Protesting port workers of Port Qasim in Karachi walked out and effectively took over the port on 17th of January.
The workers locked all the entry and exit gates of the port. They also locked the managers in their offices and refused to allow them to leave the port premises. All the commercial activity came to stand still. The workers also blocked all the roads leading to the port. The trade unions and workers refused to return to work and re-start the port operations until their demands were met and implemented.
The workers are demanding a 50% increase in wages – announced by the government in the federal budget in June. The port authorities have refused to increase the wages and said that board of directors of Port Qasim Authority will make the decision. The workers have waited for this increase for six months. But the authorities were using delaying tactics and have not implemented the wage increase.
“ We were demanding the 50% increase in the wages from July 2010. We made several appeals to the government and port authorities to resolve this issue but nobody cared about it. Now when we stop the work and locked the gates, all the managers are coming to us with the guarantees that the wages will be increased immediately”, said one angry protesting worker.
One protesting worker expressed his anger in these words, “We are not highly paid workers and live under constant financial strains. Even better paid workers are finding it difficult to cope with skyrocketing prices and we have been denied the meager increase in our wages. Our children can not get quality education and health, so we are forced to fight and that is exactly what we are doing at the moment”.
There are three unions at the port and all of them are participating in this struggle. The unions forced to take this action because of pressure put on them by the workers from below. The PPP affiliated union is the collective bargaining unit in this port. Another union is affiliated with the Karachi based ethnic political party Muthida Quami movement (MQM) which is also an ally of the PPP led government. The enraged workers have forced both the government-supported unions to take this action.
This strike action is very important given the present situation that exists in the largest city of the country and which is its’ commercial hub. Karachi is once again in the grip of target killings for the last three days and more than 30 political activists of different political parties have been killed. These killing are clearly taking place on an ethnic basis. But the port workers have cut across the ethnic and political divide and organised a united struggle of all the workers belonging to different ethnic and political groups. The working class has again proved that it can overcome divisions once it begins to move into action.