Pakistan Steel: White Elephant or Healthy Prey?

The existence of a steel producing giant in a backward country like Pakistan is nothing less than a miracle. The idea of setting up Pakistan Steel was put forward during the era of Ayub Khan (1958-1969) but the US like many other advanced capitalist countries refused to give any kind of assistance, as the creation of any such kind of basic industry in an underdeveloped country was considered a threat to their own exploitative imperialist agendas.

In 1972, however, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto laid down the foundations of the Steel Mills with the help of the Soviet Union. Religious organizations, the state bureaucracy and other beneficiaries of finance capital, along with their masters, i.e. the steel importing capitalists, launched a propaganda campaign against it and declared it a ‘white elephant’. Pakistan Steel started production in 1982 and its founding document declared that the basic goal was to subsidize the engineering industry to industrialize the country at a faster pace.

At the time, thanks to this institution 800,000 to one million people earned a living either directly or indirectly in the production of 30% of the steel being used in the country. Thanks to Soviet engineering its production was doubled with few alterations in the design. However, as mentioned earlier, from the very first day it proved to be a headache for the stooges of finance capital and those capitalists dealing with steel imports and they left no stone unturned to sabotage it.

In spite of all these shameful acts by the national ruling classes, the Steel Mills helped to build a basic economic infrastructure, but this progress was hindered by the increasing interference of international finance capital. The proletariat at Pakistan Steel has a shining history of revolutionary struggle and expressed itself as a distinct class in various events.

The privatization of the Steel Mills was announced following the policies of imperialist institutions like the IMF during Musharraf’s era and an attempt was made to sell the institution worth 200 billion rupees for just 22 billion. Workers at the Steel Mills waged a class war against this and the state was forced to take its decision back fearing the immense reaction from the workers throughout the country.

In order to alienate the working class of its power, the Supreme Court issued the orders to stop the privatization, giving the reason that it was being sold at a cheap price, hence legitimizing the policy of privatization. The Steel Mills escaped the trap momentarily, but the black forces of reaction who were trying to buy them at a price they would pay for scrap metal couldn’t give up on their class instinct. Now these elements are once again active in conspiring, this time with the help of the Pakistan People’s Party government, to realise their lustful dreams. The appointment of two immensely corrupt bureaucrats, Moeen Aftab Sheikh as Chairman and Sameen Asghar as Commercial Director, by president Zardari was intended to water down any remaining prospects of improvement in the company in order to create excuses for privatization.

The financial condition of the Steel Mills has deteriorated to such an extent that the employees were not paid their monthly wages even on Eid and bonuses were obviously out of the question. Total production has been reduced to 20% and the power generation unit which can provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity to the Steel Mills and Steel Town has been shut down. There is a shortage of raw material, and iron ore and coke is not available either. 60% of total production capacity can generate enough money to pay monthly dues of electricity, gas and other fuel which are around one billion rupees. But, due to the unavailability of raw materials and mismanagement on the part of the corrupt bureaucracy, production has been reduced to more than one fourth which is causing a deficit of 1.5 billion rupees monthly. The management of the Steel Mills has also pocketed billions of rupees from the workers’ gratuity and PF funds for their own gain. Because of the crisis of capitalism on a world scale, the national economy is in terminal decay and cannot bail out even a single institution.

In this whole situation at the Steel Mills, the CBA People’s Workers’ Union has been playing the role of political pimp for the state and the bureaucracy and it is practically cut off from the workers. These so-called leaders – in reality traitors – of the working class are struggling to safeguard their own privileges and are not fighting for workers’ rights. These union bureaucrats, who have been making money out of the name of Zulfuqar Ali Bhutto, are nothing less than a cancer and parasites of the working class. The People’s Union was elected in June 2010 with a mandate of 95% but to this day it has been incapable of presenting its charter of demands. More than fifty cars that belong to the Steel Mills are at the disposal of the union bureaucracy and no less than 600 shop representatives and union office holders are constantly exempt from their duties, which comprise 10% of the total work force (if the workers recently made permanent are not included).

There is an atmosphere of anger among the ordinary workers due to the worsening economic conditions and the price hikes and in all this the treason on the part of the elected CBA union is proving to be a fuel on this fire. There is no other way left for the workers but to wage a final a decisive struggle not only against the state and the CBA but also against the whole of this exploitative capitalist system as well.

The working class on a world scale is now entering the arena of history to decide its own destiny and while this is going on there is a wave of agitation and turbulence among workers in many Pakistani companies. The recent struggle of the workers at PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) and KESC (Karachi Electric Supply Company) are two such examples. These movements were unable to reach their logical final conclusions due to ideological and tactical mistakes of the leaderships, the period of political lull and mutual isolation. However, they were not complete failures as they did achieve something.

Now the whole situation is beginning to radically change as more and more workers are being pushed into struggle. There are rumours of right sizing [reduction of staff] at PIA; the workers of Pakistan Railways are fed up of corruption by the bureaucracy and ministry; the workers of PTCL (Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited) are getting ready once again to start the struggle for their rights but this time at a higher level; the strong and militant workers in WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) are testing their leadership, for the last time perhaps, while ordinary industrial workers are already disgusted with the right-wing policies of the present PPP government.

In these conditions, tiny spark could ignite a very advanced political movement of the working class in Pakistan. The need of the hour is for the Marxists to intervene and help the workers find a way out of the present situation where the movement is hampered by puppet unions and unite the isolated movements in different companies on a radical Socialist agenda.