Tens of thousands of public sector workers have been involved in a bitter struggle since November last year to force the government in Pakistani administered Kashmir to implement promises of compensation for losses suffered during the earthquake.
Since 6 February, these workers organised under the Employees Action Committee have been involved in an indefinite strike. Non-gazetted workers have joined the action and it has spread to other areas in Kashmir. In what is a very rare occurrence women workers from social welfare and education sectors held their own independent protests in the town of Bagh and joined the strike. On the evening of 7 February the Kashmiri government declared the strike illegal. The authorities also issued a ‘Section 144’ on the capital city Muzaffarabad, which makes any meeting of more than four workers in the street illegal.
Leading activists in the strike are also members of the Trade Union Rights Campaign – Kashmir and could face severe government repression as a result of their role in the strike.
At the time of the October 2005 earthquake the government praised these public sector workers as “heroes” because they saved the lives of thousands and eased the suffering of many more despite the losses they themselves incurred. As a result the Federal Pakistani and the Kashmiri government offered to wipe out bank loans taken by workers during that time and also give them a bonus equivalent to three months pay. None of these promises have been implemented. Compensation for damage and destruction of houses has not been paid. And yet millions of Rupees of earthquake relief funds have disappeared into the pockets of corrupt government officials and army officers who are associated with the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation authority.
Movement builds strength
Thousands of earthquake affected public sector workers took to the streets in massive protest demonstrations across Pakistani Controlled Kashmir on the second day of the indefinite strike action, particularly in the Poonch and Muzaffarabad districts.
In Bagh, nearly two thousand public sector workers participated in a protest demonstration and observed total strike action at district headquarters in Bagh, including Dirgot, the home town of the Kashmiri Prime Minister.
All government departments were deserted and nearly 30 taxi drivers from the taxi drivers union expressed solidarity by joining the demonstration. Health workers from the main hospital also came out with only emergency service provided.
Workers marched through the town and chanted slogans for their demands and gathered at the front of district press club, where speakers attacked the government for not fulfilling their demands.
In the capital, Muzaffarabad, nearly three thousand public sector workers observed the strike action in support of the Employees Action committee. All central government departments in including the old and new secretariat and directorates offices were closed.
Workers representatives from different associations including Non-Gazetted employees, School Teachers organization, electricity technical and non-technical cadre, forestry, clerical association and paramedical staff association spoke. Workers mood was very aggressive, when the main leadership in this area attempted to only organise a one-day strike. On the insistence of workers, the leadership of the strike was forced under pressure to announce they would continue the strike until all demands were met.
Around 2500 workers participated in a big rally from the strike camp here this morning in Rawalakot. Workers were more confident today and gathered early in the morning, with red flags and banners.
A protest demonstration was led by the leaders of the Action committee and marched on a new route ending up in front of the government offices including the offices of the ERRA. Workers demanded democratic labour laws, and labour courts and the implementation of a minimum wage. Chief guest of the rally was Azad Qadri deputy secretary general of PTCL lion’s unity union from Islamabad, and of the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan. He explained the heroic struggle of the PTCL workers against privatization and the international solidarity extended to them during the struggle from workers organizations in more than 27 different countries.
TURC-K organizer Malik Mussarrat commended the heroic struggle initiated by the public sector workers as it was for the basic democratic rights of the working class. He also said that any struggle of the working class would only succeed in changing society if workers were united on both sides of Kashmir, India and Pakistan He also outlined the aims of the TURC- K and pledged that it would continue to organise solidarity from Pakistan and internationally for the movement of the earthquake affected workers. Khalid Mehmood, leader of the health workers and a member of the Action committee also spoke, calling for a party of the working class. Imtiaz Khan secretary general of the Employees Action Committee was praised for his uncompromising attitude and boldness and sacrifices for the working class.
We appeal to trade union and community activists, socialists worldwide to send solidarity greetings to the strikers and protest letters to the addresses below.
For solidarity greetings send messages to:
Employees Action Committee
For protest letters:
Demand the immediate implementation of the following demands
- For the democratic right to strike, withdraw all Section 144 orders
- No victimisation of Employees Action Committee members
- Earthquake affected workers loans be written off from 8th Oct 2005
- Three months advance salary as bonus be implemented.
And send to:
- President Musharraf of Pakistan (fill in the online message)