Strike action and protest demonstrations by hundreds of workers affected by devastating 2005 earthquake that hit Kashmir and Pakistan, continue. They have a 14 point charter of demands, including calls for flexible loans, utility bills to be written-off, transport facilities for workers to be provided, and for the formation of a labour court.
An ‘Employees Unity Action’ committee, representing thousands of earthquake-affected public sector workers from Poonch division (comprising three districts, including Bagh, Rawalakot and Sudnothi) are in the forefront organising protest demonstrations.
Last November, saw such protests, and they continued in December to press for their demands. On 19 December, nearly one thousand public sector workers observed a ‘lock-out’ strike followed by a protest demonstration in Rawalakot, the headquarters of Poonch division.
Workers from different areas began to gather early at the courts, holding banners and placards. A big rally organised by the workers were led by Trade Union Rights Campaign (Kashmir) (TURC-K) banners. Workers marched through the town shouting slogans against the government. Their banners read “Implement labour laws and [a] labour court!”, “[For the] Right to organise unions!” and “Write-off all flexi loans and utilities bills!”
Hundreds of workers gathered at a main crossing, where traffic was blocked. A protest meeting was held and trade union leaders from different departments criticised the government for failing to meet their demands. Representatives of TURC-K were also given a platform to speak at all the meetings and rallies organised by the workers.One speaker said: “As a result of the 8th October earthquake, workers lost all their household belongings, and the government should honour its own announcement of paying 30,000 and 50,000 rupees immediately”.
Earthquake affected workers in all the districts should be given House Building Advance (HBA) on a priority basis without any discrimination. Various workers leaders demanded that labour laws and a labour court be formed in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, at least on the pattern of Pakistan. While criticising privatisation policies, they said this process should be stopped and those workers who lost their homes be given compensation immediately. They also demanded the writing off of all electricity and telephone bill’s for six months for all quake-affected workers and demanded the scrapping of anti-workers laws, particularly the Special Powers Act.
Workers from Poonch Division have been in the forefront, organising protests and strike action to address their demands. All the main organisations, including health, education, clerical and other public sector workers’ associations, formed a united front to launch their protest campaign. This saw protest demonstrations in November; on 21 November in Rawalkot, 28 November in Bagh, 12 December in Pallandri, and 19 December in Rawalkot, followed by a 21 December protest at Bagh.
The leaders of the Action committee also sought solidarity from trade unions in Pakistan. The TURC-K helped to print their leaflet, and organised solidarity through a press conference in Islamabad, on 24 Nov 24, highlighting their demands. On 21 December, hundreds of workers held protest demonstration in Bagh, in the pouring rain, and snow. They marched through the town and held a protest meeting in front of the local press club. Workers’ leaders criticised the government for not meeting their demands. A meeting of the leadership of the Action committee was held to chart a plan of action. TURC-K was to the forefront organising solidarity with the workers’ protests. At the meeting, they decided to continue the protests. From 5 January, all workers will wear black bands and 10 January will see more strike action and protests, if their demands are not met. There is even talk of a protest hunger strike. During this campaign, members and supporters of the CWI in Kashmir, in the TURC-K and International Socialist Resistance (ISR), played a key role organising solidarity for the workers’ struggle.