Pakistan: New government -– old faces
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By Farooq Tariq
May 18, 2008 -- The announcement by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government lifting restrictions on trade union activities has brought a new wave of unionisation in many private industries. The bosses are not used to it. They have made tremendous profits under General Pervez Musharraf's eight years of dictatorship. Although he is still there as ``president'', there is some breathing space. Wherever workers have tried to form new unions, the bosses have tried their best to intimidate union activists with false legal cases, arrest, torture and kidnapping. The PPP government has yet to take any action against these bosses.
Along with several trade union leaders, I addressed a press conference today, May 18, at the Lahore Press Club to present eyewitness accounts to this torture.
Malik Tahir from the New Khan Metro Bus Workers and Staff Haqooq Union Lahore showed several wounds on his body to the media. He was kidnapped and tortured on the evening of May 16 in Lahore by the bosses of the private bus company. His only crime was to attend a press conference and demonstration of the union to condemn the sacking of 80 drivers and conductors by the New Khan bus company. After the union was formed, more than 80 members of the union were terminated, including all the main leaders.
The union was registered on May 6, 2008, by the labour department. It is the first union formed in the bus company. A Muslim League member of parliament Mr Umer Hayat Rokri owns the company. He was a member of the Musharraf-supported PMLQ. After February 18, he changed his political affiliation and joined the PML Nawaz Sharif group. He owns several hundred buses. His bus company has the major share of transportation in Lahore. Lahore has no publicly owned bus service.
There are no permanent workers at the New Khan bus company. Every one is on contract. The wages are very low. The drivers are paid a maximum of 5500 rupees ($90) and conductors Rp2500 ($48) a month, plus a commission system of 2.5 per cent of daily income. That brings less than $50 extra a month in most cases. But there a lot of fines imposed on the drivers and conductors. The bus company has the record for the most number of accidents. The reason is that drivers are asked to complete the whole route three times a day no matter what. There is no way that drivers can do that in eight hours. If they try to do it, there are accidents. When there is an accident, the company takes care of the bus but not the employees. They have to take care themselves.
None of the workers are registered for social security or have social security cards. The company has a group of gangsters at the depots and they beat the drivers and conductors for any small mistake. There is no protection for the workers at all in the bus company. No labour law is respected by the company. Under the Musharraf dictatorship, the bus company went on without being noticed by labour department for its violations of labour laws.
Some workers decided to fight back against this brutal behaviour even at the cost of their jobs. Secret meetings of the workers went on for some time after the general election. Finally, they decided to form the union. They contacted the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) and the first poster for the union was printed by the Pakistan Trade Unions Resource Centre run by the Labour Education Foundation in Lahore. When the workers went to fly-post [paste up] the posters at bus depots, several of them were beaten by the gangsters and later handed over to the police. The police registered false charges against the leaders and arrested three of them. Two were released on bail, while one is still in jail.
This all was going on while I was visiting Britain from May 8 to May 15. On my first day at the LPP office on May 17, I was shown the marks on Malik Tahir's body. He was brutally beaten up on the night of May 16. This was going too far. The textile union leaders also called us from Qasur and Faisalabad, and told us about attacks on their members as well.
In Faisalabad, five workers have been in jail for the last eight days. The police, on instructions from the textile bosses, have registered false charges against them. They all belong to Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), an organisation fighting for textile workers' rights in Faisalabad. The LQM mobilised more than 2000 workers in protest but police did not release them. At Qasur similar incidents have happened and the boss who kidnapped and tortureed union activists still has not been arrested, despite a case being registered against him after a massive demonstration by the union in the city.
We decided not to sit quietlye but to fight back. As a first step, we called all the labour leaders to a press conference to tell their stories to the media.
There were more journalists than we expected. Almost all the private television channels were there and most of the print media as well. It was a very crowded press conference. We do not know how many will actually print or broadcast our news but we had very friendly encounter with the journalists.
We announced at the press conference that on May 22, the Labour Party Pakistan will *gherao* (picket) the bus company in Lahore in protest if the bosses are not arrested for kidnapping, and workers are not given their jobs back. We also announced that the LQM would blockade Faisalabad, Pakistan's third-largest city on Friday, May 23.
There is no turning back. We have to fight. The workers have shown their real commitment to form unions. However, the PPP government is yet to fulfill its promise of a free and fair atmosphere in which workers can freely form unions. We appeal to the PPP government to take notice of the situation or we will have no option but to organise demonstrations, rallies and strikes for the defence of our basic democratic right to form the trade unions.
[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson of the Labour Party Pakistan. The LPP can be contaced at 40 Abbot Road Lahore, Pakistan. Tel: 92 42 6315162; Fax: 92 42 6271149; Mobile: 92 300 841 1945. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.laborpakistan.org or http://www.jeddojuhd.com/.]
By Tariq Mehmood
Over 3000 activists and supporters of Labour Party Pakistan took part in rally at Lahore against the ongoing neo liberal policies of present Pakistan People's Party government. They were chanting slogans against the price hike, American imperialism and demanded an immediate end of policies dictated by imperialist companies and financial institutions. Click for slideshow.
There were similar demonstration in 30 other cities of Pakistan
including Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Hyderabad, Multan, Moro, Dault Pur and Layya. Labour Party Pakistan organized the demonstration and rallies with support of trade unions, social movements and peasant organizations as a day of national action against price hike. They also demanded an immediate restoration of the top judges and resignation of general Musharaf.
The Peshawar demonstration by LPP was broadcasted live by private
television channel ARY World. Over 400 participated in the demonstration including over 100 women.
At Karachi, over 250 activists demonstrated at Regal Chouck. They were raising slogans against American Imperialism and its policies towards the colonial countries.
At Islamabad, over 150 demonstrated at Aab Para Chouck against the price hike and demanded a living wage of at least 12,000 Rupees for all the workers. They demanded action against those bosses who are attacking the workers forming the trade unions in different parts of the country.
At Lahore, there were over 1000 women participant who led the
demonstration including the main leadership of Women Workers Help Line (WWHL), a working class women organization. The main Mall Road was blocked for over two hours as the rally passed thought his most busy and prestigious road of Lahore. Thousands on both sides of the road cheered the demonstrators. This was the largest demonstration against price hike so far in Pakistan by any political party.
Mall Road was red with all the waving red flags after long long time. The demonstraters raised slogans in favour of Socialism and said the Socialism is the only answer to the problems facing the working class.
"Capitalism has failed in solving the basic problems of the masses; it is a message of consistent price hike and unemployment. We have to change the system and develop a party that could prepare a Socialist revolution," declared Farooq Tariq while addressing the public rally at Lahore. "We demand a minimum wage of 12,000 Rupees with an introduction of unemployment benefit for all adult unemployed; we want an end of privatization and cancellation of foreign debts. Reduce the military expenditure and spent it on the people," Farooq Tariq said.
He demanded action against the owner of New Khan private bus company who have sacked 80 workers for forming the first trade union in the company.
Several trade union leaders including Moeen Nawaz Punno, Muhammed
Yousaf Baluch, Bushra Khaliq, Azra Shad, Mehmood Butt also spoke at the occasion.
The leaders of the lawyer's movement also addressed the rally. The activists of Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP) also participated in the demonstration. There were many slogans against General Musharaf. It was live demonstration with all the main print and electronic media present.
Labour Party Pakistan has announced further demonstration in this
regard during the month and taking active part in the long march
planned by the lawyers movement starting from 10 June from Sukhar in Sind.
Labour Party Pakistan
40-Abbot Road Lahore, Pakistan
Tel: 92 42 6315162 Fax: 92 42 6271149 Mobile: 92 300 8411945
From Socialist Resistance (Britain)
Elections in Pakistan last February put an end to the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharaf - but not, it seems, to its policies. The new coalition government of radical Islamists and bourgeois nationalists maintains close relations with the military, is continuing a neo-liberal agenda and still supports the alliance with US imperialism.
Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan told a recent Socialist Resistance Forum that this turbulent period had nonetheless opened up possibilities for the left in Pakistan.
The socialist Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), with 3000 members and 100 elected councillors across the country, has led high-profile campaigns on land rights, privatisation, women’s rights, child labour and other issues afecting workers and the poor. It boycotted the elections of 18 February because it opposes neo-liberalism and any alliance with pro-military parties.
Farooq Tariq was asked how much had really changed in Pakistan since the elections. “This is a new government with old faces,”he replied. “Musharaf had to withdraw martial law and take off his military uniform but he is still in a powerful position as president.”
The three capitalist parties in the coalition government are the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the murdered Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and the Awami National Party.
“The present so-called democratic government is discrediting itself, happy to bring in the most corrupt people to the top jobs,” Farooq Tariq explained. These people collaborate with the generals who continue to dominate all aspects of economic life. The military still owns 12% of all agricultural land and it’s other interests include huge holdings in dairy farms, fertilizer factories, banks, contruction and insurance.
The government is even trying to reinstate the judges who supported the military in last year’s movement to bring down Musharaf.
Neo-liberalism is alive and well with privatisation the cornerstone of the government’s programme. The price of flour has doubled, petrol has increased by 20% and rail fares have shot up by 15%. The PPP has talked of raising the minimum wage but has taken no steps to propose a new law on this to parliament. The majority of workers, meanwhile, are not even receiving the original minimum.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007 brought the state to a complete standstill for five days. Such was the chaos and public outrage, said Farooq Tariq, that Bhutto’s party could have successfully demanded Musharaf’s resignation there and then. “But before her death Benazir had agreed to work with Musharaf.”
There has been no let-up in the repression of oppositionists (Farooq Tariq himself has been imprisoned five times in the last year) and thousands of those who disappeared during the miltary dictatorship - most of them religious fundamentalists - are still missing. Yet because of the massive anti-Musharaf consciousness before the election and the emergence of a young radicalised middle class Farooq Tariq reported ‘all left parties are growing’.
The Labour Party Pakistan initiated the peasant movement that started in the Punjab in 2001 after the military tried to take over 68,000 acres for agribusiness. Against the background of a small and weak trade union movement it is trying to nurture a radical trade union formation in Karachi and Lahore. The party’s strongest support comes from the north west frontier province and from Baluchistan in the south west where the massive exploitation of gas has been threatening people’s land and livelihoods.
The LPP has also recruited over 100 new members from Pakistan’s militant movement of lawyers. The anti-Musharaf movement sprang up last year after Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudry defied Musharaf and after many judges and lawyers who protested at the repression were themselves arrested and beaten.
The LPP sees scope for building a small mass party of the left. It is calling for new elections under the auspices of an independent electoral commission and with proportional representation. That would give left parties a chance to be represented in parliament, Farooq Tariq explained.
“Right now”, he argued, “anything can happen. I don’t think Musharaf can survive but other parties may back the military as they have in the past and there is the possibility of the military retaking power… That’s why we have to strengthen the mass movement and build an alternative.”