Analysis Pakistan

PIA: ‘Great People to Fly With’

By Lal Khan

For the last four decades, Pakistan’s successive military and civilian regimes have submissively followed the dictates of neoliberal economics given by their imperialist bosses and financial institutions. In the present social and political milieu, the corporate media, elite politicians and the state’s aristocracy have been ferociously propagating against workers as the main culprits for the losses of the state enterprises and the pathetic condition of industries and services.

In truth, however, the case is the opposite. These so-called ‘white elephants’ are the PIA, Karachi Steel Mills, WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority), OGDCL (Oil and Gas Development Corporation Limited), Pakistan Railways and others are actually suffering these losses due to cut-throat competition in a capitalist decay, mismanagement and pilferage of the bosses.

Paradoxically, it is the workers that have kept these institutions afloat despite the corrupt and inept top-management and regimes in power that abuse these institutions for vested political and financial interests. There is a seething covetousness of the capitalist economic experts and frenzied rhetoric of the petit bourgeois intelligentsia to privatise these institutions.

Malicious smears against the employees of PIA and other institutions as being work-evaders, corrupt, incompetent and indolent are hurled obstinately on the media. Strained by this milieu, these employees work hard in difficult conditions, with slashed benefits and low salaries. But despite the arduous conditions and long working hours, a vast majority of them work diligently. They are also honest and humane. There are several anecdotes that prove the spirit of dedication amongst these employees.

On Eid, Saturday June 16, a friend travelled on a PIA flight, PK-758 from London to Lahore. After landing perhaps due to the exhaustion of a long-haul flight or first onsets of senile dementia he left his iPhone, reading glasses and other travel essentials on his seat and disembarked. As soon as the crew found the items they looked-up his name on the passenger list and immediately decided to find the passenger and handover the items left in the aircraft. The Bursar of the flight asked her male colleague to search for him in the baggage claim area. The flight-steward named Usman waded robustly through the chaotic crowds around the conveyor belts and ultimately found the passenger and delivered him his phone and other belongings. The flight crew had decided to hand over the passenger’s belongings directly before passing these to the security from where it would have taken the passenger days if not weeks to retrieve.

This feat saved the passenger much agony and social isolation, as the role of smartphones has penetrated so deeply into today’s social existence. The PIA crew’s audacity also portrays how humane and considerate these workers are. It would not have been possible if someone had travelled in Gulf airlines or any private enterprise. Only by being unionised employees of a state enterprise they had the confidence take the risk.

It was a glimpse of the PIA’s traditional motto created for the airline by Omar Qureshi and was once endorsed by Jacqueline Kennedy after a flight in 1962 when she hugged the pilot and said, ‘Great People to Fly With.’ The employees and not bosses had made PIA ‘great’ at the time.

The desperate attempts of the various regimes for outright privatisation have failed. The capitalist crisis has recoiled long-term investment and Pakistan’s corrupt and financially debilitated bourgeois does not have the economic forte to buy such mammoth enterprises. But the decisive factor that pushes bourgeois regimes into refrain is the resistance and fight-back of the workers.

There have been protracted but relentless struggles in the last few decades despite the relative inertia in society. There have been militant strikes, protest demonstrations and movements of the employees of PIA, WAPDA, OGDCL, Steel Mills, Railways, PTCL, Post Office, Railways and other state enterprises that forced the elite to halt privatisation. Similarly, the workers have struggled numerous times in the health and education sectors with militant strikes and barricades set up by the nurses and teachers in the main cities of the country to protect these state services.

The PIA workers strike of 2016 was historic in many respects. The country’s airports were shut down, aircrafts grounded and services brought to a standstill. Two PIA employees were killed and several wounded by the state’s forces. This strike was another spark that shone a light on the class struggle seething below the surface of a society where the working class movement as a whole, is faced by a difficult objective situation and a relative lull in the class struggle.

In the present scenario, the fulfilment of workers’ genuine demands and salvation from their woes are nowhere to be found in the political parties’ programmes and elite’s campaigns for these elections, sans issues. A government of any party or any coalition will go for the interests of the moneyed class that is financing these candidates. But whichever regime of this elite is setup it will attack the workers’ rights for the vested interests of the exploiting classes. However, this blockage of the class struggle on the political plane would inevitably open up the gates of class struggle in the social and industrial sectors. The class struggle that has been ridiculed and discarded as ‘finished’ by the corporate media will sooner rather than later resurge with a stunning retaliation against crimes and atrocities of the ruling classes and their state.

A workers revolt could lead to a general strike, creating a revolutionary situation as in 1968-69. For it to be victorious, workers of all industries, services, students and poor peasants have to be mobilised. Workers strike action can ground aeroplanes, stop trains, cut power and paralyse the state by cutting off the communications networks bringing society to a halt. It will pose the question of workers power. With the expropriation of the modes of production under workers control and management, a democratically planned economy can be established. The prevalent inertia in society cannot last very long. An irreconcilable class struggle is bound to erupt but a Marxist party and leadership is decisive for a successful socialist revolution that can change the course of history.

Published in Daily Times, June 25th 2018.