Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) was privatized by the former military dictator Gen. Pervaiz Musharaf in 2005 after brutally suppressing a workers’ anti-privatization movement. 26% of the shares of the company were sold while the government retained more than 51% of the shares. Despite this, the company was handed over to private management. Since then, there have been constant battles between the workers and the management. In the recently-passed 2010 budget, the government announced a 50% increase in pay for all government employees. Since the government was a majority shareholder in PTCL, the workers of PTCL deserved the increase in pay. However, the PTCL management refused to increase the pay of its workers, despite that fact that inflation in Pakistan stands at 25%. A situation of confrontation has developed between the workers and the management since early August. The PTCL workers demanded that their wages be increased by fifty percent. Another demand was to enlist all the workers of PTCL by Basic Pay Scale (BPS). This would mean that contract employees would become regular. The management refused all the workers’ demands, which resulted in a strike all over Pakistan.
After a strike of two weeks, on August 30th thousands of PTCL workers, along with students and social activists, gathered outside the PTCL headquarters in G-8 Islamabad to stage a sit-in for the acceptance of their demands. Soon, the workers climbed the walls, broke open the main gate of the PTCL headquarters and occupied the complex. They expressed uncontained fury at the PTCL management and the CEO. The workers showed utmost unity in their ranks and vowed not leave until their demands were met. Slogans such as, “We Want BPS” were raised by the emotionally-charged crowed. The workers staged a mock funeral of the PTCL management and then took turns beating the coffins with batons.
The union leaders complained that their struggle was not highlighted by the media, and requested the journalistic community to show solidarity with them in their time of need. Despite repeated calls, the media absolutely refused to fulfill its duty in highlighting the workers’ plight and their pleas. The media barons of the country joined their fellow capitalist comrades in crushing the resolve of the proletariat. This resistance only increased their resolve and cemented their ranks with unity.
On the first of September, the police charged the protesters with batons. But this was not sufficient to break the resolve of the workers and they held their occupation of the PTCL headquarters. On the 2nd of September the occupation of the PTCL headquarters continued. Four thousand workers took out a rally from PTCL headquarters to an important road link in Islamabad, and blocked it for three-and-a-half hours, from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm. Despite the sheer proportion of the demonstration, a media blackout was shown towards the workers. On the 3rd of September at sunset, when the workers were breaking their fast, two thousand police officers raided the PTCL headquarters. They fired hundreds of shells of tear gas and arrested more then five hundred workers who were peacefully assembled in the complex. After an atrocious assault on the headquarters, the police attacked the PTCL colony, where a house-to-house search was conducted and every man above the age of thirteen was arrested.
On the next day, five hundred workers gathered outside the Islamabad press club, along with students and social activists, to protest the aforementioned police operation. The protest was conducted peacefully, and as the workers were dispersing after a while, the police launched another attack on them and arrested 35 workers, many of whom were important union leaders. The wages of sixteen thousand workers has also been stopped, and twelve hundred employees have been terminated. The families of the proletariat are starving. They do not have sufficient finances to send their children to school. These children are then forced to work, robbing them of their childhood and a better future.
We ask our labor comrades all around the world to show solidarity with us, and highlight our plight in the international media. Also, please expose the tyranny of the Pakistani state before your people. The Pakistani state portrays itself as being locked in a “heroic” struggle against terrorism. It collects billions of dollars from your governments, which are, in fact, your tax money. Then this money is used to beat us, to burn our homes and deprive our children of their dreams and hope of a better future.
The Pakistani state is the greatest force of reaction in the region. It bombs those tribal people of Balochistan and Pukhtoonkhua who want to leave the shackles of tribal chiefs, peasants of Punjab and Sindh are fired upon if they agitate to end centuries of feudal rule. The greatest victim of state brutalities is labor. Our struggle is a testament to this fact.
The Pakistani media is also an agent of international finance capital and works in close coordination with the intelligence agencies. As the police was firing on thousands of PTCL workers, the media was repeatedly showing the statement of a fictional leader of “Pakistani Al-Quadia”, calling for terrorism in the west. Such tactics are used to win international sympathy in the fight against its own people. We hope that you will not be misled by this propaganda. Comrades, labor has been given a great historical task of countering the forces of reaction and moving the toiling masses towards a new society. But this responsibility can not be full filled without international working class solidarity. We hope that out comrades abroad shall support us in this cause to the best of their abilities.