The workers' struggle in Baluchistan has taken a dramatic new turn in the last couple of days. On Wednesday, June 5, the whole city of Quetta came to a standstill by a general strike. This call for strike was given by all the opposition political parties. These parties included the PPP-led ARD, the nationalist parties and even the religious parties. This call came in response to the intense pressure which the struggle of the workers had exerted upon the trade union and political leadership from below. Shops were closed (shutters down) and other activities in the city came to a stop.
On May 24 the national leaders of the official TU federation (workers' confederation) came to Quetta to negotiate with the authorities. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of the workers, instead of launching a nationwide movement to support the strike they compromised the struggle in the negotiations with the Baluchistan government and announced the calling off of the strike. This act infuriated the workers both those who were in prison and those outside facing redundancies and being forced to sign humiliating apologies. It was a big blow and it seemed on the surface that the strike was going to suffer a severe defeat. A certain level of demoralisation was spread by the state, the media and the trade union lackeys of the regime. There has been almost total censorship of the strike movement and the June 5 strike which shut down Quetta has not been reported by any major newspaper in Pakistan. So much for press freedom! And also for "honest" journalism. This is a country dominated by yellow, vulgar and corrupt journalism.
But to the surprise of many, the strike movement picked up a new momentum and the workers refused to retreat or budge. This put an enormous pressure on the Baluchistan TU leadership. Due to this pressure, the BLF (Baluchistan Labour Federation), the Baluchistan affiliate of the "workers' confederation" broke with its leadership. The BLF leadership announced a hunger strike starting June 2. By June 4 the physical condition of one of the main leaders of the BLF, Khair Mohammed Foreman, started to deteriorate and he was taken to hospital. He is over sixty and the hunger strike took its toll.
Hameed Khan and other main leaders and workers in prison remained defiant. They refused to sign apologies and Hameed Khan refused to be released on bail until every one of the 197 arrested workers were set free before him.
This resoluteness, courage and determination of the workers and revolutionary leaders gave a new impetus to the strike movement. The involvement of political parties in struggle shows how the determination of workers in struggle can transform the whole atmosphere. This is in a situation where Pakistan is on the brink of war and the danger of a nuclear exchange looms on the horizon. The state is using all this threat and external danger to crush the workers in struggle. But this new upsurge in the movement shows that a class united in struggle with a daring leadership can overcome the greatest of obstacles.
Furthermore this struggle has been isolated in Baluchistan, both by the state and the TU leadership. The only thing the national TU leaders did was to go to Quetta and sell out this marvellous strike movement. The only force in the workers' movement which launched a nationwide struggle in support of the Baluchistan workers was the PTUDC. Protest demonstrations and rallies were organised throughout the country. In every major city and important town, support for this strike movement was mobilised by the PTUDC. The workers and leaders of the strike will not remain oblivious to this fact.
But above all the international campaign and the messages of support from across the world during intense state repression and the heat of the struggle gave a big encouragement to these workers. These international protest letters and messages are also having an impact on the state. There are now clear signs that the state authorities are vacillating.
Comrade Hameed Khan, the Quetta City Organiser of the PTUDC has sent a message of revolutionary gratitude from Quetta jail to all those trade unionists, workers and political activists in Europe and elsewhere who have come forward in the sprit of proletarian internationalism to support this struggle and protest against this repression of the Quetta workers by the dictatorship.
This struggle has now entered a delicate and decisive phase. A big public meeting to pressurise the state for the release of the imprisoned workers and to accept the demands is planned for Quetta city centre today. Another shutter-down call has been given for June 10. The authorities are now feeling the heat of the struggle. It will be very difficult for them to sustain the repression. It is not possible to crush a movement that has overcome betrayal and defied intolerable repression and still continues the struggle with an even greater momentum.
An unconditional release of all the arrested comrades, restoration of jobs of all workers without reprisals, and serious negotiations for the 40% allowance would be an important victory laying the basis for further advances in the class struggle in the turbulent times ahead.