islamabad - Political workers, activists and workers from various unions denounced Rangers’ baton-charge on Pakistan International Airline’s employees who were protesting the privatisation of the national flag carrier.

The protesters converged at National Press Club organised by Awami Workers Party on Tuesday evening to denounce the baton-charge on PIA workers by police and Rangers in Karachi on the same day. The protestors denounced the use of paramilitary forces against workers who, they said, were exercising their fundamental right to protest and called for justice for the victims.

The demonstrators also called for the immediate withdrawal of the Essential Services Maintenance Act, whereby the government had banned union activity in PIA. They demanded that the government should halt the plans for privatisation of the national carrier via the undemocratic means of presidential ordinance.

Speaking on the occasion, Malik Nasir Awan of the PIA Joint Action Committee said that the government was now resorting to all-out violence to suppress the democratic demands of the striking PIA workers. He said that the privatisation of PIA was literally being carried out at gunpoint and the future of the airline including the jobs of tens of thousands of workers was at risk. He said that the right of workers to unionize was a fundamental human right that the striking workers would go to any lengths to defend. He termed the government’s imposition of the Essential Services Maintenance Act as a blatantly dictatorial imposition that struck at the heart of democracy in the country.

Awan’s comments were echoed by Shoaib Yousufzai and Ramzan Laghari of the PIA Joint Action Committee, who called for action against whoever was responsible for the tragedy.

A number of trade unionists from other organisations, including PTCL, Railways, OGDC and WAPDA also attended the demonstration. Several trade unionists including Malik Fateh of WAPDA, Dr Changez of PTUDC and Akram Bunda of PWF also spoke on the occasion

Speaking on the occasion, veteran PTCL trade unionist Malik Maqbool condemned the assault on striking workers of PIA and expressed his solidarity with them as a fellow member of the working class under attack by the ruling elite of the PML-N. He said that the government’s promises to workers about PIA were of no value as the privatisation of PTCL had been carried out through the same undemocratic means, and as a result tens of thousands of workers had been laid off and the organisation’s performance had deteriorated even as the government and private owners had lined their pockets at the country’s expense.

He said that the only way to halt the privatisation of other state assets like PIA was for workers of all industries to unite against the government’s anti-poor privatisation policies.

AWP Punjab President Aasim Sajjad Akhtar said what had happened in Karachi was a brazen assault on the right to organise and the freedom of assembly. He said there was absolutely no excuse for the government to order a crackdown by paramilitary forces.

He said that the use of the Essential Services Maintenance Act to ban union activity was a clear sign of the undemocratic, anti-people attitude of the current government. He said that the PML-N was clearly beholden to the dictates of the international financial institutions and private investors rather than the people of this country, and today’s action was proof that they would go to any length to please their creditors.

The only solution to this dire scenario, he said, was for workers across sectors to join forces and call for a truly popular-democratic debate on the pro-people reform of state institutions in the country, one that held both the civilian and military rulers of the country accountable to the citizenry.