Two workers, ground engineer Saleem Akbar and senior manager Inayet Raza Rizvi, were killed as the military opened fire at thousands of people marching towards Karachi’s airport terminal on Tuesday.
The workers were protesting against proposed privatisation of the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The deaths initially horrified the entire country but soon became the rallying cry for hundreds of thousands of workers across the country to take action.
There have been solidarity demonstrations in small towns as well as large ones, and vows to fight side by side with PIA workers.
Political parties, student groups, left parties, journalists, electricity workers and even some religious parties came out denouncing the killings.
The entire opposition in the National Assembly condemned the killings and Imran Khan’s PTI party, itself carrying out privatisation of hospitals in PTI-ruled province Khyber Pukhtoon, has called for a national day of action on the coming weekend.
The fightback by the airline workers has galvanised workers facing the axe of privatisation.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif began the recent privatisation process with a bang by directly threatening PIA workers a day before the killings.
He enforced the Essential Services Act for six months, barring PIA workers from participating in any union activity. The act means strikers can be imprisoned for up to a year.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said, “Let me make clear that those who continue the strike will be treated as enemies of PIA and Pakistan and they will end up losing their jobs.”
The PIA struggle has woken the Pakistan working class from a deep slumber. PIA fights stand cancelled and airline workers across the country have joined the strike.
Workers and activists believe that after privatisation PIA will be handed to a strategic partner involving Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz. Shahbaz rules the Punjab province and both brothers have over the past year launched hundreds of small and large development projects involving Chinese and Turkish companies. They include the £30 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Along with the mega projects they have championed targeting “terrorists”—anyone opposing projects in the provinces of Balochistan or Sindh.
Nawaz Shareef now has full support of the military in realizing the dream of economic transformation for the capitalists in Pakistan through investments from China and loans from the West.
The fantastic struggle and sacrifices by PIA workers have transformed a huge section of the working class.