Marxist MP Manzoor Ahmed challenges the regime on PTCL privatization

The National Assembly of Pakistan was disrupted yesterday, June 13 by a severe dispute. As soon as the session of the lower house of parliament started Comrade Manzoor Ahmed, the Marxist MP, raised a point of order and challenged the Telecommunication Minister, Awais Laghari on the army’s invasion of PTCL telephone exchanges and installations, the arrest of hundreds of striking workers, and on the whole process of privatizing the PTCL.

The National Assembly of Pakistan was disrupted today, June 13 by a severe dispute. As soon as the session of the lower house of parliament started Comrade Manzoor Ahmed, the Marxist MP, raised a point of order and challenged the Telecommunication Minister, Awais Laghari on the army’s invasion of PTCL telephone exchanges and installations, the arrest of hundreds of striking workers, and on the whole process of privatizing the PTCL.

Manzoor explained that the occupation of the PTCL revealed the dictatorial nature of the regime. He also explained that the role of the army had been exposed because it was not being used to defend the country, but to invade the country’s national assets and to crush the people of Pakistan. This act exposed the desperation and cowardice of the regime. Manzoor warned that the privatization of the PTCL, under the shadow of army bayonets, would never be accepted by the PTCL workers, or by the working class in general. “We are not afraid of the army, we fought it in the past, and we will resist it now!”

Manzoor also publicly exposed the massive arrest of PTCL workers, and charged the state with harassing the families of union activists. He then challenged the minister to a public debate in parliament, on television, or anywhere the minister would like. Manzoor also exposed the fact that the privatization of the PTCL was being carried out at the behest of imperialist institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. He also explained that the present Telecommunications Minister and the regime were trying to force privatization through in order to get huge commissions and kickbacks from the various multinationals that have been circling around the PTCL like vultures. After the point of order the Speaker of the House asked the Minister to reply.

Awais Laghari was furious with rage. He replied by saying that any damage to PTCL installations would be considered as an attack on Pakistan and that the striking workers would be prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorist Act. The opposition walked out after hearing this statement, leaving half of the chamber empty. One lone opposition MP remained sitting in the opposition benches – Manzoor Ahmed. He remained at his post, taking notes on the Minister’s remarks. When the Minister finished his speech, Manzoor asked the Speaker for permission to reply to the Minister. The Speaker at first allowed Manzoor to speak. However, as soon as he began to speak, some greater force sent a signal to the Speaker and Manzoor’s microphone was switched off. In protest the opposition, who had returned to the chamber after the Telecom Minister’s speech, turned around and walked out again. In his reply the Minister completely ignored Manzoor’s call for a public debate on the issue of PTCL privatization.

In reality, the agreement reached between the state authorities and the leaders of the Telecommunication Workers’ Action Committee on the night of June 4 never materialized. Because both sides are pushing in opposite directions, no long-lasting compromise is possible. In fact, both sides backed out of the agreement even before the ink had dried on the paper.

The weak dictatorship has totally capitulated to the dictates of the IMF and is hell bent on pushing forward with privatization, while the PTCL workers, in spite of being offered fabulous wage and benefits increases refuse to accept the privatization of the institution.

On the night of June 11, army and paramilitary troops were sent in to occupy important PTCL buildings and installations. In the process of the occupation hundreds of leading worker activists were arrested. As the bosses had forced the regime to restart the privatization process, the workers put intense pressure on the union leadership to restart the strike. The situation is very tense at the moment and reports are coming in of a breakdown in the telecommunication system in several districts. Two hundred and seventy thousand phones are out of order and the workers are threatening to cut transmission lines between major cities of the country tonight. The army signal corps has been called in to run the fibre optic network, however it is doubtful whether they have the necessary skills to run it.

An emergency meeting of the PTUDC Executive Committee was called for June 11 and 12. At this meeting a strategy for stepping up the campaign to mobilize other unions and institutions in support of the striking PTCL workers was discussed.

On June 12 press conferences of the PTUDC were held at Peshawar, Karachi, Hyderabad, Multan, Rahimyarkhan, Quetta and other major cities in which union leaders from different industries and companies announced their total support for the PTCL workers in their struggle against privatization. The most important press conference was held at Comrade Manzoor’s parliamentary office in Islamabad. Seven other PPP Members of Parliament attended this widely covered press conference. The MPs condemned the brutal intervention of the army in the PTCL and demanded the immediate release of the more than 500 arrested PTCL union activists. They also demanded the reinstatement of the 29 PTCL union leaders who have been fired for taking part in the strike. The MPs then demanded an end to privatization and demanded that the regime accept the workers’ demands.

The regime has set a new date of June 18 2005 for the sale of the PTCL. The Action Committee has decided to shut down the entire telecom network throughout the country. The PTUDC has decided to hold demonstrations across Pakistan in support of the strike on June 15. June 18 will be declared a Black Day and protests will be launched by the PTUDC. Leaflets and other material are being produced round the clock by the PTUDC to mobilize maximum support for the PTCL strike.