By Adam Beltz and Ahmed Sharan
Workers of Pakistan’s KESC (Karachi Electric Supply Company) are again threatening to go on strike. This will make it their third strike this year and interestingly all three strikes revolve around the same issue: the sacking of 4,500 employees. Let us recap the situation from the beginning.
KESC is a company with over 18,000 workers. It has a market capitalization of nearly US$ 725 million and in 2008 it generated revenues of nearly US$ 1 billion. After its privatization in the early 2000s its majority stake is held by Abraaj Capital, a major private equity firm based in Dubai. The government of Pakistan has a minority stake of 26%.
In January 2011 the KESC sacked 4,500 employees and threatened with more massive cuts. The KESC workers and their union decided that it was time to act to get their co-workers their jobs back and to stop the KESC from making more cuts. The workers staged a sit-in outside the KESC headquarters which lasted for 4 days and 5 nights - when they had achieved victory.
There was a mass backing for the workers as residents took to the streets in anger against the KESC. The government decided that it was time to step in and get the situation pacified before the situation escalated anymore. After pressure was applied by the workers, the people and the government KESC management announced that it had agreed to reinstate the 4,500 workers.
After the striking workers went back to work the KESC management began to change its story. They were now saying that the KESC was prepared to pay the sacked workers their salaries and would still have their health care for 45 days after January 15, but they would not take them back on the job.
The workers, furious with the back sliding of the KESC management again decided to strike. They had already won once and they could do it again. The strike started April 30th and lasted for 90 days. Again the strike ended with a victory to the workers. The KESC management agreed to the demands of the workers; the sacked workers would not be forced into "voluntary separation" and would receive three months worth of pay.
Now we come back to the current situation. KESC has stopped paying the terminated employees after only one month and so the workers and the KESC labor union have declared that they will not accept this treachery. Union leaders warned the KESC: "We will launch a massive protest drive after Eid (a 3 day long holiday that starts August 30th) that would make it difficult for the utility's CEO and management to work." So far the KESC management has not backed down and the stage is set for a new round of strikes.
The workers of the KESC must be prepared to take this third action to a victorious conclusion. If this third action results in defeat they will lose all of the gains they had earned for themselves in the previous two strikes. They would only be able to look forward to more terminations and more cuts.
In order to win the workers need the full and unconditional support of their working class brothers and sisters of Karachi and from the rest of the country. The actions of the KESC workers are not just defending their own interests they are also defending the rights of all of the workers in Pakistan. They are setting the example to the rest of the workers that they have the power to make changes, to control their destiny. The solidarity of the rest of the city and of the nation will ultimately help the workers win and ultimately protect their own jobs and rights.
The struggle of the KESC workers in Karachi is of national importance. The repeated power cuts in the country show that the ruling class is not capable of delivering the necessary supply for running the economy and the society. This is why socialist activists fight for the full nationalization of KESC and the whole electricity industry in Pakistan. But this time KESC and all the electric companies must not be run by corrupt state bureaucrats! It must be put under the control of workers and representatives of the consumers. Only in this way we can make sure that the company works for the needs of the people.
The workers of Karachi and of the country should therefore show their solidarity with the KESC workers against the treachery of the KESC management. The workers of Karachi should begin a series of actions up to a local general strike in solidarity. Given the national importance of the struggle at KESC it is important that militant activists work to extend the struggle to the rest of the country.
The defeat of the KESC workers would be a defeat for the entire working class of Pakistan. The workers and the oppressed must take this opportunity to send a message to all of the bourgeoisie of Pakistan:
"We can work together to defend ourselves from you. We can defeat you!"