In a military crackdown hundreds of Pakistan Telecom Corp Limited (PTCL) workers have been arrested across the country. According to the PTCL Workers Action Committee, 1,500 have been arrested since Saturday 11 June, when the government announced that the telecom sell off will start on 18 June.
Strikers are attempting to stop the privatisation of PTCL. This has become a life or death issue for the military regime. Its panic was obvious when it trebled the privatisation package offered to workers from 1.5 billion rupees to 5 billion rupees in just four days. The workers still turned it down.
Last week the government announced the indefinite postponement of the privatisation, appearing to give in to the strike, which had started on 3 June. This announcement was retracted after two days and the 18 June sell off was announced. Workers are angry at this broken promise.
Troops have been deployed at all telephone exchanges in the country and the military signals corps has taken over key exchanges. Unions activists have called for strike action from 11 June, escalating to a complete shutdown from 15 June. However, currently no workers are allowed into the key exchanges. The entire telecom service structure is paralysed.
The Musharraf regime is under extreme pressure to proceed from the bosses, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the multinational telecom companies which will benefit from privatisation. Raids are continuing on the homes of union activists, with even non-involved relatives facing arrest. Anti-terrorism courts are trying the cases.
A left-solidarity meeting was held in Islamabad on Sunday, while in Karachi a meeting of left-wing parties, trade unionists, students, activists and all those against privatisation is due to be held on Tuesday 14 June to plan for protests against the privatisation and the attacks on workers.
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