The workers of the PTCL (Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited) kicked out the bosses on May 25 and locked all centres of the company after taking control of the institution nation wide. A strike began a few weeks ago when the Privatisation Commission of Pakistan set a deadline of June 10 for the sale of company. The PTCL is one of the biggest profit earning companies in Pakistan with a net annual profit of more than 30 billion rupees (approximately US $50 million).
Discontent and anger had been increasing steadily and continuously amongst the working class over the policies of neo-liberalism and the sale of public sector institutions for years. But it was the Musharraf dictatorship, which after taking power in 1999 increased the tempo of privatisation and introduced other neo-liberal policies, that pushed this discontent and anger to a higher level.
The most interesting aspect of this is the distrust the workers have of their leadership. The workers wanted the joint action of all the trade unions, however they openly expressed doubt in the union leadership and exposed the leadership’s history of compromise. The leadership of the joint action committee swore an oath on the Quran to assure the workers that they would not make any compromises this time.
The strike began one week ago with calls for two hours of daily strike action. The government then invited the joint action committee to Islamabad for negotiations on May 25. On the very same day more than two thousand workers and activists of the PTCL unions gathered in front of PTCL head quarters in Islamabad to demonstrate and express their demands. The mood of the demonstrators was uncompromising, which became more strengthen by the news of the failure of the negotiations. A huge number of police were appointed by the government to stop or suppress the demonstrators and to lock the main gate of PTCL headquarters.
The workers are committed to fighting against the policy of privatisation. The Musharraf regime is trembling at the prospect of a prolonged strike because it has the potential to spread to other industries across Pakistan. A burning debate has erupted amongst the workers on how they can win this struggle. The unity of the different unions of the PTCL expresses a very initial stage of class unity and class-consciousness amongst the advanced workers. The ruling class will definitely attempt to end the strike by either using brute force and other classic strike breaking methods or through some sort of temporary compromise. The annual growth rate of the GDP of Pakistan is above 7%, which has been achieved only at the expense of the working class. Privatisation is the key to this growth. Therefore the ruling class is obliged to continue the selling off of the public sector. The workers cannot accept this, therefore the class struggle has erupted.
The strike of the PTCL workers is the first expression of this growing struggle.
We appeal to all readers to send messages of support and solidarity to the workers of the PTCL. Messages can be sent to: