The Musharraf regime is brutally attacking lawyers and political activists to curb any voice against the declaration of emergency. In this situation a major attack has been made on the PTUDC (Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign) when the younger brother of Comrade Manzoor Ahmed (Member National Assembly & President of the PTUDC) Chaudhary Munir Ahmed was arrested. Due to the suspension of the constitution and basic human rights no complaint can be filed anywhere and protests of all kinds are also banned.
Munir Ahmed is the president of the Kasur District Bar Association (Lawyers' Association) and he is also a member of the PTUDC. His arrest is part of an attack on the cause of the working class of Pakistan.
The following have also been arrested:
Aitzaz Ahsan, Member National Assembly and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (Lawyers' Association);
Ahsan Bhoon, President Lahore High Court Bar Association (Lawyers' Association);
Liaqat Sahi, General Secretary (CBA) State Bank of Pakistan and PTUDC;
Farid Awan, Famous labour leader of Karachi and PTUDC
Comrade Irshad Shar, Executive Member Malir District Bar Association (Karachi) and the Office Bearer of People's Lawyers Forum ( Lawyers' wing of the PPP) and PTUDC.
We appeal to all comrades and lawyers in all countries to send solidarity messages for these lawyers who are leading the lawyers and activists against the Musharraf regime and the dictatorial rule of the Army.
Send solidarity messages directly to:
Chaudhary Munir: email@example.com
Aitzaz Ahsan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ahsan Bhoon: email@example.com
We also appeal for letters and resolutions of solidarity with the Pakistani workers that can be sent to the PTUDC. Fill in the form here.
The arrests reported above confirm that the declaration of an emergency in Pakistan by general Musharraf is a direct threat to the Pakistani trade union movement. The police have been given special powers of arrest, and while these so far have been used mainly against protesting lawyers and opposition activists, they can also be sued against workers involved in strikes and protests.
Even before these emergency powers were introduced any group of workers who decided to organise strike action of street rallies faced the wrath of a brutal state apparatus.
There have been several trade union disputes in the recent period. The latest was the strike of the engineers of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) one day before the emergency was introduced. They were demanding wage increases and improvements in their working conditions. The strike led to the cancellation of 92 flights, local and international and all the airports in the country were totally deserted.
The strike by the PIA engineers is symptomatic and gives us an idea of the situation faced by other government workers. Privatisation and downsizing are destroying thousands of jobs. The new contract system and heavy cuts in wages are forcing more and more workers to protest and take strike action.
We have witnessed disputes at WAPDA (Water & Power Development Authority). On September 11 there was a ballot of the WAPDA workforce in which the traditional union of the workers, Hydro, won by a lead of more than 37,000 votes. The unions supported by both the government and fundamentalists suffered a crushing defeat.
After this huge victory the workers threatened to take strike action, but the government decided to impose its policy of restructuring and privatisation of WAPDA. Due to the increasing pressure from the workforce a national call was issued to protest against the vicious government policies on October 30. Hundreds of WAPDA workers took part in rallies in every city and town. The mood was very militant and the workers vowed to switch off the lights if their demands are not met.
There was also the case of PTCL, the national telecom company, which was privatised in 2005. The workers there had waged a relentless struggle against privatisation, but due to lack of determination of the union leadership they failed to stop the process of privatisation. The new owner who came in wanted to sack nearly 33,000 workers, but the government, fearing a backlash on the part of the workforce, intervened directly to delay the implementation of the sackings. But on October 19 of this year, after the massive reception of Benazir Bhutto, a meeting was called in which Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz approved the sacking of 29,000 workers from PTCL to complete the privatisation process. This provoked the wrath of the workers and they are now in a rebellious mood.
The workers of the railways suffer severe oppression at the hands of the current regime. Draconian labour laws are rigorously imposed on them and union activity is strictly banned. In spite of all this, the resentment of the workers is growing. The signal staff workers carried out a determined struggle and they were able to create pressure to get their demands accepted. Similarly, engine drivers and other workers are also continuously pressing for their demands. The movement is ripening and workers of various departments are coming closer to calling for a complete shutdown to push hard for their demands.
KESC was also privatised under this regime but in private hands it has failed to deliver an adequate electricity supply to the people of Karachi. To increase their profits the KESC owners are now sacking nearly 10,000 employees. This is now generating a militant mood among the workers.
The Central Board of Revenue - which was restructured in this year's Budget and renamed as the Federal Board of Revenue - has announced that 7,500 employees will be sacked. Since the announcement the workers have been continuously in struggle.
The workers of the banking sector and financial institutions are the most unfortunate of them all. The rapid privatisation of the banks that went hand in hand with downsizing has led to a certain degree of weakening of the trade unions. Moreover, the draconian 27-B law implemented under the regime of Nawaz Sharif has deprived the bank workers of their political rights.
The teachers in the Punjab Education Department and Technical Education Authority have been protesting in all the major cities over the last two months. The Punjab chapter of the APCA (All Pakistan Clerks Association) have also threatened to go on strike if their pay scales are not revised. They also have protested in big numbers in various cities. The same mood exists among the workers of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Water and Sanitation Authority (WASA) and all other departments.
In the private sector, the workers at Unilever are already involved in a movement and are moving forward with their heads held high. The Unilever administration is trying its best to reduce the number of workers on "Permanent Labour" contracts and employ most of them either as Contract or Day labourers. Also they are trying to get their products manufactured through the third party system through contractors. For this purpose some machines from the plant have been deployed outside the premises of Unilever. These outside contractors use even more brutal measures against the workers. All these policies are helping to increase the profits of Unilever. All this is provoking the rage and anger of the workers and the union at Unilever, the CBA, has now strongly protested against these measures. To curb this protest management has charged the labour leaders with false criminal offences and has deployed police inside the plant.
The workers of the textile industry are the most affected by the current economic crisis. This industry is responsible for 60 percent of the country's exports but due to the policies of the WTO and other international financial institutions, this industry is in crisis. The present crisis has made thousands jobless while others are working in inhuman conditions. The peasants and small farmers are also being ruthlessly exploited by the sugar mill and flourmill owners and middlemen. The sugar mill owners owe millions of rupees to the farmers, which is leading to a deterioration of their living conditions.
The above listed examples of trade union disputes in Pakistan gives us an indication of the real situation facing the workers. Organising trade unions and standing up for the rights of workers in Pakistan has always been a dangerous task. The bosses have not hesitated in the past to have key trade union leaders killed if they proved to be an impediment to their plans in many workplaces. The famous killing of Arif Shah led to the setting up of the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign.
The workers and comrades involved in this campaign now need more help than ever before. In the coming period we can expect more strike action and more state repression. We call on workers of all countries to raise the issue of the plight of the Pakistani trade union movement, to pass resolutions of condemnation of the imposition of emergency measures in Pakistan and send these to your local embassies.
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