Despite government attempts to divide workers, the strike of public sector workers in the Poonch area of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir continues.
The mood has become more determined in the last twenty-four hours. The indefinite strike by public sector workers is part of an on-going struggle to force the Kashmiri government to implement promises it made to these workers in the aftermath of the terrible October 2005 earthquake which devastated big parts of this impoverished country. Important workplaces in other areas of Kashmir have joined the strike putting more pressure on the government to make concessions.
The government has issued warnings to workers in Poonch that if they do not go back to work then they will be sacked without the right to appeal. Outrageously, one western-based NGO, Médecins Sans Frontières, has also threatened to sack striking health workers, at a Distrcit hospital they run in Bagh, if they do not come back to work.
As is often the case in Pakistan, the state authorities in Kashmir have attempted to use corrupt trade union leaders to cause division amongst the workforce. In this case the government called on Bashir Dar, a leader of a public sector workers organisation based in another area, Muzaffarabad, the capital of Kashmir, to have negotiations with them. Dar leads the Non-Gazetted workers organisation in Muzaffarabad. Workers in his organisation recently called on the government to audit a workers’ welfare fund which they donate to every month because of irregularities and accusations of corruption. This fund is overseen and run by Bashir Dar.
Up to recently Dar was saying nothing about the Poonch workers struggle but when it started to develop he jumped on the bandwagon. Some workers who doubt his intentions felt that this change in attitude was to divert attention from the accusations made against him concerning the workers’ welfare fund.
The government called Dar into negotiations two days ago and after a few hours he came out announcing a deal, which involved giving workers the equivalent of three months salary as a loan and a single payment of 3000 Rupees (the minimum monthly wage is over Rs 4000). But this falls far short of the workers demands for the implementation of the government’s promises: a lump sum donation for each worker equivalent to three months salary and the wiping out of all loans by the banks incurred since the earthquake. The press announced the results of these negotiations and clearly this manoeuvre was an attempt to indicate the strike was over and workers should return to work.
However, the Poonch Employee Action Committee and its supporters have rejected this derisory offer and also the attempt to sabotage their strike. Workers’ anger has grown and the strike has been more militant over the last couple of days. Important solidarity is being built by the TURCP in Pakistan. In Rawalakot, Kashmir a Defence Committee has been set up which includes the Chair of the Bar Association in the city. Even many local leaders of the capitalist parties have been forced to come out in support of the strike because of its prominence in the press and in the region of Poonch.
However, the workers have no illusions in the support of these corrupt politicians. Instead they are seeking support from workers and young people all around the world. We appeal to all socialists and trade unionists internationally to support this strike by sending solidarity letters to the Employee Action Committee and protests to the Prime Minister of Kashmir and the President of Pakistan.
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:
Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan. Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir,
- President Musharraf of Pakistan (fill in the online message)