Date: Sun, 14 Feb 1999 19:28:12 -0500
Reply-To: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: Tom Patterson <tom@QUEERNET.ORG>
Subject: Pakistan/unions suspended/Farooq Tariq/PLP
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The Pakistan government has "suspended" trade unions responsible
for water and power distribution
By Farooq Tariq, Green Left Weekly
27 January 1999
Pakistan On December 23, the federal government inducted 30,000 to 35,000
junior commissioned officers and around 250 officers of the
Pakistan army into the Water and Power Development Authority
(WAPDA). Trade unions were "suspended" for two years. WAPDA
employs more than 150,000 workers.
"The army will help the power company in all sorts of
departments, from reading meters, delivering bills, to detecting
cases of electricity theft and even manning public complaint
centres", said the new WAPDA chairperson, Lt General Zulfiqar Ali
Khan. If he runs into difficulty, help will be at hand. Ali is
the brother of the federal minister responsible for power and
The militarisation of this sector is another step in the curbing
of trade union rights across Pakistan. The pretext of
"safeguarding essential services" was recently used to remove the
union rights of workers at Pakistan International Airlines. The
country's 100,000 railway workers have met the same treatment.
The Essential Services Act was used to ban unions by military
dictator Zia ul-Haq in the early 1980s. Now, the same act is
being used by the "democratic" government of Prime Minister Mian
The real motivation for the attack on the electricity and water
workers is the government's determination to abide by the agenda
of the IMF and World Bank. That means drastically downsizing and
privatising power and water.
The latest measures have been justified in terms of WAPDA's heavy
losses: the government claims that at least 26% of the
electricity produced has been stolen by "influential people". But
these influential people must come mainly from the ruling Muslim
League and the opposition Pakistan People's Party. They belong to
the feudal and capitalist class which the army exists to serve.
In reality, the soldiers have been brought in, not to curb the
theft, but to get rid of workers as part of the downsizing;
45,000 jobs are under threat.
The main reason for WAPDA's electricity losses is the partial
privatisation of the profitable thermal power stations during
Benazir Bhutto's government (1994-96). The present government
claims that large-scale irregularities and corruption were
involved in the privatisation of these units.
The main beneficiaries of the privatisation were the US and
British buyers. The government guaranteed very high prices for
the electricity, and the companies are now making big profits
while consumers' electricity bills have tripled in the last few
The current government initially tried to negotiate with these
so-called independent power projects to reduce electricity
prices. But they did a U-turn, under pressure from the IMF and
World Bank. Instead, it is targeting the workers and calling in
the army to run WAPDA.
The army's role in running civilian administrations has been
increasing over the last two years. Profitable contracts have
been awarded to the army in education, census work and road
We are now seeing the true face of the emergency rule instituted
after India and Pakistan's nuclear tests in May 1998.. For
example, when the Sindh provincial government was dismissed and
governor's rule imposed in October, army courts were established
in the province, supposedly to curb terrorism.
The federal government is trying to impose sharia [Islamic] laws,
which will give it dictatorial powers. The bill has been passed
by the National Assembly, but not yet by the Senate, in which the
government does not have a majority.
During the last two years, the Nawaz government has faced a
severe economic crisis and has been forced to raise taxes,
causing unprecedented price increases. The crisis has been
exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the imperialist powers
following Pakistan's nuclear tests.
On two occasions, the government has defaulted on its loan
repayments. The recent IMF and World Bank US$5.5 billion bailout
demanded the devaluation of the rupee, privatisation of financial
and services institutions and the imposition of a general sales
tax of up to 15%.
Workers in a range of institutions have resisted these measures
by striking and demonstrating. Workers at Habib Bank recently
defied threats from the industrial courts and the government to
hold a successful three-week strike demanding the implementation
of a pay package the government had been refusing for four years.
Rail workers have launched a national campaign against the
privatisation of railways, involving mass protest meetings,
hunger strike camps and threats of an all-out strike. Despite the
government's efforts, it has not yet succeeded in fully
privatising any of the country's major institution.
The unions covering WAPDA workers have condemned the government's
actions and threatened to go on strike. They have also decided to
appeal to the Supreme Court. The big question is whether the
Pakistan Workers' Confederation will initiate strike action to
defeat the government's attacks.
Protests about WAPDA should be sent to: Mian Nawaz Sharif, Prime
Minister of Pakistan, Islamabad, Pakistan; fax 92 51 920 7464;
phone 92 51 922 2333, with a copy to: Weekly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd,
40 Abbot Road, Lahore, Pakistan; fax 92 42 630 1685.
Farooq Tariq is the editor of Weekly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers'
Struggle), the newspaper of the Pakistan Labour Party. The group
recently split from the CWI, a network led by Britain's Socialist
This article is reprinted from Green Left Weekly, 27 January 1999