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Date: Sun, 14 Feb 1999 19:28:12 -0500
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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 water.

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 Nawaz Sharif.

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 years.

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 construction.

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 Party.

This article is reprinted from Green Left Weekly, 27 January 1999

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