Pakistan: Karachi factory fire – not a “national” tragedy but product of class exploitation

The horrific factory fire at a Karachi garments and clothing enterprise where 289 workers, men, women and children, perished and hundreds were injured with severe burn wounds in an inferno in a caged factory with sealed gates is not an exception but the norm for the proletariat in Pakistan. It lays bare the conditions in which they are forced to work.

On the same day in another shoe factory in Lahore more than 25 workers were burnt to death and scores maimed. Such incidents are a daily routine across the country. The only reason that the media had to highlight this tragedy was because of the enormity of the calamity and the very large number of the victims in just one incident.

In Lahore alone there are eight thousand factories that are vulnerable to such catastrophes. There are thousands more in Karachi and other cities of Pakistan that are susceptible to such a fate. The plight of the workers was described by one of the survivors of the Lahore factory inferno, “Everyone has to die one day. People like me will die of starvation if they don’t work.”

There is now a deafening din, a hue and cry in the media by the political elite, the business tycoons, the bosses of the state and the apologists of capitalism in the intelligentsia. Torrents of crocodile tears flow from these representatives of the system who have amassed obscene wealth and live in hedonic luxury. If one compares their lives to the conditions of ordinary workers in Pakistan it would seems that they are living on other planet.

The analysts of the corporate media are churning out diverse theories about the causes of this gruesome disaster and playing the blame game where everybody and every department is being blamed except for the real perpetrator of this devastation – rotten Pakistani capitalism itself. All this is done for a specific purpose: to divert the attention of the workers from the real perpetrator to secondary and auxiliary causes and criminals.

The actual question this harrowing incident poses is the following. Can the capitalists sustain the fabulous rates of profit they are extracting from the workers and at the same time grant living wages, pensions, health benefits, proper safety conditions such as fire-proofing the shop floors, building a modern infrastructure for industrial production and decent conditions of work? The answer is a big no!

The Pakistani ruling class came late onto the arena of history after “independence” with the world market already dominated by the imperialist powers that imposed an economic and technological stranglehold. Their state never had the capacity to build a modern infrastructure or carry out the tasks of the industrial revolution.

Therefore to attain their rates of profits they had to exploit labour to the nth degree. But even that was not enough, they had to steal resources, evade taxes and plunder the state to fulfil their insatiable lust for money. The state in return became a beneficiary of all this extortion and involved itself in business. It is not an accident that the subsidiary of the Pakistan Army is the largest entrepreneur with an investment of $27 billion in the economy. And this is just in the formal economy which is only about one third of Pakistan’s total real economy. Even the lowest tiers of the state indulged in this orgy of bribery and corruption. Hence, to blame the inspectors of industrial safety, the police and other departments of negligence in reality is a cynical farce to absolve the top criminal elite and a whole system based on corruption. The fact is that these lower ranking state officials could not survive if they tried to be ‘honest’. The method of blaming individual is used to conceal the bigger picture. Concentrating on a single tree can help to hide the forest!

Inquiries, commissions of investigations, judicial probes and similar deceptive tactics have a long history in this country. It is a common perception among the masses that to delay, diffuse and divert a burning issue or a monumental event these are the most abused tools of almost every regime that has been in power in Pakistan. If a problem has to be buried and pushed into oblivion, judicial commissions are set up whose results are never published.

2012-09-12 after Karachi fireThe murder of the workers in the Karachi and Lahore factories is being subjected to a similar fate. Then, after all the crocodile tears, it will be business as usual. More workers and peasants will be killed in factory fires, industrial accidents, state terrorism and other brutalities. New commissions, using obscure language, will be set up at the expense of the state. Then time will be allowed to lapse in the hope that the issue will lose its intensity and then exploitative capitalism will be allowed to continue extracting huge profits from the blood and bones of the toiling masses and more such atrocities will be repeated in the future.

The ruling class and their petit bourgeois cronies of so-called “civil society” are calling for vigils, days of mourning and have offered televised condolences. One of the more blatantly corrupt and crude bourgeois has offered compensation to the bereaved families, adding insult to injury. First it will provoke family feuds for the division of the paltry crumbs thrown to them and, secondly, hardly anything will actually get beyond the corrupt bureaucratic apparatus and reach the families of the victims. Most likely it is a media gesture which will not even materialise. Another “theory” put forward by the Home Minister is that there has been the involvement of a foreign hand or that it was a “terrorist attack”. What a convenient theory! How low can these people stoop?

The media, business magnates and the elite politicians are going hoarse describing this calamity as a ‘national tragedy’. Those proletarian men, women and children that perished belonged to a class that has been enslaved by the ruling class in the name of the “nation”. The oppression of the national groups, discrimination against women, the abhorrent treatment meted out to the religious minorities, the bloodletting going on between the Shias and the Sunnis, the Wahabi and other fundamentalist sects craving to cut throats of rival Islamic sects, hardly makes this a viable nation.

What has to be stated clearly is that the decisive conflict is between the classes, between the rich and the poor. This is a tragedy of a working class that is deprived, subjugated and exploited in the name of the “nation”. These toiling masses have suffered relentless repression and have suffered the calamities of capitalism through national chauvinism, religious bigotry and a false patriotism indoctrinated into the mass psychology by the media and the state. The masses broke these chains in 1968-69. Their struggle is not a national struggle but a class war. The phoenix of the proletariat shall rise from the ashes and avenge this atrocity.

Source: The Struggle (Pakistan)