Thursday, February 4, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Feb 5, 2016

Class struggle The mishandling of the protest by PIA employees that led to the deaths of three protestors has evoked a veritable storm of protest from the political opposition, Bar Associations and civil society. The incident has echoed in the Punjab and Sindh Assemblies, including walkouts by the opposition and resolutions of condemnation being moved. Meanwhile the protest continues at all airports in the country and PIA offices. Flights and the operations of the airline continue to be shut down. Referring to the further losses the airline is suffering does not let the government off the hook for its dire, ill thought through and precipitate approach. For those puzzled by the government’s sudden haste in attempting to accelerate PIA’s privatisation by ramming through a bill in the National Assembly to transform PIA into a public limited company, arguing only 26 percent shares of PIA would be sold to a strategic investor (who would then be given management control?) and then adopting a harsh attitude towards protesting PIA employees, the answer was provided by Privatisation Minister Muhammad Zubair on February 3, when he revealed that in the given circumstances, it would not be possible to privatise PIA by June 30 this year as committed to the IMF. Now one may be forgiven for asking when this commitment was made and why it was not brought into the clear light of day earlier? Forget the public, even parliament remains uninformed. Such is the contempt this government displays for democratic norms. But that is only the tip of the iceberg of the government’s wrong approach to national affairs. The harsh imposition of the Essential Services Act 1952 on PIA and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s extremely threatening tone in warning protesting PIA employees they would be fired and may even face a year in jail, not to mention Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid’s leading the government charge against all comers on the issue, have only served to expose the right wing, IMF-driven, neo-liberal, anti-working class inclinations of this government. As for Pervaiz Rashid’s trying to pin the whole affair down to a ‘conspiracy’ by mischievous elements in the PIA unions and opposition political parties anxious to take advantage of the conflict, not to mention trying to justify PIA’s privatisation by reference to previous regimes (e.g. the PPP) and the manifestos of some other parties, one can only explain this as the ravings of a fevered imagination. No previous government shed workers’ blood in the name of privatisation. The irony seems to be lost on the worthy information minister that at one point in his life he described himself as a Leftist and supported the rights and interests of the working class. While PIA’s operations remain suspended and the government frantically bends its back to make alternative arrangements with private and foreign airlines to accommodate PIA’s stranded passengers, some of the private airlines (including one owned by a federal minister – conflict of interest anyone?) have reportedly been fleecing desperate travellers. What the government’s ham-handedness in dealing with the real and genuine concerns of the PIA employees regarding their future under a privatised airline has achieved, unintentionally, is to unite the entire opposition against itself, harden the resistance of the PIA Joint Action Committee unions to privatisation, potentially mobilise other state owned enterprises’ unions like WAPDA and the Railways in solidarity with the PIA workers, and given civil society a renewed voice against oppression and cruelty against the working class. In other words, the government has succeeded in sparking off a revival of the classic class struggle that had lain dormant for decades. Pakistan therefore presents a sorry picture before the world when its national flag carrier turns out to be not the best people to fly with. Since the end of the Cold War, the Left and class struggle were written off as passé. This was a serious underestimation of the staying power of the Red Mole that burrows silently long years before finally bursting forth into the light of day, much to the chagrin and surprise of regimes like the present incumbents in Pakistan. Historians may well look back on this period as one where the government itself initiated and revived the class struggle through its oppressive actions. How the incumbents will look as the process plays itself out is a space worth watching in the days ahead.

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