On Sunday, June 30 the PTUDC Karachi arranged a public meeting at the PMA house in the centre of Karachi, the industrial hub of Pakistan. More than 70 trade unionists from most of the major industries and institutions attended the meeting. Comrade Hameed Khan and comrade Abid Hussain travelled from Quetta to attend the meeting. Comrade Lal Khan came from Lahore. The meeting was presided by comrade Sheikh Mohyuddin, the PTUDC organiser of Karachi. The meeting was conducted by comrade Haseeb Ahmed, one of the leading trade union activists of the printing workers.
The first speaker was comrade Mohammad Khan Ahmadani, the PTUDC Sindh organiser and a leader of the cement workers. In his speech he condemned the attacks of the regime against the workers and trade unionists and called for a struggle against these policies. He explained that the struggle and sacrifice of the Quetta workers in this struggle had instilled a new hope and enthusiasm amongst the workers in Sindh and elsewhere. He paid tribute to these workers who risked imprisonment and torture but refused to accept the attacks and be subdued by the dictatorship. He said that it is not an accident that in major struggles in the trade union field during the Musharraf dictatorship the comrades of the PTUDC have been in the forefront.
Comrade Naveed Aftab, one of the main leaders of the Karachi steel workers said that the repressive policies of the present regime had led to the systematic redundancy of more than 7,000 workers from Karachi Steel Mills. They had carried out this act through different deceptive methods and manoeuvres. But the workers had retaliated and put an end to it. Referring to the Quetta struggle he said that it was mainly the ideological superiority of the leaders like Hameed Khan that gave a perspective to the movement and instilled confidence amongst the workers to carry out a successful struggle in these testing times.
Comrade Akbar Narejo, another leader of the steel workers explained how despite the most difficult conditions, once the workers stand up to the oppressors then no force can defeat them. He narrated the experience of the struggle of the steel workers in January and March of this year. He explained how when a handful of revolutionary trade union activists had moved forward, defying all odds, they got a tremendous response from the workers and they sealed almost all the units of the Karachi Steel Mills. More than 14,000 workers had joined the militant action that blocked the entrances and had virtually taken over the steel mills. The top trade union leaders followed suit as they had no option but to join the strike. The administration and the authorities had to beat a shameful retreat in the face of the rising wrath of the workers' militancy. He said that the successful struggle of the Baluchistan workers has once again exhibited the strength and force of the workers when united and in action.
Comrade Tariq Watanyar, a Karachi market workers representative called this movement of Baluchistan workers a ray of light in this dark period of military oppression. He said that this struggle was a great inspiration for the workers in Karachi and will further encourage the trade unionists in the struggles that loom ahead.
The Karachi organiser of the CFSK (Campaign for Socialist Kashmir) comrade Raja Habib in his speech stressed the need to learn the lessons of the strike movement in Quetta/Baluchistan. He said that this struggle shows that if there is a determined leadership then a victory can be won in the most hazardous of conditions. The linking of the struggle to the national and international movements of the workers has important implications on the outcome of the struggle. But above all it is necessary for the leadership to understand Marxism, and this gives them a proper perspective to forge a strategy which is vital in launching, sustaining and winning these struggles.
Comrade Lal Khan, the international secretary of PTUDC explained the present crisis of world capitalism which is leading Bush and the other imperialists to policies of madness. He said that the so-called war against terrorism was in fact a war against the workers. He said that the Quetta strike and the imprisonment of Hameed Khan and the other comrades was the longest under this military regime. Most other arrests are on corruption charges - or some NGO bosses who fabricate gimmickry arrests, requesting the police to keep them in police stations for a few hours so that they can extract more money from their donors in the west.
He said that this was a genuine proletarian struggle and the will, determination and ideological commitment of Hameed Khan and other militant trade union leaders played an important role in this success. He said that these are the first victory in a battle of the class war that is beginning to unfold in Pakistan and internationally. Hence it has important lessons for the struggles that loom large.
A revolutionary poem was recited by comrade Siddiqui of the YFIS (Hyderabad).
When Hameed Khan was invited to speak he was given a standing ovation by the audience.
Hameed Khan thanked all the comrades for their support during the imprisonment and the struggle of the Baluchistan workers. He explained the present crisis of capitalism on the basis of Marxist economics. He said that it is only on the basis of Marxism that the present crisis and attacks of the ruling class can be understood, and a strategy for a fight back evolved. He explained that on a capitalist basis it becomes necessary for any ruler to carry out these attacks and policies of cuts, privatisations, redundancies, downsizing, restructuring and price hikes. These are the prerequisites for the survival of capitalism. Hence it is a fallacy to expect that someone can come into government in this decaying bourgeois state and improve the lot of the working people. He said that the possibility of even minor reforms in the present system has been eliminated by the crisis of the capitalist system. Hence without the overthrow of the capitalist system no improvement in society is possible. Only through a socialist change can the minimum of improvements be envisaged.
He said that the struggle started in Baluchistan was mainly due to the regime's attempt of attacking these workers first. They were trying to avenge their defeat in the last movement of December last year. When we went into the struggle we were not very sure that we would be able to defeat such a huge attack of the state. This became even more difficult due to the treacherous role of the traditional trade union leaders who betrayed the workers and called off the strike when it was at its peak.
But we stood firm because we had a firm belief in the workers in struggle. In the prison every day we used to have a meeting of the workers and explained to them the strategy and the need for steadfastness which would ultimately bring us success. We held a big meeting on May Day in the Quetta jail and then kept up the momentum. When there was news of the strike being called off, there was anger, frustration and even elements of demoralisation amongst the workers. We had to redouble our efforts to keep up the morale of the workers. And then a situation developed when the determination on the arrested 197 workers played an important role in lifting the workers outside. This was a decisive turn and the families of the arrested workers and comrades outside once again started building up the pressure on the union leaders and the political parties outside.
They were forced to call two general strikes in Quetta and the pressure on the regime started to mount. The campaign launched by the PTUDC nationally and internationally played a crucial role in lifting the morale of the workers inside and outside the prison. When we received newspapers with pictures and reports of the PTUDC demonstration in Lahore there was clapping and slogans of joy by the imprisoned workers. At the beginning of the movement the traditional trade union leaders had a big influence on the consciousness of the workers. But the heat of the struggle has exposed these leaders and changed the conceptions of the workers. The role of Marxism has been shown in the determination and commitment to the proletarian cause in practice. Hence these workers will never be the same again - and so the next struggle will be on a much higher plane.
Hameed Khan said that the international campaign was enormous when these impoverished workers in one of the remotest regions of the world saw reports and messages of support from some of the most advanced countries and cities of the world. He said that we believe in the principle of "an injury to one is an injury to all". And we believe that on this basis we won this struggle. However this struggle is not over. It is only a new beginning. This struggle shall be fought to the finish!
Hameed Khan said that he came to Karachi after his release because he considered Karachi as the Petrograd of Pakistan, with the message that struggles can still be fought and won. We are looking for the Karachi proletariat to move into the arena of history and lead the Pakistan workers into a struggle to transform their destiny.
Hameed Khan concluded his speech by saying that the problems and miseries of the workers will not end while this capitalist system remains. Only through a socialist revolution can the historic task of the emancipation of mankind be accomplished. We have taken the first steps towards the goal of a socialist revolution in Pakistan. A socialist victory here will not stop at the state boundaries. From Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal the oppressed peoples of the whole of the South Asian subcontinent shall rise to victory! The impact on a world scale will be unprecedented.
The impact of Hameed Khan's speech was electrifying. Most of the trade union leaders were in tears and had a glow of hope and victory in their eyes. At the end of the meeting a collection was made that covered all the costs of this meeting.
After the meeting talking informally, Hameed Khan told us that he and five other trade union leaders have been made redundant as the regime has once again rescinded on its promises. They have not been paid wages for several months and are still being harassed in various ways. In the prison 172 workers were cramped into a barrack that was built to house 12 prisoners. There were only two toilets and all night and day the imprisoned workers had to be in a queue. They were being tried in an anti-terrorist court to frighten them. Several other methods of repression were tried to break their resolve to continue the struggle but they failed. Thanks to the ideas of Marxism and the class support nationally and internationally and the steeled will of the workers in struggle.