Pakistan: Telecom strike continues as negotiations fail

Thousands still sitting inside Telecom headquarters

The strike and protest movement of Telecom workers has entered into its third week (see previous reports). Nobody was expecting such a long strike of Telecom workers. Thousands of workers have been sitting inside the Telecom headquarters for the last four days. The government and media are calling this sit-in an occupation which has been denied by the workers’ organization called United Workers’ Alliance. The workers are determined to continue the struggle and take more radical actions.

Negotiations failed

The several rounds of talks and negotiations have failed so far. Management and the government are ready to accept some of the demands and want some time to consider the two other demands. They have already withdrawn the new pay scales and reinstated the 260 workers with all the back benefits. The management is also offering an increase of 25% in wages. But the United Workers’ Alliance has been demanding an increase of 35% since 2005.

The most contentious issue is the regularisation of the 8,000 contract workers. The management is not ready to accept this demand and government does not seem interested in solving this issue. The negotiations are still going on to settle the remaining issues. It is most likely that both sides will be able to solve the differences and reach an agreement in the next couple of days.

Azad Qadri, who is the general secretary of the Trade Union Rights Campaign and deputy general secretary of Pak Telecom Lions Unity, is also part of the negotiating team and playing an important role in the discussions. He is strongly arguing the workers’ case in front of government representatives and management. The TURCP has been able to increase its influence and credibility amongst the telecom workers as a fighting working class organisation. It is involved in the day to day activities of telecom workers and helping them to strengthen their movement.

Split in the leadership

There are many registered unions in the telecom sector representing different political currents and parties. The main trade unions are not affiliated with any major political party but individual leaders are linked with different political parties. Some leaders are siding with the Pakistan People’s Party in the coalition government but the overwhelming majority of the leadership is not in favour of the PPP. The pro-PPP leaders called off the strike on the second day but the workers refused to accept that and continued the strike.

PPP leaders tried to further split the struggle but failed. The United Workers’ Alliance is still intact and leading the struggle successfully. Even the hard-line PPP supporters are siding with the United Workers Alliance and openly denouncing the hypocrisy of pro-PPP leaders. Workers’ unity has stopped the further split in the leadership. The pro-PPP leaders have been exposed among the workers. All the efforts to further divide the workers and the movement have been defeated so far.

Strike still isolated

Despite all the efforts made by the TURCP, the strike and protest movement is still isolated. TURCP is continuously making efforts to get solidarity and support from the different trade unions and raising the issue of the telecom strike in the wider layers of the workers’ movement. One section of the telecom leadership is consciously trying to keep this strike and struggle isolated from the trade union movement. They are trying their best to keep it just in the telecom sector. There is a strong tradition in the telecom sector to keep the struggle in isolation, which is opposed by the TURCP which is trying to build solidarity with different unions.

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