On 2 February last year two PIA workers were killed and many injured at Karachi airport by para-military forces as they protested against privatization together with hundreds of other workers. After those killings a total stoppage of PIA operations was imposed by the workers and all domestic and international flights were cancelled for eight days.
One year later the struggle continues against the vicious attacks by the management against those who participated in the strike, while the government has backed down on its promises made during the strike and continues with the privatization of PIA.
On 2 February this year public meetings and protests were organized by the Red Workers Front and Worker Nama in many cities across the country to protest against these brutal measures and vow to keep the fight on. Trade union leaders and workers from various other public sector departments also participated in these meetings, who themselves are fighting against vicious attacks of privatization in their departments, and discussed the possibilities of bringing these struggles together in one platform.
A public meeting was organized by the RWF in the industrial area of Korangi on 5 February. This is a hub of many private industries and has a history of militant working class struggles in the 1960s and 1970s but for two decades no trade union public meetings have been held here. The RWF worked to bring workers of PIA and those of private sector industries together in the fight against the attacks of the ruling class. Workers of Korangi welcomed the secretary general of People’s Unity of PIA, Ismaeel Baloch, and expressed complete solidarity with their struggle. Workers and trade union leaders of General Tyres, IIL, Surti textile, Pak Refinery, Every Densar Pixar and Gandhara were present at the occasion. Comrade Tasawar Qaisrani was the stage secretary of the meeting.
Comrade Faras Raj of Progressive Youth Alliance was the first speaker who condemned the brutal act of firing on the PIA workers one year ago. After that, Comrade Sana Baloch addressed the gathering. He had travelled a long distance from the industrial area of Hub to participate in the meeting. He is also working closely with the workers of the Gadani ship-breaking yard and explained their plight to the workers of Korangi. He said that only by overthrowing capitalism can workers put an end to these brutal living conditions. The leader of workers of General Tyre, Zahoor Ahmed then addressed the gathering and supported the struggle of the PIA workers. After that, Ismaeel Baloch of the PIA spoke and explained the events of 2 February last year and their struggle to the participants of the meeting. In the end comrade Paras Jan of the RWF spoke to the gathering. He explained the policy of privatization and how it is benefitting the filthy rich of the country. He highlighted the difficulties facing the labour movement of Pakistan and said that the workers should identify black sheep in their own ranks and should move forward to forge a joint struggle not only against privatization but against this whole capitalist system.
A meeting was held in the Labour Hall of the WAPDA Hydro union organized by the RWF and Worker Nama on Sunday, 5 February. Workers and trade union leaders from WAPDA Hydro Union (Electricity department), Pakistan Workers Confederation, Railway Mehnat Kash union, PIA Joint Action Committee, Irrigation Employees Union, Pakistan Workers Federation, APCA (government clerks Association) and Balochistan Development Authority, as well as student leaders from Baloch Students Organization and Pashtoon Students Federation, were present at the occasion.
Comrade Karim Parhar of the RWF presided the meeting, while Ramzan Achakzai, central president of Pakistan Workers Confederation was the chief guest. Comrade Razzaq Ghurzang was the stage secretary.
Ghurzang opened the debate about the killing of workers on 2 February last year and highlighted the struggle of the workers of PIA. After that, other speakers intervened and paid tribute to the martyrs while discussing the lessons of this struggle. Anees Kashmiri of the Railway Mehnat Kash Union said that he congratulated the RWF for organizing this meeting and that “we must never forget the martyrs of the working class from Chicago [of 1886] to the PIA [of 2016]”. He said that “we are continuing our struggle against privatization in Railways and will keep on fighting.” He also explained the plight of the workers at PTCL (telecommunications) after the privatization. After he concluded his remarks, Shabbir Tareen of the PIA Joint Action Committee addressed the meeting. He said that “we are fighting not for ourselves but for the whole of working class.” He said that “we can only succeed if workers from other departments come to our support and take part in this struggle. We are fighting two battles in PIA, one against the ruling class and one against their stooges amongst the workers.” He outlined the loot and plunder of private airlines including Zardari's Indus Air, PIA premier service and recently launched Serene Air owned jointly by the Chinese and the Sharifs. He said that “our struggle will continue till the end of this brutal policy.” After that, Azizullah Kakar, provincial president of Pakistan Workers’ Federation, spoke and paid tribute to the workers of PIA. He also congratulated the RWF for organizing this meeting. He said that “those who win from our votes are destroying us, but today we vow to put aside all differences among workers and fight against the ruling elite.”
Chief Guest of the meeting, Ramzan Achakzai, thanked all the participants and said that “we will not forget these martyrs and will learn from their struggle to move forward. We reject any differences on national, linguistic, religious or racial basis and believe in struggle. We completely reject privatization of public departments and will stand with workers of any department which are facing brutal attacks by government. We will not become a tail of any political party on the issue of privatization and will continue to bring workers together to fight this war.”
At the end, comrade Karim Parhar thanked all the participants and said that “the present system is not capable of giving any relief to the workers. We believe in the solidarity of the workers of the world and the present crisis of capitalism is demanding that workers join hands to overthrow it and replace it with socialism.”
A meeting was organized at the Press Club on 2 February by the RWF and Worker Nama. Workers and trade union leaders from PIA, Railways, PTCL (telecommunication), Teachers Union, Young Doctors’ Association, Hospital Workers Union, Professors and Lecturers Association PPLA and Journalists Union attended the meeting.
Dr. Aftab Ashraf, central organizer of the RWF was the chief guest at the occasion, while comrade Rashid Khalid, editor of Worker Nama was stage secretary.
Dr. Valeed Khan opened the discussion by paying tribute to the PIA martyrs and said that “this day is a black day in the history of Pakistan.” He explained the lessons of one year of struggle and how workers can move forward. He explained his experiences while distributing pamphlets for this meeting and how the workers are still being harassed and victimized for raising their voices against privatization. He conveyed the messages of air hostesses and cabin crew, cargo handling staff, engineering staff and others to this meeting who would have liked to be present but could not due to various issues. He also critically remarked about the leadership of the unions of PIA and said that they should learn from the lessons of last year and should lead the workers in a decisive battle otherwise thousands of workers are going to be laid off and the privatization process will accelerate during this year.
Zeeshan, leader of PIA daily wage workers’ action committee, addressed the meeting and explained the struggle of workers of PIA against the brutal regime. He said that workers are ready to make more sacrifices and will not let the rulers privatize this public sector department. After that a resolution was presented to immediately regularize all daily wage workers of PIA. This was unanimously supported by all the participants.
Lutf Ullah, president of PTCL Lines staff union, also addressed the meeting and explained the plight of workers of PTCL after the privatization in 2005 under General Musharraf. He said now that once again the remaining 16,000 permanent workers of PTCL are being laid off in a few months to join the already unemployed 38,000 workers laid off earlier. He urged the workers of PIA to fight tooth and nail against this privatization. He also explained how privatization ruined a profitable public sector department and, after looting and plundering by the ruling elite, it is now in a worse condition and is being handed over to Chinese companies. Sabir Butt, leader of PTCL workers, was also present on the stage and supported the struggle of workers of PIA.
Yousaf Billa and Javed Chohan from unions of hospital workers also addressed the meeting and supported the struggle of PIA workers. They also highlighted the difficulties faced by workers of public sector hospitals which are now being privatized and handed over to Turkish companies for loot and plunder. Rao Riaz from the Water and Sewerage department also addressed the meeting and explained the evils of privatization and the brutality of the ruling class. The leader of the Punjab Teachers Union, Allah Buksh Qaiser, had travelled a long distance to attend this meeting. The Government of Punjab is privatizing 52,000 government schools against which the teachers union is waging a fierce struggle. Already more than 10 million children are unable to go to school and a big majority of the population in Pakistan is illiterate. After this privatization of schools illiteracy will increase and children from poor working class families will never be able to read and write. Most of these schools are either being closed down or being handed over to private owners to make profit out of them. Also around 800,000 teachers in Punjab will be laid off and they will add to the already millions of unemployed in the country. Teachers were going to boycott exams in schools, starting on 2 February, to challenge these brutal steps of the government but after the negotiations with the government, at the last hour, the call for strike action was taken back and teachers went to their duties. Allah Buksh Qaiser highlighted how the right to education is being taken from the poor and it has become the right of only the privileged. He explained the difficulties faced by teachers who are regularly being insulted by government officials on petty issues. They are being constantly harassed and all the blame for poor quality education is being levelled against the teachers. He also supported the struggle of workers of PIA and vowed to continue the struggle against this brutal policy.
Maqsood Hamdani of the WAPDA Hydro Union (electricity workers) highlighted the struggle of the workers in his department against privatization. He explained that the government is trying its best to break the unity of this, the largest union of workers in the country, and is hell bent on destroying this last fortress of the working class through privatization. Faiza Rana of the PPLA explained the struggle of workers in her department against the attacks of the ruling class. She also explained the plight of women in the working class and said that the only way forward for women is to move forward in solidarity with their class brethren. She said that this is a class war and a victory of the working class can ensure better living conditions for them. She also recited revolutionary poetry to explain her positions.
Siddique Baig, president of the Railway Mehnat Kash Union, explained the problems faced by the labour movement and how we can move forward. Zulfiqar Mehto, leader of the journalists union, also addressed the gathering and said that the message of this meeting should be conveyed to broader layers of the working masses and that journalists are ready to play their role. He also explained the difficulties faced by journalists and how the working class should move forward to revive the lost glory of the trade union movement.
Zain ul Abideen of the Progressive Youth Alliance also addressed the meeting and vowed support from students and unemployed youth to the working class against these brutal attacks. He said that students are already fighting along with their teachers against the privatization of schools, colleges and universities, but all these independent struggles need to be brought together on one platform to make a big impact. He also paid tribute to the PIA martyrs.
At the end Dr. Aftab Ashraf summed up the meeting and thanked all the participants and speakers for coming and extending solidarity to the PIA workers. He said that “this is a humble beginning of a long road of struggle. We will continue to hold meetings of this kind and will make efforts to bring workers of various departments on one platform.” He highlighted the importance of unity of the working class and how petty differences among trade union leaders lead to a weakening of the labour movement. He also explained the lessons of the movement of the PIA workers last year and the role played by the union leaders. He emphasized the need to reinvigorate the movement once again learning critical lessons. He also discussed the question of a General Strike in Pakistan and how it can be useful in confronting the attacks of government. He said that “all political parties in Pakistan support the policy of privatization and it is clearly mentioned in the FAQs on the website of the privatization commission. This is why we should have no illusion in any political party. Already, the workers know this reality through their experiences and have reached a conclusion that no political party in the country represents them.” He said that “we can also see that the number of protests by workers are increasing across the country and more and more layers of the working class are coming out to protests against the attacks of the ruling class.” He said “this is an important period in the history of the labour movement of Pakistan and PIA workers’ strike last year was a big event in these circumstances. We need to learn from these events and build our forces to answer the questions posed by the objective conditions.”
After the meeting a protest was held outside the Press Club to condemn the killing of PIA workers last year.
Protests were also held in Multan, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Dera Ghazi Khan and other cities organized by the RWF. In these protests textile workers and students participated along with others to condemn the attacks of the government.
Prior to that, the RWF had produced a pamphlet demanding immediate action against the killers and an end to the policy of privatization. This was distributed among hundreds of PIA workers and various public sector departments in different cities across the country.