘House Building Advance’ (HBA), as announced soon after the earthquake.
The meeting broke into four working groups that wrote draft proposals and recommendations for the Paramedical Staff Association, to show a way forward for union members. These included solutions to the union’s organisational crisis, due to the absence of a representative and functioning central elected body of the PSA and because of a lack of democratic elections. The meeting also called for co-ordination with other public sector unions, to raise our collective voice in the common interests of the working class.
It was recommended that representatives from all the eight POK districts should be represented in PSA organisations, to make it more affective. Young people want to become active in PSA organisations. It should be the responsibility of the older leadership to guide the young members, and to make the union more effective.
“Our interests are linked with our class, rather than with any caste, whether be it Sudan, Jet or Malik. To win our rights, we need to struggle, which is a continuous process,” said Khalid Mehmood.
“The aim of all those participating here should be to organize the PSA more effectively and to strengthen its structures”.
“Presently, working people face a massive price-hike on daily food items. All the people are affected, particularly, working class people, who are dominated by a tiny minority, a parasitic, ruling elite, who suck our blood’.
Other speakers congratulated those health workers who made this a truly democratic and representative meeting. Working groups were also formed to discuss PSA organisation and union elections and the need to co-ordinate with other workers’ organisations. How to make the PSA more effective was discussed, including the need to co-ordinate districts and the centre, and to make sure all the structures of the PSA work. We need recruitment for they PSA, but the lack of a central elected body means we can not proceed.
Raffaqat Ahmed Tanvir called for joint struggle of workers for a minimum wage of RS 4,000 in the private sector. Co-ordination with health workers in the private sector is important. They face many daily problems, including the need for a basic minimum wage, and long working hours. We should campaign to get as many of them as possible to affiliate to the PSA.
The Paramedical Staff Association also needs to express solidarity with other workers struggles, national and internationally, for their rights, Raffaqat Ahmed Tanvir said.
Mumtaz Hussein Pirzahda congratulated the meeting’s organisers, who provided an opportunity to take forward the PSA, which would prove to be very important for the interests and rights of health workers and the entire working class, as PSA was second largest association of public sector workers.
Zia u din Gillani, Secretary General of the PSA, said this was the most “truly representative” meeting he’d seen in years.
Trade union rights struggle
Azad Qadri, from the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP), and PTCL Lions Unity union (telecom workers) congratulated and thanked workers for the successful meeting. Not only PSA, but workers’ organisation have to demand the right to organise unions, Azad Qadri said.
The Trade Union Rights Campaign struggles for the revival of the workers’ movement in Pakistan and Kashmir and organises workers in the Post Office and the railways. Last year, an historic strike by PTCL workers against privatisation gave workers confidence.
Other speakers at the meeting included Sardar Yasin, Raja Latif, Zaki udin, Mirza Aslam, Sajjad Naqvi, Ch Yousaf, Imtiaz Shah, and Manzoor Hussein Shah. Many others gave valuable contributions. Trade Union Rights Campaign Kashmir members also participated, including Toqeer Gillani and Mussarrat Malik
The meeting decided to hold democratic elections, in all districts, within two months. A central interim body and a ‘supreme council’ of the PSA were formed to oversee this process.
The meeting also paid a glowing tribute to one of the PSA leaders, Nazir Gardazi, who died during last October’s earthquake. The Trade Union Rights Campaign organised a commemoration conference, last December, to honour Nazir Gardazi.
CWI Kashmir supporters sold over 15 copies of our ‘Socialist’ newspaper at the meeting, and people asked for more information about the CWI. TURCK-K leaflets were also distributed.