Trade unionists jailed in Musharraf clampdown

Submitted by AWL on 22 November, 2007 - 12:56 Author: Rosalind Robson

At the time of writing it is three weeks into General Pervez Musharraf’s full-scale “emergency” military rule in Pakistan. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of lawyers, civil and human rights activists and trade unionists remain in jail.

Under new powers these people can be tried in military courts. With sources of political protests battened down, Musharraf has set up a “caretaker” government and replaced uppity supreme court judges with ones loyal to him. Those judges have now rubber-stamped Musharraf’s (illegal) election as President last October.

With his continuing political role secure, Musharraf says he will now stand down as head of the military and make way for his chosen successor, former spy chief Lt. General Ashfaq Kiyani.

Musharraf’s brutal manouevring has been watched, and worried about, but scarcely protested against, by Pakistan’s multi-billion dollar benefactor — the US government. For Bush, it seems to be a case of better the devil he knows. If the Pakistani military had organised a coup against Musharraf and it seems that a strong motivating factor behind Musharraf’s recent actions was to head off such a coup) then the general might have been replaced by someone, who is not prepared to play lip service to the US “war or terror”.

Musharraf has said there will be fresh elections in the New Year. But according to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid few believe him, and in any case no independent political party will back any government set up as a result of those elections, elections which will be, to a greater or lesser extent, rigged.

The US-backed power-sharing deal made between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto’s party is now in tatters — especially since she has spent time under house arrest!. Yet Musharraf has no political base beyond the coterie of politicians and bureaucrats he has bought off and brought into his cabal.

Meanwhile there has been serious fighting between the army and Taliban-jihadist forces in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Again according to Rashid, Taliban and jihadist action is likely to be stepped up in the coming months. Musharraf’s military successor may find himself under immediate pressure, not least from within the military itself.

International campaigning pressure and media attention has focussed on Imran Khan who, as leader of a tiny quasi-Islamist/populist party, has been locked up by the government. Less attention has been given to the plight of trade unionists who have been arrested.

The coup took place at a time of renewed struggles by Pakistani workers and, for these reasons, has had the support of Pakistani bosses. A statement from the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation explains the situation for the workers:

“There is an upsurge in labour struggles, particularly among the workers of water and power, telecommunications, railways, the garment industry and others. In recent months, different segments of the Pakistani population have been in motion in opposing the dictatorship, a most worrisome prospect for Musharraf and his US backers. Pakistan has a history as a client state since the formation of the country in 1947; its rulers have been an indispensable part of imperialist policy in the region.

“Privatisations and downsizing have lost Pakistani workers thousands of jobs and plunged them deeper into poverty. Indicating his priorities, in his proclamation of the necessity of emergency rule, Musharraf made reference to: ‘constant interference in economic policy, price controls, the downsizing of corporations.

“On November 14, 2007 APTUF observed ‘Black Day’ all over the Pakistan and held protest gate meetings. Workers wore black badges and bands, shouted slogans against the government…

“Workers wanted to hold protests outside the factory gates, but heavy contingents of police and intelligence agents stopped the workers from coming out from the factories. Police also threatened to go inside the factories, charging with batons and throwing tear gas.

“To prevent confrontations, the office bearers of the trade unions told workers to hold meeting inside the factory premises. Some employers in different provinces issued charge sheets to the office bearers who held protest meetings in the factory premises…”

Trade union leaders who have been locked up include Farid Awan, the Assistant General Secretary of the APTUF. He was among several activists arrested in Karachi on 4 and 5 November. Trade union activist Liaquat Ali Sahi, who one of the leaders of the solidarity campaign for the Karachi Pearl Continental Hotel Trade Union, was locked up on 5 November and charged with treason — an offence which carries the death penalty.

Appeals for these comrades can be found on LabourStart: www.labourstart.org/pakistan

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