KESC Strike – Daily Dawn Editorial (June 6, 2011)
KARACHI is unfortunately all too familiar with strikes. And as Friday’s shutdown — ostensibly observed against loadshedding and in solidarity with striking workers of the KESC — showed, strikes in the metropolis are rarely peaceful. Several innocent people, including citizens waiting at bus stops, were killed while about a dozen were injured as roving armed hoodlums on motorbikes took to the streets to ‘enforce’ the strike. A number of vehicles were also set ablaze in the violence which started on Thursday night. Various political parties had backed the strike, politicising what is essentially an internal labour dispute. The dispute between the KESC management and its workers revolves around the retrenchment of 4,000 or so ‘non-core’ workers the privatised utility let go of earlier this year. However, in actively supporting the strike call, political elements have in fact hijacked the workers’ cause. The stalemate has aggravated an already severe power crisis in the city, resulting in power riots as citizens vent their anger against extended loadshedding and unattended faults in these days of stifling heat. The crisis has also resulted in an ugly confrontation between the union and the management. The management has launched a relentless campaign to malign the striking workers, blaming them for ‘sabotaging’ the system, whereas the KESC’s infrastructure has indeed come under attack.
Strikes, violence, attacking grid stations and launching nasty media campaigns will not resolve anything and will only add to the people’s suffering. Karachi already suffers from myriad problems and letting this labour dispute fester is the last thing the city needs. Political parties should refrain from cashing in on the dispute and instead of adding fuel to the fire, they should facilitate a resolution. Only negotiations can resolve the issue: both the management and the workers need to realise this and climb down from their rigid positions. The Sindh chief minister had earlier formed a committee to resolve the issue. Instead of watching in silence, the committee needs to act as a bridge and bring both parties to the table so that this crippling dispute can be resolved. The city has already paid too high a cost.