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Pakistani trade unionists facing repression

Shehzad Arshad from Revolutionary Socialist Movement, Pakistan, reports on the struggle of the electrical company workers in Karachi against their bosses and company thugs

Workers at the Karachi Energy Supply Company (KESC) have been fighting over 4,500 job cuts since January. Now, after months without pay, they face increased repression. In July, the government made a show of intervening to resolve the dispute and KESC management promised to pay the workers three months’ wages and drop their plans. Almost immediately afterwards, management reneged on the deal and went back to harassing and persecuting the workers.

The workers’ situation is increasingly desperate. Before the Eid festival, one group of workers went to the head office to demand their wages, security guards opened fire and nine workers were injured. The news spread like a fire and thousands of workers and trade union leaders surrounded the KESC head office. They condemned the management for firing on workers and demanded the implementation of the July agreement.
Rangers and police baton charged the crowd and even opened fire with live ammunition. On 29 August, 44 KESC union members, along with Chairman of KESC Worker Alliance, Akhlaq Khan and General Secretary, Haji Shahzad, were arrested. All of them, even the injured workers, faced prosecution under the draconian “anti-terror” laws. This was an attempt to intimidate all the workers, after a month, the workers were released by the court because there was no evidence! Even so, the non-payment of wages and the sacking of thousands of workers remain big issues.
The dispute has revealed the real character of the major parties. Many in the unions and on the left believe the Pakistan People’s Party government is on the side of the working class. The KESC struggle has shown thousand of workers where its loyalties really lie. The party and the government play a dual role, they say they sympathise with the workers but when the workers threatened to escalate their action by turning off the electricity, they argued they should limit themselves to petitioning. In reality, the government stands squarely with the KESC management. Even the opposition parties have stood aside from the issues and stuck to their neo-liberal policies throughout the conflict.
The workers are determined to continue their heroic struggle. But determination must be linked to more militant tactics, like maintaining the picket of the head office and reaching out to other workers to support the strike. The KESC workers need solidarity from across Pakistan and internationally. The left and trade unions have to organise solidarity protests and use this dispute to galvanise the whole of the working class in defence of their jobs, their wages and their conditions.

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