Kashmir: Thousands protest in earthquake affected areas

Protest letters and solidarity messages still needed

Thousands protest in earthquake affected areas

Some of the biggest demonstrations of public sector workers seeking compensation for losses incurred during the October 2005 earthquake have taken place in Bagh, Kashmir. Here the workers held a demonstration of around 2-3,000 strong!

Workers took out a rally from district headquarters chanting slogans for their right to organise unions, to implement labour laws and set up labour courts. They protested against the apathy of the government and the ruling class in a charged atmosphere. Angry workers in thousands marched through the town of Bagh holding their banners which read “Implement labour laws, labour courts and right to organise trade unions”, “Write off flexi loans”. TURC-K banners were held by workers in the front of the demonstration and around the rally venue. Workers gathered around a local press club where a mass public rally was held. TURCK representatives also spoke at this meeting

While speaking at the rally some of the workers leaders including a leader of the teachers’ association, Mushtaq Bandey said,’ 8th October earthquake was the 4th biggest that the humanity saw.“The government, administration and the bureaucracy and the Pakistan government said that public sector workers played a vital role in beginning to bring life back to normal. As a result they said that these workers should be honoured more than anyone else. All government representatives pledged to write-off all loans taken by workers and to give them three months advance salary as a bonus.

When the time came to implement these promises, government ministers were looting relief trucks and none of them took any real part in the reconstruction process. After year and half poor workers are on the streets because of the policies of ERRA (Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority) mean millions are still living in tents in bitter cold weather while ERRA officers are paid tens of thousands of rupees per month for doing absolutely nothing!

Speakers threatened to boycott Pakistani banks within 15 days if the workers’ flexi loans were not written off. Protesting public sector workers threatened their own leaders such as Bashir Dar not to cut any deal over their heads with the government elite.

Enraged workers

These warnings demonstrate the anger amongst the public sector workers. Many are enraged that the private banks have written off 400 million Rupees for members of the elite like Hamayu Akhtar and 150 million Rupees for the ex-prime minister of Pakistan Zaffarullah Jamali.

Khalid Mehmood, a central leader of the Health workers and the TURC-K said, “The main parties, the Muslim Conference, Pakistani Peoples Party and the PML (Peoples Muslim League), are not representative of the working class and the poor people’. Under capitalism and feudalism the rights of the oppressed working class and the poor cannot be protected and they need a party. It is because of the policies of IMF and the World Bank and other financial institutions that workers here and around the world were suffering. We have the incredible situation where onions, a basic foodstuff, are now selling at 80 Rupees per kg, a rise of 3 – 400% in the last few weeks. In our society the barber and shoemaker were seen as the ‘untouchables’, but today public sector workers are also seen as ‘untouchable’. All rulers are thieves here”

As to writing-off flexi loans and being granted three months salary as a bonus Khalid said, ”If Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Attique khan had not used his helicopter in order to travel and give his condolences to families who lost relatives in the quake the government could have afforded to write off our loans. The 5th February is a traditional day to express solidarity with Indian Kashmir, we the workers should express solidarity with the working class across the dividing Line of Control in Kashmir”.

Khalid Mehmood said that the TURC-K had been launched as a movement in Pakistani controlled Kashmir for the working class, for their basic democratic rights including the right to unions, labour laws and labour courts so that all oppressed workers of the world unite! Khalid also mentioned the solidarity message sent by CWI members meeting for their world congress in Belgium.

Other speakers included, Bashir Dar Central leader of Non-Gazzetted workers; Haji Latif; Waqar Jaffari, Sardar Farooq, Syed Khalid Gillani from the Teachers Organisation; Sardar Mushtaq a trade unionist from the revenue and land department, Syed Khan from the clerical workers, Sardar Ifitkhar Mughal, Sardar Imtiaz, Perviaz Ahmed Quershi, Sardar, Ejaz Baig, Syed Abid Qazmi, Musa Abbasi, Raja Shakeel, and others

In Kotli, over 40 people attended a solidarity meting organised by the PSA (Paramedical Staff Association). Leaders and activists of different workers association including clerical workers, the local council of the Employees Association, Newspaper hawkers , teachers organisation and the local branch of the Sanitary workers association and members and supporters of TURC-K.

The meeting pledged to support the charter of demands submitted by the Employees Alliance who were represented by Imtiaz Khan, secretary general of the Action Committee, Sardar Farooq.

Another solidarity meeting is being held on 3rd February in Kotli to organise further solidarity, which will be hosted by the health workers. Invitation have been send to all associations to chalk out practical steps to organise solidarity with the ongoing struggle by the 20 000 earthquake affected workers from the local area Another very successful solidarity meeting was held at the main DHQ hospital in Mirpur again hosted by the Health workers where over 60 people including central president Raja Zahoor of APECA-clerical workers, Riaz Pirzahda, central leader of Non-Gazetted employees, PWD (Public Works Department) Malik Nazir and central president of PSA (health workers) Choudry Yousaf were amongst other trade union activist and supporters of TURC-K attending the meeting.

A representative of the TURC-K Organiser also spoke and explained the aims of the campaign and the help required to organize solidarity at national and international level for the ongoing struggle for the democratic rights of the public sector workers!

In Mirpur there is a federation of ten public sector associations who have pledged to take up the charter of demands submitted to the government and have supported and issued statements in favour of the ongoing workers struggle. This meeting was very successful. The local Urdu press had coverage of this meeting.

The campaign for the rights of earthquake affected workers received a boost by a very successful press conference held in Islamabad. The leaders of the Action Committee, including Khalid Mehmood, Sardar Imtiaz secretary general and Sardar Farooq Khan alongside with representatives of TURC-K outlined their demands to the press just one day after a suicide bomb attack near Marriot Hotel in Islamabad. The press conference was reported by three private TV channels, and all the main Urdu press carried the conference reporting.

The Employees Action Committee through the TURC-K have made an appeal to trade unionists and young people for messages of solidarity to the striking workers and protests to the authorities concerned. The TURC-K and its sister organisation in Pakistan, the TURC-P are organizing solidarity action in Pakistan and Kashmir.

Please include in the letter of protests the necessity to implement the following demands of the Employees Action Committee

  • Earthquake affected workers loans be written off from 8th Oct 2005
  • As announced by the Federal Government of Pakistan, three months advance salary as bonus be implemented.
  • HBA-house building advance should be implemented on district level.
  • Compensation of 30-50,000 rupees for loss of house belonging as announced by the POK government be implemented.
  • All workers who lost their lives in the quake, their children or relatives be adjusted.
  • Basic Labour laws should be introduced and labour courts be formed in Kashmir
  • All workers in the state should be given the right to form trade unions.
  • All anti-labour laws be scrapped including the Special Power Act
  • End to privatization policies of down-sizing and right sizing etc.

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February 2007