COMMENT: Lightning spark of the KESC —Lal Khan - Sunday, January 30, 2011

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Terrorism, along with religious and national conflicts, gives justification to the state and its oppression. It is only the proletarian struggle on a class basis that challenges and is capable of overthrowing the despotic rule of capital

The spectacular victory of the workers of the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) with the reinstatement of the dismissed workers is a rare triumph in these recent times. The firing of 4,300 workers by this privatised enterprise brought a lightning response from the workforce. The strike and the militant occupation of the company headquarters was like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. It stunned not only the bosses of the KESC but sent a clear message to Pakistan’s ruling classes that the class struggle is far from finished and the proletariat can retaliate with a force and vitality that can rattle the whole state and society.

Ever since its privatisation, redundancies and other attacks on the workers had become normal practice in this company that supplies electricity to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest and most industrialised city, with a population reaching about 20 million. It was not just the KESC where the workers were under constant threat; almost all state enterprises are faced with the coercion of privatisation, redundancies, downsizing and restructuring.

The economy is in a shambles and the plunder on the parts of imperialism and Pakistan’s ruling elite has brought the country to the brink of a precipice. Following the dictates of imperialism, all the regimes since the end of the 1970s have been carrying out aggressive policies against the Pakistani working classes. These recipes of so-called ‘trickle-down’ economics have spelled an unmitigated disaster for society.

The present coalition, stitched up in Washington, has been even more subservient to its crisis-ridden imperial masters. They have tried for outright privatisation of all major state enterprises. The reason they have failed is mainly the catastrophic meltdown of the world economy and the deteriorating social unrest that also originates from the severe economic crisis that has plagued Pakistan throughout its chequered history.

With falling foreign and domestic investment, there were no serious buyers for these industrial and services sector enterprises. Some of the incumbent regime’s labour experts have even abandoned their former reformist demagogy and embarked upon Thatcherite privatisation by doling out 12 percent of shares to the workers to subdue them to the whims of capitalism and later be ruined by the vultures at the stock exchange. They are trying to convert the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), with its history of radical nationalisations and socialist ideals, into the party of Public Private Partnership (PPP).

In these circumstances, even if the whole country were privatised, it would be doubtful whether it could service its debt and overcome the trade, budget and fiscal deficits. And even if these were overcome through privatisation, what would happen after that? The economy is not growing and the state has to borrow about Rs 2 billion on a daily basis to run itself. Indifference, callousness and elusiveness are the only options for the rulers.

After the defeat of the titanic movement of autumn 2007, through a brutal assassination and a counter-revolution in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘reconciliation’, the working classes were subjected to vicious economic attacks. However, in spite of a relative lull, sporadic movements and strikes, although isolated, continued. In very difficult conditions, the workers of the PTCL, Railways, WAPDA, Post Office, Steel Mills and other sectors remained in constant struggle. Those movements are still running and new ones are erupting. Now the victory of the KESC workers will reinvigorate these movements.

The main problem with these movements is their isolation and betrayal on the part of their leadership. Trade union membership has nose-dived in the last few decades. This was mainly because of the inability of the economic system to grant any concessions or introduce reforms that the trade union leaders could bargain over with the authorities and the bosses. However, this disillusionment of the workers with the trade union leaders is very dangerous for the ruling class, as there will be no controllable channels for them through which to defuse rising strike movements and struggles of the workers.

In the private sector, the conditions of the workers are atrocious to say the least. Less than half of the workforce gets the minimum wage of Rs 7,000 as announced by the government. Rampant and rapidly rising unemployment further pressurises the labour market and wages are more and more squeezed. Soaring government debt and the near default of the treasury make it more and more difficult to pay the salaries of the workers and state employees. A vast majority of the population is struggling for its mere existence. And there is no silver lining for the oppressed masses as long as the present exploitative system exists. They have no option but to struggle to transform the system that has failed to develop society and even sustain an impoverished existence of the vast majority of the populace.

However, the victory of the KESC workers is not the end but the beginning of a new epoch of the class struggle. The government was forced to accede to the demand of reinstatement only thanks to the sheer force and unity of the resistance. They have proved that workers united can never be defeated.

The ruling classes and the state are more terrified of workers’ struggles than terrorism, wars, sectarian violence and other conflicts in society. Terrorism, along with religious and national conflicts, gives justification to the state and its oppression. It is only the proletarian struggle on a class basis that challenges and is capable of overthrowing the despotic rule of capital. In the situation of a rising tide of the struggle, the rulers are forced to make concessions only to take them back when the movement ebbs. Whether it is price hikes or retrenchment of workers, the crisis-ridden system forces the rulers to resort to different manoeuvres and tactics to increase the burden on the masses to sustain the ever increasing obscene lust for profits.

After a period of relative lull, this victory will embolden the workers living in poverty and deprivation to rise against this capitalist drudgery and move forward towards a transformation of the economy and society. Nothing less than a revolutionary change can solve the burning problems of the masses and put an end to this suffering and misery. The working class is the only hope for the salvation of this tragic society. History is on its side. They only have to unite and be confident in their power in modern society. With the sentiment of an ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’, they shall be victorious.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

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