National Sections of the L5I:

Pakistan gripped by strike wave

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Shehzad Arshad, from the Revolutionary Socialist Movement of Pakistan, reports on a rising tide of struggle across the country

Recent weeks have seen a rapid acceleration of the political and social crisis in Pakistan. The assassination of Osama Bin Laden by US Navy Seals exposed the real character of the “partnership” between the United States and the government in Islamabad. Opinion polls show 63 per cent disapproved of the assassination: only 14 per cent approved.

Although the Pakistani government and military protest loudly at US drone attacks that kill civilians, they continue to back the US war in Afghanistan. They also wage their own war in the border regions on behalf of the Americans.

The military seems unable to protect ordinary people. The recent brutal killing of a youth in Karachi by Pakistan Rangers, which was caught on camera, revealed how such units treat the general population and their belief that they can do so with complete impunity. Pakistan’s notorious intelligence services are also prepared to silence inconvenient reportage – as the recent killing of journalist Salim Shahzad reveals.

The army command fears that it is rapidly losing popular legitimacy for its powerful and lucrative role in society and politics. Discredited by their evident subservience to the Americans, some generals are openly questioning the future of US-Pakistan relations.

Important sections of the ruling class – led by the main parliamentary opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, are distancing themselves not just from President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government, but from the military as well. Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N leader, is demanding the military be kicked out of politics and put under civilian control. He has even threatened to lead a “youth revolution” and “march on Islamabad”.

Obviously, the workers and peasants should place no trust in the leader of a party which has historic ties to the military as well as to sections of capitalists and the large landlords. However, this call for “revolution” does reflect deepening divisions in the ruling class. After the fall of General Musharraf, the PPP used populism and its “democratic” credentials to derail mass anger. Now, the PML-N is trying to put itself at the head of discontent with the PPP government which has proved unable to resolve economic and social decline.

For the working class, the peasants and the youth, following the lead of the bourgeois opposition would be another dead-end. They need to build up their own organisations in the struggles against the crisis, against the bosses and the military.

In Pakistan, the post 2008 global recession has led to prolonged economic decline. Prices for foodstuffs, fuel and other essential goods are still rocketing. Whilst the military receives and spends billions of dollars for the war and for protecting the estates of the rich, millions displaced by the floods are still homeless and starving.

The government is incapable of ensuring the basic supply of electricity. Power cuts up to 16 hours a day hit the population hard, particularly in the countryside and the smaller towns. Even in the large cities, like Lahore and Karachi, power cuts of four to eight hours are a daily occurrence.

But there is one encouraging development; the crisis is leading to widespread workers' strikes and protests all over the country.

A mass movement against the power cuts has developed, especially in the major commercial and cultural city of Karachi. There, 11,000 workers of the KESC electricity company have been on strike for the last two months. Political parties issued a call for citywide strike in support of the KESC workers and the whole city shut down on that day.

In Balochistan, too, we have seen a massive movement of protests and strikes by doctors, mainly the badly paid young doctors in the hospitals. They are receiving support from the young doctors in Punjab who organised a one-day solidarity strike against the arrest and manhandling of young doctors in Balochistan. There was also a countrywide all-out strike in their support.

A protest movement of workers in government institutions is also developing. A large workers' demonstration, organised by 24 different unions, took place in Lahore. It was supported by the left - the Pakistan Labour Party (close to the Fourth International), the Revolutionary Socialist Movement (the section of League for the Fifth International) and left wing student organisations.

It is quite clear, in Pakistan, the ruling class is in deep crisis and on the other hand, the working class is increasing its resistance. The general population is becoming more active, open to being mobilised against the government, the bosses and the imperialists.

All these are clear symptoms that Pakistan is entering a pre-revolutionary situation, in which the working class needs to come to the head of all the economic and political struggles.

To achieve this means first of all, unifying the workers in struggle against the cuts, inflation and impoverishment. Despite a massive increase in action, the strikes and protests are often not co-ordinated beyond regional, sectoral or even company level.

The unions, too, are fragmented. Many are tied to the bosses' political parties or NGOs. They need to be united and rebuilt on an industrial and class independent basis.

That is why the RSM is calling for a workers' united front of all the trade unions and workers' parties against the crisis. Its goal must be to work towards an indefinite general strike, against cuts, privatisations and inflation, for a minimum wage of 25,000 rupees. It must be run by strike committees elected in all the workplaces and local action committees, linking up on a regional and national level. To defend strikers from fascist and other right wing forces, and the police, self-defence organisations must be built.

A general strike would rapidly pose fundamental questions; who should pay for the crisis, the rich or the poor? Who can restructure the economy to meet social needs? In short, it would pose the question of political power and the need for a workers' and poor peasants’ government.

This programme needs a revolutionary working class party to fight for it.

The Pakistan workers' movement does not have such a political force at the moment. It is dispersed in hundreds of unions and a few small “parties” that, together, number a few thousand at most.

Therefore, we call on the unions, the leaders and the members, to take the initiative to form a new, mass party of the working class. We also call on all the political organisations of the Pakistani left, such as the Labour Party, the Workers' Party and the Class Struggle tendency to join in this crucial struggle.
We, in the RSM, are committed to building such a party and we propose as its political basis our action programme for socialist revolution. History is presenting enormous challenges to us. The Pakistan workers' movement and the left should rise to them.